1996: A Woman Who Fought the Nazis, Then for Women's Rights, Dies

Passing for Aryan, Haika Grossman smuggled arms with the Polish Resistance; finally in Israel, she would join politics and fight for women's issues.

Haika Grosman, a picture from her falsified documentation, around 1941.
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On May 26, 1996, Haika Grossman, a former Knesset member, and a veteran of the Zionist resistance to the Nazi occupation in her native Poland, died, at the age of 76. Tragically, Grossman spent the final three years of her life in a coma, after suffering a fall in 1993, but hers was nonetheless a lifetime of accomplishment and dedication to the defense and welfare of the Jewish people. 

Haika Grossman was born in Bialystok, in Poland, on November 20, 1919. She was the youngest of the three children of Nahum Grossman and the former Leah Apelbaum. Nahum, the son of a rabbi, owned a small factory in nearby Sokolka.

Grossman grew up in a home that was knowledgeable about and open to Jewish tradition, even if not especially strict in observance: Her first two languages were Yiddish and Hebrew. She attended both Jewish day school and later, the gymnasium in Bialystok run by the Tarbut organization of secular, Hebrew speaking schools.

'Aryan' smuggling weapons

When she graduated high school, in 1938, Grossman intended to leave for Palestine, where her father’s parents already lived. She had been accepted to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and held an immigration certificate from the British authorities.

She was, however, a counselor in the socialist-Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair, where her superiors decided that she was needed in Brest-Litovsk (Brisk) to organize a branch of the movement there. Acceding to their collective wisdom, she postponed her dream.

The delay lasted more than a decade. When World War II broke out, Grossman was sent to Vilna to join the emergency leadership of Hashomer Hatzair.

By the time the Germans occupied Vilna, in 1941, the senior leadership of Hashomer Hatzair had all left for Palestine, leaving behind a younger echelon that included Grossman. Recognizing that her blond hair and blue eyes would allow her to pass for Aryan, she urged her fellow leaders to go underground while she, under the false identity of Halina Woronoevicz, lived openly back in Bialystok. From there, she shuttled between the other large Jewish ghettos of Poland, carrying arms and messages.

Fighting with the Soviet partisans

Grossman helped to organize the armed uprising that greeted the Germans on August 16, 1943, when they began the liquidation of the Bialystok Ghetto. The uprising was quashed on the same day, after which Grossman joined up with the Soviet partisans.

Haika Grosman, right, with her husband Meir and oldest daughter, Leah, in the early 1950s. The blkack & white photograph shows Haika wearing a striped dress and smiling broadly whle her baby daughter, held in her arms, waves.
Wikimedia Commons

She was with them in August 1944, when they liberated the city from the Germans.

After the war, Grossman served for several years as the representative of the Zionist youth movements on the Central Committee of Polish Jews established by the new communist government, with the main goal of expediting the survivors’ departure for Israel.

She herself finally arrived in Israel in May 1948, just after the declaration of statehood. Settling on Kibbutz Evron, in the Western Galilee, she reunited with her childhood boyfriend, Meir Orkin, who had left Poland in 1936.

Grossman continued to lead a public life almost immediately: The first of the couple’s two daughters was born the same day in 1949 that Grossman finished writing a war memoir, “People of the Underground.” The following year, she became head of the local government in her Western Galilee district, which involved a lot of work with newly arrived immigrants and the social and economic problems that accompanied them.

Grossman entered the Knesset in 1969, representing Mapam – the left-wing party affiliated with Hashomer Hatzair, today a component of Meretz – and later the “Alignment” with the Labor Party. Her focus was social and women’s issues. She shepherded through passage of a progressive abortion bill, and dealt with rights of children, disabled and the elderly.

She served in the Knesset until 1988, with a break during the years 1981-84.

On Independence Day in 1993, Grossman was one of the citizens honored with the lighting of a torch at the official ceremony on Mt. Herzl. Several weeks later, at a party held by another of the honorees, she suffered the fall that led to the brain injury that put her in a coma.

She died, at her home in Kibbutz Evron, on May 26, 1996.