COMMENTS FROM DAVID BEDEIN:
Our coverage of the hearings on the fate of Yemenite Jewish children who vanished is finally allowed for publication.
Here are our news stories of the hearings on the mystery of the disappeared Yemenite Jewish children which our correspondent filed, 1997-1998, which were never published.
These committee hearings were open to the public, which also had access to the protocols at the time, and copies could be made.
The committee heard roughly 1700 testimonies of families who had their children taken while they were told they were dead.
Here is some of the unpublished news coverage of the official inquiry into the fate of these children.
1) ESHHAR, December 15, 1997: Monday, October 13, 1997 was a suspenseful day at Beit Agron- the Government press center in Jerusalem- where the official Government committee investigating the disappearance of Yemenite and other Jewish children in the years 1948-1954 conducts weekly hearings each Monday.
Mrs. Sarah Leicht was the first person to testify. She worked as a nurse at a WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization) child-care center in Tel Aviv in 1950. There, Sarah received on-the-job training as a nurse while caring for children each day from the morning until 2-3 P.M. The WIZO center was called “The Institute for Care of Mother and Child.” Mrs. Leicht said that the Institute was, in fact, an adoption center. She stated that the director of the Institute was Mrs. Ravina Kish, while the assistant director was a Mrs. Barbash. The staff doctor was a Mrs. Shapira.
The children they took care of at the Institute were usually between the ages of one day and two years. After they reached the age of two, the children were moved into an infant care center, run by a Mrs. Releh.
Mrs. Leicht showed the Government committee a photo of herself and one of the children for whom she cared. She especially remembers this child, named Dervish, as she loved him very much. She gave the committee a copy of the photo.
After her hearing, I asked Mrs. Leicht to show me the original photo. I examined this and other photos of the WIZO Institute. It appeared to me that this “institute” was one of many that took stolen children, sold them, and classified the transactions as “adoption.”
Mrs. Leicht recalled the day when Dervish was given to a Polish Jewish family from Jaffa. The caretakers and nurses at the Institute were told not to attempt any contact with Dervish or his new parents in case they saw them in the streets, as Dervish was adopted by a family in Jaffa, a short distance away. Mrs. Leicht searched for Dervish among the babies she saw on the streets, but she never saw him again.
Mrs. Leicht was asked if she recalled any babies dying during their stay in the WIZO Institute. She said “no,” even though she did recall an isolated case where they found a one day old baby in a dumpster. This was extremely unusual, she said, as she remembered the care for the babies at the Institute as being wonderful and warm.
Mr. Dachbash Salah and his family, of Yeminite origin, were the next witnesses to testify. Their daughter Zarah was taken from them in the Rosh HaAyin immigrant camp. Mr. Dachbash recalled that their entire family was taken directly from the plane to the Rosh HaAyin camp. Two weeks after they arrived at the camp, Zarah was separated from the family and taken to a “baby house” inside the camp. Zarah was two years old at the time and had recently stopped breastfeeding.
The Salah family loved Zarah. They visited her every day in the “baby house” for at least two weeks. One day the Salahs were invited to Dachbash’s aunt in Ramat Gan for the weekend. The aunt and her family had already been in Israel for some time before Dachbash arrived from Yemen.
When Dachbash and his family returned to the immigrant camp from their visit to Ramat Gan they went to visit Zarah at the “baby house,” where they were told she had died.
Dachbash said that he asked the “baby house” staff when Zarah died, and they told him that she died on Friday. He had seen his daughter on Friday morning, and she seemed fine. He asked them what was the precise cause and time of Zarah’s death. The staff had no answer for him.
Dachbash has searched in vain for Zarah’s grave for almost 50 years, with no results. Zarah’s I.D. number was given in the committee – 1054761. Zarah was the third child in the family.
Dachbash’s oldest daughter, Leah, also testified. She was 9 or 10 years old when Zarah was taken from them. Leah said that while Zarah was taken to a building which served as the infant center, they lived in a tent. She said that they visited Zarah every day, even on the Friday when she was taken from them. Leah remembered seeing Zarah that morning, healthy and happy. Leah was sure that Zarah was healthy and looked good.
Mrs. Yehudit Veintrop, case number 68/97, was the third person to testify. Mrs. Veintrop came to Israel from Poland and her husband came from Bulgaria. On December 1, 1951, their son Eliezer was born. When he was eight days old, Eliezer was circumcised. A few days later he developed a minor cough. The Veintrops called a doctor to look at Eliezer. The doctor told them that Eliezer was completely healthy.
Afterwards, another doctor came to look at Eliezer, and told the Veintrops that he must be taken to a hospital. Eliezer was taken to Hadassah Hospital. When Mr. Veintrop went to see Eliezer the next day, he was told that Eliezer had died.
Mrs. Veintrop husband was the fourth person to testify. He remembered that Elizer was placed in the children’s ward of Hadassah Hospital on Balfour St. When Mr. Veintrop came to see Eliezer the next day, a nurse told him that Eliezer had died and would be buried the next day in the Givat Shaul cemetary. Mr. Veintrop asked to see Eliezer’s body on the spot, but the nurse told him that there was nothing to see.
The next day, Mr. Veintrop went to the Givat Shaul cemetery and asked to see Eliezer’s grave. He was told that according to Jewish law a child under the age of 30 days is not buried individually. Eliezer was 21 days old when he “died.” Mr. Veintrop said that he went to the hospital the day before at 10 A.M., when he was told Eliezer was dead. Mr. Veintrop said that Eliezer only had a cold. At no point did the Veintrops receive a death certificate or any documentation about Eliezer.
Rabbi Menachem Porush, case number 102/97, was the fifth person to testify. During the period when the children disappeared, Rabbi Porush was Secretary of the Agudat Israel Party. Agudat Israel held the Welfare Ministry portfolio in the Ben-Gurion government.
Rabbi Porush said that he discussed the disappearance of the children with Ben-Gurion. Ben Gurion said that he knew nothing about this and asked Porush for proof.
At this point in Rabbi Porush’s testimony, a man attending the Government committee hearing yelled at Rabbi Porush, demanding that he reveal all that he knows. A guard asked the man to leave the hearing room. At this point the man became even more furious, and yelled at the guard, telling the guard that he was a police officer and knew his job better than did the guard. The argument between the man and the guard became violent when the guard tried to forcibly remove the man from the hearing room. Other guards came to assist in evicting this man and the entire press contingent followed them out of the hearing room. I later found out that this man was Yitzhak Kerem, who was a cop, ranked superintendent, and quit the force when he “learned of the corruption in the system.”
Rabbi Porush resumed testifying before the committee. The committee chairman, retired Supreme Court Judge Yehuda Cohen, criticised Rabbi Porush for failing to provide enough specific facts. Judge Cohen said that he had hoped Rabbi Porush would provide some details about the case and that he was disappointed when Rabbi Porush failed to do so.
Another observer, Mr. Yinon Gispan, also began to yell at the committee, claiming that they were engaged in a coverup. Mr. Gispan angrily left the hearing room, and called upon everyone who agreed with him to leave as well. Half of the audience got up and walked out with Mr. Gispan with most of the media following them as well.
As Rabbi Porush continued his testimony, it was alleged that Arutz 2 reporter Matti Cohen had said that Rabbi Porush gave him names of people involved in the case, off the record, but that Rabbi Porush was afraid to reveal the names of the people publicly. As discussion on this continued, a woman in the audience stood up and said calmly, “Matti Cohen is right here. Why argue about it when you can just ask Matti Cohen?”
A guard removed this woman from the hearing room as well. She did not put up a struggle. Less than a minute later, the committee called upon Matti Cohen to testify. Mr. Cohen said that he had blown Rabbi Porush’s words out of proportion. He claimed that Rabbi Porush had only said that some of the people in positions of power at the time were still alive and that the committee should also call them to testify, in case these people have information that the committee is not yet aware of.
Matti Cohen told the committee that he would give them a tape recording of his entire 19 minute discussion with Rabbi Porush following the hearing.
The discussion in question between Matti Cohen and Rabbi took place during a press conference given by “Mishkan Ohalim,” Yeminite Rabbi Uzi Meshulam’s organization at the Central Hotel in Jerusalem owned by former Agudat Israel Knesset member Avraham Shapira. Most of the mainstream Israeli media attended the press conference, as well as did Knesset Members Rabbi Benny Elon (Moledet) and Eliezer “Mudi” Zandberg (Tsomet).
Also present was Rabbi Yaakov Silvani of “Mishkan Ohalim.” Rabbi Silvani noted a dozen individual cases where lost children found their families. In each case, the Government committee sent the children and families a “case closed” letter without revealing this to the press or public. One case involved a man named Uri Vachtel, who addressed the press conference by phone from abroad. Vachtel was scheduled to visit Israel after Sukkot.
Mr. Vachtel was born Paltiel Ben-Tov in the Ein-Shemer Wizo Institute. Paltiel was stolen from his parents, renamed “Uri,” and given for adoption by the Wizo institute to the Vachtel family. Uri was moved to the Wizo Institute from the Atlit immigration camp, where his parents were living at the time. Another boy named Chaim was also moved with him from the Atlit camp to the WIZO Instiute.
Uri said he would undergo D.N.A. tests in the United States before coming to Israel. The first lawyer to deal with the Vachtel case was Yaakov Harrari.
Also brought up at the press conference was the issue of blank birth and death certificates that had been signed by the Interior Ministry. The certificates were found with the assistance of Yehudit Hivner, a retired high-ranking Interior Ministry official.
An article about the blank birth and death certificates appeared in the June 13, 1996 edition of “Yediot Acharonot.” In the article, “Hivner was asked to explain how, after the census of 1962, the Interior Ministry sent hundreds of letters to the families of the missing Yemenite children, telling them that their dear ones had ‘left the country.’ Brigadier General David Maimon even presented to her two conflicting certificates, one of them saying that a child named Joseph Cohen died on November 26, 1951, and the second, that the same child left Israel in 1962.”
There are many instances where certificates contradict one another. I have personally reviewed hundreds of the certificates myself. Hivner was only one of several people asked about these contradictions. Everyone’s response was uniformly the same.
“… In many cases, the names of the biological parents of children who were adopted in the ’50s weren’t even known. This fact comes from the terrible mess the records of children, who were taken to hospitals, were in. When the children recovered, their identity was not known, and so there was no possibility to return them to their parents.”
I ask my readers to note this claim that there was ‘confusion in the documentation.’ It is a key argument that forms an essential part of the official cover up on this question. Keep it in mind, for we will return to this point as our investigation continues.
I will give Mrs. Hivner credit for one revealing admission, as recorded in the Yediot Aharonot article. “These children were taken to institutes and kibbutzim, and many were given out to adoption. Hivner pointed out that the adopting parents ‘not only changed the childrens’ names, but also their I.D. numbers, so they would not be able to be traced.
2) ESHHAR, February 15, 1997, Root & Branch: Although the issue of the missing Yemenite and other Jewish children is well known in Israel, I understand that it is virtually unknown abroad.
This issue involves thousands of children who were taken, sometimes forcibly, from their biological parents while in hospitals or childcare homes, then sold both in Israel and abroad for substantial sums (that varied from case to case), or given out for adoption, while their parents were told that the children had died. In most cases, when the parents asked about the cause of death or requested a death certificate or other documentation confirming the death of their children, they were ignored and their requests went unanswered.
They never saw a body. In most cases, not even a burial spot was seen. In a few cases, however, graves were shown to the families. Some of those graves were dug up later on by parents who did not believe that their beloved, healthy child truly died overnight. The graves were found empty.
These activities were carried out by doctors, nurses, social workers and other members of the Israeli Establishment at that time. I have heard many “moral” justifications given for taking these children from their parents. I do not believe any are legitimate. It seems to me that the real reason for the kidnapping of the children was money. People in positions of power at the time that the State of Israel was established profited from the abduction and sale of children from poor immigrant families.
This practice continued on at least into the early 1960s. Some say that it still continues, although on a much smaller scale.
One common misconception is that these abuses were practiced against Yemenite Jews alone. While researching this issue I have concluded that the victims also included immigrant Jews from Tunis, Spain, Morocco, Libya, Iraq, Iran, and Belgium, to name a few. In most cases, the immigrants came from Middle Eastern countries.
