Interview by James Holland @James1940 on Twitter
What Im always very interested in is going right back to the beginning, where you were born and brought up and what your father did and did you have brothers and sisters and all that sort of stuff.
Oh, that’s quite… very far.
Well its interesting you know; the world has changed a lot in the last century.
Ok I’ll tell the story, well I was born in Germany 95 years ago, in 1921.
It’s absolutely amazing to think you are 95. You don’t look it.
And, ah, well, when Hitler came to power I was 11 years old.
Where were you living at the time?
Yes, in Berlin, my father was a pharmacist in Berlin and my uncle was an architect and the other uncle was a musician in the philharmonic orchestra. But save my parents all the rest perished and at the age of 16 I was on a list to be sent to a concentration camp so, I just escaped.
How did you do that?
With the help of the Zionist movement. I was not the only one the Zionist movement in Germany saved the life of, exactly 9000 young girls and boys aged between 15 and 17, so, I was 16 at the time so I was right in.
And were you an only son or did you have brothers and sisters?
Beg your pardon?
Did you have brothers and sisters?
I did I have a sister, she still lives here.
She was aged 3 years younger and there was not a (?), then came the 9th of November, the anniversary is tomorrow and they are…
And you, obviously, you were still in Berlin at that time were you.
You had left?
I left 12 days before because I knew that I would be sent to a concentration camp at some time and it came 16 days later but I was lucky to have left.
And did your parents not try and get out.
They tried but they did get a visa to Chile
Five months later, that’s why Im here.
Yeah and so I, so we, I was helped by the Zionist movement and at night we crossed the Alpine mountains into Italy, Italian…
So how did you get out of Berlin itself were you by train or…?
Yes, by train to…
So, you left Berlin central station?
Just a train up to the Italian border and then at night we crossed the border.
And did you have any money with you or anything like that?
No, it was prohibited.
We left with 10 Marks, in order of everybody my parents too but the only, when you got permission to leave Germany you were allowed only to take 10 Marks. 10 German Marks with you. If you would take more you might be arrested for counter, for let’s say whatever disobeying orders so money was no problem so we just left what you had. And when it came to Italian…
And you went with your sister?
Just myself and…
So, at this time you would have been 17 or something… 16?
I was just coming 17 years and then we came to Italy.
I mean was it…
[Female in background] You have this picture of you when before going up on the train. Right?
Yes, yes but it’s all being written down in my memories in Spanish if you want to have a copy of it in Spanish you are welcome you can have it.
Oh, thank you.
You, you brought it, no?
[Female in background] Yes, I have
Then show it and…
Well I’d love a copy thank you.
Where is he, there are two… (…?) this is the one telling my story.
(Female in background) This is the picture of the train leaving and this is Rudy.
Yes, that’s myself at the railway station.
Amazing. But just to go back a little bit I mean presumably growing up in Berlin in the 1920s at the time where you have your first memories I mean things were getting a little bit better by the end of the 1920’s and…
No things didn’t get wrong as far up to 33 when Hitler came into power.
So, you had quite a happy childhood up until that point?
Yes, well I belonged to a Jewish family but Jewishness was no better in my memory than most of the Jewish Germans.
Well Berlin was one of the most liberal cities on the planet, wasn’t it?
Yes, I’d say so. We were Jews but didn’t practice and we were driven into Jewishness through Hitler or back into Judaism.
So, when he came into power in 1933 I mean can you remember your parents sort of having anxious conversations about it or were you all thinking it will be fine.
Something of the sort, they didn’t think things would go as far as that. They were more Germans than Jews. And not only my parents most of the Jewish community in Germany was more German than Jewish. So, it took them by surprise and they suffered much more than I did because when you are 11 years old you are still (?) but my father, my uncles they fought in the First World War for their country and they came back, my uncle was one leg less because… and in 33 he was called a traitor. They were all traitor so it took much more pain on our parents than I think. We took notice and we suffered some but not as much as our parents.
Yes of course.
So, I really went away when I was in danger.
And that must have been a very traumatic parting with the rest of your family?
For my family it was very traumatic, yes, but it was less for us… for the youngsters. If you are 15 or 16 you are too young to catch what really it is all about.
So, all you knew was get on the train, go to this… I mean it’s not just a big adventure but its… you felt quite well equipped to deal with it. So, what happens when you reach Italy with your 10 marks.
