‘If I Tell You, They’ll Kill Me’
With Veteran’s Day coming up, here’s a post that might interest families of WWII vets. My dad, Harry Zubkoff, was a true storyteller, but he never would tell us one story in particular. We knew that he hunted down Nazi criminals during his stint in the Army Counter Intelligence Corps after World War II ended. However, even in his old age, and of superbly sound mind, he wouldn’t divulge many details.
“Zadie, you’re 92, you can tell us, no one will find you,” his granddaughter insisted during a hospital visit in 2013.
But he stuck to his story: “If I tell you, they’ll kill me.” He did, however, encourage friends who showed an interest in his military experience to read “The Brigade” by Howard Blum.
The following excerpts (slightly paraphrased in spots) from Harry’s recorded interview with the U.S. Veterans History Project, give us some insight.
The basic job of counter intelligence was to investigate cases of sabotage, espionage, subversive activities. … We were being used to trace down Nazi war criminals to get what they could use in war crimes trials, and to help build a network of people who could help us get information.
We were worried at the time about the increasing hostility with Russia. … In the intelligence business we were taught so much about the Nazi paramilitary organizations and their political organizations, and we started taking lessons in the same things with regard to the Russians and Communists. We were working on both figuring out what the communists were doing and the Nazi war criminals.
I was sent on several missions, and spent some time in DP, displaced persons camps. … We set up DP camps for Jewish people, and I had a lot of interaction with them. … They thought the American Jewish soldiers were a breed apart from the other soldiers. They didn’t know that Jewish people could be in the Army.
Now, did you ever hear of the Jewish Brigade from Palestine? Some of the guys wrote a book. They were also chasing Nazi war criminals, and finding them, and killing them. … There was a period of time when my superiors were wondering if I was one of the guys who was finding them and killing them. … Other officers (not mine) were not sure about Jewish soldiers. They did things the intelligence community really wasn’t happy with. They brought over the Nazi scientists to the U.S. … We were against that. … We found out that many Nazis were being placed in responsible government jobs.
More on “The Brigade”
In Harry’s old boxes, we found some disturbing Nazi photos of a concentration camp, postcards with German notes on them, and posters of Hitler, etc. We also found news clippings Harry saved over the years about WWII veterans and then-secret missions. I learned more about the book “The Brigade” from the following note in his computer files.
The Brigade is the story—the true story—of how the Jews of Palestine formed a Brigade of some 5,000 men to fight as part of the British forces in WWII. In part it is the story, through the eyes of three men, of fighting against the Nazis, of seeking out Nazi war criminals, and of organizing a massive effort to spirit the remnants of Jews out of Europe and into Palestine. I spent a year and a half in Germany after the war ended in May 1945, hunting down war criminals who had gone to great lengths to hide their identities and their whereabouts. So, a part of this story is closely related to a part of my story.
But, the best part of this account is the brilliant efforts of the Palestinians (in those days, the Palestinians were the Jews, not the Arabs) to smuggle the survivors out of Europe under the eyes of the British, and to get them into Palestine. Too few Americans know the story of this Brigade. And almost nobody of the current generation, the young Jewish families of today, knows about this period of Jewish history.
So, if you will bear with this old man, I keep doing my best to inform everybody I can reach with this story. This story of the Brigade is as important as the story of the Exodus, which became such an inspiring movie a generation ago. I hope you will read it and treasure it as a part of your history as Jews, no matter how far removed it is from your own personal experience.
Does Harry’s essay make you want to read “The Brigade”? FYI, the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project has a page on stories from the Jewish Veterans of World War II.