Updated: Feb 23
[ Palestine British Army. August 1943]
My father graduated from the Balfour Reali Gymnasium in Tel Aviv in the summer of 1942 and hurried to enlist in the Jewish Brigade of Her Majesty's Army. World War II was then deep into its third year.
The Japanese bombed the Americans at Pearl Harbor and dragged them into a frontal war. The Nazi army had already taken over central Europe, Poland and the Czech Republic. General Erwin Rommel arrived in the Western Desert and conquered Libya while conducting armor-to-armour battles with the British army. The Germans aimed to reach the gates of the Land of Israel. The Red Army fought valiantly in the suburbs of Moscow, and under the protection of the harsh winter managed to delay and even retreat the German army.
At Villa Venza in Berlin, at the beginning of that year, January 1942, a conference was convened that called for the "Final Solution", the establishment of a well-oiled mechanism throughout Europe, the sole purpose of which is to gather and exterminate all the Jews of the continent, quickly and elegantly - with gas and furnaces.
The millions of Jews who lived in Europe were imprisoned in ghettos. Some were sent to extermination camps in improvised gas trucks. The Germans conducted an extensive murder campaign against the Jews of the Soviet Union on an ideological basis. They saw the Jews as the forefathers of Communism which they hated and the enemy of Nazi ideology, and therefore they were mortal.
Hundreds of thousands of Jews were sent to extermination camps from the Warsaw Ghetto. In public, a debate erupted between the various factions concerning how to respond to what was happening in Europe. It is because the settlement leaders hesitated to join the protests in Israel.
"Horror" Headline in the newspaper "Davar" from June 1942
As Dad read the headlines of the papers on his way home from school, in the display window on the first floor of the “Davar” newspaper editorial building on Sheinkin Street on the corner of Lord Melchett street , he learned about what was happening in Europe.
One of the small headlines in "Davar" from June 30, 1942 read "Horror". A report from the World Jewish Congress published in the United States stated that at least one million Jews had been murdered in Europe, half of them in Poland.
My dad and his classmates could not remain indifferent. Dad knew about his parents' family that remained in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Ukraine. He visited his uncles in Lithuania in the spring of 1936. He lived with them for half a year. With Uncle Shmuel and Aunt Fanny.
Did my father know even then that Noah, the cousin who accompanied him on that trip by ship in the spring of 1936, when he was only 12 years old - his wife and young son were murdered a year before the publication of this headline in "Davar", already in 1941, and that Noach himself was deported to Buchenwald and murdered there later?
Headline in "Davar" daily Israeli newspaper, December, 1942
My father probably knew about family members imprisoned in the ghetto in Bialystok and was anxious about the fate of the others. 10 family members, cousins, aunts and uncles, were murdered in 1941-1942 by the Nazis, the Lithuanians and the Ukrainians.
My father dreamed of heading out with his classmates to fight the Nazi occupiers. However, with the intervention of his mother Yocheved he was enlisted but did not sail with his friends to Italy.
In July 1942, he reported to Sarafend camp (today's barracks), and for nearly four years he served in Her Majesty's Army. First as a clerical soldier in the Corps of Excavators, the BUFFS. Dad joined the Second Battalion as a mechanic and truck driver and was sent to Egypt, to the Western Desert, two years later.
At the training camp in Wadi Sarar (today's Nahal Sorak), he passed general training. During the day he trained with his friends in the Hebrew Battalion. At night he wrote his notes in a notebook he had left over from his days at the gym. In an old shoe box at my mother's warehouse, I recently found this notebook among yellowed newspaper clippings.
Dad wrote in his notebook stories about evil, death, suffering and revenge. Written by a young boy who dreams of being a "superhero" who will come and save his brother in exile - but he is in a tent at the training base, memorizing from a notebook of car mechanics lessons and the heroic deeds will be done by his friends whose mothers did not prevent them from sailing with the British army to Europe.
Dad also wrote about youthful love. black and white photographs I found with handwritten dedications on the back of the photographs from those years told the story of his coming of age as a teenager in a gymnasium in Tel Aviv.
Like many boys of his age, he wrote about the first love he experienced, wrote candidly about the first kiss, about the shared dreams they shared in their youth. About plays they were able to see together, about parties we organized.
One of the lists, dated August 1943, was a story he called "parallels". He put this story in the mouth of a fictional "friend" who was patrolling alongside him along the railroad track that crossed the base during one night shift.
My Dad on the right with friends
And so he wrote:
"The night was deep and close. Huddled in their coats. We walked steadily along the track. From every side. We were surrounded by gloomy warehouses whose shadows cast a blackish bile over us. And our guard time has just begun. There were two long hours of silence and solitude. My friend hit the butt of the gun with his hand. I've often wanted to pour my heart out to someone... Well, the phrase is not accurate. More than once I wanted to share those beautiful memories with someone, he told me.”
Would you be inclined to hear something like this, a kind of review about that love that I am entitled to call it - my first love? For all its strangeness and admittedly, for its beautiful and sometimes painful hours, first love is a real thing.
