Before World War 2 began, Germany’s plan was not to kill its Jews but to throw them out of Germany. Tens-of-thousands were exiled. Many fled to England and America, where their fluent German was utilized to fight the Nazis in many fields of combat including clandestine warfare, where cunning counts for more than bullets and bombs.
In the summer of 1940, the British ordered the mass internment of German-Jewish refugees but eventually freed them, initially allowing those who wanted to serve in non-combatant units for work and engineering, and later drafting them into the armed forces where many of them lost their lives.
It took years for the Allies to build up enough power to cross the English Channel and fight the Nazis on their own turf. This infuriated Soviet overlord Joseph Stalin, who was suspicious that the British and Americans were taking it easy in order to have him to do the hard work.
During this time, the Allies attacked Germany from the air with swarms of aircraft, forcing Germany to pour money and resources into search lights, anti-aircraft guns and defensive fighter planes which wreaked havoc on Allied air fleets. To reduce the damage from German aerial fighters, Britain used the services of Jews who had fled from Germany before the war and spoke fluent German. Impersonating German air controllers, the Jews broadcast phony orders to German pilots. This often misdirected them or fooled them to return to base prematurely. In one instance, a British controller directed a lost German night fighter pilot to land his Junker 88 outfitted with the latest equipment at a British airfield, where British Intelligence inspected it at their leisure.
Operation Corona, as the project was called, first went into action during the Royal Air Force Attack against the German industrial center of Kassel on the night of October 22, 1943. Kassel, the capital of the German provinces of Hesse-Nassau and Kurhessen, had facilities for the production of aircraft, tanks, locomotives, and engines, and housed two military headquarters and central Germany’s headquarters for highway and railway construction.
During this giant raid, the culmination of a series of raids that began in February, 569 bombers dropped over 1,800 tons of bombs including 460,000 magnesium fire sticks and triggered a firestorm similar to that of the better known Operation Gomorrah or Hiroshima of Germany, the 8 day bombing raid that destroyed most of Hamburg in July 1943.
The smaller Kassel raid incinerated 90% of the city and left 10,000 dead and 150,000 homeless. As with Hamburg, damage to the main telephone exchange and the city’s water pipes hindered firefighting efforts.
War in the Ether, a report about the World War 2 aerial radio hoaxes issued by the Signals Branch of England’s Bomber Command in 1945, discussed what happened during the Kassel raid and afterwards.
“Corona came into use on the night of 22/23 Oct 43, and immediately drew blood,” the report said. “The target on this occasion was Kassel, and before the end of the evening, there was chaos in the enemy night defense organization. A furious German ground controller was warning his aircraft to ‘beware of another voice’ and ‘not to be led astray by the enemy,’ culminating in an instruction, which must at least have succeeded in raising a laugh from his harassed pilots: ‘In the name of General Schmidt, I order all aircraft to Kassel.’ The Gen. Schmidt on whose authority he spoke was the Commander of the German Air Force on the Western Front.
“The enemy was seriously disturbed by the impact of Corona, which went from strength to strength, especially when the ‘Y’ service [radio interception personnel] produced a ghost voice who not only spoke idiomatic German but could also mimic perfectly the voices of his opposite numbers.”
On one night, the report continued, “The enemy attempted to beat the ghost by putting, quite suddenly and in the middle of the proceedings, a woman on the microphone. The ‘Y’ people had expected this, and had a German-speaking WAAF [Women’s Auxiliary Air Force] ‘ghost voice’ sitting ready against just such a contingency.”
In a similar but more hazardous operation, Airborne Cigar (ABC), German speakers, many of them Jewish German refugees or Jews who knew Yiddish from home, were sent aloft in specially fitted Lancaster bombers to jam the instructions radioed to German pilots sent up to attack the huge bomber groups streaming into Germany.
The British initially jammed the German radio signals with ground transmitters based in England. But this became ineffective as British raids penetrated deep into German territory. The solution was to place airborne 50-watt transmitters onto bombers taking part in the raids.
The transmitters were “designed for use on bombing raids over enemy territory to interrupt enemy communications by jamming particular frequencies on which radio messages are being sent to night fighters from ground control stations,” a British report stated. “The aircraft required must be capable of proceeding with, and through, the bomber stream to provide protection.”
