« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

Chapter XII



Map of Italy


Most of Italy was liberated by the British 8th Army under the leadership of Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery. Many of his soldiers were Palestinian Jews. The Jewish community in Palestine had volunteered to fight the Nazis as early as 1940. Over 5,000 Jewish volunteers from Palestine were organized into three infantry battalions, officially named the Jewish Infantry Brigade Group, established in late 1944 under the command of a career Jewish army officer, Brigadier Ernest F. Benjamin. The Haganah, the Jewish underground army in Palestine, ordered many Haganah men to volunteer for this brigade. These “volunteers” formed Haganah cells within the Brigade, and took orders directly from Haganah headquarters in Palestine.

The Jewish Brigade was deployed in Italy. As the British troops fought their way from Southern to Northern Italy, the Palestinian Haganah gave the order to the Jewish Brigade to be on the lookout for Italian Jewish survivors. Italy had a Jewish population of about 46,000 Jews prior to World War II. It is estimated that about 30,000 Italian Jews and 6,000 non–Italian Jews survived the war in Italy.[1] These survivors, seeing the Star of David on the Jewish Brigade soldiers' shoulders, came out of hiding, ragged, hungry and desperate. The Jewish soldiers provided help and began to organize support systems, everything from small dispensaries to soup kitchens, all using British supplies and facilities. As was mentioned before, many survivors were not Italian Jews and were now classified as DPs and placed in camps under UNRRA administration.


Cinecittá Jewish refugee camp in Rome, Italy. Circumcision ceremony of a non–Italian Jewish boy.Holding the child is Reuben B. Resnik, director of the JDC in Italy in 1945.
(Yad Vashem Archives)


The Jewish Brigade kept a close watch over the Jewish refugees and helped the Italian Jews to reestablish their communities. The Palestinian Haganah now ordered the Brigade to move Jewish refugees from Northern Italy to the South where they would be able to board ships and head to Palestine. The Brigade was helped in this endeavor by the Mossad office headed by Shaul Avigur, whose activities have already been described. The two organizations began to work hand in hand, soon joined by the Brichah.

The Mossad was a secret organization created by the Jewish Agency. Its head, Avigur, was born in Russia and brought to Palestine as a child. He devoted himself to military matters and joined the Haganah at an early age. He was given full command of the Mossad organization and personally selected agents who were sent to Europe to smuggle Jews to Palestine illegally.[2] Avigur established an effective organization that worked with the Brichah, the JDC and the Jewish Brigade.


Yehuda Arazi, Mossad representative in Italy


All the groups went into high gear with the arrival in Europe of Yehuda Arazi, dressed as a Polish pilot, smuggled first out of Palestine to Egypt, and then to Italy. The Polish–born Arazi had been appointed head of the Mossad in Italy and soon had a stream of small boats transporting Jews from Italy to Palestine.[3] Often the British Navy ignored these small boats. On the way back to Italy they often transported weapons for the Haganah and various communication experts and military leaders who were needed by the Mossad and the Brichah in Europe. An effective communication network, mentioned earlier, was established between the Mossad and Brichah offices throughout Europe, notably in Prague in the community building. The main base operated in Palestine.[4]


Shimshon Lang in British uniform


The Mossad and Brichah offices throughout Europe continued to work closely with the Jewish Brigade, the local JDC, the Jewish Agency of Palestine and the various local Zionist groups. From the end of the war until 1947, nearly 50,000 Jewish refugees had entered Italy. Italy with its long coastal shores and many ports offered an ideal place to hide the illegal ships that would be boarded by Jewish refugees brought from nearby Italian Jewish DP camps. Similar camps also existed in France, notably around the port of Marseilles. Many of these refugees made it to Palestine while, as mentioned before, others were intercepted by the British navy at sea and sent to British detention camps in Cyprus.

