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Capturing the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai at  Mt.Meron in 1948, during the War of Independence.


Grave Site

Israelis visit tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai




On October 29, 1948 late at night, the 72nd battalion of the 7th armored brigade moved from Tzaft to capture the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai at Mt. Meron.


I was a soldier in “B” company of that battalion. The majority of the 72nd battalion, known as Mahal, were volunteers from South Africa, Canada the US and England.


It was a dark night as we moved through Nachal Amud when we came up against the tomb. From where we stood the massive stones of the tomb were towering above us, its windows darkened and lifeless.


I remembered the stories my grandfather used to tell me about the holy man, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai when I was a little boy in Lithuania.


 “He was one of the greatest of Jewish gaonim, perhaps even greater than our own gaon of Vilna. He wrote the book of Zohar, which is one of the greatest book about our religion,”I remembered my grandfather telling me in an awed voice.


Looking up at the tomb, where the man my grandfather talked about lay buried, I  had an overpowering feeling that destiny brought me here.


Only a few years earlier I was a subhuman, as the Nazis called us, Jewish slave laborer in one of the Dachau camps in Germany, condemned to a slow death of starvation, beatings and hard labor.


And here I was a soldier in the Israeli army about to help liberate the holy tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. I had a mystical sensation that I survived the Holocaust for that purpose, to liberate the tomb for the Jewish people.


My mystical feelings were interrupted by massive machine gun fire pouring out of the windows of the tomb. Bullets were whistling all around us hitting the rocks behind which we were hiding, setting off sparks in all directions.


Dax, a  volunteer from England who was originally from Vienna, and came to England in the ‘Kinder Transport’, didn’t duck fast enough; a bullet pierced his head. He was our first casualty. We were ordered by our officer, captain Shutzman, an American volunteer to begin shooting at the windows.


One of our boys began shooting ‘Piat’ shells at the windows, setting off a rain of sparks when it hit the stony walls. After a few minutes, sergeant Smith from England ordered us to by pass the tomb. We climbed through the rocks to the right of the tomb with bullets whistling around us.


My section quickly moved towards one of courtyards, when from a small building attached to the tomb the Arabs opened fire on us. I saw a flash from a rifle from the narrow window and felt the bullet whistling by my face. It was so close that I almost felt its heat. My three comrades who were ahead of me opened fire on the window and I managed to join them. It was a close call. It began to dawn and we could see our way around.


Ahead was a stone wall with an opening in it. Two of us slipped through the opening while my friend Jack Kesselman, a volunteer from the US, stayed ahead of me. Suddenly I saw an Arab on top of the building aiming his rifle at Jack’s back. I managed to shout out a warning:


"Jack, look out!"


The Arab turned around and aimed his rifle at me. I carried my rifle under my arm, and didn’t have time to take aim the Arab. I simple squeezed off a round in his direction.  We must have shot at each other at the same time, because Jack later told me that he only heard one shot.


Fortunately for me, I was standing at an angle that made a poor target, although I did feel the bullet woosh by me. The way he recoiled I think that I wounded him.. For a brief moment we stood looking at each other, but then he jumped down to a lower part of the building and disappeared from view.


Later in the day, we found him about fifty meters from the tomb. He caught a burst of machine gun fire from Neal Goodman, an American volunteer, who had captured one of the rooms of the tomb and saw the Arab trying to escape through the woods. We fought our way room by room until we cleared the whole tomb of the enemy. The tomb was in our hands.


The Arabs defending the tomb were soldiers under the command of Kaukdji. Some were Palestinians, some Syrians, we later found out.


For me personally, the battle of the tomb was one of the most significant emotional experiences of the War of Independence. I almost got shot twice, but survived unhurt. Perhaps Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai had something to do with it. Today, when we visit the tomb at Lag Ba’omer, I feel with certain pride that my comrades, the Mahal volunteers, and I secured the tomb for generations to celebrate their Lag Ba’omer.


 I also think of Dax, may he rest in peace, who escaped the Nazis from Vienna  to England, volunteered  to fight for Israel and found his death while liberating the tomb. Too bad that 250,000 people who came today to the tomb didn’t know about Dax who sacrificed his life, so they can celebrate Lag Ba’omer.


If they knew perhaps they would light a candle for his soul.


Solly Ganor

Herzelia, Israel

Sunday, May 6th, 2007

"The Columbia Is Lost"

Herzelia. 2.2.03

I don't think that there was a dry eye in Israel this evening as we were watching the dignified farewell ceremony at Houston for the heroes of the space ship Columbia. We were especially touched by the American navy Rabbi who read the beautiful poem of Haim Nachman Bialik and the psalms in Hebrew and in English. It pointed out to all Americans our common heritage and above all, our common goal to defeat our common enemies. All of Israel joined in saying good bye to a beloved hero of Israel, colonel Illan Ramon, and also to his American comrades who perished with him. Not only Israel, but the whole Western world owes him a special thanks for participating in the accurate bombing of the Iraqi atomic station in 1977. The world would have looked quite different today if we hadn't done it.. For me especially, the death of Illan Ramon was immensley sad, because two weeks earlier I had written an article about Illan Ramon's mother, an Auschwitz survivor. I called it "My True Hero" and I received hundreds of letters from around the world thanking me for writing it. Little did I know that today I would write a follow up letter, 'Kadish For a Hero'. I feel like someone in my family died.