We stay for a few days because it was a transit camp for youngsters… that’s ours some were left who were given a chance to get out the week before, 10 days. You waited for a few days and then came another transport and then we went on a ship and decided to be pioneers in Palestine.
So where were you sailing from Genoa?
So, I went to Palestine and lived there for 2 years as a pioneer, before the (?) 2 years, from 38 to 40 then we came to Palestine and we founded the kibbutz in the Jordan Valley and worked there first as a cowboy then later as an expert on milk on dairy and then came the war to Africa and the German Afrika Korps.
Yes, they arrived in February 41.
And the British Army were driven back for 15 months losing all the battles until coming to the Suez Canal.
This was the summer of 1942?
42, yes and then the High Command of the British Army was changed by Churchill because the high command of the 8th British Army was useless.
So, Alexander comes in and Montgomery.
No Montgomery came in.
And Montgomery has command of 8th Army.
Went out, what was his name?
No. The British Commander and Chief he was sent to India.
As a Viceroy.
Yeah, he was, was useless and Montgomery organised re-organised the British Army and found out that there plenty of losses and they need reinforcements so they put out the call and asked for volunteers for the British Army so I put up my arm and went in as a volunteer.
So, this was sort of late summer of 1942 was it?
So, when you were training in the canal zone of Egypt or did you train in Palestine?
We done some training, not enough training with the British Army in Palestine.
And this was infantry training?
We were all trained we were all members of the Jewish Defence Force and the (?) it was called and it was a self-defence so we were no newcomers no cannon food or something like that so we joined…
Were you a multinational force obviously, you were German but were there I mean other nationalities who… I mean most of the people you were with had they all fled Europe.
No that’s official but no, no citizenship, I lost my German by leaving Germany.
Of course, but in origin I suppose.
I got British citizenship later as a, because of my army service… as a merit of my army service so I came to (?) a British passport.
[Female in background] Speaking Italian
Well the British Army were most of them British?
Of course, but… your little… New Zealanders and Australians.
Yes but you were kept together as a Palestinian little battalion.
But we came as Palestinians we were about 28000. 3000 girls and 25000 young men.
That’s a lot, that’s more than a Division.
Quite a big number yeah all would be between 18 and 28 roughly.
Obviously, you originally came from Germany but your fellas in…
No, they came from Russia from Poland.
Yes that’s my point… all over.
Oh yes, all over the world, all over the world.
And you made good friends.
Yes, no problem, we came from different countries but we felt like in this time we called ourselves Palestinians which today is Israeli but at this time Palestinians. Palestinians yes.
Were you trained as an infantryman or artillery or…?
So, in some way you could select what you wanted to go to. So, I selected to go as infantry because Jewish self-defence wanted people with military experience… to gain. So, if you go into a fighting unit you get that real experience.
And your training was route marches and rifles and Bren Guns and all that sort of stuff?
Ummm, something like that. Less than this, less than this. More marching and saluting than…
Than firing… At this stage did you know what had happened to the rest of your family? Had you been…
I knew that my parents and my sister did get a visa to Chile and left 3 months after the start of the war, that’s in December 1939 they still left via Italy too Chile because…
And they got here?
When they got here because Italia declares war…
No, not until June 1940.
They are trying to get people out from Africa so it was still a neutral country and a few ships left from Italy to South America so they were lucky to get the (?) of the last 3 ships and get here.
So presumably you had almost no contact with them at all at this time.
Very less, yeah because the war was on and there wasn’t much communication and letters got lost.
So, when did you join…
I’ll show you…
Yes, please do…
Hold a little there must be a picture here… [Rustling]
(?) Censored by the British censor.
Yes of course with all the little squares cut out. So, when did you join 8th Army and get to the front?
I officially joined the army at the beginning of 1943. Unofficially I joined it before and well because it’s too long but there was a plan B just in case things get wrong and in Africa and British Army had decided to retreat to Syria and to not to defend Palestine. And there, with the help of the British Army the Jewish community prepared for the invasion of the German army in Palestine and there was a special force too fight the Germans in case that happens and I belonged to this force.
Did it have a name?
Yes, it was, the name was called Pallmach(?), Pallmach is the Elite force of the German…. Errr Jewish Defence Force and we were trained in German uniforms in order to infiltrate the German army in case something happens but you’re lucky it didn’t happen.
So, this danger was over and we changed from German uniforms to British Uniforms.
Well I know that Palestinian troops fought with Eighth Army after Alamein and into Tunisia so did you, did you get up to the front, Tripoli and all that.
