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Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day)

  • Blog Post by: Steve Hunegs
  • April 26, 2012 - 3:43 PM

Today marks the 64th anniversary of Israel’s independence. Foreign volunteers, known as “Machalniks,” were Jews and non-Jews, men and women, who came from all over the world to fight for Israel in its War of Independence in 1948 – 1949.  According to Dr. Jason Fenton, the youngest Machalnik (at age 16) who came from the United Kingdom, approximately 3,000 to 4,000 Machalniks came from abroad including: 1,500 from the United States, 700 from South Africa, 600 from the United Kingdom, and 400 from Canada.  Contingents also came from France, Belgium, Australia, the former Belgian Congo, the former Rhodesia, Finland, Russia, Argentina, and Cuba. In total, twenty nine countries were represented (“Volunteers in the War of Independence,” 1998).   (Machalnik is the Hebrew acronym for Mitnadvei Chutz L'Aretz: Volunteers from Outside the Land of Israel.) There were 122 Machalniks killed in Israel's War of Independence.

Israel's War of Independence was a desperate existential struggle.  One percent of Israel's population (6,000 of 600,000) was killed in the war.  In some respects, the war began after November 29, 1947, when internally and externally to mandatory Palestine, the Arab League vowed to destroy by any means the United Nations decision to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.

The Haganah, the underground military force of the Yishuv (the pre-state Jewish community of Palestine), had high Espirit de corps and was expert in small group tactics.  The Haganah, though, had no experience as a standing army, although many of its soldiers were veterans of the Allied armies of World War II.  They also had no heavy equipment, such as artillery, which was compounded by a United States military embargo of the Middle East, despite President Harry Truman’s nearly instantaneous de facto recognition of Israel on May 14, 1948.

On May 14, 1948, the day David Ben Gurion declared Israel's Declaration of Independence, Israel had no air force and almost no pilots.  The story of the formation of Israel's first squadron, the 101, is a story populated by Machalniks.  One of the Machalniks was Leon Frankel of St. Paul.

Mr. Frankel first appeared in these posts on December 7, 2011, the 70th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, with excerpts of a recorded interview in which he described his Second World War experiences as a naval aviator.  Mr. Frankel was awarded a Navy Cross and a Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery and skill as a carrier pilot in the Pacific theater. Please click here to read my commentary from last December.

(Mr. Frankel was joined by two other Machalniks from Minnesota.  Dr. Marvin “Bucky” Bacaner, Professor Emeritus of Physiology from the University of Minnesota, participated in breaking of the British blockade to bring Jewish displaced persons to Palestine, and the late Red Sturry.)

Only three years after the end of World War II, Mr. Frankel was again a wartime pilot, this time flying for the nascent state of Israel piloting a Czech-built Messerschmitt as Egyptian forces approached Israel’s population centers.  Please view these three videos (Video 1, Video 2, and Video 3) to watch and hear from Mr. Frankel describe his experience as a Machalnik pilot in Israel’s War of Independence.

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