(The following was written before the tragic last day of Columbia)

Yes, Colonel Ramon, Israel's first astronaut to enter outer space, is a hero. For me there is another hero: his mother, a survivor of Auschwitz.

I don't think there was a person in Israel who didn't watch the Shuttle Columbia blasting off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

We watched with trepidation and anxiety, but above all pride as the graceful white shuttle lifted off into the blue Florida sky, trailing a white plume behind it. For us Israelis, it was a special flight, because our own astronaut, Colonel Ilan Ramon was among the crew, the first Israeli to enter space.

For a short while we allowed ourselves to forget our problems, our differences, even the coming elections, and were united in hailing Colonel Ilan Ramon as our hero.

But for me, there was another hero -- someone that was hardly mentioned in the Israeli media. If it weren't for an American TV station, which briefly stated that Colonel Ilan Ramon's mother was an Auschwitz survivor, I too would have been ignorant of the fact.

To most, the fact that his mother was a Holocaust survivor from Auschwitz may be baffling as to why I would call her a hero.

I will tell you why.

After the collapse of Hitler's Reich and our liberation in the beginning of May, 1945, I served in the US army as an interpreter. I was fortunate enough to have learned English during the war, a language that very few survivors spoke.
I served in a unit that was attached to the CIC, (Army Intelligence). We were 11 men, all of them, except myself, American service men who knew a second language besides their native English. Our job was to find Nazis hiding among the displaced persons in the DP camps.

However, we also visited camps where only Jews lived, such as Feldafing, Fherenwald and more.

For a while I was the interpreter for a Colonel Woodhouse, who for some reason was attached to our unit. Colonel Woodhouse was an English psychiatrist who was sent to evaluate the mental state of the Jewish concentration camp survivors.

"The trauma caused to Jewish inmates of concentration camps was unprecedented in its severity. They would never be able to live normal lives, get married and have children." I will never forget his official evaluation. He didn't keep it a secret and I was able to read it.

"I came to the conclusion that the trauma caused to Jewish inmates of concentration camps was unprecedented in its severity and that they would never be able to live normal lives, get married and have children."

"I have known patients who were subjected to trauma that weren't even a fraction of the trauma the Jews were subjected to and they were psychologically disabled for life. Therefore, I see no hope for them."

Well, Colonel Woodhouse, allow me to introduce you to Mrs. Ramon, an Auschwitz survivor, who not only got married and brought children to this world, but brought up a son that anyone in the world would be proud of to call as his own, despite your prognosis.

Perhaps, from the medical point of view, he was right. But he didn't count on the spirit of the survivors. When we were liberated, we were almost naked, bereft of all possessions, clad in a prisoner's striped uniform and wooden clogs. We owned nothing, not even underwear, socks or a handkerchief. We were like walking skeletons, all skin and bones.

My schooling was interrupted when I was 12, and I was subjected to brutalities that mankind has never known. I was liberated from the Nazis, but what next? So I stood before a world I considered hostile, age 17, and I had to make my way through it.

And yet I did it and I did it well.

I don't know Mrs. Ramon, but when I watched her son taking off into space, I am sure that she did more than well. Therefore, Mrs. Ramon, I salute you.

You too are my hero.

The Miracle of Israel.
Written in the difficult days of February, 2003

After surviving the War of Independence in 1948, I decided to join the fledgling Israeli merchant marine. Israel at that time possessed about ten rickety ships, which belonged more to the scrap heap than floating on the high seas. Yet, thousands upon thousands of new immigrants were brought to Israel on these floating wrecks.

There were hundreds of young men who were determined to join the merchant marine, waiting to be called to sign on, but there were very few places available. I had registered like all the others, but as a Holocaust survivor, I knew that unless I use my head, I would never get on a ship if I waited for my turn. I made myself available day and night, hanging around the harbor and the Zim line offices. Sure enough, one day a sailor fell ill on a ship that was about to sail, and I was there on the spot to take his place. The ship’s name was Kommemiut.

To my surprise and delight, it was the same ship that brought me from Marseilles to Israel two years earlier. Except, in 1948 its name was Pan York and she was bringing up to five thousand immigrants each trip. Actually it was a four thousand-ton ancient cargo vessel that had no business taking on cargo, let alone people. To bring five thousand people on that "luxurious passenger liner," was a Huzpa‚, even by Israeli standards, yet that is what they did.

When I came aboard with my meager possessions the chief mate, an old Italian seaman, who was probably as old as the ship itself, sighed me on. The ship immediately sailed from Haifa to Triest. In the mean time, from an immigrant ship she reverted to its original form of a cargo ship. As soon as the vessel was on its way, I was called to the bridge to speak to the captain. I was quite surprised that the captain would want to speak to a new and ordinary seamen, but I soon found out the reason.

The captain was even older than the Italian chief mate and his name was captain Weil. He was a short man with a considerable belly, snowy white hair and sharp gray eyes. He came straight to the point:

"The office tells me that you speak German, English and Hebrew." He addressed me in German.

"Aye, aye, Sir," I answered in German, showing my surprise.

"Good. You will make yourself available whenever I need you. None of these blasted crew members speak any civilized languages."

I soon found out that the good captain was from Elsas- Lothringen, a part of Europe that changed hands between Germany and France. The older population still spoke German, while the younger once spoke French. Captain Weil was old indeed. When we became better acquainted, he told me that he was an officer in the Kaiser’s navy during World War One. He naturally, spoke German, but here and there he would exclaim in French, Naturelmant!‚ He would address me as "Matrosse," which is means sailor in German.

