"Until today, I still feel his hands on my dress,” Sara (Zahara) Ashraf told the Cohen-Kadmi Committee in 1995 of how her son, Yosef, was forcibly taken away from her.
Sara made aliya from Yemen together with her husband, Shlomo (Saliman), and her four-year-old son on November 15, 1949. At the time she was in a late stage of pregnancy.
The family was housed in the Ein Shemer Bet camp for new olim. About a week after arriving in Israel, Yosef was taken to a collective home for babies and young children against his and Sara’s wishes.
According to the Ashrafs, they went to visit their son and were told that he was sick and had been transferred to a hospital in Tzrifin.
Shlomo went to the hospital and was able to locate his son, though that was the last time he saw him alive. They were never told what had happened to him.
“They didn’t say. We didn’t hear. To this day. Our heart aches,” Sara told the committee.
The Ashraf family’s pain did not end with Yosef’s disappearance.
Sara gave birth to another baby boy, Baruch, on February 5, 1950, and he, too, was taken to the home for babies in the camp.
Soon after, Sara came to breastfeed her son and found an empty bed. She was told that her son had fallen ill and was taken to Rambam Hospital.
She never saw her son again.
“I would visit three to four times a day in order to breastfeed him. The last night I breastfed him at 9, and the next day at 5 in the morning I came to breastfeed him as usual, and he wasn’t in his bed.
I asked where he was. They told me he got sick in the night and they took him to a hospital in Haifa. I cried and asked them to bring him to me,” she wrote in a testimony given to the committee.
Sara said she and several family members drove to the hospital, but once they got there, she was not allowed to see her son.
“After many requests they let us see the baby through the window, but it was not my child,” she recalled.
After two weeks, she said, the hospital informed her that her son had died, but it would not tell her where he was buried.
Yosef’s story took an unusual turn when, in the 1960s, the family received an IDF conscription order in his name, convincing them that he was still alive and prompting them to appeal to the committee.
The Ashraf case files included hospital records, birth certificates, and personal testimonies, as well as the conclusions of the committee, which found death certificates for both boys.
The committee concluded that the IDF letter was sent due to a name “mix-up.”
The case file included a form letter, with the name of the boys written in by hand, which stated: “Please allow us to express our condolences in your grief as parents, since it was proven that your children died.”
Despite the release of the case files, the Ashraf family did not receive conclusive evidence or closure through the documents as to the fate of their two sons.
Shlomi Hatuka, founder and chairman of Amram, a nonprofit organization that helps families that lost their children, told The Jerusalem Post that the majority of families will never know what happened to their children or where they are today.
“The committee didn’t really investigate. In one instance the committee relied on a note, a simple note, to confirm a child’s death,” he said. “Really? If someone is murdered or killed, don’t you investigate to see if there is a body or a grave?” Hatuka said that the release of the documents showed that there was “negligence” on the part of the committee.
For Hatuka and the families, the release of the documents serves only to confirm their suspicions that their children were in fact kidnapped and adopted against the will of the parents.
“There are families who may be able to go through these documents and read between the lines and understand that their children were adopted,” he said.
Hatuka, whose organization has documented the testimonies of hundreds of families, said he believes the struggle for finding the truth behind what happened to the children has “changed its face in the past few years.”
“In the past nobody was willing to hear them [the families] out, and now there is more of a consensus that there was something problematic that happened,” he said.
While he lamented that the majority of families will never know the truth, he said the next step in their struggle is to call on the government to recognize the fact that the children were kidnapped in an official capacity and to form a new committee to investigate the fate of the children.
Other documents released included the testimony of a nurse, Dorani, who worked in one of the collective baby homes.
According to her testimony to the committee, “foreigners” would come to visit the children, and soon after they would disappear.
“I remember that they would come back the next day to the same bed, and I didn’t understand why. Only later, after people came to ask me and say children are missing, did I start to reconstruct [the events].
They came only to check what to take,” she testified.
Dorani told the committee that as an evening nurse, she would feed the babies and put them to bed, and they didn’t seem sick, but the next day she would be told they were taken away to the hospital.
However, the archives also released the testimony of Dr. George Mandel, a Jewish doctor from South Africa who made aliya in 1949, who was asked to head the children’s hospital that was set up in an aliya camp in Rosh Ha’ayin.
He testified that there were numerous epidemics, and many of the children had in fact died.