The Yishuv Parachutists

The Yishuv parachutists were a group of British-trained Jewish volunteers from Eretz Israel who dropped behind enemy lines in Nazi-occupied Europe during the last two years of WW-II.

After August 1942, when the outside world began to understand what was happening to the Jews of Europe, plans for bringing help to them began to take shape wherever there were free Jewish communities. Most of the ideas came down to protest meetings and appeals.

The Yishuv – the Jewish community in Eretz Israel – knew that was not enough and decided that the perishing Jews of Europe had to be reached. The climax of this effort came with the venture of the parachutists.

As the German armies advanced and extended their radius of authority, it became clear that efforts to penetrate by land had to be supplemented by a bold attempt to land behind enemy lines, something which could only be done by air.

The idea could not be carried out by the Yishuv alone and needed the approval, cooperation, and assistance of the British military. 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 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 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 Hagana (the military underground organization of the Yishuv) members, selected from the ranks of the Palmach (the elite force of the Hagana), 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 37 of the trained volunteers (including 3 women) were actually assigned to missions. Most of them parachuted beyond enemy lines, the rest infiltrarted by land. The destination countries were Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, Yugoslavia, north Italy and Bulgaria. The first group was dropped into Yugoslavia in May 1943. A last group was dropped in southern Austria on the last day of the war.

Of the 37 volunteers, twelve were captured. Seven of the twelve were subsequently executed, including Haviva Reik in Slovakia, Hannah Senesh in Hungary and Enzo Sereni in the Dachau concentration camp, Germany (he was captured in Italy).

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.

In a tragic course of events, a terrible accident happened in 1954 in Kibbutz Ma'agan, Israel, during an official ceremony that commemorated the parachutist Peretz Goldstein, who had been murdered by the Nazis. A light airplane crashed into the crowd, killing 17 people and injuring 25. Four of the parachutists who came back alive from their dangerous mission were killed, as well as many relatives of the parachutists.

The stamp was issued in 1955, design: M. and G. Shamir.