BENNO KATZ (Excerpts from a letter)
Excerpts from a letter written by British volunteer Benno Katz to his friend, Herbert Najman, ex-72nd battalion, now living in Tel Aviv
Sydney (Sigi) Steller and Joe Fishbaum were with me in the Palestinian Jewish Brigade, having transferred there from our British Army units. Sigi was also with me at the "Ely" School and hostel for Kindertransport children in the U.K. We met Richard (Rudi) Sheinhorn, who had no military experience, at Stamford Hill. Aaron (Lothar) Fried had also been in our group at the institutions in the U.K..
Both Joe and Aaron were born 1926 in Leipzig, Germany; Sydney in 1924 in Vienna, Austria; and Richard in 1925 in Germany.
Aaron Fried was the first to get to Palestine. He, like Sigi, Joe and myself, had also served in the Jewish Brigade, but on being transferred back to the British Army, deserted and operated with the Haganah in Italy and other places in Europe.
The other three and I arrived March/April 1948 on a passenger ship from France with forged visas, via Beirut and Alexandria. We had a lot of contacts from the Brigade, but asked to serve in a combat unit.
The commander of "A"' Company of the 51st Battalion was my old sergeant major, so I picked him, and my friends followed me.
We occupied Hill 69 near Beit Daras during the night. Early next morning on June 10th we came under heavy fire from the Egyptians. Then they came at us: tanks, half trucks and infantry. Our commander claimed that he had sent a runner to tell us to withdraw, but I do not think this was true. He was the first to leave and two platoons followed him. We stayed until the enemy was on top of us I was knocked out by a blast, regained consciousness the next night and got to Negba 18 hours later. Don't know how. Anyway, my friends, Fishbaum, Sheinhorn and Steller were the best. They died holding their ground until the bitter end.
Aaron Fried had been killed fighting at Latrun earlier, on May 13th. He was newly-wed and I had the sad duty of taking his kit to his bride of 60 days.
Rudy, I believe, had no one; Sigi had a sister I never heard from; and Joe had a sister in Haifa I knew nothing about until 1998, when I spoke to her for the first time.
1. Beit Daras had a secret airstrip where the first airlift of arms from Czechoslovakia was brought in by commercial pilots flying a Haganah chartered aircraft on 1st April, 1948.
2. Historians have noted that the 51st Battalion of Givati had many untrained new immigrants in their ranks, who were retrained and redeemed themselves from the disgrace when assigned missions in later Negev operations, some in difficult bayonet charges and hand-to-hand fighting on Hills No. 100 and 113 in the Huleigat area on 16th/17th October.