So, when I joined and I stayed about a bit more than 3 months in the infantry and the 3rd Infantry Battalion of the Palestine Regiment and then…
And this was with Eighth Army or still in Syria… still in Palestine?
Still in Palestine. In North Africa and in Egypt and then a young man came up and asked me would I like to join the Intelligence Corps. So, I had a romantic idea of Intelligence so I said yes (?) 007.
So, were you in Cairo to start off with in Garden city?
Yes, so you said yes, there were about all total 150 young Palestinians who joined the Intelligence Corps in different units. My unit was 11 Israelis and 9 (interrupted by female in the background mentioning they all spoke German), all German speaking I will tell you, and British officers, and looking like Germans and it was a special unit trained for special services. And I stayed with this unit for 3.5 years then we made the campaign in Africa then we crossed over to Italy.
You didn’t get to Sicily?
Sicily, no I came down to Napoli. I joined in Napoli.
And were you ever posted into Tunisia while the campaign was still going on?
Yeah, I went up to the Algerian Front, that’s where the African Campaign…
Yes, Allied Forces Headquarters in Algiers. I’ll tell you why Im asking because…
I didn’t see much of Tunisia but… I went to Tunisia.
Yes, I was wondering if you knew about the Jewish community on the Island of Djerba?
There was nothing Jewish by that time. The Jews of Tunisia have been arrested by the German Army and there was a ghetto there was no massacre, they didn’t kill any Jews. The German Army didn’t kill the SS did kill. Rommel was very outspoken about this that he didn’t want this so when he came to Tunisia I have a phot of it… he liberated the ghetto. Then the African Campaign was over we came back to Italy and the unit landed south of Napoli.
More or less but on a small beach between the two.
Around the time of the Invasion?
In September 1943.
Yes, but I came later because I did a bit of shuffling and chopping in Africa.
So are you able to tell me a bit about what that job involved, I know it was in Intelligence and largely based in Algiers but on a day to day basis.
Our speciality was interrogating German prisoners.
On every level, there was one group which we changed which was front line interrogator. So, we joined the first line fighting units to capture German prisoners, to interrogate them, in order to give the information to the platoon commander so that he might take ah…
So actually, your right in the front line?
First line, yeah. But you can’t stand there for more than 6 weeks I mean you’re exhausted.
Yes, so you rotated.
And you’d go back and then we, at the back we had the high-level intelligence so German officers, of a submarine, the commander of the submarine or something like that. Which was very interesting.
It must have been fascinating.
It was fascinating.
And cerebrally challenging and all those things.
In as far as fascination and working part it was a fascinating period.
How did you feel as a …? I know your nationality had been stripped but you’re still a German
No, you don’t consider yourself a German anymore.
So, when your interviewing or interrogating…
I was a Palestinian.
You were a Palestinian and he was just a person. He was an enemy who’d been captured.
No for me everything that was German was enemy and British was because we were partners at the time. But we felt as Palestinians.
That’s fascinating. Did some of the German prisoners you were interrogating… did they… accuse you of being a traitor or give you did you get some sort of pretty bad…
In Spanish if your born in the north of Chile or the south of Chile you speak the same Spanish…
Not in Germany, wherever your born you speak it as a German. From Bavaria ….
Berlin has an accent, right?
And I speak strong Berlin accent of course.
So, they recognised that…
And whenever I opened my mouth they knew that I was from Berlin. And there was no doubt about it. Most of them didn’t care to ask. Not that they didn’t care, they didn’t dare to ask. But they were curious about it of course.
Are there any of those interrogations that stick in your memory?
Well to our group there was other Italian Jews who did the same job in Italian as we did in German and during the war there were only those 2 languages Italian and German because that’s what we met, after the war things changed. So, we meet Italian Campaign and that is the end of 44 then came the Greek crisis and the British brought the Greek army from Egypt to Greece in order to fight the partisans and then I was asked as I might be joining the British army special forces in Greece. So, I went to Greece together with 14 18 there were altogether special force of 18. 7 of them were Palestinian Jewish and the other 7 were British so officially, well at first of all for a job like that you can’t be forced.
You have to volunteer.
Every time. Mostly all special missions they asked for volunteers, never failed, they never failed there was always a volunteer. So, they were all volunteers and before we volunteered we asked what are we going to do in Greece so they said ‘You give a hand to the Partisans in order to fight better the Germans who were then retreating.’ So I said ‘Yeah that’s ok, that’s a good job, it’s a hard job but it’s a good job. So, we went over to Greece and before we joined the small aircraft who would drop us somewhere…
So, you parachuted?
