• Issue: December 1997
  • Designer: R. Kantor
  • Stamp size: 40 x 25.7 mm
  • Plate no.: 334 - 335
  • Sheet of 15 stamp Tabs:5
  • Printers: E. Lewin-Epstein Ltd.
  • Method of printing: Offset

"MACHAL" - Overseas volunteers

During Israel's War of Independence, when the nascent Jewish State was struggling for its very survival, tome 3,500 volunteers from all over the world rallied to its defence. These young men and women, Jews as well as non-Jews, came from 37 different countries. They were known as MACHAL, the Hebrew acronym for Overseas Volunteers.

Most of the Overseas Volunteers were veterans of World War II with military training and experience. At that crucial moment, their skills and expertise were of decisive importance to the newly formed Israel Defence Forces, on the ground, at sea and in the air Combat-seasoned fliers and ground crew, mostly from English speaking countries-Canada, Great Britain, South Africa and the United States-formed virtually every Air Force squadron, ferried newly acquired planes and ammunition and helped lay the foundation for the future lAF. MACHAL men and women fought valiantly and served with distinction in every branch of the IDF, including, Artillery, Infantry, Armoured Corps, Medical Corps, Signals and the Navy, often in key positions of command.

Even before the State was proclaimed on May 14, 1948, Overseas Volunteers enlisted in the Hagana, the Palmach and other underground forces. They served as crew members on Aliya-Bet ships attempting to run the British naval blockade, in heroic efforts to bring Holocaust survivors to the shores of Eretz Yisrael. The ten ships acquired in the United States, manned for the most part by volunteer crews, brought more than 31,000 Holocaust survivors.

Overseas Volunteers came with a high sense of purpose, and a shared feeling of pride and privilege in knowing that they were helping to create and defend a Jewish homeland.

After the war, most returned to their home countries but a significant number stayed on. They helped found settlements or worked in their chosen fields, and integrated into the life of the new born State. Over the years, many others returned to become part of the "Ingathering of the Exiles."

MACHAL veterans maintain close ties with Israel through WORLD MACHAL and its affiliates in many countries. WORLD MACHAL affiliates built the MACHAL MONUMENT at Shsar Hagai to commemorate the 119 Overseas Volunteers who lost their lives in Israel's struggle for independence. At the dedication ceremony, the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin acknowledged MACHAL's contribution to the successful outcome of the war when he said: "They came to us when we most needed them, during those hard and uncertain days of our 1948 War of Independence."

The GACHAL stamp shows Holocaust survivors beside an infantry soldier in the War of Independence, with a map at Europe in the background.

The MACHAL stamp symbolized the specialized activities at the volunteers who took part in the fighting an land, at sea and in the air. Partial views of the two Norseman planes can be seen at the sides at the stamp, with a soldier and a jeep between them. The lower part of the stamp depicts the cannon known as "Napoleon-chick," and the navy ship "Achi Hagana K 20," which was previously the illegal immigrant ship "The Jewish State."

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"GACHAL" - Recruitment in the Diaspora

Israel's victory in its War of Independence was determined to a great extent by the tens of thousands of young men and women Holocaust survivors, who were recruited in Europe in order to join the ranks of the locally born and raised fighters. These young Holocaust survivors were known by the Hebrew acronym, "GACHAL" overseas recruits.

Recruitment of GACHAL began toward the end of 1947 in the displaced persons camps in Germany, Austria and Italy. Later, recruitment was extended to other countries in Europe, as well as to the detention camps in Cyprus. Immigrants, who had arrived in the country within the regular immigration quotas and were living in immigrants' hostels, were also drafted into the war effort. An overwhelming proportion of the GACHAL recruits were Holocaust survivors - 23,000 out of a total of 26,000 recruits. The remainder were Jewish volunteers from North African countries and MACHAL recruits. The overseas recruits were not the only Holocaust survivors among the Jewish fighters in Israel. Some 70,000 survivors had arrived in the country between the years 1945 and 1947, and these included a large number of young men. Many of them had joined the Hagana and the Palmach shortly after their arrival. These facts make it possible to determine that about one half of the Hagana's fighting force - later the Israel Defence Forces - in the War of Independence, consisted of Holocaust survivors. It was only in 1948 that a preliminary system of integration for the GACHAL recruits was put into operation and no firm policy was ever formulated which took into consideration the specialness of these people and their unique sensitivities. Moreover, their military service was the first encounter the Holocaust survivors had with the country's veteran population.

From the beginning, many of the commanders of Israel's fighting forces wrongly believed that the Holocaust survivors were not up to their locally raised counterparts in fighting ability and motivation. In addition, there were problems of communication (most of the survivors spoke no Hebrew), a vast difference in background between the Holocaust youths and their experiences and that of the local youngsters, age differences, together with the fact that local youth were somewhat self-centered because they had been accustomed to see themselves as the focal point of the Jewish national renaissance movement.

The recruitment of Holocaust survivors and their part in Israel's War of independence are emotionally charged issues. It is easy enough to understand the tragedy of recruiting the last remaining members of entire families, individuals who had managed to escape by the skin of their teeth the horrors of the Holocaust. It is painful indeed to consider the story of those who fell in battle, since most of the GACHAL recruits were sent straight to the front, to become part of the main fighting force.

In retrospect, many of the recruited survivors have pointed out that the part they played in the war for the Land of Israel gave them the feeling that they owned the country. It also helped them to alleviate some of the feelings of revenge which had motivated them immediately after the Second World War. The "Revenge of Redemption", is how they define this feeling.

In his poem "One of the GACHAL," Nathan Alterman wrote: "And a homeland awaited him... But he gave back his-life Some time in the night, dying for its sake."

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