Death of a Warsaw Ghetto heroine

In Nazi-occupied Poland, Chavka Folman Raban smuggled Jews in and out of ghettos and posed as Catholic to gain intelligence.

Chavka Folman Raban (photo credit: Courtesy Facebook)
Chavka Folman Raban
(photo credit: Courtesy Facebook)
Chavka Folman Raban, one of the last if not the last of the Warsaw Ghetto heroines, died Thursday, three months before her 90th birthday.
Folman Raban was one of the legendary couriers who in addition to engaging in resistance operations against the Nazis, smuggled false documents and newspapers, money, jewels, food and weapons into and out of the ghetto. The couriers often traveled from ghetto to ghetto, constantly changing identity and bringing news, hope and basic necessities to Jews who were completely cut off from the outside world.
Born in the Polish city of Kielce, Folman Raban grew up in Warsaw and attended the Jewish high school. She was a member of the Dror Zionist youth group, which following the Nazi occupation of Poland was particularly active in attempts to thwart the enemy.
She joined the Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa (Jewish Fighting Force) and worked with such towering figures from Holocaust history as Yitzhak Zuckerman (known by the code name of Antek), Zivia Lubetkin, Yitzhak Katzenelson, Mordechai Anielewicz and Marek Edelman.
The female couriers did more than deliver messages and smuggle essentials.
They also managed to smuggle people in and out of ghettos and to act as intelligence agents.
They were chosen for their non-Jewish looks and for their perfect command of Polish, enunciated without any trace of a Yiddish accent.
Traveling across Poland by train, they picked up information by listening to conversations around them. It was often frightening work, because there was no dearth of anti-Semites among the Poles, and the couriers never knew when someone might catch them out.
Inside the ghetto, Chavka Folman, as she was then, was known by her own name.
Outside the ghetto, she was known as Ewa Marczinek.
Polish and German authorities interrogated her several times, but she always managed to convince them that she was a Polish Catholic, until the fateful day of December 22, 1942.
Zuckerman had gone to work with the Jewish underground in Krakow and sent for her because of her training in the use of weapons.
That day, there was an attack on the Cyganeria Café in Szpitalna Street, which was a favorite meeting place for senior members of the Wehrmacht and the Gestapo. Following the attack on the café, there were 11 dead Germans and 13 wounded.
Chavka was among the Jews arrested and taken in for questioning. This time she couldn’t talk her way out of the charges against her, and she was sent to Auschwitz- Birkenau, where they tattooed a number on her arm and cut off her long blonde hair. In later years she told people that this was a particularly humiliating experience, that was as if she had been deprived of her femininity. In the final six months of the war, she was sent to Ravensbrueck, from where she was liberated in April 1945. Her father and brothers were dead, but she was reunited with her mother, and together they came to Mandate Palestine in November 1947.
She was one of the founders of Kibbutz Beit Lochamei Hagetaot, (The Ghetto Fighters House), and there she and her late husband, Yehezkiel Raban, raised three children: Benny, Razi and Maya.
Chavka worked as a teacher as well as in the kibbutz museum, where she told her story to soldiers, youth, tour groups and individuals.
Articulate in several languages, and said to have a deep understanding of human nature and a wonderful sense of humor, she frequently accompanied youth groups to Poland, took them to the house in which she grew up and showed them the path she walked to go to school. It was important to her that young people should learn not only of the horrors of the Holocaust, but of how and where Jews had lived before the war.
Almost exactly a year ago, on January 17, the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was commemorated at Kibbutz Lochamei Hagetaot, closer to International Holocaust Remembrance Day than to the anniversary of the uprising, the Hebrew calendar date of which is commemorated in Israel and by Jewish communities around the globe. President Shimon Peres attended the event, coming to honor the last of the surviving ghetto fighters – who included Chavka, Simcha Rathajzer-Rotem (“Kazik”), Yehuda Maymon (“Poldek”), Pnina Grinshpan- Frimer, Hela Schuepper- Rufeisen, Prof. Israel Gutman (who has since passed away), Samuel Willenberg (who is also the sole survivor of Treblinka) and Prof. Yitzhak Arad.
Among the representatives of the second- and third-generation survivors were Michael Kovner, son of partisan- poet Abba Kovner and his wife Vika who was also a partisan, and Eyal Zuckerman- Menashe, granddaughter of Yitzhak Zuckerman and Zivia Lubetkin.
On that occasion, Chavka, whose unrealized dream was to live to see peace between Israel and the Palestinians, declared that no nation had the right to rule another and that peace was the most important of goals to which to aspire.
Three months later, she was in Poland for the official Polish commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising as the guest of the Warsaw Municipality, and was feted like a queen, including meetings with the Polish leadership.
Notwithstanding her age, she was a modern woman and had an active Facebook page.
On learning of her death, Peres said on Friday that he saluted her as “an outstanding example of Jewish courage.”
The strength and fortitude that had sustained her in the ghetto in the camps and on the death march remained with her, he said.
She was never afraid to express her opinion with regard to Israel’s future, said Peres.
Chavka Folman Raban was laid to rest on Sunday at the Kibbutz Lochamei Hagetaot Cemetery.