Jewish partisan fighters in 1944
Jewish partisan fighters in 1944

In Hanukkah 1943, celebrating WWII as the ‘New Maccabean War’

Dec. 17, 1943

When the lamps of Chanukah are lit this year they will burn not alone for the deeds of the Maccabees of old, but for the present-day Maccabees, Jewish men and women who are battling under many flags for a better civilization and new nation of Israel.

As trite as this historical analogy may seem to many, the parallel between the global struggle today and the battles of the Jews against the Greek world empire two thousand years ago is too remarkable to overlook. Like the hateful Nazi creed which aims to engulf our world, so the pagan Hellenic tide once swept across the Aegean and carved an empire to the east. Only the tiny theocracy of Judea stood firm before the Greek conquerors. Under the leadership of the Maccabeans they fought what was probably the first campaign of attrition, and then by sheer military genius drove the Greeks from their homeland.

Today, again, the Jews are fighting — not in the cave-pitted mountains of Judea, not in the dismal wilderness along the Dead Sea, but on far-flung fronts in the greatest armies of the world as members of guerilla bands in countries occupied by the enemy.

As the Maccabees fell upon Greek supply trains winding along narrow pathways near ancient Jerusalem, so Jews today watch from the heights of Carpathian and Transylvanian Alps to ambush German supply columns moving toward the Russian front. In the Polish woods, Jews escaped from concentration or labor camps lurk with knives, old rifles and home-make grenades to surprise Nazi patrols.

Yugoslav patriots pound at the Germans from the mountains of Bosnia and Montenegro. Behind obsolete artillery is a group of Jews, one or two perhaps former Reichswehr officers. In the Rhodope Mountains of Bulgaria, in Bucovina and the Carpatho-Ukraine, in the mire of the flat Baltic states, wherever the terrain is rough, Jewish guerilla bands are fighting a new Maccabean war.

Fighting Jews, however, are found not only in the ranks of partisans and guerrillas. Jewish officers and men hold high ranks in the victorious armies. They are being recognized by the Russian Government and receive the highest awards.

In the black days of 1941, when Rommel had pushed across Egypt and the Wehrmacht in conquered Greece was poised to invade the Levant, Jewish scouts from Palestine were the vanguard of British armies invading Syria, a move which probably saved the entire Near East. While British armies were assembling in Galilee for the push against Vichy French forces, fifty Jewish youths crossed the Syrian border secretly. These men were in disguise and their mission was to pave the way for the coming attack. Friendly forces were contacted in Lebanese villages. Supplies of the collaborationist French were destroyed. Beachheads were marked along the coast from Beyruth to Tripoli for future British landings. The Syrian campaign was short and successful, but many of the Jewish scouts haven’t been heard from since.

Volunteers from Palestine’s communal settlements and cities flocked to the British Army in Libya. They fought tirelessly in the two-year see-saw battles which menaced the British lifeline. They shared in the victories, helping to drive the Nazis from Africa. Many Palestinian Jews are still in German military prison camps in Greece. Occasionally, they manage to join Greek guerilla bands in the mountains or make their way in fishing boats to Allied territory.

The Jews are not a warlike people, but when they must fight, as twenty centuries ago, they show courage, ability and zeal unsurpassed by any other people. The epic struggle to the death in the crumbling ghetto of Warsaw will take its place in Jewish heritage beside the valor of the Maccabees.