“Parachuting to their People” - the Operation of the Parachutist-Emissaries During World War II in Historical Perspective
Between 1943 and 1945, British SOE-trained (special operations executive) Jewish volunteers from Eretz Israel parachuted behind enemy lines. Their mission was i) to assist the Allied war effort, and ii) to rescue Jews and organize Zionist groups. Thirty-two parachutists reached Yugoslavia, Rumania, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Bulgaria, and Italy; five others operated elsewhere in Europe. Unfortunately, the Nazis captured the majority, who bravely suffered torture and were executed. The Rumanian mission can be considered a success, whereas the outcomes in Hungary and Italy and elsewhere were much bleaker. In perspective: i) British — the parachutists were a tool for espionage and the rescue of Allied airmen, which amounted to much activity and adventure but little achievement; ii) Jewish Yishuv — though most of the volunteers came from the Palmach (strike force of the Hagana), the Yishuv leaders did not do enough towards rescuing their brethren in Europe; iii) European Jews — some leaders did not appreciate the arrival of the emissaries; however, these attempts did raise the morale of those, even in the camps, who knew of their presence; and iv) Parachutists — for some the hope of rescuing close family was an additional spur; all were filled with a sense of national pride. They are revered today as heroes.