'Never forget,' say Jewish veterans who were proud to fight the Nazis
Some 1.5 million Jews fought against Hitler in the Allies' armies, including more than half a million under the Soviet flag and a similar number in the U.S. Army; 'Our people should be proud that we are not only victims — we are the heroes of WWII, we were able to get revenge,' says Red Army veteran
Almost all of the countries in Europe took part in the fighting that spanned across the continent as well as North Africa, the Middle East and the Far East. The Axis Powers headed by Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and Japan fought the Allied countries, including Britain, France (until its conquest in 1940), the Soviet Union and the U.S., which joined the war in 1941.
Many Jews took part in the war effort — a million and a half strong. Many never returned home. Over half a million fought under the Soviet flag in the Red Army, some in high-ranking positions. More than 100,000 died in the deadly battles, and some 80,000 Jewish prisoners of war were murdered by the Nazis. Over the years, 150 Jews were acknowledged as Heroes of the Soviet Union, for feats of bravery in service to the Soviet Union.
Avraham-Michael Greenzaid, 93, from the central city of Rehovot, was a Red Army soldier during the war.
"I was recruited in 1943, at the age of 17.5," he told Ynet, wearing his uniform and honors from the war. "I joined the army for revenge. My father was already dead, my cousin died in the battles, many of my relatives were in ghettos or had died."
"Staying alive was hard. There was no food or drink, no home. We were lonely, all we wanted was revenge. Besides, we were afraid that the Germans might reach the places we lived and kill us," he says.
Greenzaid is one of the last surviving soldiers from that generation. He immigrated to Israel 30 years ago.
"I call on Israelis, on the young generation: Don't forget it," he says. "One-and-a-half Million Jews fought against the Nazis. We are proud to be an inseparable part of this victory. Our people should be proud that we are not only victims — we are the heroes of WWII, we were able to get revenge," he says.
In the U.S. Army, that joined the war in late 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbor, fought some half a million Jews. Some 36,000 of them received different medals for their service during war time. General Maurice Rose, the most senior Jewish officer in the American Army during the war, died in action. He was the son of Polish immigrants.
Rose was known as a superior officer with fine strategic skills; he fought in the in the African theater and in Italy, France and Germany and climbed up the ranks as he went. He was shot by a German soldier and died at 45, the only division commander in the U.S. army to perish in the war.
Tens of thousands of Jews served in the British military, along with some 30,000 soldiers from the Yishuv (pre-state Jewish community) in Mandatory Palestine. Not to mention the many Jewish partisans who fought against the Nazis around Europe.
Alex Zilony, 103, was one of the founders of the Israeli Air Force. He was born in Poland and immigrated to mandatory Palestine when he was five years old with his family, and then traveled to England to study flight engineering in 1936 after a two-year service in the Haganah.
He joined the British Royal Air Force when the war started and served as an officer, and later, as an experienced aircrew man, was the first commander of the Tel Nof Airbase in Israel.
One of the most difficult moments Zilony experienced during the war was the Blitz — a series of aerial attacks on Britain during the war, that cost tens of thousands of lives and immense damages to the Royal Air Force.
"During the attack, I was in London working as the head of the team who managed planes that were hit," he says. "The British Air Force prevented Hitler from conquering England," he says — 80 years after the greatest war the world had ever known began.