On our way to Trieste, he would often come to the bridge when I was on my watch at the helm and he would talk to me. It was more of a monologue than a conversation. He kept saying the same things over and over, always in an agitated, loud voice.

He would say, "We need a miracle, no thousands of miracles!" I began calling him my Captain Miracle.

"It’s a damn miracle that we won this bloody war with the Goddam Arabs, and now, how are we supposed to become a state? Just by declaring it? We have no money, no raw material, no coal, no oil, no water, just Jaffa oranges! Ha, Jaffa oranges!"

"And look how many penniless beggars they are bringing in! Just look at them! Worn out bedraggled, and traumatized Holocaust survivors, with a psychological hang up the size of Mount Everest! And they are supposed to help build this country?! It is sure as hell that we will have to support them for the rest of their natural life."

"And if that is not enough, look what the fools are doing now! They are bringing in equally bedraggled, poverty stricken Jews from the Arab countries. Most of them have no money or a useful trade to speak of, as their money and possessions were robbed by many of their Arab neighbors before they could escape. Another endless bunch of mouths to feed."

"How are we going to feed them, house them, cloth them, and provide them with the barest minimum to sustain life? How many bloody miracles do they want from God?! Surely, the miracles of the bible pales in comparison to the miracles we expect him to perform now! Ha! The fools!"

"Why do you think that all countries have immigration quotas? For very good reasons! It is because no country can afford to allow in more immigrants than they can absorb without disrupting the economy, for God sake! And what are these fools doing? They are flooding this pauper state with more paupers! Millions of paupers! Have you ever heard of anything as ridiculous as that!" Don’t they know what it takes to build a new country from scratch, with no capital, and a bunch of penniless wretches, assembled from hell itself! And if that is not enough hundreds of millions of hostile Arabs surrounding us from all directions, just waiting for us to make a mistake. And what are we doing?! We are making hundreds of mistakes daily!"

"Given the enormous problems we are facing, the fools running this so called state of Israel have brought us to the brink of an abyss where we are tittering at the moment. The slightest push, and we are in for a fall never to rise again!" "After two thousand years we have finally returned to our ancient home only to lose it once more for good! And all because the fools took such insane risks! Unless, unless, a Miracle will happen, the biggest miracles of them all! Yes, may God grant us a Miracle, many, many miracles!"

When this voyage ended, I changed ships, and didn't see Captain Weil again for eight years. He came to visit us on the new passenger liner, the Zion. I was a second mate by then, preparing the bridge for departure to New York. He came with the captain, who showed him the bridge and introduced him to the latest equipment. He looked somewhat older, but not much. When the captain introduced me to him, he smiled. His grey eyes were as sharp as ever.

"Well, Matrose, I see you are an officer now. Another bloody miracle.Ha, ha!" We looked at each other and we both laughed.

"I know you guys called me Captain Miracle. I was quite aware of that. Well, you tell me then, wasn’t it a miracle that we got were we got, against the craziest odds? And I will tell you another thing, we won’t need anymore miracles to survive here. We have made it."

We looked out at the harbor bustling with dozens of new ships flying the Israeli flag. I could see the pride in his eyes and I was touched. He was a nice old man after all, even though he tended to be somewhat pompous on occasion. Before he left the bridge we shook hands.

"Perhaps the miracles happened because we prayed to God, but it helped a lot that we have brains. As for you personally -- I wish you many fathoms under the keel when you will be master of your own vessel."

As he was leaving the bridge, he turned around once more and said, and there was a fierce pride in his eyes: "As for Israel, all I can say is: "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"

Today, forty-five years later, I am thinking of what Captain Weil said. It was such a long time ago, but his borrowed adage is as relevant today as it was then.

All I can say to those who waver and are frightened and think that doomsday is near: "Israel, Damn the torpedoes, Full speed ahead."

Thank you, Captain Weil.

And thank you too, Admiral David Glasgow Farragut. (August 1864)


Conversation on the Beach

Herzliya, Israel, Friday, December 6, 2002

About half a mile from where I live in Herzliya, on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean, stands an old mosque. It was built during the Middle Ages and a Moslem holy man is buried on that site. The holy man’s name was Sidney Ally and that is how the mosque is known to this day. The beach below, stretches all the way to Herzliya to the South, and Netanya to the North.

I often go there for walks because from its heights one has a panoramic view of the sea and the whole area. There is another reason why I go there; from that hill, at certain weather conditions, the Mediterranean turns into a colour of blue that can not be seen anywhere else.

Last Friday, as the wind began blowing from the East, the Medi, as we call our sea, began calming down. It flattened the waves coming ashore until it became as placid as the Kinneret during the summer. It was then that the deep blue colour, as if by a magic wand, emerged from the depth of its waters. It wasn’t the first time I saw it and I always witness that phenomenon with rising spirits. "If there is so much beauty in this world, then there is hope for us humans yet," I said to myself.

The silence was interrupted by a noisy bus full of Arab worshipers who arrived to the mosque for their Friday services. They wore the traditional Arab garb, and entered the mosque quietly. Some of them threw me hostile glances. Their arrival brought me back to our desperate conflict with these people for the piece of land we call Israel, and they call Palestine. Only a few years ago at Camp David, we deluded ourselves that they are finally ready for peace; Israel and Palestine living next to each otherfor the mutual benefit of both peoples. But that was not to be. They are still not ready to relinquish their old dream to oust us out of the Middle East.