These detentions did not deter Arazi from continuing his work. The Mossad office in Italy greatly expanded its activities, relying heavily on the Jewish Brigade and Jewish soldiers in the British Army like Shimshon Lang, one of the 300 drivers in the 462nd General Transport Battalion of the British 8th Army. Lang's story is typical of the Palestinian Jews. Lang had escaped Poland for Palestine in 1939 on an illegal ship.[5] The ship was stopped by the British Navy and Lang was given a choice, spend the next few years in an internment camp or join the British Army. He chose the latter, and served until 1946. In an interview, Lang said “My unit delivered supplies to the army units from the coastal areas in Southern Italy, and on the return journey loaded the trucks with refugees.[6] I spoke to the young skeletal survivors in Yiddish and saw myself as one of them that happened to have escaped Hitler's death squad nets just in time. They represented to me the survivors of my family that perished in the Holocaust. No British Army rule could stop me from extending help to my surviving brethren. I was not alone with these thoughts, others felt the same way. We translated the ideas into reality by transporting the surviving Jews from Austrian and German DP camps to Italy and then to Palestine. We used empty shipping containers or extra military uniforms to hide the refugees at border crossings.” According to Lang, not only trucking units were involved in this movement of Jewish refugees. Ambulances and maintenance vehicles were also used to smuggle survivors from the former concentration camps in Austria and Germany to Italy. Most of the Jewish volunteers for the British forces in Palestine were similar to Shimon Lang; born in Europe and barely escaped to Palestine.

When Jewish survivors were discovered in former concentration camps by Brigade soldiers Arazi worked quickly to remove them to Italy. Leo Rosner,


The Brichah transports left the region of Munich
and headed south to Austria and to Italy


a Jewish survivor of Mauthausen said, “We were several hundred Jewish survivors in the concentration camp of Mauthausen with no place to go except to return to Poland and most of us did not feel like going to Poland.[7] Suddenly an army truck appeared with Star of David markings. At first we did not believe our eyes. We were certain that we were the only Jews left and suddenly we see other Jews and fighting Jews. The truck was immediately surrounded by Jewish survivors; they kissed and hugged the soldiers. They exchanged greetings and stories. Most of the Jewish soldiers spoke Yiddish as well as the survivors, so communication was easily established. A few days later, more Jewish soldiers appeared. About two weeks later, a convoy of trucks arrived near the camp at night and we were instructed to leave the camp one at a time so as not to arouse suspicion. Most of the Jewish survivors left the Mauthausen concentration camp”, Rosner continued, “and headed to the large convoy of trucks. Once we were loaded on the trucks, Jewish soldiers placed empty oil barrels and boxes of ammunition to block the view of the inside of the trucks. The soldiers then covered the trucks and we moved. We traveled towards the Italian border for hours. We crossed into Italy escorted by military police provided by the Jewish Brigade, ultimately reaching the Brigade headquarters in Treviso.[8] Our presence at the base was highly illegal since it was an army base. The Jewish soldiers smuggled us into the nearby Modena Jewish DP camp in Italy.”[9]

This large and complex operation was not Arazi's only activity in Italy on behalf of the Mossad. Similar operations, rescuing Jews from Austria and Germany, were constantly carried out. Jewish Brigade soldiers provided the backbone of these operations, aided by Jewish partisans and discharged Jewish soldiers from the Polish and Soviet armies. Large illegal ships with Jewish survivors headed to the shores of Palestine. As with other countries, the British applied heavy pressure on Italy to stop the entry of Jews through the northern border and to control the shores. British agents picked up news that a large convoy of Jewish refugees would be heading to the small port of La Spezia in Italy where they were to board two illegal ships, the Fede and the Fenice, heading to Palestine. The British purposefully misinformed the Italian police that a large group of Italian fascists would be heading to La Spezia to board the ships. The Italians were told the ships would then head for Spain where the supposed Italian fascists could not be touched by Italian justice. Italian police and security forces were rushed to the entrance of the small port city.

On April 4, 1946, a convoy of 38 British Army trucks appeared.[10] The Italian police stopped the convoy and began to search the trucks. Most of the drivers were soldiers of the Jewish Brigade or other Palestinian units within the British army. Two of the Jewish Brigade soldiers, dressed in their military uniforms, stepped forward and surrendered on condition that the waiting Holocaust survivors be permitted to board the ship since they had no other place to stay. The Italian police quickly realized that they had been set up and permitted the Jewish refugees to board the vessels. Immediately, the Jews renamed the ships. The Fede, with 675 Jewish refugees aboard, was renamed the Dov Hoz. The Fenice, with 339 aboard, was renamed the Eliyahu Golomb. These two illegal vessels were left moored to the pier, guarded by Italian police.

The next day Josef de Paz presented himself to the police of La Spezia and asked to join the Jewish survivors heading to Palestine. The request was granted. Most of the Mossad and Brichah agents aboard the ships recognized de Paz as Mossad's Italian chief Yehuda Arazi who immediately took command of the ships. Arazi began to broadcast appeals for help. The appeals were picked up by the Italian press and the news soon made international headlines. The Jewish passengers aboard the two ships went on a hunger strike and threatened to sink the ship if anyone attempted to board the vessel. Meanwhile, embarrassed by the events, the British insisted that the Italians remove the Jews. But the Italians refused. The struggle lasted nearly 30 days, until May 8, 1946, when the Jewish refugees were finally permitted to sail for Palestine.