The number of kidnapped children has been estimated at around 2,400 by the official investigating committee. When Rabbi Uzi Meshullam was still collecting evidence, he gathered the names of 4,500 children. I believe that the real number is much larger than that. I have found that many families never reported the disappearance of a child. I estimate that approximately 10,000 children were kidnapped and sold, and I would not be surprised if the real number is higher.
In future installments, I will present detailed, individual cases, including descriptions of some of those involved in perpetrating this crime.
3) ESHHAR, March 30, 1998, Root & Branch: Most parents whose children were kidnapped by hospital staff and infant care workers were told that their children had died (with no death certificate or other proof of death given) and were never shown graves. This part of my series deals with those parents who were shown graves.
Parents of kidnapped children made many attempts to check the “graves” of their “dead” children. The “Mishkan Ohalim” organization filmed a secret operation it conducted on August 13, 1997, where members dug up four of these “graves” at the Kiryat Shaul Cemetary. The film was broadcast a week later on Channel One News.
The film showed the “graves” as they were being dug up. In each case the “grave” was empty. The “graves” had allegedly contained the remains of four children: Ruti Babu, Ruti Cohen, Moshe Mishraki and Reuven Refaelov.
The parents of these children and “Mishkan Ohalim” representatives came to the Kiryat Shaul Cemetery together with cemetery manager Avraham Finkelstein and with Rabbi Yaakov Rujah, who was the district religious adviser on burial matters.
I interviewed one of the “Mishkan Ohalim” representatives who was present when the “graves” were opened. He told me that they went to extreme lengths, including using a strainer, to search for bones. This was shown on the film. No bones were found.
Mrs. Ruti Refaelov, whose son Reuven was allegedly buried at the cemetery, stated in the film: “The child isn’t here, there’s just sand, and nothing more.”
In each case the stories were identical. Parents were told that their children had been sick and had died.
The issue was reported on Israel Radio as follows:
“Four families of Yemenite origin have discovered that the graves in which their babies were supposedly buried forty years ago are empty. Israel TV’s Channel 1 filmed the opening of the graves at the Kiryat Shaul Cemetery and broadcast it last night. Yemenite activists have been claiming for years that hundreds of babies who were declared dead were actually put up for adoption. The graves were opened last Wednesday as part of the official investigation. A rabbi and family members were present. A wooden sign over the graves bore the names Ruti Babu, Ruti Cohen, Reuven Refaelov and Moshe Mishraki. A spokesman for the families said this was proof of a planned fraud in which funerals were staged and evidence falsified. Public Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani has expressed his shock at the discovery of the empty graves. Kahalani is of Yemenite origin. He said that he shared the family’s’ grief and noted that families had feared all along that their children had disappeared and not died as they were told. He said he was confident that the commission investigating the missing children would bring the truth to light.” (Kol Israel August 17, 1997).
This Israel State Radio report falsely stated that all the children were Yemenite. The Cohen family came from Iraq. The State Radio report also falsely stated that Israel TV’s Channel 1 filmed the opening of the graves when the film was made by the “Mishkan Ohalim” organization.
Public Security Minister Kahalani has since done nothing to advance inquiries into this case. Regarding Kahalani’s remarks about his confidence in the government commission, it was the third government commission established to investigate this matter, and it was closed down at the end of December, 1997. The commission chairman was retired Israeli Supreme Court Judge Yehuda Cohen. The other two commission members were retired Judge Dalia Kobel and Bridagier General David Maimon.
As with the two previous Israel government commissions of inquiry, the Bahalul-Minkovski and Shalgo commissions (respectively), the Cohen commission gathered information but did nothing beyond that.
The only positive purpose served by these commissions was to bring people involved in this sad story together. In some cases, parents were able to find their kidnapped children as a result.
The only response these fortunate parents received from the committees was a “case closed” letter congratulating them for finding their children, and notifying them that the commission was finished taking their testimony. These cases received no press coverage. No notification was made to the public. It is my belief as a journalist who attended commission hearings and who researches this issue that the Israel Government commissions are participating in a cover up of the truth regarding the kidnapped children.
Unlike Public Security Minister Kahalani, there is one politician who continues to speak out publicly on this issue: Meretz Knesset member Ran Cohen. Following the August 17, 1997, cemetery expose, MK Cohen asked commission chairman Yehuda Cohen to assist any family that wished to open the grave of a “deceased” child. He asked that the State pay for opening these graves, as well as genetic testing of any bones that might be found. MK Cohen also asked the government’s legal advisor to initiate a police investigation of criminal activities related to the disappearance of the children.
Both the commission and the government legal advisor disregarded all of Ran Cohen’s requests. Most people are unaware of the fact that MK Cohen’s family comes from Iraq and that two of his relatives were among the missing children. MK Cohen did not name the two relatives.
Perhaps one of them is Ruti Cohen’s missing daughter, whose empty grave was opened that August day. I raise this question because MK Cohen began to show an interest in this case after the August expose, the family names are identical and both are from Iraq. There is even a resemblance between MK Cohen and Ruti Cohen’s father Aaron.
Aaron Cohen and his family were interviewed the day after the cemetery dig by the Israeli newspaper “Yediot Acharonot.” The interview carried the headline, “They told us she died, but the grave is empty.”
Aaron Cohen was quoted in the story as saying “They told us she died, but that’s a lie. The grave is empty, she isn’t there. She is alive, alive, alive!” Mr. Cohen dug into the grave with his own hands, about one meter deep, felt the soil, and found nothing at all. The family cannot forget their daughter, and the thought she might be still alive won’t leave them.”
“The family came to Israel from Iraq, in 1951. The family reports that their daughter was two months old when the incident occurred, on the 26th of January, 1954. The mother says that the daughter began coughing one night, and the mother noticed she had a little fever. She took the daughter to a doctor the next day, and was told to take her to the Hadassah Hospital, in Tel Aviv. She gave her daughter to a nurse there at 1 P.M., and was then asked to leave. By 3 P.M. the family was called and told the girl was dead, and that they should not come to the funeral, because they [the hospital] would bury her themselves.”
“The mother was only 17 years old at the time this happened. Ever since the daughter’s death, the family has been going to the Interior Affairs Ministry, and asking for a death certificate. The family was told their daughter does not even exist in the population records. The family’s two other daughters, Shuli and Rachel, have invested much time and effort in attempting to secure some sort of official document which would enable them to clear up what happened over 43 years ago.”
“July of ’97 was their first success in getting any sort of document. Shuli was able to get a death certificate which was sent with no date on it and various other details omitted. She went to them [ the Interior Ministry ] again, telling them of this problem, and was then given a completed death certificate, dated, with all the other details that had been missing.”
The “Miskhan Ohalim” operation in August, 1997, was not the only time an attempt was made to dig up graves. Prior to the attempt, a series of articles appeared in the “Yom LeYom” newspaper, by the journalists Yehuda Yisraelov and Shmuel Amrani. These two journalists have done an amazing job of gathering testimony and evidence about the case.
One such story is the story of Bracha Zugier, the daughter of Shalom and Sarah Zugier. Bracha’s older sister Yehudit gave the testimony. As with many other cases, this one occurred in the immigrant camp at Rosh HaAyin.
When Bracha was about 7 months old she was sent to the Tel-HaShomer Hospital with minor gum problems. Soon after, the hospital notified the Zugier family that Bracha died.
In this case, the Zugier family was told to collect the body from the hospital.
When several family members came to the hospital they were given a suitcase. The Zugiers were warned not to open the suitcase under any circumstances, but to bury it immediately. They were told that Bracha’s body was in the suitcase, and that she had a dangerous contagious disease.
The Zugiers were told that there was no need for a death certificate, or for any other kind of certificate. They should simply bury Bracha right away.
Bracha’s sister Yehudit, who gave the testimony on which this account is based, was a curious eight year old girl at the time. She saw the suitcase on a table in a room, opened it, and found a doll inside on a pile of straw.
Yehudit called her mother, telling her that she found a doll in the suitcase. Yehudit’s mother ran into the room, yelled at Yehudit for opening the suitcase, and closed it immediately, without noticing what was in the suitcase. Her mother could not imagine what was so obvious to the eight year old girl, that the suitcase contained nothing but a doll. She could not believe that the hospital lied to her about Bracha’s death.
Eight year old Yehudit did not realize the implications of her discovery.
The suitcase with the doll in it was buried in the Rosh HaAyin Cemetery.
Today, Yehudit is still sure that she saw a doll, not her sister Bracha.
As the years passed, Yehudit continued to tell her family what she saw in the suitcase at the hospital. Her family began to believe that Yehudit was telling the truth, but did not know what to do about it.
They began to receive mail for Bracha, including army draft notices and election registration forms. Interior Affairs Ministry and Population Registry office records indicated that Bracha was still alive.
When they received no response to her draft notices, army representatives came to look for Bracha, thinking she was avoiding her army service.
Bracha’s father Shalom told the soldiers: “Look as much as hard as you can. Maybe you’ll have some luck finding her.”
Shalom died a few months ago. While he was alive,, Yehudit had repeatedly asked him to testify before the government commissions. He told his daughter: “And all those who appeared before the commissions, what good did it do them?”
Based on my research and interviews with families whose children disappeared, I believe that thousands of parents will not testify before the government commissions because they believe that their testimony will not make any difference.
Two years before Bracha was stolen from the Zugier family, they came close to losing their son Shimon, who is alive and well today. At that time the family were new immigrants in Israel, and lived near Rosh HaAyin.
Yehudit recalls: “Every day, nurses would walk around the camp, looking for children they could take to the baby homes for one reason or another.
One nurse walked up to my mother and said: ‘Your child looks ill, he needs vitamins.’ Shimon, then about 3 years old, was taken to an infant care center approximately half a kilometer away from where we lived.”
“My father and I, when I was 6 years old, would go to the infant care center every day to visit Shimon, and Mom would sometimes come too. Dad would go in, and show Shimon to me through a window. One afternoon when we came they told my father not to go in. Daddy picked me up so I could look through the window. I told him Shimon’s bed was empty. Daddy attempted to go in again and they told him that Shimon died.”
“Daddy was surprised. ‘He was healthy this morning.’ He again, requested to enter, and they said: ‘You can’t go in there – it’s dangerous, you’ll catch a disease.’ Daddy was a strong man and did not give up. He forced the door open and went in. The doctor grabbed him, but Daddy pushed the doctor and went inside anyway, looking for Shimon. The hospital staff tried to stop him, but he continued from room to room, looking for Shimon.”
“I heard screams from inside the building. I was a personal witness to this entire story. Daddy found Shimon, alive and well. The hospital staff attempted to block his way out, so Daddy broke a window and jumped out holding Shimon.”
“The same day policemen came to our house to return ‘sick’ Shimon to the infant care center. Daddy raised havoc and yelled: ‘I’ll kill you all if it takes, but nobody’s taking my son.’ They told him: ‘Your son is sick, you’re going to die.’ Daddy responded: ‘Don’t worry about me’.”
This story is almost identical to one I heard recently from relatives of a personal friend. My sources wish to remain anonymous. Their story is told by a woman, today a grandmother, the sister of a man who as a baby was almost stolen in the same way.
This family immigrated to Israel from Tripoli, Libya, in the early 1950s. They lived in an Israeli immigration camp. One day, the family’s youngest child, a several month old baby, was taken to an infant care center.
The family visited him almost every day. The baby’s mother arrived at the entrance to the child care center, and was told that her baby has died, and that she should leave. The mother insisted on seeing a body, but was told the body was already taken away. She forced her way into the center, despite staff efforts to stop her, and ran to her baby’s room. She found him in his regular bed.
The mother grabbed her baby, refused to let go, and began to scream. Fearing a confrontation, the child care center staff let her go.
Families who found their “dead” children in immigration camp child care centers were fortunate. When the children “died” in regular hospitals, there was no way the families get their children back. A personal acquaintance of mine told me what happened to his brother at the Rambam Hospital in Haifa.
The story of the Jerby family, also immigrants from Tripoli, Lybia, is told by two brothers whom I have known for many years. The brothers, Ya’acov and Tzion Jerby, both recall how they lost their baby brother Mordechai.
Mordechai got sick and was taken from the immigration camp to Rambam Hospital. Their father regularly went to Haifa to visit Mordechai. One day the doctors told him that Mordechai had recovered, and that he would be released from the hospital in two days.
