David Rafael Gonzalez
Leah Garrett, director of the Jewish Studies Center at Hunter College in New York, shared the stories of a group of Jewish service members known as the X Troop on Sunday at the University of La Verne’s annual Kristallnacht Remembrance Lecture held via Zoom.
Garret wrote the book “X Troop: The Secret Jewish Commandos of World War II,” which details the lives of the men who served in the X Troop.
Garret said that when the war was going poorly for the British in 1942, Winston Churchill decided that something radical needed to be done, which resulted in the creation of the inter-allied No. 10 Commando unit. She said the people of these units were non-British and wanted to go and fight.
As part of the No. 10 Commando unit, a secret German-speaking unit was established.
“No one would know about them,” Garrett said. “And not only would they be able to be trained with commandos to capture the enemy, but really crucially, because of their German language, they would interrogate them in the battlefield on the spot and get this intelligence that would help them win the war.”
In 1942, 85% of all German speakers in the United Kingdom were Jewish refugees, resulting in 95% of this unit being Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria.
“So these were people, they’re all Holocaust survivors basically,” Garrett said. “They all had parents who after Kristallnacht, had to make that impossible decision that they want to rescue their kids and they know no country is going to take them.”
When the war broke out, the British decided to intern Germans, Garrett said. The men who eventually made up the X Troop were part of those who were interned.
“Eventually, these guys get interned and they’re finally selected in 1942 for this very important top-secret commando unit, which during the course of the war ends up being absolutely crucial to the British success because they’re the tip of the sword for the British,” Garrett said.
Garret said that the 87 men who were chosen to be part of the unit were told to come up with fake British names, fake backstories that explained their German accents, were given Church of England dog tags, and were buried as Christians.
“They all had to sublimate their true story and their Jewishness in order to become commandos and to a man they were excited to get to because for all the men it was personal,” Garrett said.
The X Troop’s story did not end on the battlefield.
“For these guys, the war is only just starting because now they have to figure out if anyone is still alive and what happened to their family members,” Garrett said.
Garrett said that the X Troop was originally not naturalized as British citizens like Polish and French service members were.
“So suddenly when V-E Day happens, these guys are still stateless, they’re still enemy aliens,” Garrett said.
Garrett said that the military saw the X Troop’s usefulness after the war and was put in charge of denazification campaigns.
“So basically from 1945 to 1947, these guys were all sent back to Germany and Austria to root out and find Nazis, to gather information for the Nuremberg trials,” Garrett said.
It was not until 1947 that the X Troop were finally naturalized, she said.
Garrett said that there were a number of reasons why the X Troop’s story is not well known. One of the reasons was that it was a top secret unit. Another reason is that the X Troop was split up into existing units when they went onto the field, which made records spread across different units.
There was a huge amount of material on the X Troop that families had kept from the war, so Garrett started to get in touch with them.
“There were archives all over the place, it just needed someone to write the book,” Garrett said.
“It’s fascinating and horrible at the same time, in your book it’s very vivid and very personal,” said Debbie Noble, Jewish Book Festival committee member.
Noble said that the University’s Kristallnacht lecture is one of the highlights of the festival every year.
Zandra Wagoner, University chaplain, said that the lecture acknowledges and honors Kristallnacht.
“The violence resulted in the loss of Jewish lives and the destruction of Jewish property, littering the streets with shards of broken glass,” Wagoner said. “Kristallnacht is often understood as the beginning of the Jewish holocaust.”
Wagoner said that Nov. 9 marks the 83rd anniversary of Kristallnacht.
“We’re together today for one reason and that is to recognize Kristallnacht, to never forget, to always remember, and to come together as a community so that we, in our own way, can practice tikkun olam,” said Devorah Lieberman, University president.
David Rafael Gonzalez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Rafael Gonzalez is a senior journalism major and LV Life editor of the Campus Times. He has been a three-time editor-in-chief and has also served as editorial director, LV Life editor and a staff writer.