My late father was a Zionist from a very young age. As a teenager he joined the ‘Beitar’ movement. His city was under Soviet occupation then and his brother preferred to become a communist. Adolf Hitler’s threats left no doubt in my father’s mind – he had to leave Europe as soon as possible. A month after the outbreak of the Second World War he finally received a permit to leave his country and reached Israel using a back route. As the war progressed the Russians retreated and the Nazis arrived. His brother and mother, alongside the 25,000 Jews of their city, were marched to a nearby forest and were massacred by German soldiers firing machine guns. The commander of these soldiers later participated in the infamous meeting in which the final solution to the Jewish problem was decided, and complained to Heydrich and Eichmann that having to kill civilians had a bad effect on his soldiers morale and that he had to order each soldier to drink half a bottle of Schnapps before the massacre to somehow dull their senses.
I have learnt that if a Fascist dictator announces to the world that he is going to eliminate your people, you better take it very seriously. Moreover – you cannot rely on any other superpower to fight him on your behalf.
When my father arrived in Israel he and his friends established one of the ‘Wall and Tower’ villages. With time, whilst building a new life for themselves, they started collecting and training at using arms. The news from the front was not good. The forces of Field Marshal Rommel had scored some impressive wins in Northern Africa and were advancing on Egypt. The pending fall of the land of Israel to the Nazis began to look more and more like a realistic prospect. There were voices calling for the Jews to fortify themselves on Mount Carmel and to try and push back the approaching offensive. There was talk of a second Masada. My father asked the Kibbutz’s permission to leave and joined the British army where he was amongst the founders of the Jewish Brigade. The ‘Brigada’, as it was it was known then, got organised in Egypt and participated in the invasion of Sicily and in fighting the Nazis in Italy, France, Belgium and Holland where its war ended with Nazi Germany’s final defeat.
I have learnt that a nation cannot sit and wait till war reaches its door, that the best defence is to attack and that an enemy seeking to destroy you should be brought down with all your might, once and for all.
My father spent his last few days in a hospital on Mount Carmel, the same mountain his friends were considering digging themselves in many years before, defending themselves against the Nazis. The corridor outside his room ended with a large glass wall overlooking the Haifa bay. During the three days I sat near his death bed, I told myself that when he would feel a bit better and the corridor would be quiet, I would roll his bed to the large window so that he could see the beauty of the green mountain slopes and the blue see he loved so much. The doctors were busy, the nurses occupied, I did not want to disturb or distract. When I left him on the third evening I asked him if there was anything I could do for him before I retired for some rest. His last words to me were: “I leave this to your judgement.” On the fourth morning, before I got to the hospital, my father passed away. He never saw the view of the bay.
I have learnt that in life, there is sometimes only a very limited window of opportunity to carry out your intentions and that if you hesitate, you might miss it completely and never, ever get a second chance.