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Yad Vashem This Month in Holocaust History
July 1940 - Volunteers from Eretz Israel during a break in their sapper training in Ranworth, Scotland

July 1940

Volunteers from Eretz Israel during a break in their sapper training in Ranworth, Scotland

Jews from Eretz Israel, as citizens of the British Empire, enlisted in the British military after the outbreak of WWII. They were transferred to Britain and Scotland, where they underwent training. 2,500 Jewish soldiers were enlisted in the ground crews of the Royal Air Force (R.A.F.) and in the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps. Featured in the photograph are Jewish volunteers during their training in the Pioneer Corps in July 1940 in Ranworth, Scotland.

At the same time, President of the World Zionist Organization Chaim Weizmann offered the British government the complete cooperation of the Yishuv in the war effort, and began negotiations for the establishment of a Jewish fighting force in the British army. At first the British were inclined to reject the offer, yet they changed their position in the summer of 1940 and accepted the Yishuv’s offer, hoping that the establishment of a Jewish fighting force would help with American public opinion for support for Britain, which was then standing alone in her fight against Germany.

A few regiments of Jews from Eretz Israel were established in September 1940. The British granted the Jewish requests and established regular regiments of infantry, anti-aircraft and anti-shipping artillery, which they promised would serve with the British forces in Palestine.

In October 1940 the War Cabinet decided to establish a division-sized fighting force. The Yishuv was to provide the division with a core of commanding officers, ensuring the Zionist character of the division. In April 1941, the Germans took approximately 1,500 Jewish soldiers in the British army captive during their invasion of Greece.

Concerned by Arab reactions to the establishment of a Jewish military division, the plan was put on hold, and subsequently cancelled, with the approach of the conflict to the Middle East. Only towards the end of 1944 did the plan reemerge, with the establishment of the Jewish Fighting Force, known as the Jewish Brigade, in which 5,000 Jews from Eretz Israel fought. In total, approximately 30,000 Jews from Eretz Israel enlisted in the British military, including Jews who fled from Europe in the late 1930s due to the Nazi threat.

Yad Vashem Photo Archives 4922/6