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Bet Hagdudim or Jewish Legion Museum

Bet Hagdudim or the Jewish Legion Museum was formed in 1961 in an impressive building in Moshav Avichail by veterans who had been volunteers in Hebrew battalions in the British army during the First World War and who now lived in this moshav. Later, another wing was added to recognize Jewish volunteers who had served in the British army during the Second World War.


For the Jewish Legion during the First World War there is a movie, interviews, and historical exhibits such as photographs, documents, uniforms, weapons, and personal artifacts of the soldiers. Explanations are in Hebrew and English and the movie has English subtitles.


It just so happens that in terms of their activities, those of the Jewish Brigade after the Second World War is extremely interesting, in that these Jewish soldiers operated clandestine activities during the chaos of post-war Europe. They engineered the rescue and illegal movement of Holocaust survivors to Palestine They also formed secret vengeance squads for assassinating Nazi officers in hiding. All this is explained in the museum, but it does not jump out at you because of all the other considerable detail. A movie, as for the First World War, would have been helpful to provide a framework for the exhibits.

Tel Ofek and Mekorot HaYarkon parks in Yarkon National Park

Directions and parking: Enter “Batallions Museum” into Waze and click on “Batallions Museum, Sderot Ben Gurion, Avihayil.”

Admission: The museum is open from 8.30 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. It is open for groups only on Friday by pre-appointment. Admission is 20 NIS for adults and 15 NIS for pensioners and students. The telephone number is 09-882 2212 or 09-862 9240. This is their website

Public transport: Enter “Batallions Museum” into Moovit. There is about an 11 to 14-minute walk to the museum from the bus stop.


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Jewish military units in the two world wars

The Yishuv in Ottoman Palestine was divided on whom to support during the First World War. The Central Powers Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Turkey were pitted against the Allies, France, Great Britain, Russia, Italy, Japan, and, from 1917, the United States. Initially, the Yishuv was neutral. However, in 1914 David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi proposed to the Turks that a Jewish legion be formed to fight with the Ottoman Army, and training was actually begun with 40 volunteers. However, this was soon cancelled by Djemal Pasha, the commander of the Turkish army in Palestine and Syria. Other members of the Yishuv, such as those involved in the NILI spy organization, thought that only through the British could a Jewish state be realized. Nevertheless, the activities of the NILI against the Turks had the potential to put the whole Yishuv at risk. The matter was decided by Djemal Pasha who exiled 18,000 Zionists, mainly to Egypt, which was then under British control.


While in Egypt, Vladmir Jabotinsky raised the idea with Joseph Trumpeldor of a Jewish Legion to fight with Britain to liberate Palestine from the Turks and many Jews enlisted. However, the commander of the British forces in Egypt told a delegation of the volunteers that a British advance through Palestine was unlikely and, in any case, foreign nationals could not serve in the British army. What he could offer them, however, was to serve as volunteers in mule transport in the Gallipoli Campaign. Most members of the committee rejected his idea, including Jabotinsky, but Trumpeldor succeeded in forming a 650-strong Zion Mule Corps under Colonel John Henry Patterson that serviced the front in Gallipoli with supplies. Trumpeldor was second in command. The Zion Mule Corps served for about a year and was disbanded in May 1916. Thirteen members lost their lives.


The idea of a “Jewish Legion” to fight against the Turks came again to the fore in 1917. Under the encouragement of Jabotinsky, the idea gained considerable traction and there were many volunteers from Palestine, Russia, the United Kingdom and Russia. The British were not as enthused as the Jews, but battalions were formed and Jews fought in the Jordan Valley and in the final Battle of Megiddo.


Requests that a Jewish force be part of the British occupation in Palestine was not accepted and by 1920 there were only 300 to 400 men remaining in the First Judeans battalion. Nevertheless, former members of the Legion took part in the defense of Jewish communities during the 1920 riots in Palestine. In 1932, 60 former First Judeans from the US, Canada and Argentina founded the moshav Avihayil north of Natanya.


The formation of the Jewish Brigade during the Second World War was also not a clear matter.  In the White Paper of 1939, the British abandoned the idea of a Jewish homeland. They severely restricted Jewish immigration, this at a time when Holocaust survivors had nowhere else to go, and terminated Jewish land acquisitions. Nevertheless, Zionist leaders offered the British government full cooperation in their fight against the Nazis and sought an identifiable Jewish unit within the British army. It was only towards the end of the war that this materialized and after much hesitation, the Jewish Brigade was formed in September 1944, with a Zionist flag as its standard. It included more than 5,000 Jewish volunteers from Mandatory Palestine.


The brigade was involved in combat operations in Italy and played a significant role in breaking through German defensive lines and advancing towards Austria.


After the war, the Jewish Brigade focused on aiding Holocaust survivors in displaced persons camps and between 1945 to 1948 they were instrumental in facilitating the illegal immigration of between 15,000 to 22,000 Jewish DPs. They even managed to use British army vehicles to transport survivors. Some members of the brigade formed assassination squads for tracking down and killing former SS and Wehrmach officers. Because of their military experience, many veterans played a key role in the Israel Defense Forces during Israel’s War of Independence and 35 of them became generals.

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