"It’s beautiful, isn’t it?" I heard a voice behind me speaking English

.As I turned around I saw a well dressed young man of about twenty-five, looking wistfully at the sea. By his accent and looks I realized that he was an Arab, probably one of the lot that arrived by bus. A quick visual scan of his body assured me that he didn’t come to stab me, or blow himself up. I nodded. "Yes it is beautiful."

"Well, we have at least one thing in common." I thought.

And then I had a second thought. "Here stands an Arab youth next to me, in the heart of Israel, calmly admiring with me the sea. There was not a shadow of a doubt in his mind that something bad would ever happen to him here in Israel. I tried to imagine myself standing that way in Ramalah, and having that conversation with an Arab youth. Then I remembered a scene filmed by an Italian TV correspondent in Ramalah last year.

Two Israelis, who by mistake took a wrong turn, found themselves among a mob of Palestinians. They were brought to the Palestinian police station where they were lynched and their mangled bodies thrown out of the window, to the cheering crowds below. They kicked them and beat them until they were an unrecognizable mess of flesh. The Italian TV crew, who filmed that scene, had to run for their lives to escape the mob. Fortunately, they were able to sneak the film out and show it to the world, one of the few films that were ever shown of the Arab atrocities. But the world isn’t interested in Arab atrocities. They are used to them and they don’t make good news.

For a while we stood in silence admiring the view.

"Didn’t you come with the others to pray?" I asked just to make conversation. I was curious about him. Why did he join me? It wasn’t just to watch the view, of this I was sure.

"I know what that old fool will say by heart. He is of the old school and preaches moderation. Fortunately, histime is over."

"You don't think that moderation is a good idea?"

"What has moderation ever done for us? We have been moderate long enough. We are growing weaker while you have grown stronger. It is time for us to act."

I was a little surprised by his belligerent tone right from the start. Usually Arabs are polite in the beginning of a conversation.

"Do you think that you were moderate up to now? Would you call five wars the Arabs launched against us, moderation? I wonder what you would call hostility?"

He gave me a sober look. "Hostility is what you are getting now. Our young people are blowing themselves up in all of your major towns, taking with them hundreds of you Israelis. President Arafat have promised you a million "Shihads‚" to march on Jerusalem. The march has already began, and it won’t be thanks to Arafat. He is another old bungler. Things are changing. Until now youhad the upper hand, but no more!

"Our "Shihads," are the answer to your atomic bombs. If necessary, one "Shihad" can be an atomic bomb, here in Israel, in America, in Europe, or anywhere the Jews and the Crusaders live. We don’t need millions of dollars worth of sophisticated labs and expensive scientists. What we have is cheap and efficient. That is because we are not afraid to die. We have finally found your soft underbelly, your Achilles Heal. You Judeo-Christians worship the sanctity of life, while we don’t mind dying for Islam"

The last sentence he said with certain pride in his voice.

From the way he expressed himself, I realized that he is a student. As if confirming my thoughts, he told me that he is a student of political science at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

"Do all the Arab students studying at the Israeli universities share your views?"

"Absolutely! A few may be oriented towards the West, but the overwhelming majority are for the new emerging Renaissance of Islam." Then he smiled and said, "You might as well enjoy the beautiful view from Sidney Alley while you can. You won’t be able to do so for long. If I were you, I would pack and leave for safer countries." I gave him a long look.

"Thanks for the advise, but I remember another Arab who gave the same advise to us in 1948, when the British were pulling out. He may have been your grandfather, for all I know. He lived in a village somewhere around here and he was a friend of a Jewish man named Peytan who I knew as well. Peytan lived in Kefar Shemaryahu across the road. One day the Arab neighbor came visiting Mr. Peytan and strongly advised him to pack and leave. At the same time, he brought out a measuring tape and began to measure the room they were sitting in.

"What are you doing,?" asked my friend.

"Look, you are going to lose your house anyway. There is no way that six hundred thousand of you can stand up to the combined might of six Arab regular armies, not to mention our Palestinian battalions. We can actually kill you with our hats!" Yes, that is what he actually said.

"We can kill you with our hats. We have been good friends for a long time. You might as well give me your house rather than to someone you don’t know."

"His advise reminded me of your advise. Yet during the 1948 war, that was forced on us by you, --your grand father-- not only didn’t get the house in Kefar Shemaryahu, but he lost his own house and became a refugee. And now he is blaming it on the Jews. Fifty-five years later he still sits in the camp. His views haven’t changed much. He still wants not only his house back, but he wants the house in Kefar Shemaryahu, of his Jewish friend as well. Will he ever get it? I doubt it."

"Yes, he will get it! And you know why? Because in 1948 they were all cowards! Today, our generation is proving that we are not! Eighteen determined men with box cutters who were not afraid to die, defied the big American might, causing them thousands of dead and trillions of dollars worth of losses. We found out that we can bring the Western capitalist system to its knees, and we shall do so! It is a shameless selfish system that causes endless human misery around the world, especially in the third world countries and for Islam. It is time for it to go!" It was obvious from the way he said it that he wasn’t saying it for the first time. "Communism, Nazism, Fascism, they all were defeated by the Western Democracies. What system do you propose to replace it with?, I asked. I was beginning to get irritated with this young Arab.

"Islam!," he said fiercely.

"Islam?," I asked. Islam? What did Islam ever do for the countries under its rule?"

