By Yan Toporovsky
May 12, 2021 Anno Domini
Translated from the Russian
Jewish Palestine was buzzing like a beehive. On August 25, 1942, the first delegation of the Soviet Union arrived in the Promised Land. They were S. Mikhailov, first secretary of the USSR Embassy in Ankara, and diplomatic officer T. Petrenko. Indeed, the distinguished guests arrived at the First All-Palestinian Congress of the V League. It did not fit in my head: a great power turned its gaze on a piece of Jewish land! For the first time in the history of relations between the USSR and the inhabitants of the Promised Land (there was no Jewish state yet!), Official representatives of the great state came to Palestinian Jewry as their ally in the war against fascism. Although similar Leagues were opened in many countries: England, India, USA, Canada, Australia, South America….
But in the beginning there was an “Appeal to the citizens of Palestine: on October 2, 1941, the Executive Committee of the Gistradrut (Israeli trade union) announces an urgent collection of aid from the USSR.” And a few weeks later, £10,000 was transferred to England. These funds were used to purchase two disinfection chambers, which were handed over in London by the representative of Histadrut to the USSR Ambassador Maysky for sending to Russia.
On October 18 of the same year, the “Public Committee for Assistance to the SSSR was registered in Palestine in its war against fascism”. The Jews of Eretz Israel were grouped around this committee. But the number of applicants was so huge that there was a need to create a special organization. And on May 2, 1942, a meeting was held at which it was announced the creation of the “League” V “for aid to the Soviet Union.” And already at the end of the month in Jerusalem (Edison Theater), the first All-Palestinian Congress of the League members took place. The opening was attended by about 2,000 people. And this despite the fact that the Jewish population of Palestine was less than the Arab and amounted to about 500,000 of the poorest people. The unusual event was that representatives of the USSR were present at the congress, and among the local delegates there were such well-known personalities as the writer Arnold Zweig, Professor Martin Buber…. And the first thing the League V congress demanded from the allies was to open a second front.
From the greetings of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee
“We send our heartfelt wishes to the Congress of Palestinian Jewry, convened to organize aid to the heroic Red Army. Two millennia ago, Yehuda Maccabi and Bar-Kokhba raised an uprising in Palestine against the ideological forefathers of Hitler and Mussolini. On the land of Palestine, Yehuda Halevi sang his swan song, a song of boundless love for his country and his people. Naturally, the Jews of Palestine were the first to respond to the call of our courageous fighters, the Jews of the Soviet Union, to close ranks and join the front of freedom-loving peoples fighting against the fascist murderers. Our great homeland serves as a stronghold of indestructible friendship between free peoples and the brotherhood of national cultures.
…The despicable enemy seeks to enslave our country, to wipe out the Jewish people and its ancient culture from the face of the earth. There are no boundaries to his atrocities in relation to the peoples of the countries temporarily conquered by him, especially to their Jewish population. …The tragic fate of our brothers and sisters in the areas occupied by the enemy threatens to become the fate of the entire Jewish people, if the enemy is not crushed in the fields of the Soviet Union, which the enemy attacked with all savagery and cruelty, the same fate threatens Palestine, in which the Jews, through creative efforts and initiative, managed to ensure an honorable existence for themselves. Therefore, the national duty commands every Jew to strengthen aid to the Red Army with great self-sacrifice defending the honour, freedom, and independence of all peoples – and thus the Jewish. (..). We are confident that the resolutions of your Congress will strengthen our mutual understanding and friendship.
Prof. S. Mikhoels, People’s Artist of the Republic – Chairman.
Shakhno Epstein – secretary.
Committee members: Major General Yakov Kreiser, submarine commander Captain Fisanovich, Colonel Mikhlin, writer Ilya Ehrenburg, poet Itzik Fefer, writer David Bergelson, composers Alexander Kerin and I. Pulver, violinist, professor David Oistrakh, pianist Emil Gilels, etc.”
The program of the League was adopted at the congress. There are only three points:
1). Strengthening the participation of the Jews of Palestine in the assistance rendered by the world democracy to the Soviet Union in its struggle against fascism;
2). In the course of its activities, the League seeks to gain the support and sympathy of the Soviet Union for Zionist construction, the social liberation of the Jewish people in Palestine;
3). The League is a nation-wide and independent organization, to which, regardless of nationality and social affiliation, everyone who accepts its program and is ready to help it can join.
