One of the earliest photos of Shoshana Shani, née Kupfer, shows her in the arms of her father, Shmuel, a handkerchief on her head, at the family table. The sadness in her father’s eyes as he holds the baby seems to hint at the tragedy he and his wife, Sara-Rivka, had experienced a few months earlier, shortly after Shani's birth.
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Shani is one of the more than 100 people who had contacted Haaretz as of Sunday night following its report last Friday on Ashkenazi children who disappeared from hospitals around the country in the 1930s, '40s and '50s. Among them were apparently some 15 cases of Ashkenazi families who gave birth to twins – only to have one of them disappear shortly after birth.
Shani’s parents emigrated from Hungary in 1933 and married two years later. Shoshana, their fourth child, was born at Hadassah Hospital in Tel Aviv on July 7, 1947, “together with a twin brother,” she told Haaretz on Sunday. “But I learned that only when I was 12, by chance, in a conversation with people I knew on the street.”
When she asked her mother what happened to her twin, her mother replied, “A big, evil nurse entered the room two or three days after [he was born] and told me, ‘Enough, you don’t have a son, he’s dead.’” Only much later did Shani, who now lives in Petah Tikva, begin thinking that her mother was “too innocent.”
“She accepted the verdict without asking questions,” Shani said. “But I am asking: Is it possible that my brother is alive? Can I find out? Could he, too, be living with an adopted family?”
Shulamit Bar-Tal, who works today for an engineering company in Be’er Sheva, also contacted Haaretz on Sunday. “I suspect there was something systematic here,” she said. “That someone decided to take one child from a pair of twins, on the theory that ‘one is enough,’ and that the parents could get along without the second.”
A few weeks ago, Bar-Tal said she heard on the radio about a woman born in the 1950s at a hospital in Hadera, whose twin sister disappeared after the birth. “This story lit a red light for me, because it’s similar to mine,” she said.
Bar-Tal's parents were born in Hungary in the 1920s. Her father, Mordechai Tushek, was incarcerated in several concentration camps during the Holocaust. Her mother Bracha, née Klafter, jumped from the train transporting her and others to a concentration camp and hid in a convent. After World War II, the couple immigrated to Israel and lived in an immigrant transit camp in Nes Tziona. Their first child, Bluma, died when she was a few months old.
In 1951, Bar-Tal and her twin sister were born. “After the birth, they told my mother that during the birth, I had pushed my twin sister, I gave her a blow, and she was born dead,” Bar-Tal recalled.
As was true in apparently many other similar cases from that time, her mother never saw the dead baby, didn’t receive a death certificate and doesn’t know where, or even if, the infant was buried.
“All my life, I’ve lived with this terrible guilt, that I pushed my sister during birth and gave her a blow – that it’s my fault I don’t have a sister,” Bar-Tal said. “As if it weren’t enough that my parents were Holocaust survivors and their childhood taken from them, as if they didn’t know how to raise children.
“I’ve always had this doubt, that maybe...,” she continued. “But as you hear more and more stories, you understand that what they told you isn’t 100 percent true. Maybe someone really thought it was better for my parents to raise an only daughter. How happy I would be if I found I had a sister. The question is how [I would do that].”
Yehezkel Brot, an accountant from Kfar Sava, said that Haaretz’s report last week “overwhelmed me with an issue that has followed me like a shadow all my life.” He was particularly struck by the story of Hannah and Shmuel London, which appeared in Haaretz’s follow-up report on Sunday.
The Londons, who emigrated from Lithuania in 1933 and married in Ramat Gan in 1939, gave birth to twin sons, Avraham and Yaakov, at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva in 1940.
“Yaakov came back with Mother from the hospital,” the Londons’ daughter, who asked that her name not be published, told Haaretz. “Avraham stayed ‘to get stronger.’ My mother was told he was born smaller and it was better for him to stay in the hospital.” Later, when the Londons went back to the hospital to see how Avraham was doing – they were told he had died.
“Something similar was said to my parents about one of the twins they had,” Brot said Sunday. “That sentence was said to my parents at about the same time, regarding the death of my twin brother, who stayed behind ‘to get stronger.’”
Brot’s father, Alexander (Sander), was born in 1913 in Lubicz, Poland, and immigrated to Palestine in 1933 through the Hapoel Hamizrahi organization. His mother, Zehava (Golda), née Barshap, was born in 1914 in Kremenets, Poland (today part of Ukraine), and also arrived in the country in 1933. They were married in Herzliya in 1940; three years later, on August 25, 1943, they gave birth to twins at Hadassah Hospital in Tel Aviv.
“My parents told me my brother was the stronger of us, but for some reason, they gave me, the weak one with no chance to live, to my parents to take care of while my brother, the strong one, was sent to WIZO for ‘monitoring,’” Brot said, referring to the Women’s International Zionist Organization. His parents were told this was because “you can’t take care of two babies, given your financial situation.”
A few days later, his parents were told their strong son had died. “His place of burial is unknown,” said Brot, who discovered only years later that his twin brother had disappeared. “I think his name was Hanoch.”
“Personally, it’s hard for me to accept the idea of a conspiracy,” he added. “But as time passed and other similar cases were reported, I’ve started to think that perhaps my twin brother is living among us here in Israel. All my efforts to locate a grave, a death certificate or any relevant document whatsoever have failed. In my view, the public effort must concentrate on finding such children, if they exist – not on seeking those responsible for their disappearance.”
There are also many documented cases of Yemenite twins disappearing about the time of the establishment of the State of Israel. A 2001 report by a state commission of inquiry into these missing Yemenite children listed 18 cases in which one member of a set of twins disappeared, 17 cases in which both twins disappeared (including two sets of twins from a single family), and one case in which all three members of a set of triplets disappeared. In total, this adds up to 55 children, out of a total of more than 1,000 Yemenite children who disappeared from Israeli hospitals.
Haaretz has also been contacted over the last few days by families from other Middle Eastern countries who lost one of a set of twins shortly after birth. One such couple is Gavriel and Rachel Almasi, who moved to Israel from Iran in 1951. Rachel gave birth to twins at Hillel Yaffeh Medical Center in Hadera in 1952.
“One was dark, but the other was fair and looked Ashkenazi,” the twins’ brother, Yaakov Almasi, told Haaretz on Sunday. “My late mother took them home, but two or three days later one of them, the fair one, didn’t feel well and was brought back to the hospital.”
The next day, when his mother went to the hospital to visit the baby, she was told her daughter had died. “How did she die?" Almasi asked incredulously. "All she had was a cold, and even that isn’t certain.”
The hospital told his parents the baby was buried in the Zichron Yaakov cemetery, so they went there to find her grave. “My parents were illiterates with no money, so they asked an educated man, who knew how to read and write, to join them,” Almasi explained. “They searched and searched, but they didn’t find a grave.”
For years, his mother claimed that her daughter had been stolen. “We didn’t get any documentation of her death,” said Almasi. “A child from our family. We want to know what happened to her.”