Moshe Shkedi 88 248.
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Aliya date - May 1948
Occupation. -Retired school principal
Moshe Shkedi has a photo of Auschwitz in his living room. It's of the infamous railway lines leading to the barracks, the place where his entire family was murdered in 1944.
The one small difference between that place in 1944 and the photo which was taken in 2003 is the image of three jet fighters in the sky above the compound. For this is the picture of the famous Israel Air Force flyover by pilots who were the sons of Holocaust survivors at a moving ceremony in the death camp; entirely appropriate for the father of Maj.-Gen. (res.) Eliezer Shkedi, who was head of the air force from 2004 to 2008.
Moshe Shkedi, who lives with his wife, Nechama, at a retirement home in Kfar Saba, first came to this country in 1947, part of the illegal aliya packed off by the British to wait in Cyprus until Israel became a state. He finally settled here in 1948 and devoted his life to education.
LIFE BEFORE ALIYA
He was born in Tolcsva, Hungary, in 1925 to a strictly Orthodox family. His father, Eliezer Mandel, had a haberdashery shop in the small town which he ran together with Moshe's mother, Charlotta, and later worked as a cantor. Moshe attended a Jewish school where there were so few pupils that all the different ages learned together. Later he was sent to yeshiva.
Life was comfortable and pleasant for Hungarian Jews until 1944, when the Germans invaded and the deportations began. Shkedi, still a teenager, was saved by finding refuge in the Swiss consulate, known as the "Glass House," where many of the Jewish community's leaders were hidden. From here false passes were printed and distributed to Jews in Budapest and he was assigned to be one of the couriers in this operation.
"Although we were saved from deportation, it was terrifying to move around Budapest as a Jew, with the Nazis everywhere. If a Jew was discovered, he was killed and thrown into the Danube."
With the end of the war the realization slowly dawned - his entire family had been wiped out and he was the sole survivor of the Mandel family, alone in the world.
There were 4,000 Jews on the boat Knesset Yisrael which sailed from Marseille in 1947. Packed into the hold like sardines so that the British would not see any passengers and think it was a cargo ship, the ruse failed miserably and as the ship approached the shores of the Holy Land, blinding searchlights swept over the decks where people had come up for air.
"We produced our secret weapon," says Shkedi, his eyes moist at the memory. "Four thousand Jews sang 'Hatikva' at the top of their voices. I have never heard anything more moving, before or since."
They also tried pelting the British soldiers with tins of food, but to no avail. Forced to land at Haifa, they were sent to Cyprus, and Shkedi spent more than a year there, waiting to come home - to Israel.
He was sent to Kibbutz Evron near Nahariya and there became a youth counselor. From that early experience he decided to make education his life's work. He took the name Shkedi, the Hebrew translation of Mandel (almond).
LIFE SINCE ALIYA
He studied at Tel Aviv University, gaining a BA in Hebrew literature and philosophy and an MA in education. Always working in residential schools which became like homes to him, he worked his way up from counselor to teacher and eventually principal. He was head of the Givat Hod boarding school in Ramatayim for more than 25 years, working with problem youth. He devised many innovative methods of dealing with them and wrote several books on the subject. He married Nechama, a sabra teacher, in 1954 and their son, Eliezer, was born in 1957. Two years later their daughter, Yael, a well-known jewelry maker and teacher, was born.
"When we first arrived at the kibbutz, we felt, as survivors, that we were discriminated against. It was silly things like the feeling they were getting good cigarettes and we got the cheap ones. We were very young and felt they looked down on us after what we had suffered in the war, but maybe we imagined it."
"As a yeshiva bocher in Hungary, of course I could read Hebrew perfectly and it didn't take me long to pick up modern Hebrew and speak it."
BEST THING ABOUT ISRAEL
"It's not difficult to understand what I love about Israel in view of my history and background. To live a life without anti-Semitism in a country which has absorbed Jews from all over the world is all I could ever dream of. I'm in my own home, with my own people."
ADVICE TO NEW IMMIGRANTS
"Love your country and contribute whatever you can. Don't ever forget the feeling of being a nation responsible for its own destiny."
CLOSING THE CIRCLE
In his autobiography The Fatal Jump for Life, just published, he tells his story, and ends with a page entitled "Sixty Years Later." He records the deportation and murder of his father, Eliezer Mandel, his mother and his four sisters in May 1944. Then he writes of the appointment of his son Eliezer as the commander of the air force in April 2004. He quotes then chief of General Staff Shaul Mofaz: "The appointment of Maj.-Gen. Eliezer Shkedi, the son of a Holocaust survivor, as the head of the air force, the strategic arm of the State of Israel, symbolizes the transition from Shoah to redemption." Records Moshe Shkedi, with great pride and satisfaction, "The circle is closed."
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