When the father returned to the hospital two days later, he was told that Mordechai had died. He asked when Mordechai died and from what cause.
The doctors gave him no answer. The father received no death certificate, nor was it told where Mordechai was buried. The family was planning to testify before the Cohen commission, which was closed down at the end of December 1997.
So many incidents occurred at Haifa’s Rambam Hospital that it acquired the nickname of the “Mengele Hospital” and “The Jewish Treblinka”. However, Rambam was not the only hospital where immigrant children “died.”
The “Yom LeYom” article also describes the report on Channel One’s “Mabat Sheni” news program, about Leora Lebkowitz, a journalist who used underground radar technology imported from the United States to check the graves. Ms. Lebkowitz conduced her tests in several cemetaries, and the results were simply unbelievable. Many of the graves were empty. Many tombstones had no graves beneath them. In the Pardes Hannah cemetery over 15 tombstones were found with no graves underneath.
In Part Four of this series, you will learn about how these crimes were, and continue to be, covered up, and how the public is encouraged to forget about them. You will also learn about some of the individuals actively participating in this coverup.
4)In Part Three, you read about the empty graves belonging to children who were reported dead. Many of you asked why this shocking discovery- that only hit the main press in August of 1997- did not cause drastic measures to be taken. You also asked how the official Israeli government committee allowed itself to close down less than five months after this discovery (the committee would work only one day a week for a mere 2-3 hours, excluding the several weeks the committee decided not to work for one reason or other).
Part of the answer may be found in the first official response to the results of the grave openings given by Dr. Yehuda Hiss, the head of the Forensic Institute of Medicine located in Abu-Kbir. To quote Dr. Hiss’ press statement on the 16th of August, 1997:
“When opening a grave, one must make sure to dig to the depth of the grave, and in the children’s burial plot in Kiriyat Shaul only a shallow opening of the graves was conducted, not as required. Every forensic doctor knows that bones that have been buried for tens of years can move to the sides and to a greater depth, from a distance of tens of centimeters up to a few meters, from their original burial spot. This is due to earth movement, and water penetration.” The good Dr. did not comment on the fact that witnesses to the digs, and even the film, confirm that while conducting these digs they dug until they hit solid concrete. Another reason that Dr. Hiss states is that “It is necessary to remember we are speaking of infants, and small children, with very small bones, and to identify them there is need to conduct a thorough examination of the earth clods.” When reading the article reporting Hiss’ statement, one of the witnesses to the digs said: “And people are going to believe this? Even the manager of the cemetery was with us! Why isn’t he saying anything?”
For the legal record, let it be known that the writer of this article is not making any accusations whatsoever and is merely stating facts. The readers will reach their own conclusions. This point is crucial for the rest of the article and for future articles.
In the hands of the writer of this article is a 54-page document dated the 15th of January, 1996. This document is a protocol of Dr. Hiss’ testimony to the official government committee on that date. Before going into the relevant contents of this document, let Dr. Hiss’ description of his credentials on that date be known: “I am an expert in pathological anatomy, and an expert in forensic medicine, I am a senior lecturer in pathology and forensic medicine in the Hebrew University, and in the Tel Aviv University.” When asked: “… and how long have you been in the business?” he answered: “I’ve been a doctor for approximately 20 years, a forensic doctor for about 12, and have been head of the Forensic Institute of Medicine, named after Greenberg, in Abu-Kbir, for 7 years.”
The next page or two speak of his giving an opinion in writing to the Shalgi committee, which acted before the Cohen committee. He was asked by the State attorney, Drora Nachmani-Roth: “Yes, now, your opinion to the Shalgi committee, was, I will read it to you, just a moment, it is written for Dr. Shalgi, the committee for finding the missing children, the population listing in the office of interior, it is written by you on the 9th of December, 1991, and its contents state: ‘I confirm receipt of your letter on the topic from the 24th of November 1991, the bones and bone parts of infants and young children that are mentioned in your letter will survive after tens and hundreds of years, the chance of locating them in their burial place is good, and since the testing (D.N.A., and other methods of bone identification) is being done by experts in identifying human remains, of the Forensic Institute of Medicine, named after Greenberg, where there are forensic doctors expert in human anatomy and archeology, and expert in identification of human remains which will be able to give you the adequate professional information.’ Do you recognise the letter you wrote?” Dr. Hiss answered: “Yes, I recognize its content, I look at it, and verify the truth of what is written.” The State attorney went on to ask him about any other contact with the Shalgi committee, to which she received a negative answer. She then asked him if he stood behind the content of the letter he wrote, to which Hiss answered: “Definitely.”
Next, Nachmani presented him with the following question: “I would like you to make clear, perhaps even in detail, if there is need we will ask further questions, on what basis did you form this opinion?”. Hiss then answered: “My short opinion was given based on personal and professional knowledge, and of course information from professional literature that deals with exhumation or removal of human remains from graves or various other burial sites that were buried there hundreds and even thousands of years ago. In cases of the burying of bodies of infants, children or adults in different places depends, of course, on the temperature, climate, and soil conditions. In the place of burial, the bodies go through a process of decay and, as a result, the soft tissue disappears, and what survives are the bones, which are the hard parts, or tissue, in our body, and they include the bones of the skeleton and teeth, and these remains survive for hundreds of years. Of course there are exceptional cases where either because of the conditions of very warm earth, like the earth in areas with volcanic activity and lava, and high heat activity due to fire, or other reasons, that even these remains can disappear, but in a case that the earth conditions are normal, and there are no floods, not that they ruin the bones, just move them from one place to another – it is usually possible after tens and hundreds of years to locate and identify, by certain scale, the remains that are left from bodies that were buried.”
The protocol goes on for a while, delving into details about identifying the remains found, which is currently irrelevant to us.
What is relevant, however, is the fact that the testimony of Dr. Hiss was given in January of 1996, only a short time after the entire matter began getting much press. This was the result of the surprising testimony of a woman- Sonia Millstein- who was a nurse in the Ein-Shemer immigration camp. Her testimony was in front of the official committee around the middle of October, 1995. An article on it appeared in the weekend edition of the “Yediot Acharonot” newspaper on the 20th by a journalist by the name of Edna Adato. She was quoted to say: “I saw how the babies were sent in ambulances, in packages, and with no written records being taken.” Sonia Millstein is a kibbutz resident and was 86 at the time she gave the testimony. It was a man by the name of Avner Farhi who brought this witness to the stand. Her testimony was given, again, in Bet-Agron, the seat of the official committee on the matter. The “Yediot Acharonot” article reports that “For many hours, Millstein was questioned by Drora Nachmani, the State attorney. She tended to shake herself clean of responsibility, by claiming she ‘didn’t know’ or ‘didn’t remember.’” She was also quoted as saying: “I was only in charge of the equipment in the clinics and the staff. I did not meet with the human material in the camps.” The article also reports that Millstein claimed she did not even hear back then of parents who had lost their children. Another amazing quote of hers was: “The Yemenite mothers were bewildered and confused. They could not keep track of their children. I, as a European mother, would go and ask questions, take notes, and know where my son was. They were not able to do this.” She was asked by the State attorney: “Why didn’t you make sure that would be done for them?” to which Millstein answered: “I had other worries back then. If I discovered that, after forty years, my child was alive, I would feel happy. I would be pleased that my child received a good education in a good family. I am no racist. On the contrary.” The truth of that statement should, of course, be determined by the reader.
This testimony in front of the committee took a very interesting turn when Haim Giat, a 53 year old man who was in the Ein-Shemer immigration camp too, stood up to testify. He recalled, in a voice choked by tears, that he remembered Sonia Millstein from the Ein-Shemer camp. He told a story in which he was only 6 years old: his cousin, an infant only months old, was taken to the clinic. When Millstein told the child’s parents that the child was dead, they began wreaking havoc in the clinic and making much noise. Then, to quote Giat, “Millstein walked into the room next door and brought the baby back to his parents, alive and well.” Millstein angrily responded, “I swear, that’s a lie!”
Another interesting piece of testimony presented to the committee by the State attorney was a quotation from the testimony of Roza Kotzinski, who was a nurse during that period of time in the nursing room of camp A in Ein-Shemer. She later testified to the committee on the 25th of October, 1995. She was quoted to say: “I would take two or three babies in an ambulance to the Afula Hospital. We would leave healthy babies there. The next day I would ask: where are the babies? And their would tell me they are gone, dead. What do they mean died? But they were healthy, they had no sickness! Today, when people say they died, it’s a lie. They were sold for adoption. Mostly in the United States…” At this point, Millstein again got angry and said: “Roza Kotzinski’s a liar! Maybe they brainwashed her.” One comment heard by one of the Yemenite fathers witnessing this testimony was, “Maybe they brainwashed Sonia.”
To end the testimony, State attorney Nachmani showed Millstein a list of healthy children who were present back then in a few of the hospitals in Israel and were later said to be dead. Millstein’s final reaction was, “I am tired of your questions. They are not relevant to me. I am already 86 years old. I’m allowed to forget….”
Sonia Millstein said she’s allowed to forget. However, thousands of Jewish families bear a pain which the “Sonia Millsteins” in Israel and abroad have made impossible to forget.
In the next article in this series, you will read more about how the issue is being kept out of the public eye and of one of the people responsible for the sale of children in the United States.
5) On April 25th, 1996, Rabbi Avidor HaCohen testified in front of the Cohen Committee in charge of investigating the disappearance of the Jewish children. Rabbi Avidor had an interesting story to tell the committee.
His story began with a meeting between himself and a couple from New York in 1963. The father was American and the mother Israeli, with a girl around the age of ten. It did not seem to Rabbi Avidor that this child was theirs.
Avidor later on spoke with the parents. They told him she was a Yemenite child from Israel. Avidor recalled the girl having beautiful, large, dark eyes while both parents’ eyes were of almost opposite coloration. He further recalled the girl being a dark-skinned, beautiful, Yemenite girl. The couple then told Avidor that there were other families in New York who had adopted children from Israel.
It was then that Rabbi Avidor found out about a man who organized these adoptions. It bothered Avidor that children who had immigrated to Israel were brought to the United States and sold for adoption.
When Avidor reached this point in his testimony, he was asked by the Judge, Yehuda Cohen, about the number of children adopted in this fashion. Avidor answered that back then he did not know- that they only told him they were bringing children and that there were many of them. When Avidor returned to Israel, he began looking into this in more detail.
Avidor further reported that he then spoke to Deborah Eliner and others of the immigration section of the Jewish Agency, which was where Avidor discovered that the Israeli institutes that deal with adoption did not know anything of this whole incident. This made him even more curious; he even had the names of the children.
Avidor then sent a memo to Minister Haim Shapira because he was part of the “Mizrachi,” a Jewish organization devoted to Religious Zionism, and Rabbi Dr. Yissachar Dov Bernard Bergman, the man behind the adoption of the children in the United States. Rabbi Bergman was one of the main people running the “Mizrachi” organization. Avidor found it unconscionable that an organization devoted to Religious Zionism was working to take Jewish children away from their homeland for profit. Avidor never received an answer from Minister Shapira. He then decided to call him on the phone. Shapira answered that there was much gossip about Bergman, but he was, all in all, a good Jew. Avidor still felt something was terribly wrong, as the adoption institutes in Israel didn’t know a thing about Israeli children being adopted in the United States.
He then tried getting various journalists interested in this story, and a large amount of source material was given by him to almost every important journalist working for every newspaper in the Israeli mainstream press. This material was in their possession for many months. Avidor only got responses saying that there was no public interest in these cases.
He did not give up. He continued trying to get information to the public, but nothing was published until he spoke to Shalom Cohen and told him of the information he held and how important it was to bring it to the attention of the public. The final agreement was that the information would be published with the names of the families indicated by initials only.
Avidor said that, at that point, he discovered the cases were not uniquely connected to the Yemenite community- that there were other Jewish children from many other countries being abducted and sold for adoption in this fashion. The entire matter was then published, but received almost no reaction in the Israeli media. The treatment this issue was getting, or lack thereof, greatly bothered Rabbi Avidor.
It was then that he found that many social circles, mainly Askenazi religious zionistic ones, had a tendency to believe that it was better to grow up with more financial stability rather than with less financial stability but more children. Rabbi Avidor also said that there were still various religious social groups that believed this, and thus justified the crimes that were committed against the children and their families. This is one of the “moral explanations” referred to in a previous article in this series. Rabbi Avidor was shocked to see religious Jews using these justifications.