"It brought nothing but poverty and misery to the masses, while bestowing fabulous riches to the rulers. All you have to do is look around you. Israel, that was in 1948 a pauper state, barely able to feed its population, has grown into a modern self sufficient state. We have absorbed a million Jews from the Arab countries, who fled for their lives leaving all they possessed behind, while your Arab brothers with their billions of petro dollars let the Palestinians rot in refugee camps. While we progressed in the last fifty years, the Arab states have only regressed .

"As a matter of fact, the Arab masses are worse off than when they were under the British or the French rule. How many Nobel prize winners has Islam produced? How many new inventions to benefit mankind? Practically zero! How many Einsteins, Freuds, Salks and Rubinsteins has Islam produced? Zero! From a once vibrant Arab civilization, that gave us Algebra and the concept of the zero, Islam has plunged you into a pit of fanaticism, lliteracy, poverty and corruption, and you would like to force the world into the same abyss?."For a while he looked at me perturbed. "We all make mistakes. ButIslam with all its faults is a thousand times more preferable to theabomination that is the West," he finally said quietly.

Then he gave me a fierce look and said: "If you had said in any Arab country about Islam, what you have just said to me, you would be a dead man!"

"I am sure I would. And if you had said in any Arab country denouncing their corrupt regimes the way you are denouncing Israel, you would be a dead man too. Yet, here you are, studying at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, allowing yourself openly to speak of subversion and treason against the State of Israel, without any fear of being arrested, let alone being killed for it. Doesn’t it say something to you?"

"Yes, it says that you are weak, and that weakness will be your undoing." he said seriously.

"Isn’t there a way our two nations could ever come to terms and make peace?" Again he gave me that serious look. "Yes, there is a way. We are not like the Nazis who gave you no other choice but death. We give you the chance to convert to Islam, then you will become a part of us and our people will live in peace."

For a while we stood in silence looking at the sea.

"You will never defeat us because we have a secret weapon, the same weapon that saved us from you in 1948," I said.

"Yes, and what is that, your atom bomb?" His tone was derisive.

"No. In Hebrew it is known as Ein Breira."

"Ein breira? That is your secret weapon? It means "there is no other choice." "Why, we too can say the same thing." he said.

"But that is not quite true. We have no other choice because you challenge our very existence in this country, whereas we don’t do that. We are quite willing to coexist with you as a Palestinian state and an Israeli state, side by side. You don’t acknowledge this option.

There was nothing more to be said.

The sun was dipping towards the horizon in the West, and the sea lost it's deep blue colour. The magic was gone. It was time to go home.

"Good bye. I have to go inside the mosque. I promised them a lecture," he said walking away. I could imagine what the lecture was all about.

We didn’t offer to shake hands. After all, you don’t shake hands with your sworn enemy. I walked home depressed.

If there was a way out of this conflict, I didn’t see one.



Dear Friends,

While I was trying to clean my office of stacks of old letters, pamphlets and floppies that belonged to the prehistoric computers of TX with 640 K, I was about to throw out a letter that I wrote to Dr. Kravetz. Dr. Kravetz was a publisher who was interested in one of my manuscripts at the time.

Half way to the garbage can, I scanned the letter and my eyes caught the sentence "What if Arafat is killed?" That sentence caught my attention. After reading the letter that I wrote in September 1993, I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry.

As a Holocaust survivor my mind always makes comparisons with the situations I encountered then and now.

The arduous longing for peace blinded me to think that the days of the Messiah has arrived and that no matter what, peace is inevitable. It reminds me of the hopes we were fed by the Nazis, when they made a selective action in our ghetto, of Kaunas Lithuania.

After the Big Action‚ on October 28, 1941, ten thousand Jewish men, women and children, most of them the elderly and the very young, were separated from the rest of us and were sent to the 9th Fort. The 9th Fort was the killing grounds where Jews from our ghetto and from all over Europe were brought to be executed. It was situated about 10 miles above the ghetto on a hill. (That was before they had established the murder factories of Auschwitz, Sobibor and Chmelno and even before Wansee).

To make this action as smooth of possible, the Nazis spread the rumour that these people were going to be sent to camps in the conquered part of Russia.

"You don’t really believe that we are going to kill ten thousand people?‚ they said. And indeed it seemed incredible that they would kill such a number of people in one go.

It wasn’t until we heard the machine guns going day and night that we realised that they were indeed killing ten thousand of our people. And the amazing thing is what happened after the big action. The Nazis once again waved the banner of hope before our eyes.

"This is the last action that will ever take place in this ghetto. We need you all for Germany’s war effort. If you work hard and follow orders, no harm will come to you."

And once again the desire to believe what they were saying was so strong that we closed our eyes to the truth and actually believed them. Rereading my letter to Dr. Kravetz that I wrote on the eve of Rosh Hashana, on September 14, 1993, it brought me back to the Holocaust when we closed our eyes to the naked truth. I actually believed that Arafat is our partner for peace and was worried about his safety. I find my following sentences ironic:

"What if Arafat is killed? What if the army leaves the territories and Hamas defeats Arafat? These are only a few of the questions that haunt us. Whatever happens we shall never be the same as we were before the signing. Whatever happens peace is now inevitable. Thank God."

My euphoria and desire for peace with the Palestinians was so strong that I actually believed that peace is inevitable.

It was just another shattered dream.

Here is the letter in its entirety.

Herzelia Pituach
Israel, September 14, 1993

Dear Dr.Kravetz,

Today is the eve of Rosh Hashana. The day all Jews wish their friends and relatives a Happy New Year. I wish you and your family a Happy New Year. May the coming year bring you health, happiness and good luck, and the Jewish people all over the world, peace.