His voice deepened. His eyes floated into the distance, and from there he heard what his mouth told me while walking measuredly and slowly along the track...
When we were in the 11th grade, I wrote her a note - talking to a girl at the time was not common.
I wrote to her that "When I grow up, I will be taller than you. I love you"... And I never forgot her.
We studied in the same class, and she always stood out, and I always thought, if I love someone - only she will be the bearer of my love.
Even then, she was the most handsome girl in the class. Her eyes were black and her long straight hair was black as coal. She was as tall as a palm tree, as was her name.
She was also very talented.
She would paint the heads of cute girls with exquisite taste, she would recite rhymes about spring and Tel Aviv to the cute fluffy cat in the garden. She would delight the heart of the listener with her lamenting poetry every morning in class.
She was emotional and refined. I remember everything, like it was just yesterday, it was. As twins we were.
If an essay competition was held, she and I would win. When prom decorations are needed, we both prepared them. Dialogue to read, dispatch to send, a movie day in the city for a worthwhile cause. We set out to raise money together. She and I walked down the street as twin children of a single mother. But we were only members of one religion, the religion of beauty, and we worshipped only one god - the god of beauty. And our covenant was broken; move together, learn together and develop together.
"For four years we kept this covenant, and even then we didn't break it. We just rewrote it, and we swore anew to be loyal to each other, to love with our whole hearts, and to help each other realize our common dream."
We weaved a beautiful mask through long and beautiful nights. A magical and tremendous dream of traveling the world, of shared sight and impression, of shared admiration of all that is beautiful and aesthetic in it. Here will come a day when we will stand together in front of the Acropolis in Athens, looking up at the eternal snow-capped Olympus. Pass the land of spring, the ever-green Riviera and from there to sunny Spain, the land of knights and troubadours. And to America.
Wondering among the skyscrapers, climbing on their roofs and looking around. We were dazzled by the neon light of advertising night, and we marveled at the wonders of the techniques and the beauty of the stages and gardens.
And the road continues to California, to the golden gate of bustling San Francisco, across the vast blue sea. To the calm beaches of Hawaii and Aia, immerse yourself in the green and wild nature of its forests, eat only bananas and coconuts and dream of love. Corals, flowers, and water surround you.
Then you pass through mysterious Java and India full of wonderful temples where legendary dancers will perform dances in devotion to ancient idols.
Fly and pass over Persia to the mysterious Baghdad, the city of palaces and harems. To remove the lot from the calypso and to aspire to the finest and most valuable from them as well.
We dreamed of being butterflies fluttering from one flower to another, sucking its milk and goodness and passing on. This period has also ended. The two high school students have completed their studies. The full moon shines in the gold of a romantic May evening in a cherry garden whose trees are covered with white and pink snow.
Love revealed her secret to them. For the first time both of them will be united, in a virginal kiss that, for example, is not shown on the cinema screen. They both felt it for the first time, an electrifying vibration that illuminated them like thousands of lamps, a miraculous and beautiful inscription: Love.
We never stop dreaming. For the most part, love has fertilized us and will grow dream flowers.
When dad wrote this story in August 1943, did he know then that the thirty thousand Jews who remained in the Bialystok ghetto family and friends of his parents women, men and children had already been sent to the extermination camps...? Dad wrote about butterflies, about a cherry orchard, about dreams of traveling around the world. He lived in a movie he scripted, directed, and filmed himself. A 19-year-old boy who probably didn't really know how to deal with the bad news from Europe and ran away to a fictional world far from the horrors of this world.
When my Dad was discharged from the British army in 1946, he turned to the theater. He was accepted as a full-fledged student at Zvi Friedland's acting studio in Tel Aviv, and from there he quickly reached the stage of the National Theater, "Habima".
"We were delighted. Even the war that came, even the gloomy month of June 1940 did not cloud our happiness - we were so happy, we wondered if it wasn't egoism. But the heart screamed and cried. No, they are the most unfortunate in the world, very much. Please be where you young people in love are happy, very happy.'
"On the horizon of our lives, two circles emerged. Each of us entered a different circle. In my life there were backstage boards, stage scenery, floats, blinding lights, and reflectors.
Her life circle resembled a small provincial city. She lost the "benevolent nature of the colony" and absorbed the "corruption of the city."
"In spite of all of this, we continued to be together. Shared experiences, similar criticism, shared ambitions - all this still pulled us both together. Day followed day. And the moon changes. I found an interest in life. I had a goal and I lived knowing that every day and every week I was getting closer to it.
She began to change. Boredom and idleness began to show in her soul.
"Her face became a painted mask, incredibly beautiful, I will admit, but I thought she was most beautiful at the 'first' stage. Her once intelligent and warm gleam disappeared, and its place was taken by a glimmer of equanimity and indifference to everything, a terrible emptiness. I couldn't bear it... Do you understand?!?...'
Yes Dad, today I understand...
In those days, my father was only 18 or 19 years old, and he knew that his life was destined for the stage even then. The girl, whose name is like the name of the Palm tree, who chose the life if a small town life style, that girl was directed to another place... they parted ways.