London , Wednesday, April 19, 2000
Jews in British Army murdered alleged Nazis
FROM BEN MACINTYRE IN WASHINGTON
JEWISH soldiers in the British Army secretly and systematically hunted down and killed Nazi war criminals after the end of the Second World War, according to a US television documentary.
The documentary, In our own hands: the hidden story of the Jewish Brigade, describes how a handful of the 5,500 soldiers in the British Army's Jewish Brigade formed vengeance squads to kill former members of the SS and Gestapo who had murdered Jews.
About 125 Nazis are believed to have been summarily executed by the revenge teams, made up of about 35 Jewish soldiers.
"We located a number of the perpetrators and we decided to do away with them, and we did," Jonathon Peltz, 80, a Polish-born veteran of the brigade, said.
Senior officers of the underground Haganah army within the brigade opposed this summary justice. The British Army was officially ignorant of the revenge squads, but Matthew Palm, a spokesman for award-winning documentary maker Chuck Olin, said that in some cases British officers apparently turned a blind eye. "They were definitely aware of it but how much we don't know, and there was a limit to what they could do," Mr Palm said. The documentary, broadcast on America's PBS television channel last night, is expected to be shown in Britain later this year.
Most of the killings took place over four months along the Austrian-Italian border, where the brigade was mainly stationed, but others suspected of war crimes are believed to have been tracked down and killed in Germany.
The revenge squads would often dress as British military police, drive to the home of a suspected SS or Gestapo officer, and ask him to accompany them on conventional military business. The target would then be shot or suffocated, sometimes without even being offered an explanation.
The Jewish Brigade was formed in 1944, after three years of lobbying by Jews living in British-ruled Palestine and eager to fight the Germans. Churchill approved its formation, overriding the objections of the War Office.
The brigade fought and took heavy casualties in Italy. After victory, under the secret Haganah leadership with its own agenda, brigade soldiers illegally set about looking for Holocaust survivors and bringing them home.
The War Office disbanded the brigade in 1946, but many veterans, including 35 who became generals, served during Israel's war of independence in 1948.