We have returned to Israel about a week ago and were caught up in the tremendous excitement that has gripped the country. Never have I seen such an extreme division of opinion and mood among the people. Half of the nation thinks that the days of the Messiah have come and are in a
state of euphoria, while the other half think that the days of the devil have arrived and are in deepest despair.

Our politicians who usually leak information like a faulty faucet, this time didn’t emit even the tinniest sound of what was going on in Norway. The whole world, including Israel, were completely taken by surprise when they announced the agreement between Israel and the PLO. Ominously, the announcement with its whirlwind execution at the White House, happened just a few days before the Yomim Noraim‚ of the coming holidays, when all of our fates are to be determined by the Almighty. Many honestly think that this action by Rabin and Peres has doomed Israel to extinction; it is only a matter of time. But even the optimists among us have to admit, that the future now is full of dangers and pitfalls. We are now entering, what we sailors call, uncharted and dangerous waters. But, at least there is hope!

Before, we were stuck in the eternal formula that some matters in this world simply do not lend themselves to any solution, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of them. Today, miraculously, that formula has suddenly changed. What was impossible yesterday, is possible today.

And thank God for that!

I am an optimist. I always was. Even in the darkest days of the Holocaust. I think it helped me to survive.

But I am very anxious for my country, and there are many fears and doubts in my heart. Are we doing the right thing? Are we going to be safe with such a Palestinian entity on the door steps of Tel Aviv, Natanya and Jerusalem?

What if Arafat is killed? What if the army leaves the territories and Hamas defeats Arafat? These are only a few of the questions that haunt us.
Whatever happens we shall never be the same as we were before the signing. But whatever happens, peace is now inevitable. Thank God.

We know the tremendous difficulties we will have to bring the settlers out of the occupied territories, but there is the Galilee and the Negev almost empty of inhabitants and are only waiting to be developed. With proper compensation, a resettlement program can be successful. They too will realize that for peace their sacrifice will be worth while. They too have children and grand children who will condemned to fight and die in a never ending battle, if peace doesn’t come to this region. We Jews are a reasonable people and in the end reason will prevail.

We the survivors of the Holocaust and their offspring know that Israel is the only anchor of security not only for us here, but for the Jewish people throughout the world.

We do realize what a terrible risk we are taking. But we also know that for the first time since the creation of Israel we really have a chance of building a new and prosperous region of the whole Middle East. We have a chance of building together with the Arab countries where all of us can leave safely and in prosperity. I think that the Arabs have finally realized that if we can build nuclear weapons which can annihilate all the Arab countries combined, we also have the brains to help them build a new prosperous world. "Inshala," as they say in Arabic.

I simply would like to share my thoughts and feelings with you, in these, for us, fateful days.

With my best wishes and Shana Tova. May the coming year bring us out of the nightmare of perpetual war and strife.

With best wishes, and again Shana Tova,





Israel, June 12, 2002

If I needed a reminder why we live in Israel and cling to it with heart and soul, despite the endless wars and the suicide bombings, this recent journey supplied us with the answer.

The flight from Tel Aviv to Munich lasts less than four hours, but my memory takes me back fifty seven years, when I was a teenage slave laborer for the Nazis in one ofthe outer camps of Dachau.

Towards the end of the war, they were so desperately in need of labor that the Nazis reluctantly gave up the idea of gassing all Jews, irrespective of their gender or age.

They continued to gas women with children and old people, but those whom they considered stillcapable of work, were temporarily spared. They even coined a phrase forthose of us: "Vernichtung durch Arbeit" "Annihilation through Work" In fact, they starved us and made uswork twelve hours a day at hard labor, condemning us to a slow agonizing death.

There were in all eleven outer camps of Dachau, where in nine months fifteen thousand Jewish slaves out of a total of thirty thousand, died of starvation, hard labor and beatings by the German supervisors and the SS guards.

I was in an outer camp of Dachau, known as Lager X, by Utting, a picturesque little town by the Amersee. Before the war writers and artists used to live there. I was told that the famous Kurt Weil lived there before Hitler came to power
In July 1944, with the Soviet troops approaching Kaunas ghetto where I was incarcerated for three years, the Nazis transported us half across Europe to Bavaria. There, near the medieval town ofLandsberg and surroundings, Hitler decided in the last phases of the war to build gigantic underground factories where the jet fighter Messerschmit M62 was to be built. This was Hitler's promised secret weapon that would sweep the American and British planes out of the German skies.

We, the half starved Jews of Lithuania, Poland, and Hungary were to build these gigantic factories, andperish while building it. The construction sight was called Moll, named after the owner of the building company, Leonard Moll.

I will never forget the day when I first laid eyes on it. We were driving from Utting in a truck, to deliver a load of potatoes . In our camp it was known that the Germans were building some kind of underground factory, and we heard terrible stories about it.

We traveled for what seemed like an hour along a tree lined dirt road. Darkness had fallen, and in the distance we could hear the low grinding roar of heavy machinery. The din increased just before we emerged into a huge clearing lit by the glare of floodlights. The road dropped into a vast excavation, and from it rose an enormous concrete vault, bristling with vertical reinforcing rods so that it looked like some monstrous hedge-hog. Narrow railroad tracks curved towards the opening.

