'Ha’Chavura' – (The Gang; in Hebrew "Chavura" means a group of friends acting together) was founded in 1942 by Jewish soldiers from Eretz Israel serving in the British Army. They were
secretly members of the Hagana, and were the first to meet the remnants of the Holocaust, take care of them, and prepare them for Aliya to Israel.
In particular, they provided the logistic infrastructure for Aliya Bet’s operations in Italy.
Ha'Chavura in action, transporting Jewish refugees across Italy
The following are notes by Avraham Shavit and
Eliezer Biger, both veterans of Ha'Chavura. They are taken from the introduction to the book "The Gates Are Open"
(a book published by the Palyam veterans, comprising of the memories of hundreds of Aliya Bet veterans).
We thank Aryeh Malkin for the translation from Hebrew, and
Avi Livney for his review of the translation:
Israeli young men and women volunteered for the British Army immediately upon the outbreak of WW II. Very many young Jews wanted no more than to join the fight
against Nazi Germany. Only several months previously, the “White Paper” had been published which limited the expansion of the Yishuv in Palestine and limited
immigration of Jews drastically. Relations between the Yishuv in Palestine and the British Government were at an all-time low. At the start of the war, these
relations were defined by Ben Gurion in the following manner: We will fight against the “White Paper” as if there is no war against the Nazis, and we will
help the British in the War against the Nazis as if there was no “White Paper”. This was a difficult and complicated directive to follow but that is what was done.
The British Army would not induct the Israelis into the fighting units but rather into the auxiliary service units. The Jews that had volunteered were ready to
do anything, as the Hagana had directed.
In the year 1942, 20,000 Jews of the Yishuv were serving in the British Army, mostly in the transport and engineer corps. Eliyahu Cohen (Ben Hur) was appointed
by the Hagana to be the commander of the Jewish forces in the British Army. In every unit of the army in the Western Desert there was a core of Hagana men who were
gathering weapons, packing and shipping them to Palestine. This activity was at first individual and spontaneous, but with time and as the units established
contact one with the other, this work became more organized and efficient. Methods of gathering and shipping weapons improved with time.
The unit responsible for shipment became known by the acronym TTG – “Telchas Tizi Gesheften” (a combination of Arabic & Yiddish slang, meaning
In September of 1943 the Allies landed in Southern Italy and some of the units of the Yishuv took part in that invasion. These and others that landed in Italy
shortly afterwards became the first units to make contact with the remnants of the Holocaust. These refugees were placed in “training camps” and were given
leaders/ caretakers who were Israelis and who managed these camps and trained them for their new life in Israel.
When the Israelis in the British Army went over to Italy they organized themselves into a group called 'Ha’Chavura'. Eliezer Biger (Laske), one of the first
members of 'Ha’Chavura' recalls: the men of the 'Ha’Chavura' were carefully chosen by Eliyahu Cohen and his aides. They were almost all members of the Hagana,
former Palmachnikim and members of kibbutzim and moshavim. Although we all belonged to regular army units, we detached ourselves from them and set up our own
private outfit which was to devote itself only to Aliya activity. We had defined this as our holy mission. As we were members of the regular army, we
knew the ropes and we were free to travel wherever we wanted. In Italy, immediately after the war was over there was nothing at all to be procured in the local
market. The Italians went to the army camps and tried to buy beg or steal rations from the soldiers. The army camps were the only place where food or fuel or
equipment could be found.
'Ha’Chavura' started to hoard fuel and food for the ships of Aliya Bet. We started to raid various camps of the British Army with false papers with names of army
units that did not exist, and obtained food, fuel and supplies for these fictitious units. All was sent to the main Aliya Bet camp in Magenta, and later
distributed from there to the ships. There were three main groups of 'Ha’Chavura':
– Consisted of men who met the first group of remnants of the Holocaust that reached Italy. After the La Spezia incident they took off their uniforms
and disguised themselves as refugees. There were 12 men in this group and they spent four years in Italy.
– These men were active as long as their military unit remained in Italy. When their units left Italy they left their units and also came back to Palestine.
There were 20 men in this group.
– These were soldiers who were sent from the Jewish Brigade to assist in the work the others had done and had gone back to Palestine. There were seven men
in this group.