Veterans: Robert, 71, and Julka, 70, Gero

From Kosice, Czechoslovakia, to Ashkelon, 1968.

September 4, 2008 18:26
4 minute read.
Veterans: Robert, 71, and Julka, 70, Gero

robert and julka gero 224 88. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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When the Gero family came from Czechoslovakia via Vienna and disembarked at Ben-Gurion Airport at 3 a.m., they were greeted by a heat wave. They stood there on the tarmac in their warm clothes, hot air from the plane engines adding to their discomfort. They felt it was impossible to breathe. "Perhaps it would have been better if the Russians had sent us to Siberia," Robert Gero quipped to his wife, Julka. It was 1968. Israel was euphoric a year after the Six Day War. Czechoslovakia was in a state of flux after the invasion by Russian troops and their allies. LIFE BEFORE ISRAEL Both Robert and Julka spent their childhood years in the shadow of World War II. Robert lost his parents and hid with his mother's sisters in an attic, cave and forest. One of the aunts and his uncle subsequently brought him up as their own. Julka and her parents moved from one hiding place to another, using assumed names and paying villagers for their help, often spending hours in sewers and barns. At one stage Julka was hidden on her own in a dark, cold attic. When the war ended, she suffered from malnutrition and related problems. Liberation made it possible for them to go to school. Robert studied at vocational school and university and, while a student, met Julka, then a fourth-year medical student. They married immediately after Robert graduated for fear that the communist regime would assign them to work in places hundreds of kilometers apart. Robert lectured at the University of Kosice and Julka worked in the hospital and at a clinic. Their two children were born in Kosice. ARRIVAL Their welcome was warm, quite apart from the heat wave. Many family members came to meet them despite the early hour, and they were taken to Kibbutz Ha'ogen where an uncle was living. The kibbutz made them welcome and gave them the feeling that they had a home to return to should they have problems outside. They then went to an ulpan for academics in Jerusalem and the children started kindergarten and school there. SETTLING IN It was not difficult for the Geros to find work. Robert accepted a position at Ashot Ashkelon, an Israel Military Industries plant that was in dire need of a metallurgist. Many clinics in Ashkelon needed doctors and Julka started work at the Kupat Holim Clalit clinic in the Afridar/Barnea quarter. In Czechoslovakia, she had worked in a hospital and specialist clinic. While still in ulpan, she prepared herself for the change to family medicine by observing the work at a clinic in the Katamon quarter of Jerusalem. Later, while working in Ashkelon, she took advanced courses in family medicine at Tel Aviv University. DAILY LIFE Life centered on career and children. The children managed schoolwork successfully on their own, their parents handicapped by language and unable to help them. While generally meeting help and encouragement, Robert had some initial difficulties with those veteran workers who did not welcome a newcomer with higher qualifications and more know-how. However, he persevered and made his mark. Gradually he brought order into the work and raised the standard of the products. New lines were constructed and the plant began producing gears for export. In response to embargoes on spare parts from abroad, the plant began producing the needed parts at home. Robert had the opportunity of using all the knowledge he had gained in Czechoslovakia. In 1996 he received a Life Achievement Award from the general manager of IMI and the defense minister. Julka treated her patients for 34 years. She knew them and their families and found the work far more rewarding than hospital practice. In Ashkelon, an immigrant town, the patients from diverse communities and cultures were an unfailing source of interest. She learned to interpret their verbal and non-verbal complaints. For example, a hand on the chest and the words "my heart" often signaled stomach ache. OBSTACLES For Robert, Hebrew was an obstacle. He left ulpan early to start working and never became as proficient as he would like to be. However, he could manage, and his secretary helped him with that aspect of his work. When he became general manager of the plant, he had to cope with workers' demands and their unions. Those conflicts are now forgotten and he is welcomed by all whenever he visits the plant. Julka agrees that inadequate Hebrew was the main obstacle. The ulpan had prepared her well but still it took some years for her to feel confident, and she always sought help when writing official letters. Like all new immigrants, she had her share of gaffes, like telling a patient on the phone to get up, undress and come to the clinic. That particular patient still chuckles and reminds her of her error. BEST THING ABOUT ISRAEL "The freedom in which we could bring up our children," says Julka. "The pastoral environment and fresh air in Ashkelon and the good education they received here." Robert agrees and adds, "From a hunted 'Jewboy,' I've become a proud Jew. I have learned about my own Jewishness and the Jewish people. The circle was closed in 2003 when the president of Israel visited Slovakia and I was a member of the Israeli delegation. The president gave a speech at the main synagogue of Bratislava and asked me to translate it into Slovakian. It was a moment of great excitement and pride for me." These days Robert is writing his memoirs and recording past and present events in detail. ADVICE TO NEW IMMIGRANTS "Learn the language as quickly and as well as possible. Also, live in a small town or moshav rather than in a big city." To propose an immigrant for a "Veterans" profile, please send a one paragraph e-mail to:

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