Capsule Review: The Jewish Brigade

The Jewish Brigade is a graphic novel from Dead Reckoning, a division of the Naval Institute Press. It is the (fictional) story of two soldiers in the Jewish Brigade of the British army, an actual unit that was raised in 1944 and that fought for a few months in Italy before the war ended. After service in occupied Europe for a while, the brigade was disbanded in 1946. Some of its members helped organize assistance for Jewish holocaust survivors in Europe, including arranging travel to Palestine for some of them. Many of these volunteers ended up in the Haganah and the Jewish army that fought the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948. The author has used this historical background to create the 3 stories that make up this graphic novel.

In the first two, our heroes are members of the Jewish Brigade in occupied Europe immediately after the end of the war in May 1945; as they search for their own kin and run into other survivors they witness fresh horrors as Jews who survived the holocaust sometimes face a hostile reception from their old neighbors and remain in danger of being killed by random Nazis, anti-semites and sundry violent thugs who roam war ravaged Europe at this point. Our heroes help some survivors, face new tragedies and even execute (without trial of course) some Nazis in the hellscape that is postwar central Europe. The book does a great job of reminding us that for many people the war did not end in May 1945 and many violent and cruel tragedies took place as the “unfinished business” of mankind’s greatest war slowly wound down.

The book is a work of fiction of course, and it is undoubtedly also a work of propaganda, with strong Zionist undertones. In the third section, set in Palestine, the propaganda becomes even more strident and one-sided (the heroes are Jews, the villains are Arabs and British officials who fail to support the Zionist project) and if that sort of thing turn you off, then this may not be the book for you. On the other hand, if you want to get a good introduction to the chaos that followed the war and the many gruesome and violent tragedies that happened well after the war was officially over, this is not a bad place to start.

The art work and writing are quite good, but the story is not always easy to follow and some characters appear and then disappear without the reader finding out what happened to them. The three pieces are loosely connected, but can be read separately and will still work. Overall, well worth a read, as long as you keep in mind that it IS propaganda, even if it is mostly on the side of the good guys.

(I got this book as a review copy from Dead Reckoning).