Unnoticed by the Italians and the British, Arazi managed to slip off the ship before it sailed, disappearing quickly into the Italian countryside. The Jewish Brigade drivers who had been caught by the Italians faced military court proceedings. Realizing the extent of the Jewish Brigade's involvement in the affair, in July 1945, the British government decided to relocate most of the Jewish Brigade units to Belgium and the Netherlands. Shimshon Lang's trucking battalion was dismantled completely and he was shipped back to Palestine. In an audacious move, some of the Jewish Brigade soldiers gave their uniforms to illegal Jewish refugees, who were then unknowingly sent to Palestine as part of the British Army units. Other Jewish Brigade soldiers who were mustered out of the British Army in Europe joined the Mossad or the Brichah and played a vital role helping Jewish refugees reach Palestine.

The JDC had the responsibility of providing the Jewish refugees with their basic needs. JDC director Jacob Trobe insisted that no JDC official be involved in the actual border crossings so that nobody could accuse the organization of acting illegally. But he insisted that all help be given to the Jewish refugees once they crossed into Italy.[11] The new JDC director in Rome, Ruben Resnik, did not approve of this policy and tried to change it. Arazi stopped him and instead insisted that all help be given to Jews attempting to leave for Palestine regardless of how the British or Italian officials felt about it. The Italian government did not want to admit to the country how many Jewish refugees were coming from Germany. Italy claimed that it was a poor and devastated country. Arazi claimed that the Jewish refugees did not compete with Italians for jobs and would all leave Italy. Arazi and the Brichah continued to bring more Jews to Italy and played about with the statistics in the Italian DP camps, not reporting deaths or numbers of people who left the camps.

Arazi's activities in Italy irritated Resnik, who insisted on doing everything legally. Resnik believed that the JDC's only function was to help the local Jewish community reestablish itself. This was the traditional function of the organization. But everything had changed following the war. There were thousands of Jewish refugees in Austria, Germany and Italy who were not citizens of these countries and did not want to remain there. They were desperate to leave and many wanted to go to Palestine. The Mossad, the Brichah and the Jewish Brigade gave them hope. Resnik did not understand the situation; or was afraid to act. The refugees were thankful for all assistance they received but were interested in solutions the JDC did not have. Joseph Schwartz, European director of the JDC, saw the reality and tried to guide Resnik to adopt a more conciliatory approach to Arazi and his supporters, who were not interested in legalities but in hard action. Schwartz even sent Gaynor Jacobson to Italy to help Resnik. Jacobson was sent to Southern Italy where most of the illegal shipping to Palestine took place and immediately established good relations with the Brichah, the Jewish Brigade, and the Mossad. He helped them as much as he could without involving the JDC in illegal activities, providing extra food rations for those departing for Palestine. He also gave support to the Italian Jewish communities. Resnik resented Jacobson's popularity and began to exercise his power as JDC director in Italy. Jacobson resigned from his post in Italy but was quickly sent to Greece by Schwartz who had been impressed with Jacobson's performance.

Arazi frequently resorted to illegal activities that Resnik could not abide, such as forged documents, bribes and other shady tactics to facilitate the movement of the refugees. Resnik refused to cooperate, creating tension between the two men, and their organizations. Protests to Arazi were ignored. Arazi turned to the Jewish leaders in Palestine, saying, in effect, get Resnik off my back. In turn, the Jewish Agency pressured the JDC headquarters in New York to remove Resnik from his position in Rome. Even Jewish leaders from the DP camps pressured the JDC to remove Resnik. He tried to ride out the wave of discontent, but the problems grew daily and he faced a lack of cooperation on many fronts. Schwartz finally eased Resnik out and brought in Charles Passman to head the Rome office.




Charles Passman was born in Lithuania and brought to the United States at the age of 12 He later settled in Palestine, became involved with the JDC and was appointed to head the small JDC. He spoke Hebrew, Yiddish and English and able to smooth things between the many Jewish organizations in Italy including the DPs. He was also experienced in dealing with the British in Palestine, which helped him handle British military officials in Italy.