The installation was a half -cylinder of concrete, 1,300 feet long and spanning more than 275 feet at the base. It rose some 95 feet into the air at the top of the arch. Under the glaring lights, cranes and bulldozers moved into and around its mouth. Scores of tractors, trucks, and other heavy equipment created an ear-shattering roar. Along the sides, scores of prisoners stood on platforms handling huge flexible hoses that spewed wet cement into the spiked grid work, while others moved about with shovels and buckets. Everywhere we looked we saw what looked like thousands of men in striped uniforms moving about the compound, carrying lumber, iron rods and sacks of cement.

It was like an enormous, evil hive. Even as we watched we heard inhuman screams coming from above. The men who were maneuvering the huge hose had lost their grip, and the pipe began writhing about, spewing concrete in all directions. The men desperately tried to seize it, but it whipped and flailed and knocked several men off their feet. One after another they fell screaming onto the spikes, while the hose poured hundreds of pounds of concrete on top of them. The scene I describe took place towards the end of 1944. The men I saw fall into the concrete are still entombed in its massive construction to this day. Among the men who slaved on this project was my childhood friends Uri Chanoch and Chaim Konwitz, Avraham Fein, Monchik Levin and many others. Fifty eight years later we had returned to"Moll" to say Kadish for these men.
One of the man entombed I knew personally. His name was Zelig. I never found out his last name, but knew he was from a small town in Lithuania.

He was one of the "human horses" who were engaged in pulling a food cart from the village of Utting to a German worker's kitchen. I too was a horse, and in all we were four teenagers who were given that job. The German kitchen was near the site where we were slaving at hard labor, a place known as Dyckerhof and Wydman.

(Dyckerhof and Wydman, by the way, is one of the largest construction companies in Germany today).

At that stage of the war, gasoline became a very precious commodity, and we the Jewish slaves, were used as 'horses'.

Make no mistake, being a "horse" was a coveted job in the camp, the alternative was to carry hundred pounds of cement on your back, or iron rails to build tracks for the trolleys. There was another advantage in being a "horse." The cart we were pulling was filled with food for the kitchen, and we always managed to scrounge a crust of bread or a bowl of soup in Utting.

Zelig was an ardent Zionist and always talked about how he would work the land of Israel if he ever survived the war. "If I will ever survive this hell and get to the land of Israel, I will kiss every grain of sand, and work twenty-four-hours a day to build it up," he would say. And he would say it with so much longing in his voice that it had an effect on all of us.

But his wish never came true. He fell into the roof of "Moll" and became entombed with the others, by sheer mistake, and I was there to see him fall. I will never forget his screams as he fell to his horrible death.

Fifty eight years later we stood quietly reciting Kadish for the dead and I spoke to Zelig of the land of Israel that he loved so much, and like Moses, never got to see it.

Yes, Zelig, I want to tell you of the true miracle of Israel, that puts to shame the miracles of the Bible.

Yes, Zelig, I survived and saw your beloved land. I still remember the mountains of Carmel rising from the morning mist, as our ship approached Haifa.

We were a ship full of penniless Holocaust survivors, and we all sang (what was later to become our National Anthemn) the Hatikvah (the Hope) with tears in our eyes. No sooner had we landed on its shore, as we were called to defend the newly proclaimed land of Israel .

Five Arab armies descended on us trying to strangle us at our birth.

I will never forget the moment when I was given a rifle and was told by my commanding officer: "This is your land now, defend it with all you have got, for you will never have another chance to have your< own country."

And defend it we did, Zelig. Many of us died, some of them the last sons of once glorious Jewish families of Europe, but they died for the only cause worth while fighting for.

I was only sorry, Zelig, that you couldn't be there by my side fighting for the land you loved so much.

With the onslaught of the combined Arab armies, the world gave us a week to survive and what is more, no one lifted a finger to help us. The Arabs were to finish whatHitler had started. So what else is new?

But the world didn't reckon with one small thing, Zelig.. We were not the defenseless Jews anymore. We were now back in our homeland fighting for the resurrected State of Israel.

Against all odds we won the war, and set out to prepare the ground for another million penniless refugees. Jews, who escaped with their lives from the Arabic countries, where they were robbed of their properties, possessions and money. And soon another million arrived from all over the world, and another million, from Poland and the Baltics. From six hundred thousands in 1948, we grew into a population of two and half million within a few years of the creation of the State.

Ironically, when the Jewish Agency asked for seventy five thousands certificates to save some Jews from Hitler's gas chambers, the British claimed that the country couldn't absorb such a vast number of Jews. That was the infamous White Paper.

The fledgling state, soon ran out of money to buy the basic needs for the swelling population. We lived in tents and ate what the small agricultural settlements could provide us with. It wasn't enough, but we weren't starving.

Very soon we began to build a healthy democratic society, creating wealth by our brains and hard work, as the country had no natural resources. Soon Jews from over fifty countries full of enthusiasm came to help build the State of Israel. Our population grew even more, and despite the predictions of international experts, that no country can absorb so many millions without an economical collapse, Israel continued to develop in every field. The Jews, who hadn't tilled the land for two thousands years became experts in agriculture, achieving internationally unprecedented results.

Ironically, the stereotyped Jew, the merchant, the money lender, the usurer, went all over the world to teach agriculture and know-how in many fields, and what is even more ironic, we became experts in warfare. "The people of the book" as we were known for two thousand years, soft and cowardly, as proclaimed by the anti-Semites, soon learned to become experts in that field as well. The fact is, that in 1967, we stunned the world by defeating the combined Arab armies in six days. The Arab countries unwilling to accept their defeat in the battle field, and unwilling to accept us in their midst, launched war after war, trying to eliminate the State of Israel. Every time they suffered crushing defeats, despite their superior numbers and new technology weapons the Soviets supplied them with.