The League announced the creation of a “Fund for Assistance and Solidarity to the Soviet Union and the Red Army, Waging a Heroic Fight.” Fundraising for the purchase of ambulances was scheduled for November 7, 1942 – the day of the October Revolution, and on June 22, 1943 – on the day of the second anniversary of the war with Germany – a collection for the purchase of dressing materials for the Red Army. At the same time, they raised money for dressing materials, then for the purchase of surgical instruments, medicines and medical equipment. This “medical initiative” belonged to the Soviet embassy in Tehran, which prefers medical assistance to all other types of assistance.
Stingy lines of cases and numbers
The League’s documents list the assistance it provided during a short period of its existence: “In July 1942, the first 1050 pounds sterling were transferred to London in the name of the USSR Ambassador, Comrade Maisky, to be transferred to the Fund for Bomb Carriers and Tanks, the collection for which was announced Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee “,” in February 1943, the first transport of woolen clothes and two tons of bromine was sent through Tehran “,” in April 1943 – three ambulances, including a mobile surgery room, and behind them the transport of fats, soap and vaccines against loose typhus ”,“ followed by three more ambulances with surgical equipment and 500 woolen blankets ”,“ purchased and sent (from collection funds for dressing materials) 500,000 dressing bags and cotton wool … ”.
Soviet diplomats represented Jewish Palestine as “wastelands scorched by the sun,” “desert,” “three palm trees,” and Tel Aviv, as a Jewish place within the Pale of Settlement … But in his speech at the League Congress, Comrade T. Petrenko admitted: “ Tel Aviv surprised us. And your villages, in all their diversity, made an even greater impression on us. Although we saw only a small part of your agricultural centers, we were deeply impressed by everything that the Jewish workers created in such a short time … Your attitude towards the Soviet Union testifies that we met with people close to us. We have learned the greeting “Shalom haveirim!” Here. (“Peace be with you, comrades!”) And we say it from the bottom of our hearts. Palestinian Jewishness does a lot … We appreciate your help to the front. We have seen that you are preparing for an urgent war with the enemy. … I hope that after the victory we will live in close friendship. ”
“Ambulances for the Red Army, bought with the money of the working Jewish people …”
On April 18, 1943, League V sent (via Tehran) to the Red Army three ambulances with medical and surgical equipment. Before the ambulances and accompanying persons set off, they were given a solemn farewell in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Petah Tikva, Haifa … Huge crowds enthusiastically saw off the transport, thus expressing their sympathy for the USSR. Seeing off was filmed, and the film was sent to the Soviet Embassy in Ankara and VOKS (All-Union Society for Cultural Relations with Abroad). It must be said that the Jewish volunteers took upon themselves the delivery of the cargo and the escort of the transport. They covered a distance of 2000 km. And on May 2, a military parade was held in Tehran. Lieutenant Colonel Khoroshev greeted the arrivals: “… Accepting on behalf of the Red Army ambulances sent from the distant Jordan Valley, from the ancient walls of Jerusalem, bought with the money of the working Jewish people, with the money collected by the League“ V ”, I see in this a proof of the great the commonwealth of peoples in the struggle against German fascism, and the desire of the Jewish people of Palestine to help the peoples of the USSR against a common enemy. I ask you to convey to the Jewish people of Palestine a warm, Russian thank you. ”
“We, the undersigned representatives of the units of the Workers ‘and Peasants’ Red Army stationed in the city of Tehran, Lieutenant Colonel Horoshev, Major Savitsky, doctor Artykov drew up an act stating the following: equipment from working Jews from Palestine. The machines are technically sound. The property complies with the attached inventories. ”
Parade in honour of the Jews of Palestine
A military parade was held in Tehran in honor of the Jews of Palestine. The first in the history of the Jewish and Russian peoples. And after the parade, the volunteers went back to Palestine.
Fundraising “Everything for the front!” – only part of the League’s activities. There were exhibitions about the struggle of the USSR against fascism, performances of the theaters “Habima”, “Matate”, the fees from which were deducted to help the Red Army, radio programs, as well as the creation of the “All-Palestinian Committee of Youth Organizations” under the auspices of the League, which included “Working Youth” , “Camp of Pioneers”, “Gashomer ha-tsoir”, “Marxist circle named after Borokhov”.
And all this was colored by memories of a miracle: a military parade of the Workers ‘and Peasants’ Red Army. The Kremlin knew about the parade in Tehran. The newspaper Pravda published information that “the workers, farmers and intellectuals of Palestine are participating with enthusiasm in collecting funds to help the Red Army.”