The Children of Blankenese come of age

At a tree-planting ceremony honoring Reuma Weizman, a group of grown-up war orphans were reunited with each other and their Israeli families.

reuma weizman 88 298 (photo credit: )
reuma weizman 88 298
(photo credit: )
Gathered up after the Holocaust from all over Europe, some 300 Jewish war orphans found themselves billeted in the Warburg Children's Health Home in the German town of Blankenese, where they were prepared for their aliya. Some of them were no more than toddlers, others in their early teens. They became known as the "Children of Blankenese." On Tu Be'shvat, a group of those "children" helped their own grandchildren plant saplings in a forest dedicated to Reuma Weizman, who recently celebrated her 80th birthday. At the age of 22, she had volunteered to leave her home in Palestine to help care for the orphans of Blankenese. Jerusalem-born Reuma Schwartz, who later married Israel Air Force pilot and future president of Israel, the late Ezer Weizman, was educated at the Shomria boarding school in Mishmar Ha'emek and only saw her parents every few months. She became involved with the kibbutz way of life, particularly the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement. Hashomer eventually took her on the path to care for war orphans in Germany following her studies at the Seminar Hakibbutzim teachers training college in Tel Aviv. Among the few items that the young teacher took to Blankenese was a much-cherished wooden recorder that she had received during her kibbutz school days. On arriving in Blankenese, she found scores of children who were ghostly pale and traumatized. Most of the youngsters knew little to nothing about Judaism. "There were those among them who had been taken in by non-Jews and raised as Christians, and those who were too young to know anything about anything," Weizman recalled last week, as a dozen of her lovingly cared-for charges from Blankenese planted saplings in the soft earth of the Menashe Hills behind the kibbutz where she was educated. Weizman became the children's teacher, surrogate mother and best friend rolled into one. She had an open door policy, recalled some of the kinder, now in their late 60s and 70s. They would gather in her room and on her veranda overlooking the River Elba at Blankenese. The young sabra also played music - particularly Hebrew songs - to the children, who would try to mimic her blowing into her recorder. One youngster showed obvious musical talent, and on his bar-mitzva Weizman presented him with her precious recorder. "When we left Blankenese, the recorder was my most treasured possession," says Hungarian-born Israel Weisal, who settled on Kibbutz Dafna and these days heads the kibbutz movement department dealing with inter-kibbutz disputes. Initially, Weisal was in a group of children sent to Kibbutz Sha'ar Hagolan in the Jordan Valley. "Three days after we arrived at Sha'ar Hagolan, we were hurriedly evacuated as the Syrians attacked and overran the kibbutz. There was no time to take anything from our rooms and everything got burnt, including the recorder," he recalls. With a large crowd of present-day kibbutz members and the families of the Children of Blankenese looking on, both Weizman and Weisal were presented with new recorders to replace the one that almost 60 years ago had made the journey to Germany and back to Israel, only to be destroyed during the War of Independence. Also present at the Tu Be'shvat ceremony were brothers Yona and Ezra, who were five and six years old when at Blankenese. Upon arrival in Israel, they were housed in a transit camp in Haifa and eventually taken in by a couple from Kibbutz Alonim. "Representatives from kibbutzim were asked to take in the children but only one at a time, as the kibbutzim weren't in too good a shape then either," explains Weizman. However, when a young couple from Alonim saw the two siblings, they decided to take them both and jokingly told friends that they hadn't broken promises - one boy was for the kibbutz and the other for themselves! The tree planting ceremony to honor Reuma Weizman was not the first time that the Children of Blankenese were reunited with each other and with their homegrown Israeli families. After many years of going their separate ways in the country, a tragedy in the Weizman family brought them together for the first time since they dispersed. Reuma and Ezer Weizman's son Shaul, who was seriously wounded while serving in the Suez Canal area during the War of Attrition (1968-70), was killed in a road accident in l991 along with his pregnant wife, Rachel. Upon hearing the news, the Children of Blankenese wrote condolence letters to the lady who had shown them so much love and care when they most needed support. It was Reuma herself who decided after receiving their condolences that it was time to once more gather up the Children of Blankenese and held their first reunion at her Caesarea home. The Reuma Weizman forest, overlooking the Jezreel Valley and Ramat David Air Force base, where she spent several years when her pilot husband was serving there, will take root and stand firm in the soil of Israel - as have done the Children of Blankenese and their Sabra offspring.