The individuals who dealt with adoption in Israel said they did not know of such things happening and had no written records of these adoptions. In such a case, Rabbi Avidor claimed, there can arise a terrible problem of incestual marriages within a family.
Rabbi Avidor learned then that it cost five thousand American dollars to adopt a child from Israel at that time.
It is also crucial to mention that Rabbi Dr. Bergman died a few years ago while in jail for a different crime – his fraud and abuse in New York nursing homes that he ran. This was an issue covered thoroughly in the United States and Israel. The New York Times on the 23rd of February, 1975 reports:
“Bernard Bergman, the central figure in investigations into possible fraud and abuse in New York nursing homes, has decided to abandon his public defense of his business dealings.
In refusing to testify at televised Senate hearings last week, he invoked his constitutional rights under the Fifth Amendment. His lawyer has argued that to testify would be prejudicial if inquiries by Federal and state prosecutors result in criminal proceedings against Mr. Bergman. A Federal grand jury is known to be looking into his affairs. And a state grand jury, assisted by Special State Prosecutor Charles J. Hynes, has also been impaneled to study alleged improprieties in the state’s nursing homes.
This is not the first time Mr. Bergman has been prominent in such inquiries. At a state hearing on nursing homes last week, Civil Court Judge Louis I. Kaplan, who in 1960 issued a report on city nursinghome abuses, tesitifed that Mr. Bergman was then, too, the major figure in the industry under investigation. He said he presented evidence of criminal fraud in the industry to former Mayor Wagner. No prosecutions followed and Mr. Wagner says he doesn’t recall what happened to the socalled Kaplan report.
The first indictments in the investigations of the industry have been handed up. The owner of a Smithtown, L.I., nursing home and an accountant were accused of swindling Medicaid out of more than $500,000 by charging personal and improper business expenses to the program. In Connecticut, which is also investigating its nursing homes, a state official said at General Assembly hearings that top state officials had financial interests in nursing homes and used their influence to get favorable treatment for them.”
It appears that the entire issue of Rabbi Dr. Issachar Dov Bernard Bergman and the nursing homes in New York was a prominent one in the United States back then, and particularly for The New York Times. Bergman was a main figure in the Orthodox community in the States, as well as President of the United States branch of the “Mizrachi” movement. He was closely connected to the Israeli religious nationalist party (known as the “Mafdal”), which was directly linked to the “Mizrachi” movement.
In the early 1970s, the New York Times began their investigation into the issue of Bergman’s nursing homes. They reported that the Federal Government would grant a specified amount of money for every elderly person in a nursing home that Bergman and his relatives and friends had taken huge amounts of money from, while the elderly people suffered. For those of you who may remember, shortly afterwards, many other newspapers and media then joined the investigation. There were those who called it “The Jewish Watergate,” and others who claimed it was simply antisemitic journalism. It is a pity that there were those in the Israeli government who agreed with the latter claim. As reported by the New York Times on the 30th of December, 1974, “TEL AVIV, Dec. 29 – Interior Minister Yosef Burg dismissed today as irrelevant a request by Representative Edward I. Koch, Democrat of New York, that Israel refuse citizenship to Bernard Bergman pending the outcome of a United States Senate hearing next month on nursing homes. Mr. Bergman is among 35 persons affiliated with nursing homes in New York State for whom subpoenas have been issued by Senator Frank E. Moss, Democrat of Utah and chairman of a subcommittee of the Senate Special Committee on Aging.
The Senate group, which issued the writes Dec. 20, announced at that time that it was joining the investigation of alleged large scale fraud among New York nursing homes that is being conducted by the State Temporary Commission on Living Costs.
The Israeli Minister, who represents the National Religious party in the Cabinet here, has affiliation with Mr. Bergman through the party’s parent organization, the Orthodox world Mizrachi movement. Mr. Bergman is the dominant figure in the Mizrachi Religious Zionists of America. But this affiliation, Dr. Burg emphasized, is very loose, ‘The Israeli movement is absolutely independent,’ he said.
Mr. Bergman and his wife arrived in Jerusalem at the end of last month, apparently after learning that he was about to be subpoenaed to testify about fraud involving Medicaid funds. The Bergmans, who entered Israel as tourists, have no resident status here, though they own a luxury apartment in Jerusalem.
They left Jerusalem in the middle of this month and are reported to be living with relatives in Vienna. A Bergman relative there has said that the couple would be back in New York, before January 7. The press here has reported that the couple left after having been cautioned that they would not be protected from extradition, should the United States request it.
Dr. Burg, reached in Jerusalem by phone, said of the request by Representative Koch that he would make a statement in Parliament in response to a similar request, submitted in the form of a parliamentary question, by Shulamit Aloni. Mrs. Aloni is a member of the opposition Civil Rights Movement.
But the question of Mr. Bergman’s citizenship, Dr. Burg said, does not arise at this time. “No request whatsoever about this case has come to me,” he said. Mr. Koch had cabled Dr. Burg from Washington on Friday to urge that Mr. Bergman “not be permitted to exercise the right of return” pending the outcome of the Senate committee inquiry. Under Israel’s Law of Return, a Jew can claim citizenship and a right to live here. Mr Bergman, an ordained but nonpracticing rabbi, holds the prestigious title of member of the presidium of the World Mizrahi Movement. He was elected in January, 1973, together with Tibor Rosenbaum, who is involved in a multimillion dollar banking scandal in Europe, and Rabbi Avigdor Zipperstein of Jerusalem. Rabbi Zipperstein resigned a few months ago. Mr. Bergman and Dr. Rosenbaum had been sponsored in the election by the Minister of Religious Affairs, Yitzhak Raphael, a controversial figure in Israel.
Mrs. Aloni said in an interview today that she had submitted her parliamentary question about Mr. Bergman to draw attention to her charges of corruption in the National Religious party. Support for Representative Koch’s plea came today from the newspaper Maariv in an editorial. ‘If Rabbi Bergman is innocent, if his actions as director of a chain of oldage homes in New York were without blemish, if he can disprove the charges against him, let him do so before the competent authorities,’ the paper said.
‘If he wishes, he can then come to settle in Israel and will be welcomed like any Jew who decides to come to Israel.’”
At one point, there was a public hearing in New York. In the hearing, workers from Bergman’s nursing homes testified about elderly people dying of hunger, of ill ones dying of thirst, of tired elderly people lying in their own vomit without receiving any sort of medical care, and of many others who suffered cuts and injuries that were neglected and uncared for.
“I looked at my father, and saw he was about to die,” one witness told the committee that had been formed to investigate the matter. She quickly took her father to the hospital, where he died of dehydration and infection. His entire body was covered with bruises. A qualified nurse told the investigators how the authorities had twisted and changed her findings after she reported to the city health authorities about the horrifying conditions in the home, as reported in “Haaretz” on the 5th of September, 1997.
Haaretz also reported that the testimonies of the workers and relatives in the committee often sounded like “terrible scenes from a sadistic horror film.” It was then discovered that Bergman’s nursing homes received 1.2 million dollars from Medicaid for treatment of people who never existed. It was even said back then that elderly people with no family who passed away in the homes were secretly kept for long periods of time in refrigeration, unburied, while Bergman continued to receive money for their care. Some of the newspapers even alleged that Bergman’s homes served as a cover for the Mafia’s financial activities, and when they continued to investigate, discovered the crimes Bergman’s father committed when he smuggled heroin inside Jewish Holy Books. One day, in a mail office in France, a few Talmud books were accidentally dropped from one of the mail bags, and a stream of heroin poured out. Bergman used this incident to beg that he not be accused for his father’s crimes, cried, and made comparisons between himself and the holy men of Judaism. But at the end, he was found guilty by a jury, Haaretz reported.
The best way to sum up most of Bergman’s life is to quote part of a news article from the New York Times, titled “Many Roads Lead to Bergman”, by Lee Dembart: “… In his public posture, Mr. Bergman combined a talent for fundraising, a friendship with politicians and a zest for self-promotion to make himself a respected leader in Orthodox Jewish circles. In his business posture, Mr. Bergman used many of those same contacts to help him turn a $25,000 inheritance into a net worth he has certified at $24 million, though he insists he owns but two nursing homes….”
To back up the claims, the article also mentioned that “In 1960, the City Investigation Commissioner, Louis I. Kaplan, linked him to a total of 18 homes, and he was estimated to be worth $10 million”, and later on in the article “When Medicaid started in the mid-1960s, the bonanza began. By 1973, Mr. Bergman’s accountant, Samuel Dachowitz, certified to a bank that Mr. Bergman was worth $24 million.”
The irony of the entire case is that Rabbi Bergman used his “friendship with politicians” to ensure for himself wonderful living conditions while he was imprisoned. But one guilty man who was not imprisoned was the man who Rabbi Avidor HaCohen had met, with the adopted Yemenite child. He was an ultra-Orthodox Jew, Rabbi Tuch, who was also found to be involved in bringing Jewish children from Israel to the United States. It was a well known fact within the Jewish community in the United States that if a family wanted a child they could go to either Bergman or Tuch and simply pay the necessary fee.
6) On the 9th of January, 1996, the Israeli newspaper “Yediot Acharonot” reported the following: “… A surprising development in the issue of the governmental committee for the research of the missing children: A private investigator, involved in the actions of the Shalgi committee, who investigated this case in the past, was recently questioned by the police, on the suspicion that he has suppressed evidence and witness testimony, and intimidated witnesses from testifying who were supposed to appear before the governmental committee currently in session and didn’t.
The complaint that has been filed against A., the private investigator, a resident of Jerusalem, was filed by one of the governmental committee members….” The article goes on to state that: “It should be noted that A., who is considered an exceptionally skilled private investigator, and received many praises for his actions in aiding the Shalgi committee, and his work was said to be ‘devoted and skilled’. The investigator, A., refused to comment yesterday, as long as it is still under police investigation.”
The day I read this, I called a friend who had devoted his life to researching this subject and who prefers to stay anonymous, to ask him who “A.” is. The answer was: “A.? That’s Ami Chovav, didn’t you know?”.
It was then that I recalled certain suspicions that different members of the community, who were hurt by the issue,had voiced about Ami Chovav.
It was about a month and a half later that Ami Chovav finally responded to a journalist for the “HaAretz” newspaper, Yigal Mashiach. The article was published in “HaAretz”, of the 16th of February, 1996 following media coverage which Chovav had received that week.
As the article reports, on Tuesday of the previous week Chovav appeared on the “Erev Chadash” news show, on channel one, was interviewed on channel 2, for the five o’clock news, and later on that night, on the “Chasifa” show, and also on Channel 2. The article reports Ami Chovav repeatedly used the same words in all interviews, “as a well trained actor, repeating a well learned, memorised text”.
Ami Chovav was a member of the first investigation committee, headed by Yosef Bahalul, and Reuven Minkovski, and was an official investigator for the second committee, headed by retired Supreme Court Judge, Moshe Shalgi.
Chovav was interviewed concerning the allegations (that were current then) that medical experiments were conducted on Yemenite children hospitalized during the 1950s.
Chovav was also interviewed, on Sunday of that week, on the “Mabat Sheni” news show, on Channel 1. There, he attempted to discredit any talk about children being stolen from their parents.
Ami Chovav began investigating this case in 1966 at the time when families with children who were reported dead as infants began receiving military summons to draft into the Israeli Defense Forces. Chovav says he went to the Defense Ministry to try and find out how such a thing could have happened. He reports that the answer he received was that everything was a mistake. He was told that when the Defense Ministry received information on the new immigrants from the Immigration Department of the Jewish Agency, the Ministry of Interior forgot to report the death of the infants to the Ministry of Defense, and so, the summons reached the families. Chovav says that that answer was more than enough for him, since he immediately understood it was simply a mistake in the reporting of deaths. When Chovav was asked who he received the information from, he said that he “didn’t remember”. The reader should note that this was an official government investigator, on an official government investigation.
Chovav recalls that he was first chosen to investigate the case, since he is a Yemenite, and has a past in Military Intelligence.
Ami Chovav’s final conclusions, regarding the fate of thousands of missing children was, as first claimed, that the children had died in the hospitals.
