70 Years Later: Only Unknown Grave of Israeli Female Fighter Discovered

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Kibbutz Yad Mordechai after the War of Independence.
Kibbutz Yad Mordechai after the War of Independence.Credit: Government Press Office
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Seventy years after she was killed, the grave of the only female fighter whose burial place was unknown has been uncovered, the IDF Spokesman announced Sunday.

A historical investigation revealed that Pvt. Livka Shefer, who had made aliyah from Poland and was killed during the War of Independence at Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, was mistakenly buried in Kibbutz Nitzanim. At the end of the month there will be a gravestone setting for her.

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Fallen Israeli female fighter Pvt. Livka Shefer.Credit: From the Izkor website

Shefer was born in Poland in 1914 and was orphaned of both parents as a child. In 1939 she came to Palestine with a group from Hashomer Hatza’ir. First she worked in Kibbutz Mitzpeh Yam in Netanya, and then she moved south and settled in Yad Mordechai. She worked there in several agricultural capacities and was also a bookkeeper, while for two years she also worked for the Al Hamishmar newspaper.

During the war she helped defend the kibbutz. “During the war period, in the days that the Egyptian army shelled and assaulted the farm, she served as a liaison between the positions, running, crawling and jumping,” the Israel Defense Forces memorial website says, and quotes her as saying, “The coward who hides in the shelter dies thousands of times a day; he who dares to go out, crawl though the ditches, and jump into fulfilling his role, will only die once.”

On the night of May 23-24, 1948, only a few days after the new state had been declared, she and Yitzhak Rubinstein were carrying a wounded man named Binyamin Eisenberg on a stretcher. The three of them fell into Egyptian hands and were executed. For 70 years they have been considered as IDF fallen soldiers whose burial places were unknown – three of the hundred such soldiers who fell during the War of Independence.

Shefer, though, was the only woman among all the fallen soldiers whose burial place was not known. There is a gravestone for her in the Yad Mordechai military cemetery, though that was not her actual grave. But historian Prof. Gur Alroey of the University of Haifa, who does reserve duty in the army’s unit for locating MIAs, recently discovered that she’d actually been buried in the adjacent kibbutz, Nitzanim.

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According to Alroey, the Arabs abused the bodies of the three victims and brought them to the city of Majdal, where residents carried the bodies through the streets in a victory parade. The bodies were then tossed near the local Muslim cemetery, together with a message, in Arabic, that the bodies belonged to Jewish soldiers.

Shortly after the fall of Yad Mordechai, Nitzanim also fell to the Egyptians and two members, Devora Epstein and Shulamit Dorchin, were killed there by Egyptian fire. About a year later, in March 1949, several Arabs from Majdal were arrested. During their interrogation, they told the IDF that Jewish soldiers were buried in their town.

A military force found parts of a woman’s body there, but on Kibbutz Nitzanim they mistakenly thought that the parts belonged to one of its own fallen members and they buried the remains on their kibbutz. A week later, they realized that the remains had been misidentified, but only 70 years later was it discovered that the remains belonged to Shefer, who was buried there instead of in her own kibbutz.

Lt.-Col Nir Yisraeli, head of the branch for locating MIAs, said in a statement issued by the IDF Spokesman, “Locating those missing in action from the wars of the past is no small feat. Every investigation that comes to a conclusion is very important to the family, the members of the branch, and for the IDF as a whole.”

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