Name: Chaim (Hanush) Afta
Date and place of birth: 18/12/1915; Kety Poland (Moved in his childhood to Břeclav, in South Moravia, Czechoslovakia
Fought in: WW2
Army: The Army of Czechoslovakia in the Middle East and Western Europe
Type of Service: volunteering, general mobilization
Decorations: Czechoslovak Army decorations for fighting the Nazis in the West, including a decoration for bravery (Za Chrabrost).
Died: Israel 1995
From Mandatory Palestine, via Tobruk to Prague – the story of a Jewish soldier – Chaim (Hanush) Afta
Not much is known about the activities/fighting of the Czechoslovak Army in the Middle East and Mandatory Palestine in 1940 – 1943.
The Czech unit began organizing, with a British approval, in late summer 1940, with 250 Czechoslovak refugees in Mandatory Palestine and Lebanon. The Czech general consul in Mandatory Palestine, and later a delegation of the Czech Government in Exile, seating in London, drafted Czech subjects/refugees to its army, most of them Jews who fled the Nazis to Mandatory Palestine.
At their apex, the Czech units in the Middle East numbered 2,500 soldiers, 49.48% of which were Jewish according the Czech official statistics (60% according to unofficial statistics). However, many Jews did not identify themselves as such, due to their apprehension from antisemitism.
Lieutenant (Porocik) Chaim (Hanush) Afta's story exemplifies the Czech Army story in the Middle East and Western Europe during the war against the Nazis. The personal magnificent photo album, photographed by Afta during the war, was donated by his widow Gertrude Afta to the IDFA. Some of the photographs appear in his memorial exhibition.
Hanush Afta was born on 18/12/1915 at Kety in Poland. In his childhood his family moved to Czechoslovakia, and he grew up in Břeclav, South Moravia. Following his high school and professional studies Afta was drafted to the Czechoslovak army in 1/10/1937. These were very tensed days, as Czechoslovakia was threatened by Nazi Germany. In October 1938, following the Munich Agreement, Germany took over the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia (including Břeclav). On 15/3/1939 Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia, the country became The Bohemia & Moravia Protectorate, Slovakia ceded from the state, becoming "independent" under German protection. The day after the occupation of Czechoslovakia, Afta was discharged from the army at his request.
In December 1939, Afta arrived in Mandatory Palestine on a student certificate. His young girlfriend, later his wife, Gertrude, arrived later illegally. They were married in May 1940 in Jerusalem. Their families, remaining in occupied Czechoslovakia, were murdered by the Nazis.
At that time, the youth of the Jewish Yishuv was beginning to join the fight against the Nazis. Hanush Afta, inrespoonse to the Czechoslovak Consulate in Jerusalem's call, enlisted in the Czechoslovak Army in the Middle East (1942). Following training in desert conditions, Near Gdera and Jericho, the Czech companies were transferred to Egypt, where they joined Montgomery's 8th army in its fight against the Germans in North Africa. Hanush, who served in the artillery fought in Alexandria's defense, and following the Battle of El Alamein, were advanced to Tobruk, Cyrenaica, and Bengasi in Libya.
In May 1943, when their mission in North Africa terminated, the Czech soldiers were given time off in Palestine. Later the Czech Government, in conjunction with the British, transferred the 2,500 soldiers to Britain. From the El Kasasin military base in Egypt, they embarked the Mauritania which sailed the long road around Africa, due to the presence of German submarines in the Mediterranean. On its way, the ship moored in Capetown, South Africa, where the Jewish soldiers joined the Sabbath services in the local synagogue, and were hosted by Jewish families in town. Finally, the Mauritania reached Liverpool's port on 11/08/1943.
In Britain the soldiers were incorporated in the Czechoslovak Independent Armoured Brigade. The artillerists, Afta among them, underwent training, and joined the Allied Forces fighting in Normandy. From Early October, 1944, until May 5, 1945 the brigade took part in the siege of the German garrison in the port of Dunkirk. A part of the Brigade, incorporated into General Patton, 3rd Army, arrived in Western Czechoslovakia on 10/05/1945, and on 17/05/1945 took part in the Victory March in Prague.
There ended Hanush Afta's war, and in liberated Czechoslovakia, he discovered the bitter fate of his and his wife's families and friends – all murdered by the Nazis.
At the beginning of 1949, Hanush Afta arrived in Israel, this time for good.
Erich Kolka, Jews in the Czechoslovak Army in the West, Prague, 1992 (in Czech);
Zlatize, Zodova-Flashkova; Jews in the struggle and in the underground, Prague, 2007 (In Czech)
Chaim (Hanush) Afta, a photo album, family collection.
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