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Yom Ha’atzmaut and the mazel of the Mauser



The state of Israel, born on 14 May 1948 from the ashes of World War II, was soon attacked from all sides by surrounding hostile Arab countries, but in one of the greatest ironies of world history, it won its independence with the aid of the German Nazi Mauser K98 rifles.

Jewish-Arab conflict escalated in 1936, and Britain started to reduce the inflow of Jews into British Palestine. This occurred at the same time that the Nazis were advocating for the murder of Jews in Europe. It’s common knowledge that the Arab mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Al-Husseini, met Adolf Hitler in 1941 in Germany as they felt that they had common enemies – the Jews; communists; and the English. A civil war engulfed Palestine. The Haganah had very few weapons at its disposal, and was able to make only a few weapons in primitive hidden workshops or buy a few guns on the black market. It also tried to smuggle in weapons from Europe at the peril of being caught by the British. The Arabs in Jerusalem, having also formed a pact with the Nazis, compounded the situation, exposing the Jewish population to even greater peril.

“Mauser” was and still is a well-respected German arms manufacturer. Its bolt-action rifles have been produced since 1874 for the German-Austrian armed forces. The factory continues to make one of the most well-made and reliable firearms in the world today. In 1898, the Mauser rifle design became the basic infantry weapon of the German army, and was used worldwide because of its unique, reliable, and durable features such as superb accuracy and easy loading. The Mauser Karabiner 98k was manufactured in the 1930s, and was adopted by Hitler’s Nazi Germany as its standard infantry rifle until the end of World War II. From 1944, Karabiner 98k production changed to the Kriegsmodell (war model). Proudly emblazoned on the metal receiver of the rifle was the Nazi eagle and swastika.

Post-World War II Czechoslovakia, then under Stalin’s Soviet control, was prepared to sell at a huge price surplus World War II small arms, ammunition, and used aircraft to Israel. This was possibly more to infuriate the British than to help Israel.

A national arms embargo went into effect in Truman’s United States in 1947, and it wouldn’t supply Israel with arms. Soon, the Nazi K98 German rifle became one of – if not the main – small arms used by Israel, among other surplus armaments.

The Nazi Mauser rifles were re-bored to a new calibre – 7.62mm – and refurbished in Israel before they were certified by the Israel Defense Forces and new Hebrew military proof markings were placed on the metal receiver of the rifles, next to the Nazi swastika and eagle. Israel also purchased the Nazi Mauser bayonets that fitted the K98 Mauser rifles. And it made its own “Mauser-like” bayonets, with Hebrew manufacture markings. A large amount of surplus-captured Nazi ammunition was also purchased to use in these rifles. Israel also made its own ammunition to fit the new calibre of the rifle.

These and other Mauser rifles were later made in Belgium’s Fabrique Nationale arms factory at Israel’s request in the 1950s, and were emblazoned with the Tzahal military emblem of the Israeli army on the receiver of the rifle. They were still in use in the 1967 Six-Day War.

The Mauser K98 Nazi rifles meant to murder and annihilate the world’s Jewish population had the total opposite effect in the long term, coming to the aid of the young Jewish state and nation, enabling its brave young soldiers to fight battles on even ground and in many instances, give them the advantage of superior fire power.

The last use – although limited – of the K98 Mauser rifle by Israeli forces was in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

  • David Berman has a keen interest in Jewish history and the history of the Jews of South Africa and their participation in the various wars and conflicts.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Peter Bernstein

    May 17, 2024 at 11:11 am

    Very interesting article on a little known topic and totally ironic where these Nazi rifles ended up. Another interesting point made is that the escalation of Jewish-Arab conflict in 1936 resulted in the restriction of Jewish immigration into Palestine by the British. It could then be argued that the Arabs, perhaps unintentionally, caused the deaths of hundred of thousands of Jews who otherwise would have been able to emigrate from Europe to Palestine but instead were trapped and subsequently caught up in the Holocaust.

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