Latest update: April 15th, 2013
About four years ago a group of orthodox senior citizens from Bnei Brak arrived to tour the Ayalon Institute. One woman seemed to be exceptionally moved and cried a lot. Nearly two week later, she sent a letter to the Institute explaining why. She wrote that she was a Holocaust survivor and between 1943 and 1945 she had been a forced laborer making bullets to help the Nazi cause – bullets that were used many times against Jews. After the war, she had concentrated on raising a frum generation, suppressing all the terror of those horrendous years in order to do so.
When she came to Machon Ayalon her memories overwhelmed her. It gave her great relief that Jews at Machon Ayalon had also done what she had been forced to do. The difference was they had done it willing with great self-sacrifice to help save other Jews. It seemed to be a “counter-weight” against her slavery under Nazis. She had no doubt that the efforts of the Haganah members who worked at Machon Ayalon under harsh conditions played a crucial role in the success of the War of Independence. Their altruism, with the help of Hashem, helped defend the vastly outnumbered Sherit Haplatah against the Arab armies.
England became the Mandatory ruler of Palestine in December of 1917. Despite the Belfour Declaration, the British discriminated against the Jews. Arab violence was overlooked and Jews were forbidden to own arms. Carrying and possessing weapons carried a death penalty. In response, Jewish underground groups were formed to defend the population of the Land and kick the British out.
During the Second World War, the Haganah, the largest of these Jewish underground movements, joined the British to fight the Nazis. Thirty thousand young Jews joined the English army, returning home after the German defeat at El Alamein, in the deserts of North Africa. Almost all of them now had a personal weapon – a British standard sub-machine gun.
At that stage, the Haganah already had underground ammunition producing factories. Their engineers had been trying to reproduce German machine guns. The trouble was that the German weaponry was very complicated. When they examined the British stand-sub-machine gun, they saw they could easily be duplicated. They started producing them by the hundreds. Now they needed bullets.
Under the theory that the best place to hide something from someone is to conceal it right under that person’s nose, the Haganah built a bullet factory on the summit of a hill near to where the English were encamped – Givat Kibbutzim located between Nes Ziona and Rechovot.
From 1932-1942 groups of young people had come to Givat Kibbutzim to train and gain experience in the ways of daily life on a kibbutz. They had then gone on to establish kibbutzim throughout the country.
In 1946 Givat Kibbutzim, code-named the Ayalon Institute, appeared to be no more than a regular kibbutz. There was a dining hall, living quarters, chicken coops, a cow barn, workshops, a laundry, a bakery, a vegetable garden and even a nursery school. Yet beneath the limestone hill was the largest bullet factory in the Land. From 1946-1948, forty-five people worked there in two shifts, manufacturing 2.25 million bullets. At the height of operations, 40,000 bullets were made daily. These nine-millimeter bullets were used in the Sten sub-machine gun, the primary personal weapon during the War of Independence. Each bullet was imprinted with the letters EA, E for Eretz Yisrael and A for Ayalon.
The kibbutz was constantly watched and often visited by British soldiers. One time, a group of soldiers came to the kibbutz and was given beer to drink. They complained that the beer was warm and fizzy. The kibbutz members apologized profusely saying that if the soldiers would give them advance notice of their visits, they would be sure the beer would be properly chilled when they arrived. The British happily agreed. Thus, each time the soldiers came to inspect the kibbutz its members knew to be prepared for them.
About the Author: Originally from south Africa, Vardah has been living in Eretz Yisrael since 1974 and the more she learns about our glorious Holy Land the more she gets to love this prime property that Hashem has given to the Jewish People. She is studying to be a tour guide and hopes with the help of Hashem, through this column to give readers a small taste of the land.
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