Beit Hagdudim Museum -
Jewish Volunteers to the British Armed Forces during World Wars I and II
The Jewish Legions in the British Army during World War I
The Beit Hagdudim Museum in Avihayil was established in 1961 by the veterans of the Jewish Legion of World War I. The museum is dedicated to the Jews of Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel), Egypt, Great Britain, the United States, Canada and Argentina who volunteered to serve in the British Army in order to help liberate Eretz Israel from the Turks.
The Jewish Legions exhibit brings to light an exciting chapter describing the activities of the Jewish Legions within the framework of the British Army during W.W.I. (1914-1918).
These units of Jewish volunteers from the diaspora and from Palestine, were actively engaged during the war in the implimentation of the Zionist Goals at the time, to liberate the Land of Israel from Turkish rule.
A visit to the museum will take you back to the pre-state days. Some of the young volunteers depicted in the photographs became later the builders of the State of Israel.
Near the exit a display entitled "The chain has not been broken yet" can be found. The display comprises photographs of Yaacov Dori, a legioner and the first Chief of staff of the IDF during the War of Independence. Major General Yigael Yadin, Major General Yitzhak Rabin, Major General Mordechai Gur and Major General Rafael Eitan – are all sons of legioners.
The Jewish Volunteers from Eretz Israel to the British Armed Forces during World War II
In 1999, the cornerstone was laid for the museum’s expansion and for the establishment of a new wing: The Jewish Volunteers from Eretz Israel to the British Armed Forces during World War II. The wing is dedicated to the more than thirty thousand men and women of the Yishuv ( the Jewish Settlement in Eretz Israel) who volunteered to serve in the British Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force during World War II (1939-1945).
Moshe Shertok (Sharett), head of the State Department of the Jewish Agency, stood at the head of the Yishuv's recruiting activities. The rationale for volunteering was given by the Chairman of the Jewish Agency, David Ben-Gurion, who declared that despite the British decrees concerning the Jewish Yishuv in the months preceding the war, known as the White Paper: “We must assist the British in the war as if there were no White Paper, and we must resist the White Paper as if there were no war.”
The volunteering was based primarily on patriotic motivations. Many perceived conscription to the British Army as the most effective way to contribute to the defense of the country as the front drew closer with the threat of Nazi invasion (1941-1942). Many understood this to be the supreme expression of volunteering during a war that was so fateful for the future of the Jewish people and the Yishuv. The news of the extermination of the Jews of Europe which began to reach the country at the end of 1942, brought to the ranks of the British Army a further wave of those seeking revenge and to restore the national honor of the Jewish people.
The exhibit in the new wing focuses on three topics:
A. Military Service
The arms and corps to which the Jewish volunteers from Eretz Israel volunteered included the Army, Navy and Air Force. In the Army the volunteers joined the Infantry (within the frame of the Regiment of the Buffs and later the Palestine Regiment), the Pioneer Corps, several commando units, the Royal Artillery, the women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service, the Royal Signals Corps, the Royal Engineers, the Royal Ordnance Corps, the Royal Army Service Corps, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, the Royal Medical Corps and the Intelligence Corps.
The military activities of the volunteers included training and special military functions, together with their struggle to provide their units with Jewish-Zionist identity. This struggle resulted in the establishment of the Jewish Brigade Group with its flag and insignia. The exhibition also highlights personal aspects of the volunteers' lives: through letters to and from their homes, service conditions, leisure time activities and social experiences.
B. Encounter with Holocaust Survivors
The encounter between the soldiers and the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust in Europe was perceived by the volunteers as the high point of their activities. The contribution of the men of the Brigade, the Transport companies, as well as others to raise the spirits and the physical welfare of the survivors is presented in the exhibit. They infused the survivors with awareness of Zionism and organized and managed “the Escape” i.e., the illegal immigration to Eretz Israel.
C. Building the IDF
The contribution of the volunteers to building the IDF was of great significance. The exhibition shows how upon release from the army, they integrated into the military force of the Jewish Yishuv and contributed towards victory in the War of Independence due to the experience and knowledge that they had gained during their service in the British Armed Forces.
The names of the volunteers who enlisted in the British Armed Forces who fell in battle, died in captivity or were killed in accidents are inscribed in the exhibit.
The Beit Hagdudim Museum is dedicated to the perpetuation of two episodes of the volunteering and conscription of groups of Jews into the British Armed Forces during World Wars I and II, and to the courageous spirit of their volunteerism.
Sunday to Thursday 08:30-16:00
Friday: For groups - by special arrangement