Joe Woolf passed away on February 28 at his home in the northern Israeli moshav of Ilaniya.
He was a South African Jewish volunteer in the foreign-fighters unit Machal who did research that helped preserve that group’s memory for 75 years after Israel’s War of Independence. Age-wise, he was 94.
His daughter Galya Woolf told JNS that her father had passed away.
A “flamboyant” Hebrew Legion advertising that urged recruits to “join the war” appeared in a daily newspaper, Woolf told JNS in November, prompting him to enlist in Machal.
He told JNS, “I always loved adventure. That was my primary motivation for signing up,
The 20-year-old Woolf, born in Lithuania, had not yet acquired South African citizenship and was still one year from the legal age of consent to enlist in the volunteer unit.
He, therefore, impersonated his parents to obtain the necessary travel documents. He wrote on the Global Machal website, “My parents were unhappy about it but did not complain.
He took a plane from South Africa to Italy before boarding a ship for Israel. On this trip, he told JNS, “I met so many Holocaust survivors for the first time. “Most of them were from Romania.”
Woolf maintained Machal’s legacy after the war by facilitating member communication and providing critical information to the World Machal website.
Colleagues attribute the preservation of a significant portion of Israeli and global Jewish history to his meticulous research, testimonies, and contacts, which he forged with other soldiers of the 1948 War of Independence.
At age 3, Joseph “Joe” Wolff and his family relocated from central Lithuania’s region to South Africa. An estimated 95% of Jews in Lithuania were killed in the Holocaust, making it one of the nations under Nazi domination with the most significant death rates per capita.
As a result, the South African Jewish community was “extremely aware” of what was happening in Europe. In Seta, only one Jew out of 350 managed to live.
At the time, 806 of the 120,000 South African Jews joined Machal. English became the primary language among Machal members because no nation provided more volunteers to support forces during the conflict than the United States.
Joe was always enthusiastic and upbeat, even back then, according to Hyman Josman, 94, who traveled with Woolf from Italy to Israel. They touched down on August 24, 1948, in Haifa.
Woolf saw battle with the English-speaking “B” company of the 72nd Infantry Battalion.
After the war, Woolf relocated back to South Africa, where he remained until his transfer to Israel in 1969.
He is survived by his daughter, two more children, and six grandchildren.