Moshe Sharabi, living in New York, spoke of his disappointment in Ami Chovav after Chovav’s visit to New York, where he addressed members of the Yemenite Jewish community. According to Sharabi, Ami Chovav had deceived the entire Yemenite and Jewish community. He also said that it was impossible that Chovav had reached such definite and complete answers for the disappearance of so many children.
Chovav had been working on the case ever since it first came up, even before a government committee was formed. There was a public committee formed in 1966 that he worked for as well, and afterwards, in ’67 when the government formed a committee to look into the matter. The committee contained two Ministers to supervise the committee, which were Sampson Shapira, the Minister of Justice, and Eliahu Sasson, who was the Chief of Police. Chovav was appointed to this committee.
Chovav also claimed that many of the disappearances of the children can be explained by the fact that when a child was sent to the hospital, it was done with no written records, and thus many children were taken from their families with no one knowing to whom the child belonged. When the family wasn’t found, the child was sent to the WIZO institute, and then, to adoption.
Chovav’s findings point to the fact that hundreds of children were sent to WIZO institutes, and while some were returned to their parents, most were put up for adoption.
However, when speaking of numbers, Ami Chovav was quoted saying in the “HaAretz” article that “It is possible that there are parents that have had children disappear, and didn’t mention it to anyone. For instance, after the Bahalul-Minkovski committee, other parents showed up, that haven’t mentioned anything to the committee.” Another astounding fact is that the Shalgi committee, three years after it began its work, reported that it was in a crisis and it had hundreds of individual cases it was unable to solve. There was no cooperation by the police, and after three years of work, it had found solutions for only twenty two of the cases. After Chovav joined the committee, it was reported that in the next two years, Chovav managed to solve all the remaining cases on his own.
Chovav reports that many of the children were taken to hospitals, and their parents were not allowed to see them, since there was the fear of contagious diseases.
In connection to a previous article in this series, three different witnesses, according to Yigal Mashiach, have said that they saw Ami Chovav speaking to Sonia Millstein, the nurse (mentioned in Part Four of this series), during her testimony in front of the Cohen committee. Mashiach also says that, according to these three different people, Chovav was guiding Millstein in what to say in her testimony. Haim Giat (also mentioned in Part Four) testified that Millstein lied to his uncle and aunt, telling them their child was dead, and after they made a lot of noise, returned their child to them. Giat filed a complaint against Chovav with the police stating that Chovav tried to convince him not to testify. This is in addition to the fact that Yehuda Cohen, head of the Cohen committee, filed a complaint against Chovav with the police stating that Chovav intimidated witnesses from testifying and suppressed witness testimony, even though Ami Chovav had no formal connection with the Cohen committee.
It is also evident that in Chovav’s interview with Yigal Mashiach, whenever he was asked something that raised certain questions about what actually happened, his response was that he “couldn’t remember”.
One thing, strangely enough, that Chovav did not do, in all of his years of research, was open graves and search for body remains. When he was asked why some graves were found empty, Chovav said that the bones were probably washed away in floods and such. He claims that even the head of the “Chevra Kadisha” (Israeli burial authority) told him that, in the early 1950’s, they would not dig very deep graves. When Chovav was asked the name of the head of the “Chevra Kadisha”, he claimed he “couldn’t remember”.
One of the people who Chovav reportedly attempted to intimidate from testifying is Menachem Chatucha. Chovav’s response to hearing this particular accusation was that all he did was tell him he had no need to testify, since he knows where Chatucha’s brother is buried.
One of the reasons claimed by Chovav that a body was never seen and a grave site was not specified in many of the cases is, to quote, “… The child that died would be sent to the institute of pathology. Many were sent. It was for a humanitarian cause, for advancing medical research. I do not see anything wrong with that at all.” When he was asked about permission from the family to do such a thing, he answered “In many of the cases, they did not know who the child belonged to, or where it came from. When there was a family, they didn’t want to show it the body.
Once the autopsy was completed, the body would be completely dismembered. Were they supposed to show that to a religious parent? The refrigeration compartment would eventually fill up, and then they called the Chevera Kadisha to come and bury all the body parts.” He added, regarding the pathological institute not telling the parents anything, “I asked them. They said it wasn’t their job, it was the hospital’s job. But the hospital did not always know who the child belonged to….”
One example of a reason for this that was given by Chovav: “In one case, the children were taken in the ambulance in cardboard boxes, since they weren’t going to put babies on stretchers. On that specific trip, they put notes with the children’s names on top of the boxes. The wind blew all the notes away. That is how the children were brought to the hospital.”
One man who spoke against Ami Chovav was Yigal Yosef, head of the Rosh HaAyin city council. Yosef was a member of the Shalgi committee, and when the committee finished working, he refused to sign its final report.
Yosef mentions that Ami Chovav is “working for someone.” He says that “All that interested Chovav was to get everything done with as quickly as possible. He worked in the Shalgi committee like he worked in the Bahalul-Minkovski committee, without even checking the authenticity of the documents. His main concern was to close cases.” He adds, later on “… I do know he was very enthusiastic to get cases closed. From the moment he began working for the committee, everything worked out for them. I have a very serious problem with the methods he used, especially regarding the WIZO institutes. Why wasn’t the committee looking for the children who were sent to the WIZO institutes? After all, Chovav claims they were sent to WIZO for adoption because of names being confused, because they weren’t able to find the parents, so why weren’t they looking for all of those that were given up for adoption through WIZO? Why did the committee concentrate on the dead, and not the living?”
To add to what Yosef said, this should have been especially crucial, since the committee did not check any graves, only the death certificates that were unverified. There were many cases where death certificates were issued and the children were found alive later, and other cases where death certificates were found, but never the bodies of the children The readers should remember the report in Part One in this series, where Yehuda Cohen and the committee found a cache of pre signed blank birth and death certificates in the country’s archives with the help of Yehudit Hivner, a retired high ranking Interior Ministry official, who was unable to provide answers to many of the committee’s questions, and denied the allegations that she supposedly had lists of the children that disappeared in the 1950’s. It is obvious that a pre signed death certificate does not point to anything definite in these cases….
Yosef also states that the reason the infants were listed as deceased was to “make them anonymous, so they could be easily sold for adoption.”
Yosef also mentions that Chovav was hired for the committee by Moshe Shalgi, and he himself had nothing to do with it. Yosef says “It seems like Chovav was hired to obstruct our work. It is part of that same suspicion that causes everyone to question him. He was rushing, obsessively, to every event that had anything to do with the missing children, as if he did not finish his job of quieting things, on behalf of high ranking forces in the government.”
As said before, it should have been the job of the committee to open graves, and at least verify the death certificates. To this date, none of the three different committees has done anything of the sort. When Moshe Shalgi was asked why they did not open graves, he answered “The committee’s mandate was to look into the fate of the missing children, not to go into questions beyond that, like the behavior patterns of that time, or the treatment of the Yemenites.”
There are many people who were not satisfied by this answer.
Again, it is extremely important to remember that the cases of missing children range through many of the different ethnic groups of Jewish immigrants, probably all, and that the Yemenites were most definitely not the only ones against whom such crimes were committed, although it is often the Yemenites that take drastic measures to bring the issue to public attention. It is notable that the issue of stolen babies has become stigmatic of the Yemenite community, and is only referred to as “The case of the stolen Yemenite children”, or “The Yemenite children issue”, and so has been kept from public scrutiny, as people have come to see it as a “Yemenite problem”.
A strange comment by Moshe Shalgi was that “Ami Chovav is not a representative of the committee in any way or form. He speaks enthusiastically, but only for himself.” This comment is strange, since Shalgi also was said to have worked hard to hire Chovav himself, and has supported his work all the way. He has even admitted that “I don’t remember the exact words I used, but I recommended he get the job of the investigator, thanks to the experience he had gained in the Bahalul-Minkovski committee….”
All in all, Ami Chovav is a controversial figure, and many people do not know what to think of him.
The readers of this article now have some of the facts, and can draw their own conclusions.
7) An article appeared in Yediot Acharonot, an Israeli mainstream newspaper, on the 12th of November, 1985. It was written by Dr. Hertzel Rosenblum, who was the editor of the newspaper before he died.
In this article, Dr. Rosenblum addressed the issue of the stolen children in Israel. However, as mentioned in previous articles, it is a common misconception that these crimes were committed only against members of the Yemenite Jewish community. This is evident in the article.
The article is titled “The Hidden Scandal” and states the following: ”We have grown tired of all the ‘Investigation Committees’ of ours. However, when you read of the shocking epopee of the immigrants of ‘The Magic Carpet’ [the operation to bring the Jewish Yemenites to Israel, during the first years of the existence of the State of Israel.], where at the time of their arrival in Israel, the immigration they had longed for, 500 of their babies, which they had brought with them, were stolen from them, and these disappeared into the darkness, as if swallowed by the ground – you cannot avoid demanding, with their devastated parents: ‘An investigation shall take place!’
Because there is not an exceptional case here, but an organised crime, done by someone, or some people, that turned the immigration of these babies into a business, while they sold them for greed, and this is a deed that if it would happen elsewhere in the world, it would become an international scandal. For instance, a few tens of parents sold their children in Brazil, and see what a scandal has arisen due to that deed, and over there it has happened not with hundreds, but with tens, and not stealing, but miserable parents selling their own children. And here – a terrible silence!
True: the scandal happened at a time when the country was fighting for its existence, and hundreds of problems it had to deal with were there, but even so – our silence in this terrible matter, that went on for a generation, has turned us into partners in the crime.
Only with the Yemenite Jews – the quiet, modest and defenseless people – could anyone act like this.
Any other immigrant community (the Russian, the Iraqi, the American) would organise a pogrom on us a long time ago, and rightfully so. But even the Yemenites – their heart bleeds until this very day for their children, that were stolen from them.
And there is need to lend them a hand in finding their children – and the stealers of their children.”
According to the “Mishkan Ohalim” organization that turned to former editor of “Yediot Acharonot” after Dr. Rosenblum, Mr. Moshe Vardi (the son of Dr. Hertzel Rosenblum), requesting permission to publish this article, Vardi announced that under no circumstances would he allow it. He even forbade them to publish it in any other newspaper or in their own, and his secretary let them know that Vardi said that if they did publish it anywhere else, his newspaper would sue them. Also, you will see that besides the mistake made by stating that the crimes were committed against the Yemenite Jews only, Rosenblum was also misinformed as to the number of children stolen.
Moshe Vardi, on the 22nd of January, 1998, was “convicted of two counts of illegal audio surveillance” (The Jerusalem Post, January 23rd, 1998). According to The Jerusalem Post, an English language Israeli newspaper, the two former Yediot Editors that were convicted, (Moshe Vardi and Ruth Ben-Ari, former news editor of Yediot Acharonot), had listened to a recording of a phone call made from the house of Dov Yudkovsky, a shareholder and former editor-in-chief of Yediot. In another instance, they listened to the tape of a phone conversation between Arnon Mozes, one of Yediot’s editors, and Ofer Nimrodi, one of the owners of Ma’Ariv. Maariv is another mainstream newspaper in Israel; although Yediot Acharonot is the most widely circulated newspaper in Israel, Maariv is its number one competitor. Vardi has admitted to his crimes. He was quoted as saying: “… I listened [to the conversations], I admit. I was found guilty of listening to two recordings, punished and will pay the fine.”
It is not surprising that Yediot Acharonot did not publish many stories of children who could have been stolen, with a small number of exceptions. It at least did not publish as many as other newspapers, such as HaAretz, and Yom LeYom.
