A female Jewish parachutist in Ezekiel’s army

Zionist leader Haviva Reik returned to burning Europe to help save her brethren.

November 20, 2016 12:45
3 minute read.
Haviva Reik

Haviva Reik. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

After hearing of the Nazi atrocities in the Second World War, the Jews living in Mandatory Palestine demanded that they be able to help their brethren.

The Jewish Agency – the de facto government of the Jewish community in pre-state Israel – arranged to have more than 100 Jewish soldiers train with the British army and be dropped behind enemy lines in Europe to carry out reconnaissance missions.

The parachutists, like the Jewish Brigade in the First World War, were the beginning of Ezekiel’s prophecy: “So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army.” (37:10)

Out of the 32 who were actually sent to Europe, Haviva Reik, already a squad commander in the elite fighting force Palmah for two years, was one of them. After multiple delays, the British finally sent her and three other parachutists to Slovakia, where she was born and knew the local language, in the fall of 1944.

While completing her missions for the British army in Slovakia, Reik focused on the real reason she was in Europe – to help as many Jewish residents as she could to escape the clutches of the Nazis.

In Banska Bystrica, Reik and her fellow Jewish soldiers freed British prisoners of war, and then quickly established connections with the local resistance and the local Jewish groups, who had found refuge in the independent Slovakian enclave.

Reik established a soup kitchen for the refugees and even a uniform factory for the independent Slovakian soldiers.

After hearing the Nazis were going to invade the enclave, the Jewish parachutists decided the only option was to evacuate the entire remaining Jewish community of around 5,000 people.

“We went up to the mountains and we set up our first camp – the first camp of the freedom fighters’ resistance against the Nazis under Israeli command.” Haim Hermesh, another parachutist said.

Reik and the other parachutists were told that they could take the last plane out of the enclave, but Reik refused.

“We came to hear to be with you, and we’re going to stay with you in any conditions,” Akiva Nir, a member of the Slovakian Jewish resistance who was saved by the country’s Christian population, recalled Reik telling the Jewish refugees.

The skirmish didn’t last long, and the Nazis overpowered the few resistance fighters, but many Jews were saved.

“From the first moment that I met Haviva, I felt that she didn’t want to be a hero,” Hermesh recalled. “She just wanted to be one of those everyday ‘gray’ people, but as long as she was a good person. It’s hard to describe her as a hero standing in front of the loaded guns of the executioners but even during the shooting, she was the mother who was worrying for others.”

Reik was just someone who wanted to help.

“Every day we are alive is a gift from the heavens,” wrote Reik in a letter while in Slovakia. “I’m only thinking about one thing now – to save as many lives as I can.”

On November 20, 1944, she was executed by the Nazis. She was 30 years old. Her name lives on to this day in the Lehavot Haviva kibbutz in northern Israel and the Givat Haviva Educational Foundation. She is buried alongside the other slain members of her group in the Parachutist’s Section at Mount Herzl’s military cemetery.

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