Sarah Braverman, Pioneering Jewish Parachutist in WWII, Dies at 94

The woman known to loved ones as 'Surika' parachuted behind enemy lines during the war, helped found Kibbutz Shamir and the IDF's Women's Corps.

Eli Ashkenazi
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Eli Ashkenazi

Sarah “Surika” Braverman, a pioneering woman who parachuted behind enemy lines during World War II and went on to help found the Israeli army’s Women’s Corps and Kibbutz Shamir, in the Upper Galilee, passed away on Sunday. She was 94.

Born in Romania, Braverman was a member of the Palmach during the Second World War. She was the last surviving member of a group of Jewish parachutists from British Mandatory Palestine who were parachuted behind enemy lines during the war and collaborated with European partisan fighters.

Like her friend and fellow parachutist, Haviva Reik, who was captured and executed by the Nazis, Braverman was a member of the Hashomer Hatzair Zionist youth movement.

The first time Braverman was supposed to parachute, she panicked, refusing to jump out of the plane. She would later speak of the period following that incident as the “darkest period in my life.” A month later, she was parachuted into Slovakia, where she joined a band of partisans.

On returning to British Mandatory Palestine, she became active in the Palmach and, in 1944, helped found Kibbutz Shamir on barren soil on the border with Syria. In a recent interview with Ilana Dayan on Israel’s Army Radio, she said that she would love to relive the night that Kibbutz Shamir was created. Throughout her lifetime, she remained loyal to the ideal of communal life. The “creativity of the kibbutz, even as it assumes a new format, contains great and wonderful values,” she told Dayan.

Even in the latter part of her life, she continued to be deeply involved in the life of her kibbutz and made it a point to be on a first-name basis with each and every member, including the children. She served as Kibbutz Shamir’s secretary.

Politically, she was a member of the Meretz party and frequently spoke of the importance of constantly striving for peace agreements. At public events where she lectured and in conversations she had with army officers – up until age 93 – she would repeatedly assert: “We have emerged the victors in all the wars we have fought; however, none of those wars have ever brought an end to the conflict with the Palestinians. We have tons of heroism but we lack the few grams of courage that are necessary for bringing peace.”

On many occasions, Braverman was invited to speak with groups of high school students and other visitors at Givat Haviva, an educational institution named for her friend Haviva Reik. One of Givat Haviva’s divisions is Moreshet, the Mordechai Anielewicz Memorial Holocaust Study and Research Center.

“Surika considered the commemoration of the Jewish parachutists from British Mandatory Palestine to be of supreme importance," said Yonat Rotbein-Marla, who works at Moreshet. "She also attached great importance to promoting both the State of Israel and the kibbutz. She was a woman who demanded a great deal – first of all from herself, then from everybody else.

“Surika experienced many tragedies and much pain in her life," continued Rotbein-Marla, "yet she was always the optimist, constantly looking for the good in every person and in every situation. She tried to teach others to follow her example.”

In a statement issued following news of Braverman’s death, Eitan Broshi, secretary general of the United Kibbutz Movement, said: “The kibbutz movement as a whole mourns the passing today of Sarah ‘Surika’ Braverman, one of the heroines of the Yishuv, the pre-state Jewish community in British Mandatory Palestine."

He continued: “The important events in Braverman’s life – her coming to live in the Land of Israel within the context of the Hashomer Hatzair Zionist youth movement, her settling in the Land of Israel, her helping to found a prosperous kibbutz, her decision to become a soldier in the war against Nazi Germany, her joining the Palmach, and her active involvement in the founding of the IDF’s Women’s Corps – all these events are a living testimony and are a shining example of what she and many other members of her generation did to bring about the establishment of a Jewish state, the State of Israel. May her memory be forever blessed.”

Sarah “Surika” Braverman will be buried at 3 P.M. Monday at Kibbutz Shamir.

Sarah Braverman, standing in front of a memorial to her friend Haviva Reik, who was captured and executed by the Nazis.Credit: Lydia Einberg
Jewish parachutists in pre-state Israel. Braverman is seen bottom right.Credit: Wikipedia

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