Today we are a modern society of six million people. The country that once was a mosquito infested swamp land, or dry desert land, blossomed into a modern society of six million people. From nothing we created a land that not only boasts of the highest standards in every field of achievement, but also developed one of the highest high tech industries in the world.

We export per capita in dollars more than any other country in the world. And we did it all with hard work, brains, and guts. Yes, Zelig, I always admired you for you love of that distantland called Eretz Israel. I never believed that I could havesuch emotions for any land.

Today, after having fought for it in four bloody wars, and after spending a life time in helping rebuild it, I can finally say that I do share your feelings for the land of Israel.

Yes, Zelig, you can be proud of us. We, the survivors of the Holocaust, have risen from the ashes of Europe and helped create the miracle of Israel. Never again will they line us up defenseless before the gas chambers of Europe!

Rest In Peace, my friend Zelig, Rest in Peace.

Herzelia, Israel
June 12, 2002


Thoughts and Reflections of a Survivor on Yom Hashoha, Holocaust Remembrance Day
April 9, 2002

I was in the garden about to feed our cat called Ginger when the sirens went off, officially announcing the day of the Holocaust. The shrill, piercing sound made Ginger jump. Then she came scuttling down to hide between my legs, while I stood at attention.

It was ten in the morning and the sirens were sounding all over Israel, from Metula in the North to Eilat in the South. Israelis wherever they are, stop and stand at attention for several minutes in honor of the six million Holocaust victims. For two minutes the whole country stops in its tracks. For us Holocaust survivors this is of great emotional significance. We know that we are in the only country in the world that honors our perished families and friends in such a dignified manner. We, the Holocaust survivors, our children and grand children can hold up our heads and say, "Yes, this is our home and no one will ever get us out of here, no matter what."

April is the most beautiful time of the year in Israel, just before the harsh summer heat invades the country. The orange groves are in bloom, and the sweet delicate bouquet of orange blossoms permeates the countryside. Passover is also behind us and soon we will celebrate Israel's 54th Independence day.

Yet, today is the Holocaust day, the saddest day of the year for us survivors. Memories of the horrors I saw in my childhood surface in my mind and heart. Sadness is mixed with certain rage and resentment. Why did the world allow it to happen and do nothing keeps going through my mind.

Since we live near the sea, on every Holocaust day I go down to the beach, to sense, to smell and feel. To smell the sea, feel the sun on my body, and sense the presence of perhaps something good, anything that would keep me from thinking, anything that would keep me from remembering. The sea always had that calming effect on me. Its vastness, as it stretches from horizon to horizon. The acrid smell of salt and kelp. The gentle murmur of the waves as they wash ashore on the sandy beach. And how it changes color gradually from dark blue, to turquoise green.

If I believed in God I would sing hosannas to this marvelous creation. And yet, I think of his supreme accomplishment, the creation of man: Cruel, vengeful, destructive and in many ways stupid, despite his intelligence. We can't help but observe the shape mankind is in and the shape of this beautiful planet that is gradually sinking in the muck created by us.

Perhaps I am being too harsh on us. Perhaps it is due to the memories I experienced as a child, on this Holocaust day. Perhaps it isn't really our fault. If we were created in God's own image, perhaps God should have done something to improve his own image before he created us.

Perhaps the death and destruction that surrounds us today also influences these bitter thoughts. Suicide bombers, attacking our civilian population as a strategic weapon hatched in the sick minds of Arafat and his Iranian, Iraqi, and Syrian backers. Our resultant attacks on the Palestinian towns and villages raining down more death and destruction on them.

And my God, it could have been so different. . . Just imagine if they, the Arabs, had accepted the United Nations resolution in 1947 calling for the creation of two states living in peace side by side; Israel and Palestine. Instead they have tried to destroy us, war after war, after war

.Imagine what the Middle East would have been like today. To start with, we wouldn't have fought five major wars with hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded and continuous destruction of the area. There wouldn't have been three million Palestinian refugees with all their misery, condemned to rot in camps.

We could have used our skills for the whole region's advantage, and the Middle East would have been today an area of prosperity and peace. To support this claim, all one has to do is to observe the achievements of tiny Israel in the last fifty years, even while it had to spend billions of dollars to defend itself.

From a pauper state in 1948, with millions of penniless refugees flooding the country, we have become a modern industrial/agricultural nation. We have made huge medical advances benefiting the whole world -- even while forced to build a formidable army of self-defense. And Israel has built a high tech industry second only to the famous Silicon Valley, to name but a few of our achievements.

Then observe what had happened to our Arab neighbors since 1948, and the conclusion is obvious. They have regressed year by year.

The only thing they have produced is succeeding generations of frustrated fanatics who hate the West. They hate the West because they are envious of its achievements and hate its culture, because it is repulsive to them.

And let us not make any mistake, they don't hate America and the West because it supports Israel; on the contrary, they hate Israel because they see it as a bastion of the West in their midst.

We had so much to offer them, instead they chose to fight us, and still do. It is a great pity. They never seem to learn. We are here to stay and they might as well make peace with that idea instead of forever fighting it.

After all it is just a matter of concept. We are Israel and they are Ishmael, and we are supposed to be cousins.

Solly Ganor
Herzelia, Israel
April 9, 2002