Using a cathode ray set which turned radio waves into visible blips, the operator would identify its frequency and transmit undulating jamming noise via one of three transmitters.
The operators needed to know German in order to distinguish between genuine and fake ground controllers, as well as to glean useful information from the Nazi dialogue.
In 2007, the English Telegraph paper ran an obituary about Jewish radio transmitter operator John Hereford, who became a successful hotel manager after the war.
“The son of a lawyer, John Hereford was born Joachim Hayman Herzog at Wilmersdorf, Berlin, on May 3, 1925,” The Telegraph reported. “His parents fled to England in 1933 and Joachim was educated at Sevenoaks School. In 1943, at the age of 17, he joined the RAF, volunteering for flying duties and changing his name to what he considered the nearest sounding English equivalent, John Hereford.”
After the war, Hereford acted as an interpreter and analyst for the British army. Monitoring German phone calls, he noticed that many speakers were ending their calls with the number 88, acht und achtzig, and realized that this was a gematriya, lehavdil, each 8 representing the 8th letter of the alphabet, H, together standing for Heil Hitler. This discovery led to the arrest of several senior Nazis.
Like Hereford, other Jewish flyers commonly changed their names to less Jewish ones to make themselves less obviously Jewish in the event that they fell into enemy hands, a fate which was particularly hazardous for Jewish airman.
As radio transmitter operator Reuben “Herky” Herscovitz said when asked why he carried a pair of civilian shoes round his neck during his flying missions:
“My friend, if you are shot down, you will either be killed or taken to a proper prison camp under the control of the Geneva Convention. I am a Jew, and as the Herrenvolk would like to liquidate my race, I aim to get away from the wreckage as soon as possible. How can I possibly do that in heavy fur-lined flying boots?”
ABC went into operation for the first time in an air raid over Hanover on September 22, although some sources mention the night of October 7.
Flying in Lancaster bombers of 101 Squadron whose Latin motto was Mens Agitat Molem (Mind over matter), ABC operators accompanied most major attacks on German targets for the rest of the war and suffered so many casualties that some flyers suspected, despite lack of evidence, that German fighters were homing in on their radio transmitter signals. This led aircrews to call the operators Jo’s or Jonah’s, in allusion to Yonah who brought a storm upon the ship he boarded.
INFILTRATING THE ENEMY CAMP
Jewish German refugees also took part in ground operations on German occupied territory. England’s commando units included No. 3 Troop, dubbed X troop by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who reportedly quipped: “They will be unknown warriors and an unknown quantity. So, since the algebraic symbol for the unknown is X, let us call them X-Troop.”
Also known as the English, Jewish or British troop, but renamed the Miscellaneous Troop in 1944, it was comprised mostly of Jews of German, Austrian or Eastern European backgrounds and generally served other formations as interpreters and interrogators. After the Allies invaded France in 1944, members of the troop were often detailed to infiltrate enemy defenses and report with their findings. Of the unit’s 88 commandos, 21 were killed and 22 wounded, one of the highest casualty rates of any British unit during the war.
In 2009, author Steven Karras published, The Enemy I Knew: German Jews in the Allied Military in World War II, in which he interviewed 7 German refugees who served as Allied Jews in North Africa and Europe.
In his prologue, Karras cites a letter in which Walter Rothschild of the 175th Regiment, 45th Division, United States Army wrote feelings no doubt shared by many German refugee fighters.
“That’s what Frankfurt is today, a graveyard, a vast terrible graveyard, a sign of Divine justice, of retribution, a sign of G-d’s wonderful ways to lead us away from the Sintflut [deluge] before it could engulf us,” he wrote. “Where else and where more would we have reason to sink down on our knees with tears in our eyes? I almost had them, and thank Him for all he did for us that he led us away from it all to this land of Liberty, the United States of America.
“And where else could it be that I, born in that town, would return after so many years, as an officer of a conquering army? I felt as if today I was the safe keeper of the many thousands of Jews of Frankfurt or Germany that came with me together in spirit to see what Justice eternal does.”
(Sources include: “Jewish RAF Special Operators in Radio Counter Measures with 101 Squadron [September 1943 – May 1945]” by Martin Sugarman; Wikipedia)