During the final years of World War II, a group of British-trained Jewish volunteers parachuted behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied Europe to organize the efforts of the resistance movement.
In 1942, the Jewish Agency for Palestine applied to the British for assistance in sending Jewish volunteers to Europe, who as emissaries of the Yishuv (the Jewish community in pre-state Israel), would help to organize local resistance and rescue operations among the Jewish communities.
The British were unwilling to send the hundreds of volunteers envisioned by the Jewish Agency, but ultimately agreed to train a few units of Jewish parachutists who were recent immigrants from certain targeted countries that they wanted to infiltrate. The British Special Operation Executive (SOE) intended to deploy the volunteers as wireless operators and instructors on their liaison missions to the partisans, while the British Military Intelligence branch (MI9) planned to use them to locate and rescue Allied POWs and escapees. Both branches consented to the volunteers' dual role as British agents and Jewish emissaries.
The candidates were selected from the ranks of the Palmach (the strike force of the Jewish military underground), Zionist youth movement activists, and Jews living in the British Mandate of Palestine who were already serving in the British army. Of the 240 men and women who volunteered, 110 underwent the training program that commenced in Cairo in March 1943.
Because of certain operational difficulties, only 32 of the trained volunteers (including three women) were sent on missions to Europe. Nine of the Jewish parachutists were sent to Romania, three to Hungary, five to Slovakia, ten to Yugoslavia, three to Italy and two to Bulgaria. The first group was dropped into Yugoslavia in May 1943; the last was dropped in southern Austria on the last day of the war. Of the 32 volunteers, twelve were captured. Seven of the twelve were subsequently executed, including Haviva Reik in Slovakia and Hannah Senesh in Hungary. The Jewish parachutists succeeded in making contact with the various national resistance movements in the Balkans, including Tito's partisans in Yugoslavia. Several were active participants in the Slovak National Uprising. Others succeeded in aiding Allied POWs in Romania and organizing immigration to Palestine in the immediate post-liberation period.
The following are pictures of a number of the parachutists:
Sources: Encyclopedia of the Holocaust 3:1103-4; U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Photo below title shows from left to right are Arieh Lupsesko, Yitzchak Ben-Efraim, Yeshayahu Trachtenberg, Baruch Kamin, and Yehuda Gokovsky. Standing behind is Dov (Berger) Harari.