Capturing the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai at Mt.Meron in 1948, during the War of Independence.
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.
Sunday, May 6th, 2007
"The Columbia Is Lost"
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.
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
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
"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.
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
ships 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
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 Kaisers 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.
"Its 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
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
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!" Dont 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
"Well, Matrose, I see you are an officer now. Another bloody miracle.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, wasnt it a miracle that we got were
we got, against the craziest odds? And I will tell you another thing,
we wont 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
About half a mile from where I live in Herzliya, on a hill
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 mans
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
of its waters. It wasnt the first time I saw it and I always witness
that phenomenon with rising spirits. "If there is so much beauty
world, then there is hope for us humans yet," I said to myself.
The silence was interrupted by a noisy bus full of Arab
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
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.
"Its beautiful, isnt 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 didnt come to stab me,
or blow himself up. I nodded. "Yes it is beautiful."
"Well, we have at least one thing in common."
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
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
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
isnt interested in Arab atrocities. They are used to them and they
dont make good news.
For a while we stood in silence admiring the view.
"Didnt you come with the others to pray?"
I asked just to make
conversation. I was curious about him. Why did he join me? It wasnt
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 wont 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 dont need millions
dollars worth of sophisticated labs and expensive scientists. What we
have is cheap and efficient. That is because we are not afraid to die.
finally found your soft underbelly, your Achilles Heal. You Judeo-Christians
worship the sanctity of life, while we dont 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 wont 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
"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 dont 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 didnt 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
still sits in the camp. His views havent changed much. He still
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
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 wasnt 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.
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
fanaticism, lliteracy, poverty and corruption, and you would like to force
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
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
"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. Doesnt it say something to you?"
"Yes, it says that you are weak, and that weakness
will be your undoing." he said seriously.
"Isnt 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
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
"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 dont do that. We are quite willing to coexist with you as a Palestinian state and an Israeli state, side by side. You dont 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
"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 didnt offer to shake hands. After all, you dont shake hands with your sworn enemy. I walked home depressed.
If there was a way out of this conflict, I didnt see one.
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 didnt 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
"You dont really believe that we are going to kill ten thousand
they said. And indeed it seemed incredible that they would kill such a
number of people in one go.
It wasnt until we heard the machine guns going day and night that
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.
need you all for Germanys 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:
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.
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
Our politicians who usually leak information like a faulty faucet, this
time didnt 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
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
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
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 doesnt 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
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
the nightmare of perpetual war and strife.
With best wishes, and again Shana Tova,
A JOURNEY TO THE PAST; DACHAU-BERLIN
Israel, June 12, 2002
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.
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.
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<
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.
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.
Thoughts and Reflections of a Survivor on
Yom Hashoha, Holocaust Remembrance Day
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.