Grapevine: Medals for veterans

Avi Pazner retires from Keren Hayesod, a Righteous Wehrmacht officer is honored and a woman who brought 100 war orphans here is remembered.

memorial kkl (photo credit: )
memorial kkl
(photo credit: )
THIS MAY come as a surprise to most people, but South Korean Ambassador Young-Sam Ma was rooting for North Korea in the World Cup soccer championships. “These are our brothers,” he told a group of Korean War veterans and members of the diplomatic community at a gathering at his residence to mark the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War.
The occasion was also used to present medals to veterans of the US forces who fought in Korea and who are today living here. Speaking of the North Korean soccer team and North Koreans in general, Ma said: “We love our brothers in North Korea.
We do not love their leaders and their regime.” He expressed the hope that reconciliation and reunification would come about in his lifetime, but noted that the North Koreans have not done anything to indicate a change of policy as evidenced by the recent attack on a South Korean naval ship in which 46 people were killed.
As to the Korean War, Ma said that no words can adequately express the appreciation that South Koreans feel for the sacrifice made by soldiers from so many countries – but America in particular – “who shed blood in our land” and fought for the freedom “of a country they never knew and people they never met.” Many of those countries, as well as others like Israel, which did not actively participate in the war, also sent humanitarian aid. Ma noted the “spectacular contribution” to the UN resolution on ending the war by Israeli representatives Moshe Sharett and Gideon Raphael.
Last year was the first time that Ma presented medals to Korean War veterans. This year, there were four recipients, and next year there will be 10. The latter were also in attendance and were invited to mount the podium. The four recipients this year were Sani Blaisbalg of Kiryat Motzkin, who was attached to the US Marine forces and who spent a year in Korea, working mainly in intelligence; Joshua Scherer of Jerusalem, who was a radar operator; Benedict Robbins of Kfar Saba, who was a naval officer; and Joseph Savisky of Tel Aviv, who was an officer in the engineering corps.
In presenting the medal to Blaisbalg, Ma hailed him as “an ambassador of peace.” Blaisbalg said he hadn’t come for the medal, but had brought his grandchildren Eden, Amit and Ido to witness a unique ceremony. “No other country gives appreciation to veterans like Korea does. It’s more than an expression of gratitude,” he said. He noted that all American service personnel had been entitled to benefit from the GI Bill of Rights, which had enabled him to study civil engineering.
Scherer said that he too had benefitted from the GI Bill. He recalled that when he was sent to Korea at 19, it was his first time out of America. Korea was then a very primitive looking country, he said. “It’s an amazing miracle to see what they’ve accomplished in 60 years.
We went to Korea to stop the spread of communism.
It was an experience that helped to shape my life.”
Robbins, who continued his military career here, serving in the Yom Kippur War and the First Lebanon War, said that being in Korea had changed his life. “I went from being a kid to being an adult. I learned what responsibility meant, and I helped to train people in the Korean navy.” He had brought his children and grandchildren to share the honor conferred on him, he said.
Savisky was unable to attend. His brother-in- law Naftali Chitim, who accepted the medal on his behalf, apologized that he personally had not participated in the Korean War... because he was only two years old at the time.
Philippines Ambassador Petronila Pena Garcia, speaking on behalf of the countries that had come to South Korea’s assistance, said that more than 7,000 men from the Philippines had fought valiantly alongside the South Koreans and other troops over five years.
Ruth Kahanoff, deputy director-general for Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign Ministry, said that although Israel did not participate actively in the war, it supported the Koreans in the UN coalition led by the US and sent medical supplies and equipment. It was the first time that there had been any contact between Israel and South Korea, she said, but it led to a warm friendship and the eventual establishment of diplomatic relations.
■ AMONG THE other guests at the Korean ceremony was former MK and government minister Ran Cohen, who these days teaches public policy at three universities and a college and also teaches law students how to formulate bills to be voted into law.
■ JUST A few days prior to the recognition given to veterans of the Korean War, outgoing British Ambassador and knight designate Tom Phillips awarded medals to members of the Jewish Brigade who fought with the British forces against the Nazis during World War II. Phillips hosted a similar ceremony at his Ramat Gan residence almost three years ago, when he presented the UK Armed Forces Veterans badge and the Israel Medal for Combatants Against the Nazis to a relatively large number of veterans who had volunteered to fight with the British.
