A month of monuments and memorials

As Israel prepares to mark Holocaust and Remembrance Day, ‘Metro’ takes a tour of poignant memorial sites around the country.

Hannah Szenes 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Hannah Szenes 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The weeks following Pessah are replete with memorial days from our recent history. There can be no one in this country whose life has not been affected by the Holocaust or the establishment of the state which was built, and is continually maintained, through the dedication of the many who sacrifice their lives for it.
Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot (the Ghetto Fighters Kibbutz) established two very different memorials and exhibitions. Their main exhibition includes a variety of separate halls devoted to the conquest of the Nazis through Europe, the setting up of the different ghettos and their eventual liquidation, Righteous Gentiles who helped Jews, and models of concentration camps as remembered by the survivors themselves.
The Children’s Memorial is built as a descending spiral, with scenes depicting ghetto life as seen through the eyes of children and with their commentary heard in the background.
At intervals, there are videos of adults today telling the story of their childhood in the ghetto.
A special section in the center is devoted to Janus Korczak, the doctor, writer and educator who was also director of the Jewish orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto. He allowed the children to run the home in a unique, democratic fashion and established new pedagogical ideas and practices for teaching and interacting with children. Despite his being Jewish, Korczak – his pen-name; his real name was Henryk Goldschmidt – could have saved himself, but he chose to accompany “his” children to their deaths when they were deported.
Beit Eidut in Moshav Nir Galim was established by a group of Bnei Akiva Holocaust survivors as a memorial to the Religious Zionist Movement.
One permanent exhibition is a collection of model synagogues, copies of those destroyed in Europe, made out of matchsticks and accurate to the tiniest detail. There is also a Hevra Kadisha (burial society) carriage, the doors of an Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark) from a shul in Hungary, and plaques and decorations recovered from shuls destroyed in Europe.
School, college and army groups visit here throughout the year and hear the survivors’ testimonies. These accounts of personal pain, torture, suffering and humiliation at the hands of the Nazis have a more profound effect on those who visit than any number of non-living monuments.
In March 1948, two months before the declaration of the state, the fight for our survival was at its height. In the north, inland from Nahariya, Kibbutz Yehiam was under siege and fast running out of ammunition. A convoy of seven trucks, loaded with ammunition and supplies, set off from Haifa. An ambush awaited them on the path toward the kibbutz.
The convoy’s leader, Ben Ami Pachter, was shot while sticking his head outside the armored vehicle in order to warn the other convoy members behind him. His driver continued with his commander’s body, and managed to reach the kibbutz.
Altogether, 47 young Hagana fighters were killed in the attack. The few who survived hid among the bushes and fields until they could either reach the kibbutz under cover of darkness, or get back to Nahariya.
As you walk along the path with the remnants of the convoy vehicles on either side, you can understand how easy it was to set an ambush, with the many bends along the way. The summer sunshine and flowers belie the horror and bloodshed that covered the area that day.
It was always fair game to fool the British soldiers, and nowhere were they fooled more than in the Ayalon Institute near Rehovot. The British Army, stationed nearby, brought their uniforms into the kibbutz laundry, little realizing that it was a front for an ammunitions factory situated beneath the noisy washing machines.
This was the only place in Israel where bullets for Sten guns were made; the entire operation was so sensitive and secret that men and women who worked there didn’t even tell their spouses.
They would enter the laundry, pull a switch which moved a heavy-duty machine to reveal a stairwell, and disappear downstairs, ostensibly going off to work in the fields. At the end of the day everyone had to spend 10 minutes in a “sun-tan” room to color their pale skin and make it appear that they had been out of doors all day. The soles of their shoes were also cleaned of all traces of sawdust. Over two million bullets were made and tested in the factory without a single accident occurring which – had one occurred – could have destroyed the entire kibbutz.
Hannah Szenes is one of Israel’s truly tragic heroines. Born into an assimilated Hungarian family, she became a Zionist and emigrated to Israel on her own in 1940, at the age of 18. She settled in Kibbutz Sdot Yam, near Caesarea, and worked happily in the fields, but as the news trickled in of the fate of European Jewry, she became desperate to go back and try to “do something” for her family and other Jews left behind. She underwent special training and parachuted into Yugoslavia with a special Palmah unit, but was captured by the Nazis, tortured and sentenced to death by firing squad.
Only 23 years old at the time of her death, Hannah left behind just one small suitcase in Sdot Yam. Inside was a diary she had written since the age of 13, giving a clear insight into her thoughts and emotions throughout these important years. The diary also contained poems and other writings.
A modest hut called Beit Hannah was established in her memory in SdotYam, where you can see a short film about her life and samples of herwritings.
The Ad Halom Bridge, near Ashdod, is a reconstruction of the originalRoman/Ottoman bridge, which was destroyed in 1948 to stop the invadingEgyptian army – hence its name Ad Halom (“up to here”). Had the enemymanaged to continue, there would have been little to stop them reachingTel Aviv.
A commemorative wall was built in memory of the many soldiers who diedin the fierce battles here. Nearby there is a memorial to the fallenEgyptian soldiers, erected as part of a reciprocal arrangement wherebythe Egyptians agreed not to destroy the memorials to the Israelisolders which we had to leave behind when we handed over the SinaiPeninsula after the Camp David agreement.