Vengeance or Rescue?: The Tragic Dilemma in Hanoch Bartov’s The Brigade
Abstract

Abstract:

In Jewish consciousness, the Second World War is associated with the Holocaust, the courageous stand of the Partisans, the heroic uprising of the rebels at the Warsaw Ghetto, and the hopeless mission of Hanna Szenes, the Jewish female paratrooper, in Europe. The fact that one and a half million male and female Jewish soldiers fought against the Germans in Allied Forces armies, under the flags of the Soviet Union, the United States, Britain, and South Africa, among other countries, does not organically belong to Israeli collective memory. This may derive from the fact that Israeli literature about the War begins with the recruitment of 40,000 troops from the Jewish Yishuv to the British Army. Paradoxically, the combat soldiers of the Jewish Brigade, who comprised a small, 5,000-strong force, and first saw action in the ranks of the British Army only as late as September 1944, are better remembered than the 60,000 Jewish soldiers who fought under the British flag. This stems from the Jewish Brigade’s makeup of volunteers who stepped forward from the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine, who came from a Hebrew-speaking background, identified with Zionist symbols, and were well aware that they were laying down foundations for the military force of the future state. The autobiographical novel The Brigade, in which Hanoch Bartov gave personal expression to his experiences as a Brigade solider, remains one of the main sources of knowledge about the unit’s story.

The Brigade (1965) was written twenty years after the events it depicts took place. The novel is a literary, personal account of the combat soldiers of the Jewish Brigade, who came to Europe for the sake of the dually impossible task of saving Jews and taking revenge against the Nazis. Jewish revenge, discordant with the goals that the British Army had set for itself, clashing with the schedule of the battalion’s Hebrew-speaking commander, and ultimately, despite the urge and drive to take it, appearing not to agree with the Jewish mindset, is the subject of the current article. The study examines the dilemma faced by the entire battalion that the novel follows and by the individuals within it, regarding whether to save or take vengeance: a dilemma they perceive as tragic.