The Yom LeYom newspaper, for instance, gave personal stories of families who had their children disappear in mysterious ways. One of these stories is that of the Chief Rabbi of Bnei Brak, Rabbi Shlomo Korach. The article reports the detailed search Rabbi Korach and his family have been conducting in pursuit of his missing sister and niece, who, according to him, were kidnapped. Korach’s family arrived in Israel with substantial assets. They sent their money through London, and so were able to buy their house in Jerusalem, which cost back then, one million dollars. Korach was then a sixteen year old boy, he and was sent to learn in the “Makor Haim” yeshiva. He told the newspaper of his story: “My parents, Rabbi Ichia and Naama, may they rest in peace, died in sorrow for this story. They immigrated to Israel, and arrived in Rosh HaAyin in 1949, and the nurses pressured them to hand over their daughter, who was then only nine months old, so they could examine her in the baby ward. They did not want to part with their daughter… But they took her, almost forcefully, and said: ‘We will return her to you soon’. She was an especially beautiful baby. We have not seen her since. One day later, they told us she died. My parents asked, demanded and begged to see the grave. They were treated like rags.” His sister, Yona Hovera, living in Holon today, lost her daughter as well. She and her husband, Haim, came to Ein Shemer where the child, Masha, was taken from her mother to the baby ward. The article reports Yona saying: “One day, I arrived to nurse my daughter and they told me: ‘You can’t nurse her today. She has pneumonia’. I was very surprised, since the child was completely healthy, but they said she needs to be sent to the Pardes Hannah Hospital, for three days. I told them I will go consult my husband and will be right back. We lived about five meters away from the baby ward. Three minutes later, I arrived, with my husband, but they told us: ‘They already took her’.Three days later, a man arrived, announcing that Masha Hovera had died. My husband asked that they bury her. They told him: ‘You are her father? She has died. Sign here’. He said: ‘I’m not signing. I want to see a body and bury it’. They told him: ‘They buried her yesterday, along with another five children’. My husband was in shock. He asked: ‘Are we in Israel or in Germany’? He asked and begged to see the grave, and they did not let him. He said: ‘I am not signing, nor mourning’. Every day, I would go to the manager’s office, and beg that they show me where my daughter was buried. A few days later, they manager told me: ‘Go, there is a room downstairs, they will give you your child, but do not touch her. She will be given to you, wrapped up, and you return her to the grave’. I went, and saw a strange package, that didn’t look like a dead child to me. I felt I was being fooled. I said to myself, I’ll open it, maybe it’s a dead cat. I removed a rag, and another rag, until I reached the last one, and found nothing. Only rags. I started to cry: ‘Why did you give me rags?’, the manager told me: ‘We wanted to calm you down, we didn’t know you were so smart’….”
To this very day, they do not know of their child’s fate. The Ministry of Interior reported to them that the child is not listed as dead. The Population Management reported that she left Israel in 1963, and the Welfare Department reported that there was no record found regarding adoption.
The article also reported an interesting twist to this story. Masha was named after an Israeli nurse who assisted the mother in Yemen during the birth, and who loved the child very much. Members of the family suspected that this nurse, who lives in Savyon (a city, in the Tel Aviv area), had something to do with their child’s disappearance. According to Yona, the mother: “She would tell me ‘Don’t let anyone touch her!’ I did not understand why she was telling me what to do.” The article also reported that the nurse, who tried to delay their immigration to Israel, would come to Israel once every two weeks. The family members found her address and went to visit her. The nurse was showing them picture albums, when Yona found a picture of a child who looked much like Masha. She said “I asked her who that child was, and she told me it was her sister’s daughter, as she grabbed the album, and ran to a different room”.
The readers should remember that these are only the stories in which the families were extraordinarily suspicious of the authorities and were sure to check everything as thoroughly as possible. This happened mainly with the rich families who felt more “in control” in the camps. In most cases, the parents did not suspect anything because these people who brought them to Israel were the only people they could trust. It is commonly believed that most cases weren’t even reported, up until this very day.
Another interesting story reported in the same article told the story of a Yosef Aharon Hammami, who has already passed away. Hammami came to Israel with two wives, Kadia and Mazal, and one child was taken from each. Hammami died over ten years ago. His wife, Mazal, tells the story of how her son was kidnapped. Hammami’s other wife has passed away by now. The family lived in Bet Dagon, when she was sent to give birth at the Kaplan Hospital.
“I gave birth in the morning, to a healthy child. My son weighed 2.5 kg, and the entire staff in the birth room, including Professor Cohen, congratulated me. They told me they would return him to me the next day, so I could nurse him. The next day, I waited to get my child returned to me, and the nurse there, who was named Leah, told me: ‘You can’t get your child, he’s in treatment, and don’t worry’. Two more days went by, all the time when I am begging to see my son, and suddenly, the nurse tells me, angrily these words, that I cannot forget: ‘You will never see him. He is in treatment’. I started to cry, and my blood pressure began rising. I asked her: ‘What do you mean ‘in treatment’? If he died, tell me he died’, as I saw they told other women that gave birth to dead children, and saw them, too. I wanted to see what treatment they were giving my son. But she did not let me, and kept on saying: ‘You will never see him. He is in treatment’. I thought I was going crazy, and she started to ‘calm me down’, by saying: ‘Calm down, calm down. You have two children at home. Raise your other children.’
But me, I didn’t stop asking her: ‘If he’s dead, tell me he’s dead, but what is ‘in treatment’?’ And she ignored me, and again told me ‘in treatment’. I turned to her and said: ‘If someone would take your child, what would you do? Why do you cause me sorrow? If my son is alive, sick, or dead, I want to see him. Let me see my son, just for a moment’. And she answered me, again, ‘You will never see him, he is in treatment’. A few days later, a few doctors and a policeman arrived, and I saw them talking, and looking at me. I began to cry, I was in so much pain: ‘You sold my son to this cop!’. They told me: ‘You are speaking nonsense’. And I, every time I saw a baby, I would go crazy with sorrow, for my own child. A nurse came, and warned me: ‘Don’t talk back to the doctors. They can give you an injection and kill you’. I left the hospital, in great sorrow. Someone in the hospital told me to go to the health department, and complain. But we, what did we know? I would cry all the time. I couldn’t sleep. This is how two years of terrible depression passed… Afterwards, I gave birth to a dead child, and my husband attempted to comfort me, while saying: ‘You see, you can’t cry too much’. If this would happen to me today, I would fight. Maybe even take another child and not leave until they gave me mine, alive or dead.
“But then, we only cried. Up to this very day, I cannot forget my son. I saw him for only half an hour, after birth. And I feel he is alive. If a person is dead, you can forget about him. But a live person, you cannot forget. His soul remains. I was immediately calmed about my dead son, but in this case, I knew all along that he was alive. It haunted me for a great number of years. The Rabbis would tell me: ‘You are right. You cannot forget, but hold back your emotions, don’t show them.’”
It appears that, in most such cases, this is exactly what thousands of parents have done: held their emotions back. However, they never did forget. They cannot.
8) In Part Seven of this series, you read about Yosef Aharon Hammami and his two wives, and how one child was stolen from each. In the last part, you read about the son taken from his wife, Mazal. His other son was taken from his wife, Kadia, who has since passed away.
The story of the other son is told by Hammami’s daughter, Shosh Philo, living in Tel Aviv. She was quoted as saying: “I was four years old then, when my parents immigrated to Israel, and lived in the immigration camp in Znoach. The nurses found that my brother, who was almost a year old then, would suck two fingers in a ‘strange’ way: he would suck his middle and ring fingers, together, so they told us that they were taking him for treatment. He was sent far away, and they brought him to my parents, sometimes. They bandaged his fingers, so that he would get used to not sucking them that way.
“One day, they told us he had died. My parents could not understand how such a healthy child could just die, and they told them that, since he wanted to suck his fingers, but could not (because of the bandages), he suffered, and died… of course, they brought us no body, and no funeral.
“My parents were naive and could not believe they were being lied to. But a few years later, when the other cases became known, my mother would say sadly: ‘Too bad we were naive. If it would happen today, I would go with him, and stay by him all the time’.” This story, too, was reported in the “Yom LeYom” newspaper.
An interesting report appeared in the “Makor Rishon” newspaper of the 12th of December, 1997. In their report, the journalists Zeev Sharon, and Pini Ben-Or used recorded testimony of a man who was an ambulance driver back then, and had since passed away.
According to the report, there was a letter sent in 1953, by an attorney, Shlomo Perles, to the ambulance driver, who also reported that he would drive an ambulance that took infants from a hospital, in the Tel Aviv area, to the WIZO institute, where they were given up for adoption.
The report also speaks of how the ambulance driver chose a child and adopted him. In the letter, Perles offers the driver an opportunity to join an endeavor he is working on, to acquire birth certificates from the government that do not mention the fact of a child’s adoption and look like normal birth certificates, and which would show the adoptive parents as the birth parents. The same article reports the story of Tova Barka, a resident of Tel Aviv, in which she reports that she was adopted at the age of three months and knew nothing of her adoption until she was twelve years old. She says that when she reached that age “… my aunt came to our house, and wanted to speak with me. And so, in the presence of my adoptive parents, she told me I had been adopted. I was in shock.
“According to my adoptive mother, my biological mother passed away, right after my birth, and they adopted me. I suppose that not even they knew the truth, and were probably told this story. A few years before her death, my adoptive mother moved to a new home. While moving her belongings, I opened one of the bags, and found the court order referring to my adoption. It was issued when I was eight, and I found my birth certificate as well.” It was then that Barka realised that she was, in fact, according to the documentation, nonexistent for eight years. She continued, “My adoptive mother, who did not deny the validity of the document, claimed she knew nothing about my biological parents, but she mentioned that she did know I was of Yemenite origin.
“When I was thirty eight years old, I decided to go to the ‘Sherut LeMaan Hayeled’ (“The Service in Favor of the Child”) building, on Ibn Gabirol St., in Tel Aviv, in hope of finding my origins, which were yet unknown to me. The social worker in the building [who’s name was not reported by “Makor Rishon”], gave me my mother’s biological name [also not reported], who was born, according to the social worker, in 1921, and immigrated to Israel in 1945. According to the social worker, the documents she was looking at show that my biological mother arrived in Israel with no possessions, no family, or relatives. The social worker also told me that the rest of the facts in the document were blurred, and she could not understand what was written. Afterwards, she said that the information was actually classified. I was shocked. I didn’t know what to do or say. I tried calling her on the phone a few times to get her to search for more details. But she told me that she already told me all she knew.
Back then, after I found out I was an adopted child, I would cry during the nights… I very much wanted to know if I had any biological relatives, maybe even brothers or sisters. I didn’t want to upset my adoptive parents, so I would only cry at nights, when I was alone. Up to this very day – this entire issue won’t give me rest. I want to know who I am, where I came from, who my family is, and what my roots are. I am already a grandmother, and still cry about this.”
According to Israeli law, an adopted person has the right to look at their personal file, in the presence of a social worker. The fact that so much of the information was classified is baffling, at the very least.
Another horrifying story is that of Shlomo and Sarah Adani, who live in Immanuel. The story was told to Yehuda Israelov and Shmuel Amrani, of the “Yom LeYom” newspaper, by their daughter-in-law, Miriam Adani, from Bayit-Vagan, a neighborhood in Jerusalem.
“My mother-in-law, Sarah, arrived in Israel, with her baby daughter, Miriam, then eleven months old. Miriam was highly developed for her age. She was already saying ‘Mom’, and even walking a little.
“Sarah’s husband was not yet in Israel. She was taken to the Rosh HaAyin immigration camp, and they immediately took her baby from her.
“Miriam was still during nursing stage. They took the baby to the baby ward, in Tzriffin. Only once every three weeks did they take the mothers, in a truck, to see their babies, beyond glass, without even allowing any physical contact.
“Every once in a while, when the truck that took them arrived, they would announce the names of the children that died. One day, they announced that Miriam Adani had died. Sarah, the mother, tried to ask for details, and was told that they had buried the child, but showed her no grave.
“A few days later, her husband, Shlomo, arrived, and they tried to build their life anew, but the tragedy repeated itself, and even worse than before. Sarah gave birth to a healthy child, that weighed 4 kilograms, at his time of birth. Everyone congratulated her, and she started taking care of him, and even nursing him, after she gave birth.
“Not many hours passed, when the doctor arrived. He slapped the child’s mother strongly, and told her: ‘You are a bad girl. You suffocated your baby at the time of birth’. The exhausted mother was in shock: ‘I was nursing him only a few moments ago, he was healthy?’, but no one paid attention to her tears.
“Her husband, who was at the hospital that day, was in shock, as well. It was only that morning that they congratulated him, for the birth of his son, and what do they mean, to tell him he died at the time of birth? He asked to see the body, and they only told him: ‘We buried him’. On the same day!
“Every Sabbath and Holiday, for their entire lives, they mention the children that were stolen. My father-in-law has fought fiercely, to be sure his children receive a Jewish, religious education, and he is one of the few who were able to do it as well as he did, but he is in terrible pain for not knowing how his other children were raised.
Did they even circumcise his son? Was he raised as a Jew? The pain is too much to bear”.