This time the awards ceremony was conducted under the auspices of the Disabled Veterans Association and was held at Beit Halochem in Tel Aviv’s Afeka neighborhood.
Phillips presented medals to 32 men and women who had served in the Royal Army Service Corps, infantry, artillery, fusiliers, Auxiliary Territorial Service, commandos, ordinance, Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, Royal Air Force and other units.
Most of the recipients had been wounded during the war. Some had recovered sufficiently to serve later in the IDF.
For several of the nonagenarians and octogenarians who had put their differences with the British on hold to help get rid of the Nazi scourge, this represented the closing of a circle, in that it was an official acknowledgement of their contribution to the war effort. For them, it was a truly festive occasion and together with their children, grandchildren and in some cases great grandchildren, they filled the hall.
The emotion was almost tangible, and each of the recipients was happy not only for himself or herself, but also for their comrades in arms. They came proudly bearing their war medals and ribbons. They could no longer get into their uniforms, but some had kept their caps and wore them with equal pride. Among the 32 recipients were Moshe Dotan, Moshe Kahalani, Bezalel Gilboa, Batya Ravid, Shraga Tenenbaum, Esther Lam, Ahuva Mashat, Johnny Sternberg, Gideon Gilboa and Zvi Avidror. Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna’i joined Phillips in paying tribute to the veterans.
■ “I’LL STILL be around,” says former world chairman of Keren Hayesod Avi Pazner, who recently resigned after 12 years at the helm, the longest period of service by any world chairman of the organization. Pazner, who at 70 plus is now embarking on a new career, is about to open an international consultancy firm in Tel Aviv, with a view to bringing foreign investors here to help finance the cost of alternative energy. A Foreign Ministry employee for 33 years before joining Keren Hayesod, Pazner is also a frequent electronic media spokesman for Israel. Quintessential public servant that he is, he says that he will continue to serve national interests through both the Foreign Ministry and Keren Hayesod.
■ MOST MEDIA outlets are careful to protect the images of their stars, even or especially when those luminaries are subjects of controversy elsewhere. Channel 2, in an attempt at objectivity, has featured the Yair Lapid story without going overboard to defend him, though studio commentators have joined other media in saying that he must decide whether he wants to remain in journalism or enter politics. He can’t apparently have both.
Veteran news anchor Dan Shilon said that he will be very happy if Lapid remains in journalism, but he will be equally happy if he goes into politics – “but he must decide one way or the other.”
While many people both on Channel 2 and elsewhere say that given his role as a news anchor and newspaper columnist, Lapid needs a cooling off period before going into politics, family friend and former Ma’ariv editor Amnon Dankner disagrees, and says that the whole concept of a cooling off period is detrimental.
In an interview on Israel Radio, Dankner said that political parties need the best people possible, and that if they’ve come straight out of another field, they have their fingers on the pulse of what’s going on in that field. He also saw nothing wrong with journalists expressing political views and noted that Shelly Yacimovich never made a secret of her support for Amir Peretz.
Yacimovich is one of several former journalists or media personalities who are not strictly journalists in the current Knesset. Among the others are Tzipi Hotovely, Daniel Ben-Simon, Uri Orbach, Nitzan Horowitz and Nachman Shai. Orly Levy and Anastasia Michaeli were television personalities, Miri Regev was the IDF spokeswoman and Ophir Akunis was a reporter for the Ma’ariv youth magazine, a military journalist in the department of the IDF’s chief educational officer and more recently a media adviser to Binyamin Netanyahu.
Meanwhile Lapid has announced that he has no immediate intentions of entering politics and that he will take a cooling off period if he should decide otherwise. There are rumors floating around that he’s not the only journalist contemplating a seat in the Knesset. Other potential MKs from the fourth estate are Orly Vilna’i and Guy Meroz.
