Simha Holtzberg, known as the “Father of Wounded Soldiers".
(photo credit: COURTESY OF THE FAMILY)
The 23rd memorial for Simha Holtzberg, nicknamed the “father of wounded soldiers,” has his son Ephraim concerned that not many people will come to pay their respects.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Ephraim Holtzberg said hundreds used to come the memorial for his father, “but every year there are less and less.”
Born in Warsaw, Poland, Simha Holtzberg participated in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and was then sent to a number of concentration camps, including Bergen-Belsen, where he was liberated. He moved to Tel Aviv in 1949, but according to his son, “memories of the Holocaust remained with him throughout his life.”
Visiting hospitals and rehabilitation centers regularly, “my father took on the role of ‘father’ for many, many wounded soldiers, viewing each as his own,” he said, adding that his father not only visited Jewish soldiers but also Beduin and Druze. “He supported them both spiritually and practically.
He encouraged them in every way, giving them hope, helping them settle down and encouraging them to marry.”
Following the Six Day War, the elder Holtzberg devoted his life to helping wounded IDF soldiers as well as the widows and orphans of fallen soldiers, earning him his nickname.
“Half-a-year after my father died, I received a phone call from one of the managers of the Hilton Hotel, who told me that a big tycoon from Ireland was asking to meet with my father,” the younger Holtzberg said. “I met with him near the swimming pool, and he asked, ‘Where is the golden Cartier watch that I gave your father?’” According to Holtzberg, his father organized, along with the Defense Ministry, a bar mitzva for 30 children whose fathers had been killed fighting with the IDF, and at the end of the ceremony, “all the children lined up to receive presents.
The big present they were supposed to get was a Seiko watch from the ministry, but when they came to the last orphan there was no watch for him.
“My father said that the last child who didn’t receive a present must be thinking that, if he had a father he would have gotten him a watch. And so he stood up and he gave the child his expensive golden Cartier watch.”
Holtzberg was awarded with the Israel Prize by then-president Ephraim Katzir in 1976 for his special contribution to society and to the State of Israel.
A stamp was issued in his honor on the 75th anniversary of his birth in April 1999.
He died in 1994 while participating in a memorial ceremony for the victims of the Coastal Road massacre at the Glilot Junction near Tel Aviv.
Speaking at his funeral, thenprime minister Yitzhak Rabin called Holtzberg “the rehabilitation officer of the people of Israel” and said: “It was very difficult to compete with Simha in his love for the country and even more difficult, almost impossible, to compete with him in his love for the people.
Simha was a soldier in the IDF whose personal ID number was his home telephone, where everyone could reach him.”
The memorial for Simcha Holtzberg will take place on Tuesday at 3 p.m. at the Sanhedria Cemetery in Jerusalem.