The next story in the article is that of Nanjan Cahani, an immigrant from Persia, who recalls how her daughter, Leah, was stolen from her in the hospital in Haifa. Nanjan is certain her child is still alive.
It was only recently that the members of the family received a death certificate, written by hand, from the office of population records, in the Ministry of Interior. The article also mentions that the same office sent Leah’s sister, Mali, a document that states Leah ceased to be an Israeli citizen in July of 1963.
Nanjan, Leah’s mother, recalls a story from a whole new angle, where she was even offered an opportunity to sell her children.
After Nanjan immigrated from Persia, she gave birth to twins, a boy and girl, in the Rambam Hospital in Haifa. The son’s name is Shmuel, and Leah is the daughter, who was stolen. Immediately after the birth, according to Nanjan, the doctor asked to buy one of the children for a certain amount of money. She says that “The doctor told the nurses he would have more of a chance when asking for the daughter, since it seems I was more attached to Shmuel. When I refused, the doctor told me: ‘But, you have other children’.
A few days after I gave birth, I returned home with my twin children. Two weeks later, nurses from the hospital came to my home, and told me that they need to return Leah to the hospital because she has a bruise on her ankle, and if she dies it will be my own fault. My husband and I would go visit Leah in the hospital every day. One day, when I was ill, my husband went alone, only to be told that Leah had died. They refused to allow him to see her. I am convinced that Leah is still alive. I will continue to believe so, until the day I die, and will continue to hope that, someday, I will see her. The death certificate that they sent us now does not change a thing”.
It appears that many of the families who have suffered similar atrocities have exactly the same hopes and expectations… they want to see their lost family members. The men and women that they have not seen for decades, ever since they were infants. They want to meet them, to hear from them, to hear where life has taken them, where they grew up, what they do today… they want contact, however brief. The present situation makes that too much to ask, for most of the families. Their grief still remains.
9) As expected, different people reacted to this issue of stolen Jewish infants in the Land of Israel. One such reaction came from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menechem Mendel Schneerson, in his book Hitvaaduyot, written around 1987-88.
To quote from his writings:
“On the matter of the kidnapping of children from their parents in order to educate them not in the way of the Torah.
It is well known what happened thirty to forty years ago during the Aliyah [immigration] of children from Yemen and Teheran [Teheran, the capital of Iran. It seems that he, too, was unaware of the many different communities from which the children were stolen] to the Holy Land.
“Small children, who came with their parents to the Holy Land, were suddenly taken away from their parents, who were given strange and unfounded reasons for this, such as the need for medical treatment, and that their children were in bad shape. These explanations continued, until the parents were told that their children had died…. And all this for the simple reason that they (the authorities) did not want them to be educated by their parents, who kept Torah and Mitzvot (commandments), but wanted to educate them as they wished, in a way totally devoid of any connection with their Jewish heritage! For this purpose – children were stolen from their parents!!”
What Rabbi Schneerson wrote then was based on the fact that when many religious Jewish men and women immigrated to Israel, there were people in authority who thought that religion was not what the country needed in its first days. Certain actions were taken by these authorities, such as shaving the beards of new immigrants and cutting off their side curls. This is not to mention all the Torah Scrolls, Holy Books, and many other possessions taken from the Jewish immigrants back then. Although this explanation is accepted by some, others do not accept this as a possible reason for the kidnapping of children, since so many of these children were sold abroad for profit.
Rabbi Schneerson continues:
“And who was at the time one of those in charge – a Jew who puts on Tefilin (phylacteries) [Another Religious Jewish custom] and prays three times a day, and who in his private life, observes Torah and Mitzvot!
And nevertheless, not only did he not prevent this from happening, he cooperated, and was even amongst those who were in charge of the people who committed this terrible crime!”
Here, Rabbi Schneerson was referring to Rabbi Dr. Issachar Dov Bernard Bergman, who we spoke of extensively in Part Five of this series of articles.
“And when people started an outcry, as to how this could possibly have happened, for it is an act that is the complete opposite of all that is just and right, and the complete opposite of humane behavior, they were told: ‘We saved them from death and gave them a new life, therefore it is as though these children belong to us….’
And not only did they behave with the children as a man would behave with his “Canaanite servant” [In other words, a slave] who “belonged” to him, but even worse. They treated the children as an object that was their own private posession, that could, if they so wished, be burnt – where in this matter, the burning was of the children’s soul and not of their body, Heaven forbid. [What Rabbi Schneerson says here conflicts with reports of children that know they have been sold in this fashion, when they were children. In these reports, most of the people report that they were raised with love and care, as if they were the real children of their adopting parents].
During that period, hundreds of small children disappeared without a trace, and until this very day, the parents do not know what was the fate of their children, and where they are today.”
Rabbi Schneerson mentioned hundreds of children, although the number of such occurrences is now known to be in the thousands.
“Today, after thirty to forty years, it is still possible to trace these children, for the same offices that dealt with the children then have exact lists that contain the names of all the children, where they were sent to, etc. The trouble is that noone wants to give out the lists of the names of the children!”
As for the lists of the children’s names, not everyone accepts the idea that there are lists of the names of the original families of the children, as so many of them were said to be stolen without the kidnappers even caring who the original parents were. Why should they? It is also commonly believed that, considering all the forged and “confused” documents, there are no real documents. Also, there are those who believe that real documents did exist until Ami Chovav, the investigator mentioned in Part Six, “took care” of the records, as Chovav worked in the national archives following his investigation. He was quoted in Haaretz as saying:
“After the Shalgi committee, all the material was in a mess. The committee finished its job, but none of the documents were catalogued in order, in the archives. The main archive manager asked me to organize all the material, of both investigation committees, in order for the archives. So I sat in the archives, and organized the material, until the order was given to hand the material over to the current (Cohen) committee.”
Of course, there are also those who believe that the documents do exist, some say in a certain safe, in Jerusalem. An article in the “Makor Rishon” newspaper, written by Journalist Pini Ben-Or, describes these suspicions.
To quote the article:
“In these days, when in many countries in the world adoption of children occurs, and adoption certificates are issued, there was no way found in Israel to try and help find children that have disappeared. Even the adopted people themselves are faced with many difficulties in finding their biological parents. Today, the belief is getting stronger that thousands of children disappeared, and were stolen from their parents in the first years of the existence of the State of Israel. ‘Makor Rishon’, which is following the stolen children issue, has checked on the other possibility. The best kept secret in the country – the safe of Mr. George Klein.
George Klein is the manager of the archives, belonging to the Ministry of Interior, where appear the records of all the people that are removed from the population records: People who have died, been adopted, left the country, and so on.
From one investigation protocol of George Klein, from the 16th of September, 1997, it is seen that, in his archives, there is a safe where all the adoption records, ever since the British Mandate in Israel, are kept.
In his questioning in front of the committee for investigating the disappearance of these children, George Klein said that only he has access to the safe, which is located in a safety room. He received the adoption orders, as well as the original personal file of the adopted child, from the bureau of the Ministry of Interior. The material is placed in the safe, and the child receives a new birth certificate, where the names of the adopting parents are found.”
According to Klein, he writes the original I.D. number of the child, in the adoption book.
After writing the details, Klein has the information updated. The original birth certificate, along with the adoption certificate, are placed in an envelope, that is filed in the safe, in the safety room.
Anyone looking in the adoption book only sees the new details of the adopted person, but adding up the new details and what is written in the envelopes that contain the old details – will reveal who the adopted person is.
The biggest secret is in the hands and safe of George Klein. Maybe there, an answer to the issue of the missing children can be found.”
Since that article was written, it has been rumored that the safe has been moved, although not everyone believes that. Again, it is commonly believed that records of which children went where do not even exist. Although it is possible that details of a certain number of the missing children can be found there.
To return to the writings of Rabbi Schneerson:
“And the even greater trouble is – that no one gets up to speak of it!
Lately, a few people have woken up and begun to ask for the lists of the children but unfortunately, this was but ‘the sound of the tune of defeat’, and nothing came of it.
And not only this, but as always, there are those who immediately make a ‘mockery’ out of everything, and they made a mockery out of this request too!…. And we know that one should not talk with scoffers, and even not sit in their company, as king David said at the beginning of the Book of Psalms – ‘Happy is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the wicked…. Nor sat in the seat of the scornful.’ (Psalms 1:1) Our sages have already told us that a ‘Cult of Scoffers’ is one of the four cults that ‘do not receive the Divine Presence.’
However, this claim also has no place in the discussion. For, although it might be very hard work, nevertheless, in no situation is one allowed to despair of a Jew, and noone can take the responsibility to say that, as far as so and so is concerned, nothing can be done to bring him closer to Torah and Judaism.”
Here again, it is evident that Rabbi Schneerson believed that these children were stolen to keep them away from Judaism and Torah.
“And, in any case, as long as not everything possible is being done to correct the situation – it is as though the crime is continuously being committed! Obviously in this matter, doing Teshuvah (repentance) will not help – for Teshuvah is between man and his Master – and so above all, what must be done is to correct the injustice and the crime that was committed against both the children and their parents!
After all this, if anyone thinks that they (the authorities), regret their past deeds, and certainly will not repeat them, God forbid, ‘Trouble shall not rise up the second time’ (as said in Nachum, 1:9), they are making a bitter mistake.
Not only do they not show any remorse, and are not even trying to return the situation to its rightful state, but on the contrary – until this very day, they are repeating what they did (to the children stolen back then) with the children of Teheran [Iranian Jewish immigrants], and in a more acute way, and no one is standing up to be heard, and let the world know. And especially those who are meant to represent, so to speak, the demands of the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) Judaism – even they are sitting quietly and doing nothing at all!
It is the holy obligation of anyone who has it in his powers to do whatever they can to prevent and to stop the stealing of children that is currently happening, and in addition, to try and correct what was done in the past.
And those who cannot do anything, as far as this matter is concerned, should increase their activities in the field of education.
In other words, try and ensure that all Jewish children receive a Jewish education that is in the spirit of the Torah, and no effort should be spared (just as no effort is spared by those opposing the matter), for one is talking about Pikuach Nefashot (the saving of endangered lives)!
To what can this be compared? To a man who sees a house burning – he surely will not spare any effort to try and save the people who are in the house. Not only that, but even if he is unsure if there is anyone in the house, he will knock on the blinds and the windows, etc., to check if there is anyone in the house, who can be saved. And the moral of the example is an endangered spiritual life.
Remember: ‘And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death’ (Exodus, 21:16).
And his death, according to the Halachah [Jewish law, as set by the Rabbis… although there are many laws in Halachah, such as this, that are not enforced in these days], is by strangulation.”
This is what the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menacham Mendel Schneerson, has written about the issue of the stolen children. Apparently, Rabbi Schneerson, as well, knew what went on.
10) On the 5th May, 1998, I attended a rally held by the “Mishkan Ohalim” organization, at Gan HaAtzmaut (the Independence Gardens), in Jerusalem.
Present at the rally were some members of 1,500 families who suffered the kidnapping or “disappearance” of their children, each with a story of their own. An emphasis was placed at the rally on the families who had arrived here during the “Magic Carpet” operation in the early years of the state that saw Jewish families from Yemen brought to Israel in the effort to increase the immigration of Diaspora Jews. Operation “Magic Carpet” was initiated in 1949, and is said to have brought approximately 50 thousand Yemenite Jews to Israel. In the course of the operation, about 380 flights took place by British and American planes. The flights left from Aden, the capital of Yemen. Most of the Yemenite Jews lived in different locations in Yemen, and went through many difficulties getting to Aden. There were families from Eastern European countries as well as the U.S. and South America (and most other countries where Jews immigrated to Israel from) who had also lost their sons and daughters under similar circumstances.
Present at the rally were Members of Knesset Rabbi Arieh Gamliel, Rabbi Benny Elon, Mudi Zandberg, David Tal, Hanan Porat, Prof. Avner Shaki, Marina Solodkin as well as such prominent Rabbis as Shlomo Korach, Dr. Nachum Rabinowitz, and Dr. Ratzon Arusi.
Rabbi Menachem Porush, who has publicly stated that he knows the identities of organizers of the kidnapping operation and those who carried it out, failed to appear at the rally.
Rabbi Yosef Ba-Gad showed up by surprise, as well as other important figures such as Yigal Yosef, mayor of Rosh-HaAyin, and a number of well-known Israeli singers,who came to show support.
