From Holocaust Survivor to Holy Land Soldier

The Fellowship  |  January 25, 2019

Dated image of six men talking over documents while sitting at a table.
From Holocaust Survivor to Holy Land Soldier

David Shaltiel

Lived: January 16, 1903 – February 24, 1969

Why you should know him: After three years in Dachau and Buchenwald, Shaltiel returned to the Holy Land where he served as Haganah commander and Israeli diplomat.

Born in Berlin to an orthodox Jewish family from Portugal, Shaltiel joined the Zionist youth movement at the age of 16 and first made aliyah (immigrated to the Holy Land) at the age of 20.

Returning to his family in Europe in 1925, Shaltiel began his military career with five years in the French Foreign Legion. In 1934, he returned to the Holy Land, enlisting in the Haganah (the precursor to today’s IDF), in charge of buying arms for the nascent Jewish state military in Europe.

But in 1936, Shaltiel was captured by the Gestapo in Germany and spent the next three years in Dachau and Buchenwald. In 1939, he was sent to Berlin, where the Haganah managed to free him, after which he returned to what was then still British-mandate Palestine.

In 1942, Shaltiel began serving as the Haganah commander in Haifa. During Israel’s War of Independence, Shaltiel served in the same role in Jerusalem. He led a mission meant to capture “East Jerusalem” from the Arabs, which ultimately failed. However, he later held the meetings that would lead to the war’s ceasefire.

After Israel gained her independence, Shaltiel founded the IDF’s Border Corps (Heyl Hasfar), which is now know as the Border Police. After his military career, Shaltiel continued to serve the Jewish state until his death, as diplomat to such nations as Brazil, Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, and the Netherlands.

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