Chavka Folman Raban, one of the last if not the last of the Warsaw Ghetto
heroines, died Thursday, three months before her 90th birthday.
Raban was one of the legendary couriers who in addition to engaging in
resistance operations against the Nazis, smuggled false documents and
newspapers, money, jewels, food and weapons into and out of the ghetto. The
couriers often traveled from ghetto to ghetto, constantly changing identity and
bringing news, hope and basic necessities to Jews who were completely cut off
from the outside world.
Born in the Polish city of Kielce, Folman Raban
grew up in Warsaw and attended the Jewish high school. She was a member of the
Dror Zionist youth group, which following the Nazi occupation of Poland was
particularly active in attempts to thwart the enemy.
She joined the
Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa (Jewish Fighting Force) and worked with such
towering figures from Holocaust history as Yitzhak Zuckerman (known by the code
name of Antek), Zivia Lubetkin, Yitzhak Katzenelson, Mordechai Anielewicz and
The female couriers did more than deliver messages and
They also managed to smuggle people in and out of
ghettos and to act as intelligence agents.
They were chosen for their
non-Jewish looks and for their perfect command of Polish, enunciated without any
trace of a Yiddish accent.
Traveling across Poland by train, they picked
up information by listening to conversations around them. It was often
frightening work, because there was no dearth of anti-Semites among the Poles,
and the couriers never knew when someone might catch them out.
ghetto, Chavka Folman, as she was then, was known by her own
Outside the ghetto, she was known as Ewa Marczinek.
and German authorities interrogated her several times, but she always managed to
convince them that she was a Polish Catholic, until the fateful day of December
Zuckerman had gone to work with the Jewish underground in
Krakow and sent for her because of her training in the use of
That day, there was an attack on the Cyganeria Café in Szpitalna
Street, which was a favorite meeting place for senior members of the Wehrmacht
and the Gestapo. Following the attack on the café, there were 11 dead Germans
and 13 wounded.
Chavka was among the Jews arrested and taken in for
questioning. This time she couldn’t talk her way out of the charges against her,
and she was sent to Auschwitz- Birkenau, where they tattooed a number on her arm
and cut off her long blonde hair. In later years she told people that this was a
particularly humiliating experience, that was as if she had been deprived of her
femininity. In the final six months of the war, she was sent to Ravensbrueck,
from where she was liberated in April 1945. Her father and brothers were dead,
but she was reunited with her mother, and together they came to Mandate
Palestine in November 1947.
She was one of the founders of Kibbutz Beit
Lochamei Hagetaot, (The Ghetto Fighters House), and there she and her late
husband, Yehezkiel Raban, raised three children: Benny, Razi and
Chavka worked as a teacher as well as in the kibbutz museum, where
she told her story to soldiers, youth, tour groups and
Articulate in several languages, and said to have a deep
understanding of human nature and a wonderful sense of humor, she frequently
accompanied youth groups to Poland, took them to the house in which she grew up
and showed them the path she walked to go to school. It was important to her
that young people should learn not only of the horrors of the Holocaust, but of
how and where Jews had lived before the war.
Almost exactly a year ago,
on January 17, the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was
commemorated at Kibbutz Lochamei Hagetaot, closer to International Holocaust
Remembrance Day than to the anniversary of the uprising, the Hebrew calendar
date of which is commemorated in Israel and by Jewish communities around the
globe. President Shimon Peres attended the event, coming to honor the last of
the surviving ghetto fighters – who included Chavka, Simcha Rathajzer-Rotem
(“Kazik”), Yehuda Maymon (“Poldek”), Pnina Grinshpan- Frimer, Hela Schuepper-
Rufeisen, Prof. Israel Gutman (who has since passed away), Samuel Willenberg
(who is also the sole survivor of Treblinka) and Prof. Yitzhak
Among the representatives of the second- and third-generation
survivors were Michael Kovner, son of partisan- poet Abba Kovner and his wife
Vika who was also a partisan, and Eyal Zuckerman- Menashe, granddaughter of
Yitzhak Zuckerman and Zivia Lubetkin.
On that occasion, Chavka, whose
unrealized dream was to live to see peace between Israel and the Palestinians,
declared that no nation had the right to rule another and that peace was the
most important of goals to which to aspire.
Three months later, she was
in Poland for the official Polish commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising as
the guest of the Warsaw Municipality, and was feted like a queen, including
meetings with the Polish leadership.
Notwithstanding her age, she was a
modern woman and had an active Facebook page.
On learning of her death,
Peres said on Friday that he saluted her as “an outstanding example of Jewish
The strength and fortitude that had sustained her in the ghetto
in the camps and on the death march remained with her, he said.
never afraid to express her opinion with regard to Israel’s future, said
Chavka Folman Raban was laid to rest on Sunday at the Kibbutz
Lochamei Hagetaot Cemetery.
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