Helping Improve the Lives of Israeli Exiles in the 1940s

Updated: May 10

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 "freedom fighters" 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 Unknown People or Hayalim Almoni" Letter

Translated the note reads like this:


To Zalman and all those anonymous men who stood by and took care and acted of our behalf while we were in distress, far away from our homeland we give our warmest gratitude as we arrive to the homeland shore to which we have yearned for and as we imbed ourselves in the life at our free country.


And on the bottom:

From the exiles of Kenya, I hereby join and express my gratitude to Mr. Zalman for his dedication to Ephraim. One of the 18… Miterani and one (f.) of the 23… Yehezkel.


As for the word "Almonim", you could be right and they used that word in reference to "Hayalim Almonim"' written by Avraham Stern, although it doesn't refer to the incarcerated fighters, but rather to the unknown people who, alongside your grandfather, helped them.


With the help of https://lehi.org.il/ & Jabotinsky Institute in Israel we identified many LEHI members in the letter, such as:

Although there are two people with last name Miteranis who were in LEHI, none of them were in Africa, so it's probably an Irgun person.

  • As for Yehezkel (written as Yehetskiel)' a LEHI man named Yehezkel Vitenberg, was a prisoner, but it is uncertain whether he was imprisoned in Africa or not.

More name shared below.


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Lehi and Irgun's Attack on the Railway Workshops


One of the biggest and well known missions of the resistance movement is known as the Lehi and Irgun's attack on the Haifa railway workshop in 1946. During and after this period, Lehi carried out sabotage operations and armed attacks on military objectives and government installations (army camps, airfields, police stations, railway trains).


Using a truck reinforced with steel plates they crashed through the gate into the workshops while firing their guns and placed bombs under the engines, carriages, the swing bridges and equipment.


The British army or police arrived before the Lehi and Irgun left. In the ensuing gun fight underground fighters were killed and many injured. Twenty-two were captured and brought before a military tribunal. Four of the 22 were sentenced to life imprisonment, and the rest condemned to death. The death sentence was later commuted to life in prison.


Eleven Lehi members were killed during the attack. Besides Yedidya Tal Mitrani (ידידיה טל מיטרני), of the people mentioned in Zalman’s letter is a female fighter by the name of Yehudit Yehezkel Ravdal (יהודית יחזקאל רבדל), one of the four women fighters. She was a Lehi member who was among the 18 men and four women arrested in Kishon railway workshop operation. There were a large number of women active in Lehi. Of the 840 members listed, 168 are women or twenty percent of the total.


Based on on the Jewish Women's Archive, the women in the Lehi underground considered themselves as enjoying the same rights and obligations as their male comrades. They also participated in missions that required physical strength, trained with arms, took part in operations and were active participants in most of the organization’s sections. Women were appointed section leaders; in some actions, women participated as squad leaders and even as operation commander.


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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.


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Assisting Rafah Jewish Prisoners


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 another set of Jewish prisoners, known as the Tel Aviv prisoners in Rafah.


The letter about supplies was sent to Zalman in the information office of General Labor Federation (Histadrut) by David Tzvi Pinkas, a member of Tel Aviv Municipal Corporation saying:


According to your request, I send you ritual articles as listed below to be transferred to Tel Aviv prisoners in Rafah:

30 prayer books

4 lamentations for 9 Av

5 Talitot

8 pairs of Tefilin


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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.