PARIS (Jan. 5)
A French war hero and government official who was killed in an automobile accident in the south of France last weekend, was identified today as a volunteer who fought for Israel during the 1948 war for independence and distinguished himself as commander of a commando regiment that helped drive the Egyptian army out of the Negev.
Thadee Difree, 60, a son of one of France’s oldest families, joined the Gaullist forces in London in 1940 and eventually won France’s highest order, “Companion of the Liberation.” He interrupted a budding political career in 1948 to volunteer to fight for Israel.
Difree was a senior government official in Marseilles when he approached a Jewish Agency representative and declared, “I want to fight in Israel,” circles here recalled. He was shipped to Haifa with a boatload of Polish refugees and enlisted in the Israel Army as private, second class. Col. Itzhak Sadah, then the commander of Palmach, recognized his military abilities and commissioned him an officer with the assignment to create a commando regiment of Jewish and non-Jewish volunteers from France.
Difree’s commandos participated in the capture of Beersheba from the Egyptians. He set up Israel’s first armored unit and saw further action on the Egyptian front. When the war ended, Difree, and his wife who had accompanied him to Israel, returned to France where he resumed his government career. In 1957 he was sent to the Ivory Coast as an adviser to President Houphouet Boigny and later was named a minister in the cabinet of that African nation. Difree was prominent in the Gaullist party in southwest France. He never spoke publicly of his experiences in Israel after his return to France in 1949. But Israelis regarded him as one of their staunchest friends.