In 1943 Judith Sinai received permission to leave Poland as part of the exchange agreement between Germany and Britain for their respective subjects. Judith was one of 11 Jewish children who were British subjects − because she was the daughter of parents who lived in British Mandate Palestine − who received permission to leave Poland. Less than half a year later the ghetto in Sosnowiec, Poland, the city where she was born, was liquidated and all her friends and remaining family were sent to Auschwitz.
She died last month, aged 88.
Judith Sinai’s (nee Goldblum) parents arrived in Israel from Poland in 1939. They were able to immigrate to Palestine legally because of the money her father invested here before World War II. Judith, who was 14 at the time, remained in Poland waiting for her immigration certificate. Her parents left her with her elder sister, Sonia, and her sister’s husband Yehiel (Feiner) De-Nur, who later became a famous writer on the Holocaust under his pen name Ka-tzetnik. His first book, Salamandra, or Sunrise Over Hell in English, tells the story of their love.
“She did not want to leave her friends in the Zionist youth movement behind but they convinced her to leave and tell the world about the horror,” says her daughter, journalist Ruth Sinai.
In her book Re’im Basa’ar, Fredka Mazia describes the farewell from Judith: “A few dozen people gathered. The windows were shuttered, guards were placed near the house and people entered one at a time ...” she wrote. “She was a young woman of 16, but mature and serious. We had great hopes for her.”
“Tell them of our lives and battles, that we didn’t surrender, that we will try to die as proud Jews,” Yisrael Azriel (Jozek) Kozuch, the leader of the Young Zionist movement who was later killed in an attempt to break out of the ghetto, told Judith. “Tell them of the deportations, of the dead people, the strangled, the children murdered in cold blood, the sick removed from their beds, of the [train] wagons packed with people. You know what we know here. The pace of destruction will be fast and total. But tell the Yishuv of our will that the pace of building the land will be faster than the pace of our destruction. And if our sacrifice will contribute a single brick to building the homeland, that will be our reward,” he told her.
Judith’s father, who she had not seen for five years, was waiting in Haifa's Bat Galim neighborhood for a daughter he had thought he would never see again. “But instead of going with him to see her mother and brother waiting in Tel Aviv, she insisted she must first write down what she was told orally. For a day and a night she dredged up from her memory the information and messages she had been entrusted with and wrote a report, in Polish. After that she was questioned for four days by representatives of the Jewish Agency,” her daughter recounts.
One day they took her to see David Ben-Gurion, who came to Haifa to meet the group that came from Poland. “Among them was a young woman … from Sosnowiec …” wrote Ben-Gurion later in a letter. “Two days ago I went to Haifa to see her and for three hours I heard a story of horror and suffering that no Dante or Poe was capable of even imagining. And you feel you are completely helpless, and you are not even able to go crazy − the sun is shining at full strength, and you also must continue with your regular work,” wrote Ben-Gurion.
Judith remembered Ben-Gurion: “At the end he asked me: 'If we send a few men from the Land of Israel, will that help?' I answered him with excitement: It will help a lot,” she said.
“This is the optimism that accompanied her until her last day − from being orphaned from her mother only three years after being reunited with her in Israel, through her fighting in Gush Etzion as a sniper in the War of Independence and being wounded in the battle of the Nebi Daniel convoy, to her service as one of the first female officers in the IDF,” says her daughter, Ruth.
After her release from military service she continued to serve in the reserves as a battalion commander for women soldiers.
She earned three degrees in microbiology and biochemistry − two from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a doctorate in London.
Her husband, Dov Sinai, was a Mossad representative overseas and was later appointed IDF Spokesman and the Israeli Consul General in South Africa and Canada. Judith accompanied him on all his appointments overseas, and when they returned to Israel she became a research scientist at the Israel Institute for Biological Research in Nes Tziona.
“She did not speak about her defense work but said at every opportunity, great or small, personal or professional, that the world belongs to the daring,” says her daughter, Ruth.
One of her former colleagues told of how when she developed a certain vaccine that had to be tested on humans, she first injected it into herself. One scientist at the institute wrote that she had very broad knowledge and “broke new ground in every area she was involved in. The fruits of her pioneering research are still used today and have become a sturdy foundation for new developments.”
She also participated in cancer research and was appointed a professor in Tel Aviv University's medical school.
She is survived by two daughters, Dr. Tamara Sinai, a psychiatrist, and journalist Ruth Sinai, and three granddaughters.