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 Tev 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 2 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 breast feeding.
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 they lived in a tent, while Zarah was taken to a building which served as the infant center. 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. Lead 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 cemetary 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”. Kerem has since been working on
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 testified. 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 minutes’ 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 cased involved a man named Uri Vachtel, who addressed the press conference by phone from abroad. Vachtel was scheduled to visit Israel after Succot.
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. Their 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 coverup 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 “.