X Troop: The Secret Jew­ish Com­man­dos of World War II

  • Review
By – September 21, 2021

Jew­ish men who fled the ter­ror of the Nazi regime in Ger­many and Aus­tria just before the war broke out found them­selves brand­ed ene­my aliens when they arrived in Great Britain, spent and exhaust­ed, hav­ing lost their home­lands, their for­tunes, and often their fam­i­lies as well. Expect­ing a safe haven, they were instead shunned and feared, and soon arrest­ed and impris­oned in British intern­ment camps by the thousands.

But that was not to be their fate for long. In a bold and orig­i­nal move, Churchill and his chief of staff cooked up an idea that would not only change the course of their lives, but alter the course of the war, as well. The men were gath­ered togeth­er, trained, taught to chan­nel their fury, and turned into a first-class com­man­do unit.

X Troop, as they were called, a top-secret unit, con­sist­ed entire­ly of Jew­ish refugees. They would fight on the beach­es of Nor­mandy, in olive groves in Italy, and hay­fields in Hol­land, and act as clan­des­tine shock troops that bat­tled the Nazi war machine with sharply devel­oped skills in counter-intel­li­gence and advanced com­bat. In addi­tion to these pow­ers, they pos­sessed a potent secret weapon: the native knowl­edge of the Ger­man lan­guage. Through­out the war, they accom­plished dan­ger­ous mis­sions across occu­pied Europe, fight­ing back against the forces that had torn them from their homes and turned them into men with­out a country.

They came from var­ied back­grounds — some were ath­letes, oth­ers were shop­keep­ers, physi­cists, fire­fight­ers, and many were intel­lec­tu­als or artists — yet they coa­lesced into a band of broth­ers. They were trained in war­fare and giv­en British names and iden­ti­ty papers in case of cap­ture. And while their old lives fell away, their new ones unit­ed them in one crit­i­cal way; they would stop at noth­ing to defeat the Nazis.

In X Troop, this is the first time this dra­mat­ic, deeply mov­ing sto­ry has been told. It is a remark­able and unknown sto­ry that reads like a thriller, encom­pass­ing both his­to­ry and mys­tery. Details about the recruit­ment, train­ing, and oper­a­tions of X Troop, one of sev­er­al units of this type, are brought to life with mas­ter­ful strokes.

X Troop first saw action in 1942 and fought on D‑Day. At the time, the British mil­i­tary need­ed Ger­man-speak­ers to inter­ro­gate pris­on­ers and under­take recon­nais­sance mis­sions, such as observ­ing a region to locate the ene­my or ascer­tain strate­gic fea­tures of the bat­tle­field. As com­man­dos, they were specif­i­cal­ly trained to car­ry out raids, and the quotes from mem­bers’ war diaries and inter­views with sur­viv­ing X Troop­ers that pep­per this grip­ping nar­ra­tive dis­play in deep relief the hero­ism that under­pinned this spe­cial-forces unit and the way in which it oper­at­ed as a potent weapon against the dead­ly Nazi threat.

This is Leah Garrett’s fifth book. She is a pro­fes­sor at Hunter Col­lege in New York City and direc­tor of the Jew­ish Stud­ies Cen­ter there. Pre­vi­ous­ly, she was a Ful­bright Fel­low in Tel Aviv. In X Troop, she suc­cess­ful­ly inter­min­gles her dili­gent detec­tive work with her stun­ning abil­i­ty to bring us an orig­i­nal account of Jew­ish revenge, one that will res­onate deeply with schol­ars, his­to­ry buffs, and stu­dents of World War II and the Holo­caust, as well as lay peo­ple world­wide who are inter­est­ed in the chal­lenges and achieve­ments of the Jew­ish people.

Lin­da F. Burghardt is a New York-based jour­nal­ist and author who has con­tributed com­men­tary, break­ing news, and fea­tures to major news­pa­pers across the U.S., in addi­tion to hav­ing three non-fic­tion books pub­lished. She writes fre­quent­ly on Jew­ish top­ics and is now serv­ing as Schol­ar-in-Res­i­dence at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al & Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau County.

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