No, no we were driven by a small aeroplane on shifty sands under in Greece near to the partisans.
Like a Lysander?
And their partisans came and took us up into the mountains and before we went on the train we were asked to wait an hour because we were getting some more (?).
At this point, were you now working for the Special Operations Executive?
Were you now part of S.O.E.
You weren’t, you still weren’t.
No, we were a special unit and then came Harold McMillan.
He was by this time … (?) of British Intelligence in the Middle East and he said ‘You, I’ve got on you on such a spell I will give you some more instructions. And what are these? We want you to take notice, what are the arms that the partisans are capturing from the Germans and where will they hide them. We want to know where they are. Well, I was flabbergasted. I thought that was horrible that by our Allies and so we drove into Greece, flew into Greece and I stayed with the partisans for something like 3 months. I knew were they had their arms but I did not tell anybody. No I didn’t do it, I did what I was told to but I didn’t tell them. I don’t know what the other 18 or 14 did but I didn’t. They did exactly the same in Italy, what they were worried about was when the war ends suddenly lots of communists have all these arms… I understood the problem of the British but I was British soldier I was not defending the British Empire.
No no no quite right too. Quite right. And you made good friends with the Greeks.
I thought the Greeks are, well, everybody is nice, the Italians are nice people too and Germans may be a nice people too, they’re very nice people. So much of the circumstances unique.
But you must have been a very sort off resilient person, young man by that time. Able to look after yourself, confident in your own abilities, that sort of thing. Would you say?
Well we, did our job, and we did it very well and it was a (?) altogether this programme because the problem was we couldn’t speak to the Greek. He didn’t know I speak Greek I remember from my time in Germany where I had 6 months of Greek and Latin and I knew a few words and they didn’t even catch that this was Greek. It was classic Greek not modern Greek. I thought I was speaking Greek they didn’t understand me. So, in this case it wasn’t fair.
Just to go back a bit to your time in North Africa did you ever have to interrogate any senior German commanders or Generals…
Not in Africa in Italy… yes.
Oh yes. The head commanders but not the outstanding let’s say ‘historical people’. Things changed in Italy after the capture of Rome. When things came because at least things did change after Normandy… after 6th June. And the Allies stopped doing small arms intelligence and was put more into tactic and political intelligence. That’s what we came to do then we went back to Greece just 6 weeks before the end of the war. And at the end of the war we knew that the war was going to end because the Germans and the Italians surrendered one week before it surrendered in Central Germany. But it was so we knew and we were instructed to deal with the Germans after the surrender and there was in charge of the Marshall Graziani the Commander in Chief of the Italian Army and I took care of him…
Did you??!! What did you make of him?
I have plenty of pictures of him.
Incredible what did you think of him?
Well first of all he was a giant…
He was enormous, wasn’t he?
1 meter 90! He was big. Square jaw and very… impressive. And very fond of himself!
See that’s it, I’ve heard that about him.
But, he was a prisoner and I was just a sergeant and he was the chief commander. But it worked, so when they, the official scene of the surrender was over we were told to deal with them, we had prepared a special prison for high ranking officers in Florence. And so, I was told to get them from (?), Venice was (?) down to Florence in my jeep and so I took him down to Florence and there we spoke for quite a time but the most funny moment was 2 hours, 1 hour after surrender and the surrender was scattered for half past 9 and bang we got up before 7 o’clock to make everything ready on lawn and he came half an hour later so when everything ended it was about half past ten, eleven and then since seven we didn’t have a bite, so my driver, he was Freddy, he knew about this and he had some sandwiches, and he said Do you want a sandwich? Yes, and then I saw Graziani there and I said Do you want a sandwich? Oh, yes, he said. I want a sandwich so we shared sandwiches.
You and the Marshall.
Yes, and there was already some more than four hours since you got up until this very moment and then I thought to ask Mr Graziani if he wanted to have a piss and he said Oh yes I need one. So we went in the bushes. And then we took up on the jeep and drove down to Florence.
How amazing… so did you meet any of the German Generals like Schlemm (Alfred Schlemm) and people like that?
Well, in the prison we got the worst of them, the worst was the General of the SS.
Simon, Karl Wolff?
No… ummm, Wolff. He was, he was a commander of all German forces in the Middle East.
And what did you make of him, because he sort of got away with it.
