With the Jewish Brigade On The Eighth Army Front, Italy (Mar. 25)
For the first time since the beginning of this war, wholly Jewish units are fighting the Nazis man to man. The “Jewish Brigade,” composed entirely of troops claiming Palestine as their homeland – except for a few British officers in the higher commands- has been in the line for more than two weeks.
As correspondent of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, I arrived on this front several days ago to observe the Jewish Brigade in action, but, for for security reasons, it was not possible to report their presence here until now, as the Germans had not yet identified the unit.
These tough, tanned soldiers, probably more than any other unit in this army, have something to right for. Some of these troops have escaped from Nozi concentration camps. Some have been tertured. Nearly half have relatives who are known to be dead, or werse, have vanished and are missing inside Europe. These soldiers are fighting an eye-for-an-eye and a tooth-for-a-tooth war. I have never seen men so desperately determined, so grave about combat.
Brigadier Ernest F. Benjamin, their commanding officer, is a veteran British soldier, noted chiefly for his great ability at training troops for special combat missions. He helped train American soldiers for the invasion of France. He is confident that the Jewish troops will give a splandid account of themselves when he really unleashes them. “The only complaints I get are from units not yet placed into the line, ” he said.
The Eighth Army staff doesn’t expect immediate wonders from the Jewish Brigade, any more than it would from another comparatively green and inexperienced outfit. There are lessons that can be learned only by long combat experience.
BRIGADE HAS MORE THAN HELD ITS OWN AGAINST NAZIS
But thus for the Brigade has more than held its own against the Germans. The Germans probing their lines have not advanced a foot. They have killed some Nazis and have suffered some casualties. While the Germans apparently did not know who was up against them, they must have thought that something funny was going on. Every time a Kraut pokes his nead above ground during daylight hours, a sterm deseends upon it. Every time German mortars open up they are swamped by counterfire.
What is going on here may be called the “battle of the flcodbanks.” The flat Lombardy plains are laged by straight narrow canals which merely trickle now. But when it rains, the canals rapidly fill up and they would pour over the low countryside except for the lofty, floodbanks that flank them.
The Jewish Brigade units are on one side of such a canal, and the Germans are on the other. They are so close they can lob grendades back and forth. Both sides burrow mole-like in the banks or burrow completely through and establish positions on the waterside.
There is little activity during the day since our enormous air superiority keeps the Nazis underground, But at nightfall the front becomes tanse. Sporadic artillery barrages light the skies when movement is suspected. The Nazis throw over Nebelwerfer rockets. Flercs rise over the floodbanks. Them smallerms fires break out in one setor when patrols meet.
FATHERS AND SOMES FIGHTING SIDE BY SIDE IN BRIGADE
They call themselves Palestinians. Their vehicles and arms bear the star of david on a blue-and-white bankground – the colors of the Palestinan flage. But they are natives of 35 countries – every state in Europe. There are two cases of fathers and sons fighting side by side in the Brigade. There are instances where men fled from Germany to Hungary, from Hungary to Rumania and finally reached Palestine where they eslisted in the Brigade.
Major Ehpraim Ben Arzi, one of the Jewish senior officers, like many other Palestinians, laments the fact that the Jewish Brigade entered the fighting so late in the course of the war. However, Jewish companies – such as the Palestine Transportation Company under Capt. Simon Maso – have been serving with the fifth and Eighth Armies since the Italian campaign began. The Star of David is a familiar sight along Italy’s roads. In addition, some of the troops which formed the nucleus of the Jewish Brigade were stationed as garrison troops in North Africa for long periods.