what we were looking at and the background story. After arriving in Palestine in 1938, Dad lived in a farming community near his sisters but soon realized farm work was not his thing. Relief came when a mysterious man arrived one day to offer the opportunity to be trained for the local militia. He’d apparently been noticed by the Haganah, the Jewish underground paramilitary operating in British Palestine. Dad jumped at the chance. The mysterious people eventually returned saying the British were looking for Jews and Arabs to fight together against the Germans. Thinking ahead to establishing a state of Israel, the Haganah encouraged promising young Jewish men to join so they could learn about soldiering from the British and set up their own army. His role in the post-war years Dad said nothing about his time in the war and fast forwarded to the chaos of post war Europe. Instead of returning to Palestine after demobilization, Dad and a few other colleagues infiltrated a DP camp in Austria. It was administered by American occupying forces who didn’t know how to deal with the tragic collection of concentration camp survivors, former partisans, escapees from the oncoming Soviets and other persecuted folk with nowhere to go. Many were dying and there was friction between Jews of different nationalities and with other Europeans. The Americans were relieved when all of a sudden, leaders emerged to organize the rabble. Dad and his colleagues led exercise parades, organized orderly queuing and distribution of food and medicine and generally made things easier for the occupiers. Little did they know Dad was not the person he claimed to be, having switched identity cards with a refugee making his way to Palestine. He and his friends were operatives working with the Haganah to channel refugees into Palestine against the British blockade, something a former British soldier could not have been caught doing. They fine-tuned a system that began whilst still in British uniform clandestinely using British military trucks to move displaced persons south to Austria, a sort of ‘underground railroad’ that
He and his friends channeled refugees into Palestine.
at one point stretched all the way to Belgium. Dad described how they would bring a large group of sick and exhausted refugees to hide in the woods outside a camp. Then they would send the rested, fed and recuperated people living in the camp out for ‘hikes’ and sneak in the new arrivals to recuperate. The rested ones were then led on an arduous trek over the mountains to the seaports of Italy and onto commandeered ships to run the blockade into Palestine.
Fortunate coincidence That was all Dad told us. He died the following year leaving us to discover dozens of photos of him in the mountains of Austria and IDs with all kinds of false names. We found an old film where he’s equipped like a mountaineer with compass, maps and hiking boots accompanying large groups of people hiking over the mountains. What was he doing? Where did it take place? We later found out from books and documentaries that Dad’s army unit was called the Jewish Brigade which had a well-documented role in the Bricha or escape of refugees to Palestine. But we were still left with all kinds of questions. More than twenty years later a chance encounter with Rami Litani, an enthusiastic amateur historian who lectures about the Jewish Brigade on Zoom, unlocked more mysteries. He watched Dad’s old film and instantly recognized the tavern where Dad was standing, and the mountain people were climbing. Rami shared about the Alpine Peace Crossing and the opportunity it gave him to honour his father, also a Brigade member, and those involved in the Bricha. We’d never heard about the APC before and now cannot wait to undertake it as a family. What a wonderful ritual to remember, experience the escape for ourselves and acknowledge the plight of refugees today. Our father had his own reasons for keeping his story to himself. We’ve always been immensely proud of him, and are even more so now we know he helped so many to a new life. We’re grateful Alpine Peace Crossing provided the last piece in the puzzle of this part of Dad’s life.
Adam Protter, son of Dov Bernard Protter, a chef, caterer and entrepreneur who lives North of Vancou ver, Canada, with his family.
Miles Protter is now on his third career as an executive mentor and writer and is actively involved in men’s work in his home town of Perth, Western Australia.