Young Jews from a concentration camp wait near the border of Austria. Italy, 1945.Asher Joram
Asher Joram (second from right) with his unit in front of their truck. North Africa, 1945.Asher Joram
Medals, memorobilia and documents from Asher Joram's military experience.Asher Joram
Cover of book titled 'Jewish unit of Royal Army Service Corps'Asher Joram
"The British were not such friends of ours. But now the war is over, we were in northern Italy. They took us back to Egypt, the British, our unit. In Egypt, they gave us a pair of pants, a jacket, a hat and a pair of boots and 40 pounds. They said, get the hell out of here. Nice knowing you, right."
What we could see during all the campaign in Italy, once we got to Rome and Milan and all this, they were practically waiting for us to get to end the German occupation because they suffered a lot. There was utter poverty in Italy for that time; and they really hated the Germans.
Monte Cassino was very bad, but in the sense that we could not pass. They kept the two main armies, which was the American First Army under General [Mark] Clark and the British 8th Army, which we were part of under [Field Marshal Bernard] Montgomery. For close to five months, we could not pass that. This was the road to Rome that blocked the whole tour. And then there was a big disaster, we were lucky we were cancelled, we should have gone. [British Prime Minister Winston] Churchill tried. It was a disaster. It was, what do you call it, I don’t know if you know what happened. We came from the south and here’s Monte Cassino, and here’s Rome, and we couldn’t bypass this. It’s in the mountains. So Churchill decided we will have and land a brigade or whatever, behind the German’s line, but then we could destroy the Germans...
But what the disaster was, there was some security leak, the Germans caught wind of it. And we lost 10,000 men in this landing at Anzio. We finally got to Rome; and they opened the Vatican City. I don’t know if you know the Vatican City was closed during the five years. We were there the first day they opened the Vatican City. They had Allied authorities going to the Vatican and the Pope came out, Pius XII [Eugenio Pacelli]. He could have done a lot to prevent the war, but he didn’t. People don’t realize that today.
Well, he was the Papal voice [Pius XII was the Papal Nuncio (diplomatic representative of the Vatican) to Germany until 1930, and Cesare Orsenigo had the position during the war] in Germany. He didn’t open his mouth, not once. Yeah, that was a sad story. But anyway, we had people coming out ̶ young people that survived the concentration camps. They were brought somewhere to the Austrian-Italian border. Do you know what the Haganah [Jewish underground military organization] was? And we had to put, steal about five, six cars, and we drove up. We were in northern Italy, maybe near Torino [also known as Turin] somewhere. We had to drive up to the, I don’t even know exactly because it was top secret, to the Austrian-Italian border, pick up five truckloads. There were about 40 kids in each car; and drive them through all of Italy, down to Bari, took us three days. If the British would have caught us, we would be all still in jail there. And in Bari, there were little boats that took them to Israel.
We were a unit in the British army, but we were an Israeli unit. And you see there’s a Star of David on this? We were not allowed to do that. We weren’t. We took these cars and went several hundred miles. But this was not our function and worse than that, we would probably be in jail and all these kids would be sent to a concentration camp in Cyprus. People don’t know that part of history.
The British were not such friends of ours. But now the war is over, we were in northern Italy. They took us back to Egypt, the British, our unit. In Egypt, they gave us a pair of pants, a jacket, a hat and a pair of boots and 40 pounds. They said, get the hell out of here. Nice knowing you, right. That’s after close to five years. But they gave us a free train because from Cairo, we had to take a train back to Tel Aviv, through the Sinai Desert.
What did they do in the middle of the night in the Sinai Desert? They stopped the train and they searched us because we may bring arms back to Israel. Did anybody know that? You ever heard about that?
Anyway, so to end the story, we were five guys who did not have any relatives in Israel. When we came out of Germany, we were just kids. So we landed in the morning at an old train station in the centre of Tel Aviv. So we decided we don’t have anywhere to go. So two guys were going to go and look for a place where we could sleep or whatever. They came back, they can’t get a place because to rent a little room was impossible because at that time, and probably still is, you couldn’t rent a room, you have to pay key money [similar to a security deposit]. You know what that is? Well, we didn’t have key money.
And then there were some old little hotels, but they could see we were ex-soldiers, with a little kit bag and this, and that. They didn’t want us in there because they were afraid they couldn’t kick us out. So we were on the train station sitting, after five years in the war, on the floor.
Interview date: 13 May 2010