Well I’ve got a picture of him too.
He was horrible, was he? Because he was supposed to be…
Very elegant man, a very elegant man very…
Capturing in his wake…. I hated him but ….
Because of who he was? I mean if you hadn’t known he was this sort of horrible SS General would you have… I mean if you just met him on the street …
He was a real fortunate one.
I know he was.
And he didn’t… he got a small.
Yeah, he got away with it completely, I mean what did he get… 8 years or something?
He makes the peace or let’s say surrender and not a German officer…
Yes, and he had been talking to Doenitz in Switzerland for months beforehand and Kesselring wouldn’t surrender as he had made his oath to Hitler and all the rest of it but Wulf is what we would call a smooth operator but it sounds like you would go along with that with what you remember of him.
Yes, I remember all those because we met them at the prison, I came down to Florence after a long ride in the jeep with my patient and a friend of mine came down with Wulf and another one he was ordered to go to the Swiss frontier on a mission, he didn’t know exactly what to expect but it was the order, with a jeep and then he came back to Florence too and he came back with two women. An old woman and a girl… the old woman was Miss Himmler wife of Himmler the Commanding Chief of the SS and his daughter. At the end, just before the end of the war Himmler sent his wife and daughter to Switzerland and the Swiss didn’t want to have anything to do with him so they called us up and said come send somebody to pick them up. And so she came down to Florence with her daughter and into the prison we had there… prison, pffff… it was a beautiful palace, and everybody got this, not a very good room but they got a room.
And so, did you interrogate Wulf?
I interrogated Graziani and some other German officer but I did not ever forget Miss Himmler and Wulf because not was my case.
And Graziani how did he justify taking a command in the new Mussolini Republic.
These were not interrogations, profound interrogations but more superficial accordant to the moment living. There was no ideological question, first of all there wasn’t the time and second it wasn’t the setting for even if he was a war criminal and Graziani was not a war criminal he was just a high-ranking officer, they were not ready to answer complicated questions to a Sergeant or an interrogation officer.
Was he perfectly all right with you, was he?
I’d say there was nothing of history, it was an historical moment but not an historical interrogation.
[Female in Background – It was a selection of which was important and which wasn’t.]
Do all your people obey the order to lay down arms? How many do you think you still command? Things like that.
How amazing to have met and seen these people at the end of this war it must have been so interesting.
And then the war was over and we changed over the mountains to south of Germany which before that was Austria and there our job was chasing war criminals. That sounds very interesting but it was not interesting because we were not allowed. The British Government not the British Army. The British Government did not want to take political prisoners.
So, your hands were tied?
So, I knew that there was no problem to find those people but there was a problem arresting them. I was an intelligent agent not a policeman not a prison warder that was not the way to go at that time just at the end of spring and tell them you’re arrested. Why should you pay me! He could take out a pistol or a knife, that was clear so I had to go to the army police, military police to give me three or four men in order to take them in and they said except you can’t give us orders, because you’re an intelligence man you don’t give orders to the Military Police. who gives the orders? The civil commander of the section of the province or off the region and then eventually to the captain or the colonel saying I need four policemen but I don’t dictate the order I am here to reconstruct Germany I’m not here to be chief prosecutor.
So, your hands were tied all the time?
It was terrible it was the worst moment of my army service so I asked commander to get me some other job. it was a comfortable life yes very good.
But it was too frustrating.
If you want another job I’ll give you another job and he did give me some other job he sent some of us to Trieste it was only town in Europe where the war was still going on, the war between the Italian and Yugoslav in order to get to be the owner of Trieste. At night, everybody put on uniform off one side or the other and fought each other.
And then the New Zealanders were sent up weren’t they.
So we went up there not to separate the Italians from the Yugoslav because after the war when the war is over there was 50 million displaced persons and they got moving. 50 million who thought they are not in the place after the war they would like to be so appeared some superhighways of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people walking 800 kilometres from Belgrade or from Sofia to (?) and one of those superhighways went through Trieste and the British and American government did not want any more refugees just as they won’t accept now the Syrians. Just the same. They had to appease them they had to show London to Germany millions of tons of food every day and they didn’t want to appease any more people they said you are a screening commission and you give a stamp on one who is authorised to get into Western European and who is not. And that is the commission we worked for, for 3 months in order to screen those poor people all of them were poor even if I didn’t give them pass.
But you have been a refugee yourself so you had empathy.