The Italians were slow to implement their government's orders to comply with British requests to close the borders. In fact, the Italian police often notified the Brichah when British patrols were checking the roads. The refugees usually assembled at the Bad Reichenhall or Leipheim DP camps where they were prepared for the long journey to Italy. The Brichah used side roads and small paths across the Alps; even the Brenner Pass was used to enter Northern Italy. Then most refugees would be transported south where Brichah boats would appear and take them aboard for the trip to Palestine.

Ships that left Italy for Palestine included:

August 28, 1945, the Italian fishing vessel Dalin left Italy carrying 35 immigrants and landed at Caesarea, Palestine.
September 4, 1945, the Natan left Italy carrying 79 immigrants and landed in Palestine. On its return trip to Italy, it carried seamen and radio operators from the Palmachand Jewish Agency emissaries to Italy.
September 9, 1945, the Gabriela left Italy carrying 40 passengers and arrived in Palestine.
September 17, 1945, the Peter left Italy carrying 168 immigrants and landed in Palestine.
October 1, 1945, the Natan again left Italy and landed in Palestine.
October 22, the Natan left Italy and landed in Palestine with 174 passengers.
November 23, 1945, the Berl Katznelson, carrying 220 Jewish refugees to Palestine.
December 14, 1945, the Hannah Senesh, carrying 252 passengers, to Palestine.

From the summer of 1945 to May 1948 when the State of Israel was established, 69,878 Jewish refugees boarded Brichah ships and headed to Palestine.[12] Just in 1946, 22 illegal ships left Europe mostly from Italy. As mentioned earlier, most of the Brichah ships were intercepted and the passengers sent to Cyprus. Before long, the British were tasked with feeding and maintaining a Jewish population of close to 50,000 on the island. . Over 1,600 Jews drowned at sea. Only a few thousand actually entered Palestine. The Brichah was well aware that most of the illegal ships would be intercepted but were determined to test British rule in Palestine and wanted desperately to keep Palestine in the headlines. Correspondents such as I.F. Stone were invited to go aboard the illegal ships and publish their observations, especially in the American press. The violent confrontations between the illegal passengers and the British troops made Britain lose public opinion in the world. British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin led Britain to a confrontation with the United States that he was bound to lose. The United States could not support British policies in Palestine despite secret promises from the State Department. American Jews and non–Jews demanded action and President Truman had no choice in the matter. Bevin was so obsessed with the Jews that he continued the confrontation even though the United Nations had already decided to partition Palestine. Brichah ships continued to be intercepted practically on the verge of the establishment of the State of Israel.

List of illegal ships:

