Sunday, April 21, 2013

World War II Comes to Palestine,
Italian POWs in the Land of Israel

Italian prisoners of war under British guard arrive by train in Palestine 1940
(Library of Congress)
World War II's Jewish history focuses on the terrible Holocaust in Europe with relatively small footnotes about the Nazi persecution of Jews in North Africa, Haj Amin el-Husseini's conspiracies in Berlin, and the Italian air force bombing of Tel Aviv in September 1940.

POWs lining up for food
The Holocaust's genocide could also have included the 500,000 Jews of Palestine if the British army had not stopped German General Rommel's Afrika Korps blitzkrieg across northern Africa in November 1942 in the battle of Alamein.  According to the British Independent, German historians discovered that the "Nazis stationed a unit of SS troops in Athens, tasked with following invading frontline troops in Palestine and then rounding up and murdering about 500,000 European Jews who had taken refuge there."  The SS would have been aided by Arab collaborators promised by el-Husseini.

POW's food line
Palestine played a different role in 1940, early in the war. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, allied with Germany, ordered his troops stationed in Cyrenaica (Libya) to attack British forces in Egypt and capture the Suez Canal. Out-numbered British and Australian forces blocked the attack and pushed back the Italian army. It was a crushing defeat for Italy, and more than 100,000 soldiers were captured.

Where were the Italian POWs taken?

The American Colony's photographs from the Library of Congress' collection showed that thousands of Italian POWs were taken to Palestine by train, presumably from Egypt.

The photographs were taken at the Wadi Sarer train station in December 1940. The station, inside Israel, is an old Ottoman building that has been abandoned.
Wadi Sarer train station in the background
POWs on the march

The old train station was a recent photographic subject for photographer Gunther Hartnagel.  We have been unable to make contact with Mr. Hartnagel to obtain permission to use his photographs, but they can be viewed here.

1 comment:

  1. World War II posters comes to Palestine and Italian POWs in the Land of Israel World War II's Jewish history focuses on the terrible Holocaust in Europe. World war 2 progress more and more and will fight for the nation. Their picture and the posters of the world war 2 get into everyone mind and they thinking about them.