Each of the speakers at the rally had their turn. Fascinating speeches were given by Knesset Member Rabbi Benny Elon, Yitzhak Keren (the ex-policeman mentioned in part one of this series), Eddie Mor (who gave a long, emotional speech that had the audience on the edge of their seats), as well as the mother of Shlomo Asulin. Shlomo Asulin was a student of Rabbi Uzi Meshulam, who was gunned down by Israeli security forces in the Yehud incident. Rabbi Meshulam’s wife was also present at the rally, although she didn’t speak in front of the audience. All speeches that were given spoke of the terrible crimes committed, and how everything possible should be done to bring families back together and to bring the guilty to justice.
It should be noted here that none of the prominent figures who made these statements have done anything concrete to advance either of these causes.
One interesting woman at the rally was Dora Vachnun, a 48 year old who lives in Haifa and had her sister taken from her nearly 42 years ago. After having a short conversation with Dora, I decided to stay in touch with her, pay her a visit, and set up an interview with her.
When I arrived at her house, I was surprised when she asked me if I’d like her mother, Esther Meshulam, (no relation to Rabbi Uzi Meshulam) to be present as well. As a result, I first interviewed Dora, and then Esther, who arrived later on.
The Meshulam family (who had their name changed to Emeshulam before they immigrated to Israel) immigrated from Istanbul, Turkey around the beginning of 1950. Both Dora and Esther recalled the conditions they encountered upon their arrival in Israel. Although Dora’s father made a substantial income working on the Haifa docks, the conditions of any immigrant in Israel’s first years were not good. Esther recalls their situation being better than most immigrants of the period. Their family was the only one at the immigration camp to have a sink in their shack. Esther worked hard to make their shack look as cheerful as possible. She recalls how she cleaned the shack, how she painted it, put flowers there, and made it a wonderful living environment. “Anyone that would come into the shack would be surprised, and ask ‘this is supposed to be a shack? This looks like a villa!’ “ says Esther. Their family was financially secure and had no problem whatsoever providing for their children. Dora had two brothers.
Esther (E) Meshulam gave birth to Mazal (I.D. 5391242) on the 5th of January, 1956. On the 20th of September, 1956, Esther took Mazal outside for some fresh air while going to buy meat; after a while, she noticed Mazal seemed to be feeling a little ill, so she took her to a nearby doctor. The doctor wasn’t home at the time, so she took her daughter to another doctor, who also was not home. Esther then took Mazal to the Rambam Hospital. When she arrived, a doctor examined Mazal and said that she looked fine, and asked Esther why she had brought Mazal. Esther said that Mazal was not feeling well, and was a little pale. The doctor said that they would watch Mazal for a little while, and told Esther not to worry.
When Esther entered the ward to stay with Mazal, a nurse yelled at her, told her to leave, and said that the families were not permitted to stay with their babies.
Esther returned to their shack later in the afternoon, disturbed that she had left her baby alone. Her husband, Meir-Nissim, upon seeing her distress, told her not to worry, that he would go see Mazal. He arrived at Rambam Hospital around 4 in the afternoon. At the hospital, he was not permitted to enter the ward, but they took him to a window, where he was able to see the babies. He saw Mazal, who recognized him, and stretched her arms towards him. They didn’t let him take her at that point. But he was content with the fact that he had seen she was healthy. He returned to the shack and told Esther that Mazal was doing fine, and that she would probably be released that day or the day after.
It was 2-3 hours later when two men, who claimed to be policemen, appeared at the Emeshulam’s shack. They announced to the family that Mazal had died. The family was in shock. The parents cried all that night. The next day, the family arrived at the cemetery to see a “body” that was not identified by anyone and hurriedly buried. All that the family saw was a white sheet with something inside it, tied on both ends, and completely covered with blood. The family was petrified at the sight of the blood. Upon telling this, Esther broke out in tears.
Dora recalls how they have always wondered about the entire case. Their suspicions intensified after the entire issue of stolen children was raised. No one ever had the chance to see a body. One month after the “death” of Mazal, the family received a letter explaining that Mazal had died from a heart attack.
In the past few years, Dora has been doing everything she can to try and find her sister. She has turned to the “Mishkan Ohalim” organization. She speaks highly of their efforts to bring this issue to light. She turned to the Rambam Hospital, asking to see Mazal’s files. She was at first denied access to these files, but then her brother, Police Superintendent Yaakov Meshulam, turned to the courts, asking for an order to be allowed to see the files. After that, they got the permission to see the files.
The document that describes the disease states “For two days the girl has been sick with diarrhea and has been throwing up. She coughs a little as well. According to the mother, the girl became a little pale and cold. This has happened a few times before, and has passed”. Esther recalls that it wasn’t a serious condition, just a slight illness. Esther also mentioned that Mazal was not throwing up at all. Dora mentioned she wonders what possible connection there may be between a heart attack and diarrhea. The part intended for “previous diseases” is blank.
What is probably the most interesting document in this case is the burial certificate, numbered 12348. It states: Name: Meshulam Mazal.
Address: Apartment 27 [of the immigration camp]
Age: 9 months. [to be accurate, it was 8 and a half]
Religious affiliation: Jewish.
Cause of death: Myocardio Infarction. [Heart attack]
Place of burial: Haifa.
The certifying Doctor: Garfel. [Signature]
Examiner of cause of death: [Blank]
Official signature: [Either a signature or just a tiny scribble]
Signature of the Health Ministry clerk: [Blank].
One interesting thing about this document is the fact that the certifying Doctor was Dr. Garfel. Garfel is said to have been involved in other cases where children have been stolen. Ora Shifris, spokeswoman for the “Mishkan Ohalim” organization recalls the case of a man in Jerusalem who had his brother stolen, and found it also involved Dr. Garfel, who worked in the children’s ward of Haifa’s Rambam Hospital.
This document is also striking on account of both spaces which should contain the signatures of the examiner of cause of death, and the signature of the Health Ministry clerk (and possibly the official signature) were left blank. By law, both spaces should contain signatures.
Another interesting document I’ve found is the “Patient Summary,” which contains details about Mazal and the entry: “Diagnostic: Myocardiac.” The rest of the page, which is titled “Summary of Disease” is surprisingly blank.
Dora lives in Haifa with her husband and those of her children who haven’t yet married and left the house. Dora has seven children: Moshe (13), David (16), Anna (17), Eli (25), Meir (26), Avigail (28) and Mazal (30).
Upon arriving at their house that morning, I was greeted warmly by Dora and her daughter Avigail. It was then that Dora asked me if she should call her mother over, and told me she lived a few houses away. Later on that day, some of her other children arrived. Moshe, an active child who stayed to hear the story again, despite the many times he’d heard it before (and who made sure to get in a comment whenever he could). Anna and David, who didn’t spend much time at home, arrived later on.
As Dora recalled the story, she made sure not to leave out a single detail about Mazal, the story of their immigration, and detailed explanations about everything down to how their family name was changed from Meshulam to Emeshulam before they came to Israel. She recalled how her mother returned to the shack that day of September 20th, 1956, in tears for having to leave her beloved Mazal at the hospital, away from her watchful eye. She recalled how her Dad then made sure to go see how Mazal was doing and how he returned to the shack and reassured her mother. She recalled how the two “policemen” arrived at the shack and announced Mazal’s death and how her parents stayed up all night crying in the light of an oil-lamp since they had no electricity in the immigration camp. She recalled being taken in by her neighbours, so as not to see the pain and anguish of her parents, how the “body” of her sister was buried hurriedly by two men who never identified themselves, and the terrible sight of the sheet completely covered with blood. Her trauma from this terrifying experience is evident. Dora still searches for her sister. She tries to get assistance from anyone that may be able to help. Dora comes from a family with an excellent reputation who has done much for the city of Haifa. Dora was given an “Outstanding Citizen” award by the Mayor of Haifa, Amram Mitznah. Dora and her brothers are well known in Haifa, and have received many honours, awards, and commendations for all their family has done, and is still doing.
She told a number of amazing stories of her family in the early days, and all her parents sacrificed for the sake of the Zionist cause, to live in Israel.
How they came to build the country in its first days,and accepted whatever conditions they had to endure for this cause, even when that meant accepting any job they could find without complaining. How they believed it important for them to live in Israel. Dora told of the tough conditions in the immigration camps, with no electricity and only basic necessities. They lived in that shack in the immigration camp for nine years. The Meshulams are a proud family of good standing. During all the years after Mazal was taken from them, her father, Meir-Nissim, was terribly distressed, and spoke to everyone of the way she was taken from them. He spoke of how it was impossible that from such a common illness his baby could have died. This has haunted their family for nearly 42 years. Meir-Nissim passed away on September 11th, 1993, at the age of 73, without seeing his daughter for almost 37 years.
Esther spoke of the depth of her family’s pain and the devastation caused by the lies and the terrible scandal that went on back then, which was only discovered years later. How little children were torn from their families, while the horror-struck parents were told that their child had died in some terrible way. Esther and her family were never given a death-certificate for Mazal. Esther hopes and prays that she will find Mazal soon, as thousands of other families still do. She also recalled their immigration years, and their Zionist family. She told of her life back in Istanbul, and their arrival at the “Selniks-Sha’ar Aliyah” (immigration entrance) immigration camp. Esther is worried since she hears stories of how some of the parents that have adopted the stolen children were told the original parents had forsaken their children, and so passed this on to the children. This concept is too much for Esther to bear. “Maybe they told her that we ‘ threw her to the dogs’ “, says Esther. Dora finds it hard to cope with the fact that Mazal was taken because Esther cared for her so much and was doing everything she could to ensure her daughter’s health.
Esther has lived with this trauma her entire life. It’s impossible to imagine how much this has affected her both emotionally and physically. Esther lives with pills she takes every three hours. Esther recalls how much her husband cried for their daughter, and how the pain was so intense. She recalls the support the family received from friends. Friends that “feel their loss, share their pain, cry their tears…Mazal should be with us now. She’s 42 now, and should be sitting right here, beside me”.
One of the most shocking moments of the interview was hearing Dora and Esther speaking of the burial. They spoke of how they couldn’t even get close to the “body” being buried, that was covered with blood. They began to speculate where all the blood came from, and what was buried. “Maybe they slaughtered a chicken”, Dora said. “Maybe they took a dead dog, and buried that”, Esther said. As much as one can “prepare” oneself to hear these stories, these are the moments that are hardest to cope with.
At one point, Dora went to the home of a doctor Zeltzer, who she remembers worked in the children’s ward in the Rambam Hospital. She thought that maybe he could give her some answers, since he was one of the older doctors working there then. Zeltzer, although still alive, is an ill man. Dora waited at his home until he returned. When he arrived, she questioned him. Zeltzer then told her he’d been through a stroke, and due to the damage caused by the stroke he can’t recall many details from his past, as well as anything connected to these cases.
Dora remembers a few doctors that worked in the ward then, including Zeltzer and a doctor Bender-Lee, who she said is still alive, and living in Haifa. Dora is sure that the doctors know of what happened and can give details, but that there is a plot to keep everyone silent, and these horrible crimes swept neatly under the carpet.
In many of the cases, swept under the “Magic Carpet.”
This is one of the things that disturbs the families terribly, especially since the mainstream press is, for all practical purposes, still ignoring the issue.
Dora and Esther speak of how parents have gotten old and died without seeing their children since they were taken. This is why everything should be done immediately to bring the families together. All Esther, and many other parents like her, would like to do before they pass away is to find their child, to see them if only once, to hold their child, to tell her “Mazal, we did not forsake you,” as her daughter may have been told. They turn to people in the government for assistance. These people, who have done nothing serious enough to bring results, have betrayed the trust these families have placed in them, have forsaken the loving parents and families of these children, and thousands of other parents and families. Mazal’s father has already passed away, but her mother would give anything just to see her again.
I have them in piles beside me. Documents. Interviews with Dora and Esther. Audio and video tapes. One case. One case out of thousands like it. Thousands of tragic stories that won’t go away. These crimes cannot be “swept neatly under the carpet.” There are too many families in terrible pain to allow that to happen.
To make an understatement, this was not what the families were expecting when they immigrated to Israel.
These families have not forsaken their children. Nor have they abandoned hope of seeing them again.
No human being of conscience can abandon them… especially not Jews of conscience.