We had empathy yes we had sympathy but the government or let’s see the American and British were right in one sense in order to not let a free flow into the country and that was tiring to so after three and a half months I got another job back to the Middle East and some sort of compensation it was an easy job the British Army was bringing back all the German prisoners from North Africa back to Italy why should they feed them in North Africa they better work in their countries to be part of the reconstruction ships small ones medium one’s big ones from North Africa to Europe with hundreds and thousands of German prisoners and on every ship there was a few British police and one commander not the ship commander of the captain but the commander of this but and I was told to go to Alexandria and to be to take over one of the ships and when I went there they didn’t give me a ship they give me a bunch of prisoners of Yugoslav SS and they were not being brought back from Africa to Europe by ship but rather by road so I was in charge of transport of them. And when they came to Lebanon they turned over the car, they wanted to escape that was the end of my Army career.
Why because you were badly injured?
I was injured spinal injuries and it was…
But you recovered ok?
The driver died, passenger did not die but did not escape because everybody was…
But how did they turn it over?
They had nothing to lose.
So how did they turn a car over how did they roll the car?
They fell over us from behind.
Oh, I see.
There was a driver next to me I sat 2nd to the driver and they came over and that was the end of this I stayed 70 days in the army Hospital and they said thank you very much for your services.
And then you went back to Palestine?
Then I went back to Palestine.
What a story.
Palestine and then I look for a job I was not fit for agricultural work anymore because of my back and so I was looking for another job and I registered back at my self-defence unit and they said we have a job for you. I said ok what’s the job they said you get a job at the British government they have a special department which is the Topographic and they have all the plans and we don’t have any so you get in there and get us plans from the topography. And that’s what I did that’s what I did for the next 14 months getting plans from the British government for the Jewish defence.
By this stage were you back in touch with your parents presumably?
Yes, well when the war was over every Jewish family in the World, Europe or wherever it is asking what about us who is living who is not living and then we find out but just my parents and my sister are the only survivors.
Of your family everyone else in the death camps?
So, we decided if there is only 4 left restart go forward together and there was a question whether I go to Chile or my parents to come to Palestine but this time you can’t get through old people my father was 63 years old into a country where one war had ended and the next one was starting.
So, you took the ship to Chile and you’ve been here ever since it was obviously good decision
I think I was a very lucky man I met my wife I joined my parents after 10 years and my sister.
That must have been quite a reunion.
Yes. Then born our daughters or sons and our grandchildren.
And it’s a very nice place to live can I just ask you again about when you’re in Algiers the unit was based in allied forces headquarters in Algiers and then you were moving up to the front in rotation.
The headquarters were in Cairo.
Right in Garden City.
Yeah that is outside of Cairo very comfortable surrounding and from there we had field units and field headquarters going along with the army
Would you fly up to the front?
No, we would drive up I had my motorcycle and I drove up hundreds and hundreds of kilometres sometimes by truck sometimes by Jeep but mostly my motorbike.
That must have been a long journey and you said you went into the Jewish ghetto in Tunis were the Jewish ghetto was relieved.
I was too far away from it but as a (?) friend of mine, he knew there was a ghetto.and we were very keen to liberate it but my section was a few kilometres. I came there later but not the very moment of the liberation. it was liberated then I came about 12 or 14 hours after the liberation. I think I have a photo of it.
And did you ever hear of the SS commander Walter Ralph?
No, we just liberated and that was it, (?) my unit but I don’t know what happened afterwards we’re coming up and they were coming back or they were received by the population I wouldn’t know. They were taken prisoners by the German army not because off some problems with the local population there is no anti-Semitism in Tunisia against the Jews they were just separated. Or just in case you could suppose that some of them might make some espionage (?)
All those Prisoners of War you interrogated did you notice a change as the war went on did you see the kind of moral of the Germans or Italians plummeting?
I had some very bad experience of this but after the Battle of El Alamein when everyone or we at least knew we were going to win the war. You wouldn’t know one year or 4 years but one day we will win the war so they British Army by order of the British government the plan of re-educating German prisoners and it was a very good plan and the idea was that German professors are teachers in the camps give their own people some education not re-education… but education. Let’s see if you didn’t have the time to end their basic education or if they were in university they could pick it up and it did work and that was the plan no suspicion and it worked for a month 6 weeks and then suddenly everything stopped they didn’t come anymore they didn’t go to the lectures on the guard asked what happened and they didn’t get an answer so they recalled us in order to find out. We did find out that it in every unit there is a political commissar in every German unit and these, commissars they suspected that this was or said this is because you think that you will win the war and we don’t accept that we are children we are prisoners but we will win the war so this program did not go on because it is based on the false basis.
