Jewish WWII fighters honoured in Field of Remembrance

The Jewish Brigade's servicemen were commemorated for the first time ahead of this year's Remembrance Sunday activities


Last week marked the first time that Jewish soldiers from Palestine, who fought against the Nazis as part of the British Army, have been commemorated as part of Remembrance Sunday activities.

Thursday November 9 saw the opening of the Field of Remembrance in London’s Westminster Abbey in recognition of fallen British soldiers from both World Wars. This year, the Jewish Infantry Brigade Group (Jewish Brigade), the only independent Jewish military unit to fight against Nazi Germany as part of the British Army during the Second World War, was also commemorated with a dedicated plot.

The Field was opened by Prince Harry and the new plot marks the first time the 36 servicemen of the Jewish Brigade from Palestine have been commemorated in this way. Comprised of three hundred small plots, each dedicated to a particular military unit or veteran organisation, small pegs in the form of a cross or - from this year - a Star of David are planted in the Field and inscribed with the name of a serviceman who died in battle.

The inclusion in the Field of Remembrance of a plot dedicated to the men of the Jewish Brigade who fell in combat was initiated by Yael Driver-Shamir, daughter of the late (Gen.) Shlomo Shamir (Rabinovitch), who at the time was the commander of the Brigade on behalf of the Jewish Institutions in Palestine.

Lavi Melman, a MPhil student in Politics at the University of Oxford, originally from Tel-Aviv, Israel, attended the ceremony with his family to honour his great uncle, Sergeant Moshe Melman, who died in combat in Italy on April 6 1945. Together with four other soldiers, including his British-Jewish commander, Lieutenant Tony (David Antony) Van-Gelder. Following the ceremony, a first meeting between Melman and Van-Gelder families took place, who were heavily affected by the premature death of the fallen Soldiers.

Mr Melman said: "We believe the connection between the Jewish people of Palestine and the UK is important, and such positive events should be recognised, especially during the last raise of antisemitic remarks by British politicians, and turbulence in the bilateral relations between Israel and the UK."

The Jewish Infantry Brigade Group was formed in 1944 and consisted of 4,500 soldiers, 4,000 of whom were volunteers from mandatory Palestine, who joined the British Army to assist in the fight against Germany. Altogether, some 40,000 Palestinian Jews fought in the Second World War, 10% of the Jewish population in Palestine at the time. 

Written with the assistance of Berry Driver, Yael Driver-Shamir, and Lavi Melman

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