09 Apr The Jewish Soldier’s Day 1941-1943: Jewish Volunteers in The British Army WWII
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The Jewish Soldier’s Day was commemorated during Passover in the years 1941-1943 in the Land of Israel to honor the Yishuv volunteers who served in the British Army during World War II.
This special day was established in April 1941 to express the Jewish community’s solidarity with the 40,000 volunteers who joined the British Army. The celebration of Soldier’s Day took place in Tel Aviv, featuring a procession through the streets, a festive prayer at the Great Synagogue on Allenby Street, as well as concerts and sports competitions. Further festivities were held in Jerusalem, Haifa, and Petah Tikva. Throughout the day, donations were collected for the Jewish soldiers via the “soldier note” initiative.
The recruitment of Jewish soldiers into the British Army during World War II was a significant moment in the history of the Jewish community in Palestine. As World War II began in 1939, the Jewish community in Palestine, which numbered around half a million, felt obliged to join the war effort against Hitler and his army. Moshe Sharet negotiated with the British authorities to recruit Jews and Arabs to the British Army, and about 40,000 men and women from the Jewish community volunteered for all branches of the British Army, while Arabs hardly ever enlisted.
The issue of recruiting Jews for the British army caused conflicts in the settlement. Tensions were already high due to the British government’s “White Book” policy, which limited both immigration and land purchases. Meanwhile, General Rommel and the German army were making their way toward Egypt, causing some to prioritize the defense of the settlement over aiding the British. However, nearly 40,000 residents of the settlement volunteered for all branches of the British Army and served in Israel, the Middle East, the Western Desert, and Africa. Support the English effort as if the “White Book” had never existed, and fight the “White Book” as if there was no war (Ben Gurion), while simultaneously fighting against the unjust policy with the same fervor as they fought the war. It was a delicate balancing act, but one that proved essential to their survival.
During the years of their service in the British Army, the settlement’s volunteers considered themselves “servants of two masters”: His Majesty the King of England and the settlement’s leadership. They served the war effort with courage, loyalty, talent, and diligence, although they were martyred. The soldiers and soldiers from Eretz Israel were accompanied by representatives of the agency and the defense. At the same time that they were working for the victory over Hitler’s army, the soldiers of the Land of Israel were engaged in tasks that were not reported in the “war diaries”. They helped with weapons and training in places where communities were in danger, such as in Egypt, and helped restore the Jewish communities and their institutions in places freed from the Italian and/or German occupation.
The military and combat experience acquired by the soldiers from the settlement in the British Army during their service was the most important asset they returned to Israel with. David Ben-Gurion said: “Our volunteering for the Second World War played no small part in saving the settlement – it played the lion’s share in training and equipping the Israel Defense Forces.” The experience gained in the British Army contributed significantly to the establishment of the IDF. The Jewish Soldier’s Day was celebrated by the Jewish Yishuv in the Land of Israel on Passover, in the years 1941-1943, in honor of the Yishuv’s volunteers for the British Army in World War II.
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