That’s incredible but some of the people when you were doing interrogations did you notice morale taking a dip did you come across people who thought they were going to win right to the end.
I don’t know what they really thought I know what they said that they would win the war and they did believe it so what we did not my unit but another unit they printed every week Wheatley in German to tell what the war was like and they give it to the prisoners the given to the prisoners for free and they always destroyed it they didn’t believe it they said that propaganda. we said it won’t be more than 2 months and you will be finished off in Africa and they wouldn’t believe it even though they are going in the wrong direction. There was no other there was no real role for them so no they only noticed (?) until the war was over until the Africa campaign was over then they find out it was real but by this time I was (?)
And the officers in charge of your unit were they British?
And you got on fine with them?
Two of them I kept in contact after the war. They stayed on in the army of course we were discharged before them not because we had the right to but because the British government did not want any Palestinian soldiers in Europe because we helped the refugees to come to Palestine and the British government did not want any more Jewish immigration to Palestine so in order to stop it first of all it took the Jewish prepared to Netherland because there was no way to dispatch them to but the thousands of Jews Palestine soldiers like myself who didn’t belong to the Jewish brigade it anymore because they were in special units and we did go on doing it so the British government British Army said send Em All Back…discharged.
And did you get used to the British rations and bully beef drinking endless cups of tea.
With the British Army, we had very good relations
But the food was ok things like rations?
It was horrible the worst you can have.
Do you still like drinking tea or did it put you of for life?
It was very good but it depended on the Cook if it was a British cook it was awful but if it was a Jewish cook it was lot better. The food was good as well in Austria The cooks in Austria were good but the British cooks…
But the British Army was famous as long as it got its tea ration it would keep fighting so presumably you weren’t getting any coffee and you’re having to drink tea with the rest of the soldiers?
Yes, we got coffee in civilian cafes in Italy and Rome it was no problem but not with the British Army now.
What I’m asking is did you develop a taste for tea?
Yes, yes oh lovely cup of cha. Milk sugar tea all together.
And what did you think of the uniforms were they alright?
Yes, the uniform was completely outdated I mean the British Army, it was not up to date in everything in the Second World War, our arms were awful when compared with the German arms, they were outdated. Our rifles did not fire the half of the quantity and speed. The tanks could not…
And you knew that at the time did you, that was the prevailing thought at the time?
That’s what everyone thought?
Yes, that’s what you had to make do with it. And our personnel of property had a very good relationship with the troops and a very good relationship with the officers and not so good a relationship with our British Company Sergeants and British Officers because the Sergeants and NCO’s, people who came up from low and they were very proud and very (?) after 20 years of service in the British Army to being named as Sergeant and then when we came up after 3 months and 6 months service a Sergeant and non-commissioned officers and…
It caused a bit of resentment. Fascinating. And when you were going up through Italy, so you’ve went to near Naples to start off with but it was the same process as it had been in North Africa where you had been moved up to join front line units…
All the time.
And were you mainly with Fifth Army or 8th Army.
8th Army, all the time.
All the time? Always with 8th Army.
Yeah, in Italy we came up to Napoli and soon after taking over we found a big break in the advance because of Monte Cassino and it was bloodshed so the British Army decided to make an invasion of Italy behind the German lines between Rome and Cassino.
I was one of the six intelligence officers with this unit who dropped into Italy at the back of the German Army and it wasn’t…
Was that at Anzio?
Anzio, and it was an operation that we were informed would take us about 28 days, 4 weeks to get to Rome and everything went wrong and it took us 120 days.
And so, were you stuck?
We got stuck in the mud…
So, you were there the whole time until the break out in May?
We got bombed and we got shelled but you couldn’t advance… it was the wrong country. It was the wrong landscape. Our tanks and artillery all got stuck in the mud you couldn’t get them out I couldn’t use my bike because after 50 meters I got stuck in mud.
Yes, casualties mounting all the time?
We stood there in Anzio for 120 days.
And really tough conditions.
It was terrible.
So, were you just living in a foxhole?
With the rain pouring down.
All wet… all wet. All the time. We asked for water when we were in Africa and we asked for dry country when we were in Italy.
Can you remember going into Rome?
