Some 40 Ashkenazi families contacted Haaretz over the weekend to reveal that their children had disappeared from hospitals in Israel in the 1940s and 1950s — a phenomenon which until recently was thought to have been largely limited to immigrants from Yemen.
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The Ashkenazi families were responding to an investigative report in Haaretz on Friday about other Ashkenazi babies who vanished in the early years of the state.
Some of the families who reacted to the article wanted readers to know their full stories, while others wished to make known that they, too, were victims of similar circumstances but preferred not to go public with their experiences. Haaretz documented half of these testimonies.
Among them are Jews who came from Lithuania, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Romania and Ukraine, including a number of Holocaust survivors.
All of them told similar stories about their babies who had disappeared from various hospitals in Israel. All were told that their infants had died, but were never shown either a death certificate or a grave.
These 20 cases come in the wake of dozens of other instances documented by Haaretz over the past few weeks. They show that the scope of the phenomenon of disappeared children born to Ashkenazi families is wider than previously described by the state investigative committee that examined the cases of disappeared Yemenite babies.
That report, released in 2001, included only 30 cases of children from the United States or Europe who were said to have disappeared soon after birth, as opposed to hundreds of cases of children born to Yemenite families.
Some of the cases Haaretz learned about over the weekend involve twins, one of whom vanished after birth. Such is the story of the London family from Lithuania. The mother, Hannah, came to live in Israel in 1933 as a pioneer and a member of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement. The father, Shmuel, came to Israel the same year. The two met in Ramat Gan and were married in 1939. On December 17, 1940, their twins, Avraham and Yaakov, were born at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikvah.
“Yaakov came back with mother from the hospital. Avraham stayed ‘to get stronger.’ My mother was told he was born smaller and it was better for him to stay in the hospital,” their daughter, who asked that her name not be publicized, said. Later, when the parents went back to the hospital to take Avraham home, they were told that he had died while being fed.
“They never received a document about it,” the daughter said. “My mother accepted what they told her, and later told this story as an anecdote, not as something special,” she added. “Maybe he really did die, but it’s still interesting to find out what happened,” she said.
The family’s tragedy did not end there. Yaakov, who eventually obtained a Ph.D. in biochemistry, was killed in the Yom Kippur War, leaving a wife and two daughters.
“It’s important to know that cases like these happened even before the establishment of the state. It happened to us,” she said.
Documentation of a disappearance from a hospital in 1940 is rare. Most of the cases happened in the first years following the establishment of the state. One case, documented by this reporter, involved the disappearance of a baby born in the detention camp in Cyprus in 1947.
Yitzhak Fueurstein also turned to Haaretz over the weekend. He is the son of Holocaust survivors Pirha (Piri), born in Transylvania (a region between Romania and Hungary) and Binyamin, born in Munkatch (then Czechoslovakia, now Ukraine). Fueurstein’s parents met in Germany as refugees and came to live in Israel in 1947 after being expelled from the British detention camp on Cyprus.
In 1949 Piri gave birth to twin boys at Rambam Hospital in Haifa. “The birth was normal according to my parents,” Fueurstein said. But about a week later, when his mother was released from the hospital, the parents were given a birth certificate on which the two births appeared, but next to one was the word “deceased.” They were given no other document or death certificate, Fueurstein said.
“The story hovered around our household all the time, leaving many questions in the air,” he added.
Twins Israel and Yosef, the sons of Holocaust survivors Moshe and Regina (Rivka) Raflenski, were born on October 8, 1948 in Hadassah Hospital, which was then in Tel Aviv. At six weeks old Israel he was rushed to the hospital with diarrhea. His parents — who had come to Israel from Poland — were told to leave their sick son there and go home. When they came to visit him the next day, they were told that he had died.
“His mother called him Israel in the hope of new life in the land of Israel. He never had a funeral, no death certificate was ever presented and of course, he has no grave,” the daughter of Yosef, Israel’s brother, said. She also asked that her name not be used.
Then, one day the family received a draft notice for Israel, which stated that he was a deserter. “All through the years his status in the Interior Ministry was defined as “unknown.” Recently I found out that his status was changed to ‘deceased.’ We are trying, without success, to find out any sliver of information about the lost son,” she added.
“The article in Haaretz on Friday opened up a new wound,” Hannah Gold Levkovich said. Her mother, Shulamit Denishevsky, was born in the town of Ashmyany, near the Lithuanian city of Vilnius. Her father, Yehoshua Gold, was born in the city of Ropczyce, near Krakow in Poland. They met after World War II in a displaced persons camp in Germany, and married.
In 1948, after the state was founded, they came to live in Israel. In the summer of 1949 they had a son at the Dajani (Tzahalon) Hospital in Jaffa. “The birth was normal. The child was big and healthy, but he was taken away immediately,” Levkovich told Haaretz over the weekend. A few hours later they were told their son had died. “They were shown no proof,” Levkovich said.
“All the years my parents claimed the boy was alive, but unfortunately my sister Tova and I did not go along with this terrible thought,” she added. “My parents were Holocaust survivors who had lost everything dear to them in the war and they both suffered, each separately, the hardships of the war. They came to the Promised Land and did not believe such a thing could happen to them.”