The Historama
Alex Ben-Arieh
P.O.Box 32128
Tel Aviv, Israel 61321
Phone: +972-547-680-086
Fax: +972-3-546-1971

Israeli Army 'Hitelmacher' Hat:

Though the Israeli Army earned glory on the battlefield in 1948, it came into being during a period where militaria started to lose its national uniqueness. Under the influence of Eastern and Western alliances, and more efficient production processes, armies began to adopt homogenous, if boring, accessories and equipment such as mass-made nylon patches, conventional uniforms and plain, generic helmets.

Side view of the Hitelmacher. Even more appealing when it retains a straight shape.
During the 1947-49 War of Independence, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and its forerunners sported 'sock hats' ("Kova Gerev" - in Hebrew) from local manufacture or leftover British Army stocks. However the army also succeeded in receiving a uniquely styled hat in sufficient quantities that its presence also left its mark on the identity of the army: the 'Hitelmacher' hat. The Hitelmacher bears a semblance to a kepi in the style of a Finnmark hat, but when affixed with the Army's emblem, it also exhibits a ceremonial elegance.

The Hitelmacher with the sides dropped-down, as when used in service. Notice the metal hook and elastic band on the flap which would hold the flaps in place when folded up.
Available information on the hat's origins is difficult to locate, however from what is known, in 1947 the Transitional Government in the Jewish areas of Palestine placed orders for hats with manufacturers in New York. The original style which was subsequently produced and supplied was made by a firm bearing the Yiddish word for 'hat-maker' - "Hitelmacher" - and hats of this style then and since have come to be known here as "Hitelmacher" hats.

A frontal view of the hat, with leather chin-strap and buttons visible.
These kinds of hats were originally produced in the United States, and later in Israel. Their uniqueness is in their practicality, quality of manufacture and style: a straight-sided round hat with a firm visor, leather chin strap and sweat bands and drop down cloth back to protect the wearer's neck, all held together with strong stitching.

The inside of the hat with maker's label visible. Notice also the stitching work on the sweatband and the type of liner used inside.

In light of the lack of available information on styles and appearances I can only rely on photographic examples and experience: there existed at least two widely distributed color varieties of these hats - one with khaki denim and a black leather chin-strap, with stitch lines on the visor (the American variety), and a light-green denim version with a green leather chin-strap and plain denim visor (the version here; an Israeli make). Other varieties are also likely as photographs illustrate types with thicker, firmer fabric or others with both fabric and chin-straps in khaki. So far, I have not found any consistency as to the wearing of these styles (or of variations in their accoutrements).

One version of the Hitelmacher as worn by Col. Tsvi Ayalon, head of Central Command in 1948. His hat and chin strap are all in one color (probably khaki), but the fabric does not look like denim and the cord doesn't look like leather. Notice the plain buttons, and also the IDF's metal insignia affixed to the front of his hat. Early insignia on these hats was also a cloth representation of the IDF's insignia - though much scarcer to see. Source: Allon, p. 222.

Another more unique type of Hitelmacher as worn by Col. David Shaltiel, the commander of Jerusalem during the War of Independence. Formerly of the French Foreign Legion, Shaltiel wears a version of the Hitelmacher quite similar to a French kepi - straight and stiff-looking, with shorter, slanted side-flaps. The fabric looks thicker than that of other such hats. Though there could be 'dress' hats Shaltiel's is the only such example of this Hitelmacher that I've seen. Source: Pearlman, p. 168.

Although the IDF wore light-green caps of various types through to the 2000's, photographs suggest that the Hitelmacher hat was worn up until around the 1956 Sinai Campaign ("Operation Kadesh"). The example shown here seems to be from the early to mid-1950's: inside it is stamped with the Hebrew letter "Tet" and the number "55" (although the standard stamp bearing the IDF's first initial "Tz" - for "Tzahal" - is not present). The "Tet" is probably the hat size, and the "55" may correspond to the date of issue - 1955.

A close-up of the thin light-orange plastic pin fastened to the back of one of the buttons, probably to hold it in place more firmly. It also helps the hat retain its shape along the side.
In spite of its simple appearance, the hat is full of interesting details. The deteriorating maker's label inside indicates that it was made on Nachlat Binyamin Street in Tel Aviv - an Israeli manufacture. An interesting detail is the plain green un-maker marked buttons holding down the chin-strap on each side. Buttons on Israeli military hats in the early 1950's, but also in the late '40s, also bore the embossed emblem of the IDF - with and without maker-marks, and a photograph of the second Israeli Chief of the General Staff, Yigal Yadin, from around 1948 shows his Hitelmacher hat bearing those such buttons. Therefore it's curious to see a possibly late-dated hat without decorated buttons.

A closer view of the plain green buttons.

An example of a button with the IDF emblem embossed on it. Buttons in the early years of the IDF were both maker- and un-maker marked.

An example of the standard curved metal hat badge worn on the front of Hitelmacher hats. The reverse had two metal prongs - either on the top and bottom, or on the left and right of the badge. The badge says 'Israel Defence Army' (Force) in Hebrew under the insignia.

This is the cloth patch version of the IDF insignia reputedly worn early on in the War of Independence on khaki-colored American-made Hitelmachers before being replaced by the metal badge. Collectors in Israel refer to photographic evidence of this usage though I have still to see pictures to confirm this.

The leather chin-strap's 'knots' are held in place by two metal staples. On the inside, the buttons which fasten the strap are themselves held in place by an inch-long thin, light orange plastic pin. Unlike on other visored hats, the four air holes on the Hitelmacher are formed from tightly stitched circles and not from the insertion of a plastic framed loop.

A close-up of the staples holding the chin-strap's 'knot' in place. Also notice the fine stitch work of the various segments of the hat.
Another interesting detail is the metal fastening hook on each corner of the drop-down cloth sides: this hat has black colored hooks; other versions of this green styled hat sport silver colored hooks. These hooks would latch onto the first air-hole at the front of the hat in order to hold the flaps in place. This hat also has green elastic bands on the bottom ends of the drop down sides (which would be wrapped over the buttons to keep the sides up); other versions of this hat have creme-colored bands instead.

A close-up of the black colored metal hook on the upper corner of the flap. In the background is visible the green elastic band on the bottom corner of the flap hooked over the button.

An overhead view of the Hitelmacher hat.