Oh yes, it was special. After the breakthrough from the Anzio beachhead and then we came to the outskirts of Rome and there was a question asked of how it was no problem to get into Rome but how will it be if there will be door to door fighting this will be a massacre for human beings and the destruction of the town. But there was Pope Pious XII who cooked an agreement between the Germans and the Allied armies to call Rome ‘Roma Citta Aperta’.
Yes, the open city.
And it worked so no German soldier will be in Rome after the 3rd June and no Allied soldier will walk into the town before the 4th June and it worked.
It saved the city.
On the 4th June in the morning we walked into Rome and we didn’t meet any German soldier.
But you did meet cheering Italians.
Cheering Italians, at least we saw the cheering ones, the weeping ones kept in the houses. The cheerers came out.
But it must have been an amazing day, wasn’t it?
Oh, it was amazing. Amazing day. And it was, well, I tell you, the British Army not only stuck to the scheme to the plan, they decided that it was not the capture of Rome but the liberation of Rome and the liberation of Rome the most important thing is that no harm will be done to the Roman populace that was the top. In order to direct the British Army organised some 14 commissions to take over Rome administrations so that the Roman population will not suffer. And the British Army in this case found that an easy way to get it so I was one of the 14 Intelligence British officers to conduct one of these small units so I was in charge of 30 British policemen and everyone had, the head of the commissions had his own project or programme and my programme was to shut down the brothels.
Amazing, amazing. So how did you do that?
So, I had about 10 policemen and together with the, well we had notice of about 14 brothels in Rome and it was easy to get them because the Germans were very keen in organising and supervising the sexual life of their soldiers. Not so the British and Americans. No German soldier could have any sexual contact without a brothel organised and supervised by the German Army so when we took prisoners they all had their receipts. They had to keep their receipts in order to get the venereal disease then they had known if something had happened in the brothel or they were acting outside the permission of the German Army so we collected the receipts and we had 14 directions. Maybe there were more but we had 14 and then this commission, that had to be done for the first 10 days no 10 hours of the capture of Rome and so 2 of us and the 2 of us we got the 14 directions and everybody brought 30 policemen in order to close them down. So, with my friend Bobby we made a plan and took the main road of the British Army into Rome, said you take all the left and we take all the right and so we did.
Really it was just as simple as that.
And then they said there was one that was the best of all, officers only. One block of the Piazza Espana and said we will meet there and then from there we had to go to the new HQ of the British Intelligence in Biavenito and to give our report so we meet at the last one and next to the club at Piazza Espana. I came there about half past one.
On the 4th June?
Yeah and when I came Bobby my friend he was faster and was already there so I let my motorcycle down, it was an apartment house four stories high and the last story in this luxury apartment house and the last story was the brothel. So when I came down at the door of this apartment house met all the policemen so I knew that my friend Bobby had brought so I left my motorcycle down and he said Go up, we have to go here. We did come here about half an hour ago to 40 minutes ago. So I went up and there I met my friend Bobby already in charge of everything and then I said Ok Bobby its all very nice but we have to go to make our report. He said ‘Are you fucking stupid, why do we hurry to speak to dirty sweaty soldiers if we have 40 beautiful girls here, don’t hurry up’. So that’s what I did.
Quite right too. That’s really funny. So, did you ever see Mark Clarke or Alexander or any of the Generals?
No, I saw Montgomery in Africa for a few minutes and McMillan for an hour in Italy. No I met more German Generals and Italian Generals than British.
And after the fall of Rome and again you were just continuing up the leg of Italy?
We went from….
There were the Trasimene Line battles and then there was the Gothic Line and Florence.
Well after Rome we went up to Florence and from Florence our unit took over the section I think at the Adriatic side on the way to Venice and that’s where at the end of the war we met the Italian Army because that is where they concentrated. That’s where I met Graziani… I show you the picture…
Yeah, I’d love to see it. It’s an amazing story. An absolutely amazing story. Oh, there is Bobby. So that’s Bobby. (looking at picture).
Yes, that’s Bobby… you see here, is my regiment belt from the Jewish brigade…
Who is this lovely?
That’s my girlfriend in Rome.
Wow. Look at that.
And they have been put on from the captured prisoners of war.
Can I take a photo of that?
That’s absolutely brilliant. How amazing.
Yeah look at that, Italian, Africa…
That’s the medal for more than 6 months… that’s the African Star, that’s the Italian Star. Would you like a picture of them?
(Talk about the items being looked at for an extended period of time).
Well I can’t thank you enough, it has been so interesting. Thankyou.