Veterans: The Midas touch

Tudor Chefner made the transition from a student from a traditional professional family in Bucharest to a clandestine immigrant to Palestine.

tudor chefner 88 298 (photo credit: )
tudor chefner 88 298
(photo credit: )
With golden hands, a spirit of invention and an ability to accept any challenge, Tudor Chefner made the transition from a student from a traditional professional family in Bucharest to a clandestine immigrant to Palestine. With an amazing memory and a remarkable ability to recount every detail with humor and honesty, he does not allow nostalgia to fog his stories of "those were the days." BEFORE ALIYA Chefner was born in Bucharest in 1920. He and his brother studied engineering in London in the late 1930s, returning to Romania just as World War II broke out. HOME BACKGROUND Chefner's family had no Zionist aspirations. His grandfather fought in 1877 in the Romanian-Turkish War and his father was a lawyer. Their father did not approve of the brothers' decision to emigrate to Palestine in 1940, but did not pressure them to stay - maybe he was concerned that Romanian citizenship would not necessarily protect them from the clouds of war in Europe and the Antonescu regime. THE JOURNEY It was a mere chance that the brothers just missed traveling on the Struma. They had booked their passage on this ill-fated ship, but they also registered for the Dorian 2 which eventually set sail six months before the Struma. They arrived in Haifa in March 1941, and the ship was immediately seized by the British and the passengers arrested. ARRIVAL For the next eight months, the brothers were detained in Mizra. "The camp was a crossroad, geographically and politically, with the Romanian and Bulgarian passengers from the Dorian and political prisoners, including activists from the IZL and Jewish underground groups," he recalls. Promised release from detention, Chefner and his comrades volunteered to serve in the British army. These youngsters had been active athletes in Maccabi and were physically very fit, but their release was repeatedly postponed. After a hunger strike, they were all eventually transferred to Atlit for another eight months. "We kept ourselves fit by playing sports and teaching physical exercise to other inmates," says Chefner, "and we earned a minimal wage by making camouflage nets." But it was music that enriched Chefner's time in detention. From childhood he had played the violin and later guitar. On their release, Chefner stayed with his best friend in Haifa, whose parents treated him as their son. LANGUAGE Chefner spoke four languages fluently, and he perfected his English during his time in the British detention camps, picking up Hebrew as he started working and living in the country. WORK Chefner learned the art of making contacts and was offered two jobs, one as a dental technician and one repairing radios. "If a radio shouts, I can turn it off," he laughs, having chosen an apprenticeship in electronics. "I rented a room in Bat Galim and I paid for this and food with two Palestinian pounds a month." After a few months, he met a fellow passenger from the ship who offered him a job in Tel Aviv as a musical director. "I was young and irresponsible and I thought this was more exciting than repairing radios," he says. The job lasted two weeks, there was no show to direct and he returned to Haifa. He joined a music group and played in his spare time. But realizing that he needed a day job he applied as a maintenance worker in a British army camp. "Those were the days when no Jew would refuse to help another, and although I couldn't answer any of the basic questions, the contractor employed me." The contractor never regretted this decision, for some time later Chefner, with his background in engineering, found a fault in the planning of telephone lines and averted a major problem. Chefner realized that he needed to graduate in engineering to progress and enrolled at the Technion. In 1948 he married Shulamit Denker, an immigrant from Czernowitz, and to support the family also ran a repair workshop. "My graduation took eight years," he remembers. During that time, he served in the army during the War of Independence as an electrician specializing in vehicle maintenance. "I was the first in Israel to recycle and repair auto batteries," he says, describing how they smuggled discarded cars from the British army's car cemetery south of Haifa. Through the following years and the birth of his two children, Chefner worked in maintenance and engineering. Shulamit meanwhile was employed in banking, a 39-year career until her retirement from Bank Leumi. The culmination of all Chefner's studies and on-site apprenticeships came when he was offered a job with Life Engineering where he stayed for 16 years as technical manager until his retirement. "I enjoyed this job so much I did not think of it as work." He nearly lost the job before it began and he relates how he had been pestered over the years by a telephone insurance salesman. After the initial interview with Life Engineering, and a long wait for a decision, he got a call from someone he assumed was his persistent insurance agent, lost patience and claimed that he had no time and was too busy. Later that night, he realized what had happened and the first thing in the morning he was at the engineering office trying to explain why he had been so negative and abrupt. "Fortunately the manager had a sense of humor and I got the job," chuckles Chefner. FAMILY Chefner was widowed recently, losing his wife to Alzheimer's. "But I lost her years ago," he laments, describing how she had battled with the disease since 2002. His daughter, Tami, who lives in Haifa, has always been active in politics and was the director of the late Yitzhak Rabin's office for Haifa and the North. His son, Nachman, studied engineering at Ben-Gurion University and now works in Paris. There are three grandchildren. LEISURE Chefner can now spend more time on his passion for music, "but now I only listen." He has a library of more than 300 recordings. Since his son bought him a computer, Chefner has used his aptitude for learning and finding solutions to technical problems. He is a keen bridge player and enjoys creating video films. LOOKING BACK "I still like to work on new ideas," he says. "So many of my wild ideas were adopted years after they were refused by manufacturers," citing rollerblades as an example. THOUGHTS ABOUT ISRAEL "Israel was a fantastic solution for the Jewish people, when the people were young," he says. "We had to build, people were enthusiastic and motivated." However, he is saddened that this changed with mass immigration "as people wanted political positions and power for themselves." But Chefner remains positive and hopeful: "I would like to convince functionaries that it is their job to be polite and helpful; I would like to see again the desire to help one another that existed when I came here." To propose an immigrant for a 'Veterans' profile, please send a one paragraph e-mail to: