World War 2, the Holocaust and the State of Israel: 1940-1949


World War 2, the Holocaust and the State of Israel: 1940-1949

Nazi Germany invades Poland on September 1st, 1939, starting the bloodiest war in human history. Soon all of Europe, with the exception of Great Britain, is conquered by Germany. 

The Nazi’s begin to deport many of the European Jews to concentration camps, and the Final Solution to physically eliminate the Jews is decided upon at the Wannsee Conference in January 1942. In the end, the Nazis kill 6 million Jews, one third of the entire Jewish people.

David Ben-Gurion, the leader of the yishuv’s National Committee, declares that “We shall fight the war (alongside the British) as if there were no White Paper, and the White Paper as if there were no war." There is a fear that Rommel’s German forces in North Africa will reach Palestine, but the British stop them at the battle of El-Alamein.

In 1943, the Warsaw Ghetto revolt, led by Mordechai Anilevitz, withstands the Germans for 43 days, creating a model for Jewish heroism. Palmach underground commandos parachute behind enemy lines in Europe, among them Hannah Senesh.

These years witnessed the annihilation of one WIZO Federation after another, 102 WIZO groups in Poland, 23 WIZO groups in Bulgaria, 69 WIZO groups in Transylvania. World WIZO, which had 110,000 members before the war, now has 55,000 members. The British deport illegal immigrants to Cyprus, during and after the war. 

The Exodus ship filled with Holocaust survivors is turned back to Europe in 1947.

On November 30th, 1947, the United Nations, by a majority vote of 33 to 13, resolves to partition the former British mandate over Palestine, setting up a Jewish and an Arab state.
On May 14th, 1948, David Ben-Gurion reads the Declaration of Independence, and the State of Israel is established.  The armies of five neighboring countries invade, starting the War for Independence. Jerusalem is declared the capital of Israel in December, 1949.

Agricultural Training

With the outbreak of World War II, a major effort was made to gain self-sufficiency by extending the areas for vegetable gardens and smallhold¬ings throughout the country, especially since restrictions had been placed on the import of food into the country. At that time WIZO was supported in its training work  not only by the Vaad Leumi, but also by the Mandatory Government.

"Now, there was no need for patient explanations or persuasive propa¬ganda. Requests, and indeed demands, for WIZO's madrichot came in from many quarters, asking for help with “vegetable-growing, setting up poultry runs and sheep pens, and the planting of fruit trees ... "

With the establishment of the State, and the subsequent mass immigration to the country, especially from Moslem
lands, it became clear that there was a need for small auxiliary holdings next to the houses.

Training Department for Women

In the forties the market needed industrial products, on the one hand, yet  there was a shortage of working hands, on the other hand.  These  highlighted the serious lack of vocational education for women. WIZO worked towards providing vocational education, in response to the new reality.

Vocational Projects in the Schools

After the establishment of the State, it was realised that agricultural development in Israel would always be limited, due to the shortage of land and of water. Thus the emphasis was transferred to industry and manual work. The need for skilled labor grew fifteen fold. The Government, however, was not able to build nor maintain vocational schools, even though there was a great need for them.
WIZO, always quick to discern fresh needs, once again mobilized its powers in order to meet this need. To quote from the records, "... It cannot be denied that, since the establishment of the State, vocational education has become an important factor in the country, both from the economic and the educational point of view. A substantial percentage of the youth in the country, and youth who have immigrated recently, is not suited to, nor attracted by, agriculture. There is a demand for vocational education. The government, is interested in developing industry, and is providing assistance, but they need trained and experienced manpower.

Governmental factors are placing more and more emphasis on introducing women into industry. They have asked us to find out what our vocational schools could contribute in this direction."

In other words, turning to vocational education now had ideological backing. The State was in need, and WIZO responded. In following the changes  brought about by legitimizing vocational education we see that whilst primarily (at the end of the 'twenties and beginning of the 'thirties), vocational courses were designed for those women who were not working in agriculture - after the establishment of the State, the  vocational education assumed its own importance,  and developed because the State required skilled workers.

The importance of WIZO's effort in this area can be seen in light of the fact that, in contrast to the countries of Europe, Israel had no long tradition of handicrafts, or skills in industrial work, or in training apprentices. The task of turning the children of peddlers, small shopkeepers and other lower middle class sectors of the population, into skilled manual workers, could not be the responsi¬bility of the employers.

The schools constituted the main basis for vocational education. Vocational education for girls had, in the past, suffered due to the small range of occupations that were taught, and were not adapted to industrial needs. "The need to encourage the greater parti¬cipation of women in civil manpower has long been realized. This should be accomplished  by broadening and diversifying the vocational education available to them." WIZO successfully filled this vacuum.
The vocational training offered by WIZO was given through two channels. Firstly, in a framework of vocational school education, and secondly, via a framework of short courses intended for older women, and women with families. In the thirties and forties  a great deal was accomplished in the framework of short courses.  Emphasis was then put on high school vocational education, especially after the creation of the State.

 WIZO, the Women's International Zionist Organization, is a non-party international movement dedicated to the advancement of the status of women, welfare of all sectors of Israeli society and encouragement of Jewish education in Israel and the Diaspora.
 WIZO is an international movement of Zionist women, founded in England in 1920. Today, there are over a quarter of a million volunteers in 50 Federations throughout the world, working actively for the welfare of the citizens of Israel and providing help and support in the operation of hundreds of education and welfare projects and services.