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Perfect Heroes

The World War II Parachutists and the Making of Israeli Collective Memory

Judith Tydor Baumel-Schwartz

Publication Year: 2010

During World War II, the British military dropped several dozen parachutists from Palestine, including three women, behind enemy lines in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. These young soldiers, most of whom had fled Europe only a few years earlier, faced a double challenge: their British mission was to find pilots who had jettisoned over enemy territory and assist them in returning to Allied-occupied lands; their Zionist mission was to contact Jewish communities, assist them in rebuilding the local Zionist movement, and, when necessary, help their members escape from the Nazis. Seven of the parachutists lost their lives in this effort.
    In Perfect Heroes, an expanded and updated English adaptation of her Hebrew book Giborim le-mofet, Judith Tydor Baumel-Schwartz recounts the history of these parachutists’ wartime escapades and also analyzes the ways that various segments of Israeli society—military, political, legal, educational, youth, literary, and artistic—used the parachutists’ story over the course of fifty years to build a nationalist narrative and to promote their own partisan and, at times, contradictory agendas. Baumel-Schwartz also offers broader comparative discussions of how individuals were commemorated as WWII heroes and heroines in many countries, in service of national mythologizing and collective memory.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xviii

This book was born in stages. In the summer of 1993, shortly before I was to participate in an international conference on the concept of the hero in Jewish history, I began researching how Israeli society had perpetuated the memory of the Yishuv (Jewish community in pre-state Israel) parachutists from World War II. These were a group of some three dozen young...

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Note on Transliteration and Usage

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p. xix

In the main text I have used the accepted English transliterations as set forth by the Encyclopedia Judaica. Proper names and places have not been transliterated strictly but are usually rendered in the more conventional anglicized forms (“Palmach” as opposed to “Palmah”). Places are spelled with modern transliterations as opposed to those commonly used for the...

Part 1. The Heroes

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1. The Operation: Reluctant Heroes, 1943 –1945

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pp. 3-44

“Of course we thought we’d return,” stated Surika, one of three women from the Yishuv who parachuted into Europe during the Holocaust. “We weren’t adventurers, nor were we setting out to commit suicide. We were all convinced that ...

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2. The Institutionalization of Memory: Initial Commemoration of the Parachutists, 1945 –1949

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pp. 45-70

At the beginning of his book James E. Young warns: “Memory is not shaped in a vacuum; the motives of memory are never pure.”1 Since antiquity various groups have used commemoration as an important way to shape their collective memory, a tool with which they may determine what to remember and what to forget, what to emphasize and what ...

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3. The Prodigals Return: Repatriating the Parachutists, 1950–1952

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pp. 71-100

“My first memory of Father was actually at his funeral. I’m proud of my father, but I have no recollections of him.” This is how Edna Leshem, RafiReiss’s daughter, began her conversation with me on a warm summer afternoon on the shore of Lake Kinneret. From a terrace overlooking the shore ...

Part 2. The Symbol

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4. “An Example for the Nation”: Politicizing the Operation’s Commemoration in the 1950s

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pp. 103-148

According to Ernst Cassirer, “Myth is one of the oldest and greatest powers in human civilization. It is closely connected with all other human activities—it is inseparable from language, poetry, art and from early historical thought.”1 Much ink has been used to explain the socionational need for myths, ...

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5. “An Example for Both Youth and Adults”: Commemoration of the Parachutists’ Mission in Israeli Youth Movements, Schools, Literature, and Culture from the 1950s to the Early 1970s

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pp. 149-181

“Young people today know nothing about the parachutists’ operation except perhaps the name of Hannah Szenes. And they are not interested in probing the history of the Yishuv,” was the conclusion of the editor of Huliyon, the newsletter of Kibbutz Sde Nehemia, on the operation’s twentieth anniversary.1 Several weeks ...

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6. “An Example for All Time”: Commemorating the Parachutists from the Mid-1970s Onward

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pp. 182-215

“There is nothing that this nation . . . loves more than erecting statues of heroes and then shattering them. It’s evidently a global phenomenon. Thus, anyone who’s rightly considered a national hero today ought to know that one day he’ll be a punching bag or a garbage can for ...


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pp. 217-218


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pp. 219-250


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pp. 251-272


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pp. 273-282

E-ISBN-13: 9780299234836
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299234843

Page Count: 282
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 644627010
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Perfect Heroes

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Heroes -- Mythology -- Israel.
  • Jews -- Israel -- Identity
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Secret service -- Great Britain -- History.
  • Zionists -- Palestine -- Biography.
  • Parachute troops -- Palestine -- History.
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