■ IT WAS recently a week of reunions for at least two groups of Holocaust survivors. Some 30 survivors from Israel, Germany, the US, France and Canada who owe their lives to Righteous Among the Nations Wehrmacht Maj. Karl Plagge congregated at Yad Vashem, toured the Holocaust History Museum, participated in a memorial ceremony and gave videotaped group testimony.
Plagge served in Vilna (Vilnius) from June 1941 to June 1944 and was in charge of a repair facility for military vehicles, where hundreds of Jews worked. Under the brutal decimation policy adopted by the SS in occupied Lithuania, “unproductive” Jews were the first to be slated for extermination.
Employment at Plagge’s unit thus offered a chance for survival. Plagge treated his workers well, and took on many people who were not qualified mechanics to work there to save them from deportation.
Toward the end of June 1944, on the eve of the German evacuation of Vilnius, Plagge warned his Jewish workers that they were going to be handed over to the SS. Some managed to escape and/or hide and some 200 survived. Plagge died in 1957 and was posthumously recognized by the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous on July 22, 2004.
Plagge not only saved Jews, said survivor Michael Shimeyervitz, but “he treated all his workers humanely. This was extremely rare, and for this, justifiably, he received the greatest recognition that the Jewish people can give.”
Dr. Michael Good, the son of a Holocaust survivor who was rescued by Plagge, noted that while Plagge was exonerated after the war due to the intervention of the Jews he rescued, he always felt that he was guilty.
German Ambassador Harald Kindermann spoke emotionally about his personal family history and said that there are two obligations – to understand what happened and to honor the Righteous Among the Nations.
“Only through understanding, knowing the facts, can we build a firewall to ensure it won’t happen again. That is why the Yad Vashem research institute is so important,” he said. He also emphasized the importance of recalling the Righteous Among the Nations. “They are so important for education. They show us that there is an alternative. Because too many people say, I had to do it. And when young people ask, is that true, the Righteous show us it was not. They show us there is always an alternative.”
■ AT KIBBUTZ Lohamei Hagetaot in the same week, some 50 of the 100 children of Lena Kuchler-Silberman gathered to honor the memory of the heroic Polish Jewish woman on the 100th anniversary of her birth. Kuchler-Silberman, who died here 23 years ago, eluded the Nazis by posing as a Catholic. At the end of the war, she went to the Jewish community center in Krakow where survivors could obtain food and clothing and could try to locate relatives and friends. It was in Krakow that she found numerous destitute child survivors who had no one to care for them. She began to gather them and opened a children’s home in Zakopane. But there was a lot of hostility from Polish neighbors, some of whom tried to kill the children. The dangerous situation spurred a decision to relocate to Israel. Together with the children, she embarked on a long and dangerous journey to the Promised Land, eventually bringing the children home in 1949.
In her book My 100 Children, Kuchler-Silberman detailed some of their heroic deeds during the Nazi occupation of Poland. The youngsters had been couriers, had smuggled food into ghettos, had fought together with partisans, had laid mine traps for Nazi soldiers and had embarked on numerous mind-boggling missions. The story has been made into feature and documentary films in the US and Israel.
Oshra Schwartz, who co-directed the Israeli documentary seven years ago, was on hand to meet with the “children” yet again. Some of them were accompanied by children and grandchildren, and most retold their individual stories of life in Poland under the Nazis, the amazing journey to Israel and their lives since.
■ LATVIAN AMBASSADOR Martins Perts is very excited by the fact that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman will be visiting Latvia on July 14. The reason for the excitement is that this will be the first visit to Latvia by a foreign minister of Israel, although Latvian and Israeli presidents have visited each other’s countries.
■ WHAT GOES around comes around. It will be interesting to see whether the powers at Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue present newly engaged Estee Tatyana Goldschmidt and Yosef Gillers with a mezuza as a wedding gift. The bride-to-be is the daughter of Moscow Chief Rabbi Pinhas Goldschmidt and his wife Dara Lynn. It is customary to give a mezuza as a wedding gift, since a Jewish home is denoted by the mezuzot on the door posts, but in this case more so, as far as the Great Synagogue is concerned, because the magnificent collection of mezuzot displayed in the entrance hall was donated by the bride’s great grandparents Dr. Belle Rosenbaum and her late husband Cantor Jacob Rosenbaum.