Identity of King George V's Penpal Discovered

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Thanks to our readers efforts, the identity of the girl who wrote the congratulatory letter to the British King was brought to light, after it was published last week.

Yehudit Ya'avetz wrote the letter in 1935, while she was 12, in Hebrew. She sent it from Haifa, to where she had emigrated two years previously from Germany. On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of his coronation, Ya'avetz thanked the king for helping the Jewish people "to establish their national home and to repair the ruins of our Holy Land under the patronage of His Majesty."

Haaretz published the letter after it was revealed on a State Archives blog commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Nazis rise to power and the subsequent immigration of the Yekkes, the German Jews, to Israel.

Many readers answered Haaretz's call to assist in locating Yehudit, and the details provided by one of them, genealogist Eli Melitz - helped find her. The details he provided Haaretz led to contact with Yehudit's daughter, Dr. Nira Reiss. Yehudit, it turns out, is no longer alive. She passed away in 1981, while in her late 50s.

Yehudit Ya'avetz was born in Manheim, Germany, in 1923. Her father, Meir, was a descendant of Rabbi Jacob Emden, who was known as the Ya'avetz and was one of the greatest rabbis of the 18th century.

Meir grew up in Bukovina, Romania. He was sent to Manheim to recover from a gunshot wound in his leg while he was serving in Italy as an officer of the Austro-Hungarian army during World War One.

Meir met Yehudit's mother, Esther, in Germany. Esther was born in Poland and came to Manheim as a youth to help her brother, who was a watchmaker, in his shop. The two married and had two daughters: Yehudit and Devora.

When Yehudit was 10, in 1933, the family immigrated to the Land of Israel and settled in Haifa. The father, who was a Zionist, chose Israel even though his father, his brother and his sister immigrated to the United States. He found work as a court translator, thanks to his command of several languages.

Meir taught his daughter Yehudit Hebrew from an early age. And so, by the time she was 12, Yehudit was able to write King George V a letter in eloquent, beautiful language. "We are hereby contented in the land of our forefathers, and we feel ourselves safe, under the patronage of His Majesty," she wrote in a formal style. "I apologize dearly that my knowledge of the English language is still insufficient to express my feelings in this language, but I hope that the lilt of the Hebrew language will intermingle in the ears of His Majesty."

Why did the refugee girl from Germany decide to write King George V? Her daughter Nira speculates that the letter was not Yehudit's initiative, but rather was written as part of a project at her school. Haaretz received documents from additional archives attesting that in the same year, which was the occasion of the king's Silver Jubilee, several letters of congratulations were sent to him from the Land of Israel.

It was in the same year that the name King George V was given to the street in Tel Aviv formerly known as Hacarmel Street.

Upon completing her studies, Yehudit worked as a secretary in the offices of the British Navy in the German Colony neighborhood at Haifa, and married Shlomo Reiss in 1945. "Since then she was a full-time mother," says her daughter. The two had four children: Yaakov, Talia, Michal and Nira.

Yehudit was buried in 1981 in the old Carmel beach cemetery alongside her husband Shlomo, her parents Meir and Esther and her husband's parents - Yaakov and Sarah. Her descendants include grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The letter.
Yehudit Ya'avetz. Credit: Courtesy of family