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Friday, December 5, 2014

The Jewish Parachutists of Yishuv

In late 1944, a group of Jewish volunteers from Palestine embarked on "Operation Amsterdam," a parachute mission which would take them behind enemy lines in Axis-controlled Slovakia.

Their mission? To help repressed Jewish communities and aid allied forces. The group was comprised of members of the Palmach, a branch of Haganah, along with other Jews living in British mandated Palestine. After training in Egypt, the parachutists were sent to Romania, Hungary, Italy, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia. The first group of volunteers landed in Yugoslavia in May, 1943; the last arrived in Austria in May, 1945.

Many of the volunteers were recent immigrants to Palestine. Haviva Reick, one of the three women in the group, immigrated to Palestine in 1939. Another member, Rafi Reiss, arrived in Palestine on an illegal immigrant ship in 1939.

During the summer and autumn of 1944, Reick and Reiss along with two other parachutists, Rafael Reiss, Zvi Ben-Yaakov, Haim Hermesh, and later Abba Berdiczew, arrived in Slovakia.

While in the Slovakian town of Bansk√° Bystrica, the group organized a refugee community center and soup kitchens during the Slovak National Uprising of 1944. They also led a group of Jewish children to Palestine and coordinated with other partisan and resistance groups to aid western Allied prisoners of war.

With the suppression of the uprising in Slovakia towards the end of October 1944, the parachutists gathered weapons and moved into the mountains. Of the original 37 volunteers, twelve were captured Ukrainian Waffen SS and seven executed.

November 2014 marked the 70th anniversary of their untimely deaths, but their legacies are celebrated both in Slovakia and Israel, through street names, educational establishments, books and films.