January 17, 1946, the Enzo Sereni carrying 908 passengers, intercepted.
On March 13, 1946, the schooner Winga, carrying 248 passengers, was intercepted.
On March 27, 1946, the steamer Tel Hai, carrying 736 passengers, was intercepted.
On May 13, 1946 the ship Max Nordau, carrying 1,754 immigrants, was intercepted.
On May 13, 1946, the Dov Hos (675 passengers) landed with permits.
On May 13, 1946 Eliyahu Golomb (735 passengers) landed with permits. Both ships were involved in the La Spezia case.
On June 8, 1946, the Haviva Reik, carrying 462 passengers, was intercepted.
On August 11, 1946, the Yagur, carrying 758 passengers, was intercepted.
On August 12, 1946, the Henrietta Szold, carrying 536 passengers, was intercepted.
On August 13, 1946, the Katriel Jaffe with 604 passengers was intercepted.
On August 13, 1946, the Twenty Three with 790 passengers was intercepted.
On August 16, 1946, the yawl Amiram Shochat, carrying 183 passengers, landed in Palestine.
On September 2, 1946, the Dov Hos, this time named the Arba Cheruyot, carrying 1,024 passengers, was intercepted.
On September 22, 1946, the brigantine Palmach, 611 passengers, was intercepted.
On October 20, 1946, the Eliahu Golomb, renamed the Braha Fuld, carrying 806 passengers, was intercepted.
On October 19, 1946 the Latrun (1,279 passengers), was intercepted.
On November 9, 1946, the HaKedosha (600 passengers), foundered in a gale and sank. The passengers were rescued by the Knesset Israel. The Knesset Israel, carrying a total of 3,845 passengers, was intercepted.
On December 5, 1946, the Rafiah (785 passengers), was wrecked on Syrina Island in bad weather. The survivors were rescued by two Royal Navy and one Greek warship, and were taken to Cyprus. Women and children were taken to Palestine.[11]
On February 9, 1947, the wooden brigantine Lanegev (647 passengers) was intercepted.
On February 17, 1947, the steamer HaMapil HaAlmoni (807 passengers) was intercepted.
On February 27, 1947, the Haim Arlosoroff (1,378 passengers) was intercepted.
On March 9, 1947, the Ben Hecht (597 passengers) was intercepted.
On March 12, 1947 the Shabtai Luzinsky (823 passengers) landed in Palestine.
On March 30, 1947. the Moledet (1,588 passengers) developed a list and suffered engine failure some 50 miles outside Palestinian waters and issued an SOS. Passengers were transferred to the destroyers HMS Haydon and HMS Charity, minesweeper HMS Octavia and frigate HMS St Brides Bay, and the Royal Navy towed Moledet to Haifa.
On April 13, 1947, the Theodor Herzl (2,641 passengers) was intercepted.
On April 23, 1947, the Shear Yashuv (768 passengers) was intercepted.
On May 17, 1947, the Hatikva (1,414 passengers) was intercepted.
On May 23, 1947, the Mordei Hagetaot, carrying 1,457 immigrants, was intercepted.
On May 31, 1947, the Haganah ship Yehuda Halevy, carrying 399 immigrants, was intercepted.
On July 28, 1947, the 14 Halalei Gesher Haziv, carrying 685, was intercepted.
On July 28, 1947, the Shivat Zion, carrying 411 Jews, was intercepted.
On September 27, 1947, the Af Al Pi Chen (434 passengers), was intercepted.
On October 2, 1947, the Medinat HaYehudim (2,664 passengers) was intercepted.
On October 2, 1947, the Geulah, with 1,385 passengers, was intercepted.
November 15, 1947, the Peter, renamed the Aliyah and carrying 182 passengers, landed.
November 16, 1947, the Kadima, carrying 794 immigrants, was intercepted.
December 4, 1947, the HaPortzim with 167 passengers landed in Palestine.
December 22, 1947, the Lo Fafchidun u (884 passengers) was intercepted.
December 28, 1947, the 29 BeNovember (680 passengers) was intercepted.
January 1, 1948, the HaUmot HaMeuhadot (537 passengers) landed.
January 1, 1948, the Atzmaut (7,612 passengers) was intercepted.
January 1, 1948, the Kibbutz Galuyot (7,557 passengers) was intercepted.
January 31, 1948, the 35 Giborei Kfar Etzion (280 passengers) was intercepted.
February 12, 1948, the Yerushalayim Hanezura (679 passengers) was intercepted.
February 20, 1948, the Lekommemiyut (696 passengers) was intercepted.
On February 28, 1948, the Bonim v'Lochamim, formerly the Enzo Sereni, (982 passengers) was intercepted.
On March 29, 1948, the Yehiam (771 passengers) was intercepted.
On April 12, 1948, the Tirat Zvi (817 passengers) was intercepted.
On April 24, 1948, the Mishmar HaEmek (782 passengers) was intercepted.
On April 26, 1948, the Nakhson (553 passengers) was intercepted.

Partial List Of Brichah Agents In Italy

Surname First name Nickname Gender
BAR–SHATZ Itzhak Izir M
CHAIM   Shipper M
CHAIM   Spekulant M
ENGELMAN Nechama   F
ERAN Yochanan Tibi M
HAREL Yossi Hamburger M
HERMAN Gabriel   M
HIRT Lisha   F
KANTONI Vitoria Goldman F
KARMIN Yossef   M
KOROCH Benyamin   M
LILO     M
LOR Daniel Lichtenstein M
LUTEN Shimshon   M
NEUMARK Helena   M
NEUMARK Israel   M
ORI Chaim   M
PICHOWITZ Tziporah   F
SELA Michael   M
STERN Nachum   M
STERN Eisik   M
STERN Yossef Doctor M
SURKIS Mordechai   M
WEINSTEIN Yossel Turek M


  1. Return
  2. Zertal, Power: pp.40–49 Return
  3. Szulc, Alliance. p.90–91 Return
  4. Szulc, Alliance.,p.91 Return
  5. Leibner interview with the late Shimshon Lang Return
  6. Ibid., Return
  7. Rosner, Leo, The Holocaust Remembered. USA, 1998, p.97–100 Return
  8. Ibid., Return
  9. Ibid., Return
  10. Zertal, Power, p.28 Return
  11. Israel Defense Ministry, p.22 Return
  12. Bauer, Flight,p.281 Return


« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.

JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Brichah     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page

Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Jason Hallgarten

Copyright © 1999-2024 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 18 Apr 2017 by JH