Helping Improve the Lives of Israeli Exiles in the 1940s

Updated: Jan 19

Among the papers in my father’s boxes is a short memorandum written by Zalman.

I am not sure why he wrote it, but it was labeled ‘A Memoire’ so I guess it was some sort of resume he wrote about himself when he was posted to Prague after the war.

Zalman’s note suggests he became friendly with General Sir Rodney James Newton Moore. Sir Moore was a senior British Army officer of the Grenadier Guards, which has a long-standing connection to the Royal Air Force, Parachute Regiment and various Air Assault Brigades, that arrived in Palestine towards the end of World War II to command the British Forces.

Although the connection between Zalman, Sir Moore and the paratroopers is an intriguing story for another time, it’s the reference to the prisoners in Kenya and his secret contact that really caught my attention.

Those prisoners were members of the militant Jewish organizations: the Irgun and the even more belligerent Lehi. There was little love lost between them and the Haganah, of which my grandfather was a member, and which focused on politics and diplomacy in the struggle for Israel’s national independence. In October 1944 the British rounded up most of the prominent militants and flew them to an African prison, eventually moving them to a more tightly controlled facility in Kenya.

Although Zalman was working alongside the British, and may have played a part in sending the prisoners to Kenya, he befriended them and did his best to maintain contact while they were incarcerated. Among my father’s boxes I found the letter that Zalman mentions at the end of his memoire. The letter is addressed to Zalman and to the ‘unknown people’ who had helped and assisted the prisoners when they were incarcerated.

"The Unknwon People" Letter

Zalman says in his memoire that his friendship with General Moore had enabled him to send them letters, but I suspect that in reality he did far more than that.

Aryeh ben Eliezer, one of the detainees, described the astonishing social and cultural activities that the prisoners established for themselves in the camp. They had a library containing three thousand books, ran educational classes and lectures and instituted correspondence courses so that the detainees could obtain qualifications from British institutions.

These are not the typical activities associated with a prisoner-of-war camp, let alone a detention facility for terrorists. They could not have been created by accident. I am sure that Zalman played a part in setting up these facilities for the prisoners; a suspicion that was partly confirmed when I examined another of the documents in my father’s cache.

This was a letter from the Tel Aviv municipality, written to Zalman at the Histadrut office. It was written after the war, in 1946, at a time when the Haganah had ceased cooperating with the British and were now working alongside the Irgun and Lehi in what became known as the United Resistance. The letter advised Zalman that they were consigning to him various ritual objects, including prayer books and prayer shawls, for him to pass on to the prisoners at the Rafiah camp.

Tel Aviv Municipality Letter

I do not know the state of Zalman’s friendship with General Moore at that time. But if he was able to send religious materials to British prisoners in 1946, when relationships between the Haganah and the authorities had broken down, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that in 1944, when the two sides were still cooperating, he could work together with General Moore to send not just letters, but cultural and educational materials to prisoners incarcerated in Africa, many miles from home.

Lastly, in Zalman's memoire, he referenced one of his secret doctor informants from his time in Prague. After cross referencing the semblances of the agent’s name to affiliated doctors in Zalman’s Secret Czech Police (Stb) file, Prague’s StB Archive and converations with Martin Smok, we realized this doctor was a well-known physician, also connected to the detainees, by the name of Doctor Shimshon Unichman (שמשון יוניצ'מן).

The Cambridge dictionary defines an “act of kindness” as a person who is involved in or connected with improving people's lives and reducing suffering.

My grandfather was a humanitarian on many levels and exhibited these attributes many times over throughout his career. When I read The National Library of Israel’s blog post “The Book of Imprisonment and Exile” by Irgun and Lehi Exiles in Africa, I was inspired to share an untold story of how Zalman helped these detainees, even if it meant putting himself at risk.