Monday, September 2, 2013

Secret British WWII Intelligence Files in Mandatory Palestine

68 years ago, on September 2, 1945, World War II ended with Japan's surrender. The surrender ceremony took place on the deck of the Battleship Missouri as shown in this clip. (Here's another film of the event in color, but with no sound.)

The fighting in the Far East did not quite hold the attention of the population in British Mandatory Palestine during World War II, however. The German threat, in the figure of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel and his Africa Corps in 1941-42, was more severe, as was the news of the Holocaust in Europe. The vast majority of the volunteers for the British army from the Jewish community in Palestine served during the war in the Mediterranean zone of operations. (Citizens of Mandate territories were not obligated to join the British Army, unlike the citizens of British colonies, and those who volunteered for service were limited to the Mediterranean zone.) But some served in the Far East. This Ha'aretz article mentions two Israel-born soldiers who fell while serving in the Australian Army and two others who were captured in Indonesia during their service in the Royal Air Force. One of them, Abraham Kissin, wrote a book about his experiences in Japanese captivity -- "Captive by the Soldiers of the Mikado," which was published in Hebrew in 1970.

The cover of Kissin's book
The Israel State Archives possesses, among the documents of the Chief Secretary of the Government of Palestine (Record Group 2), an intelligence document of the British Intelligence Corps in India entitled Who's Who in Japan, 1945. The document is an alphabetical list of high ranking officials and military men in Japan. The list is organized by region (China, Korea, Home Islands etc.). The document also details the various governments in Japan from 1930 onwards.

How did the document come into the possession of the Palestine Government? One can only guess. But it's a very interesting document. According to the opening remarks on its cover, it was regularly updated with information flowing into the Intelligence Center. An example: in the penultimate review from May 1944, there is a mention of the name Kuribayashi, Tadamichi - former commander of the Tokyo Division. In the following document from June 1945, his name no longer appears as he was the commander of the Iwo Jima Island and was killed in May 1945. Kuribayashi was presented as a heroic figure in Clint Eastwood's impressive film, "Letters From Iwo Jima." (The actor who played the character was Ken Watanabe.)