Obituary / Three Bridges Over the Jordan


All his life, Emil Brigg carried on a cruel love affair with death. When the Germans arrived in Tarnov, his birthplace in Poland, he fled to the east, leaving his mother behind. The Germans caught up with him and he was led with others to a clearing in a forest in Bukovina, where the Jews were stripped naked, made to stand at the edge of a pit, and shot to death. When Brigg's turn came, the officer in charge suddenly announced that the day's quota was filled. The officer stole the watch he had received from his father for his bar mitzvah, and beat him senseless.

When he awoke, he took clothing that he found among the corpses, and went to look for his father and sister. The three of them were caught and immediately put on a train to a death camp, but managed to jump from it while it was in motion. Together with his father, he joined the partisans in the Carpathian Mountains, and in November 1943 he managed to take revenge for the first time, when he participated in a battle in which the followers of a Nazi collaborator were defeated. But as the battle continued, the Germans surrounded them. He hid in a treetop, while his father was killed on the ground, before his eyes. He buried his father, and continued to search for his sister, but was forced to look on helplessly as the Germans killed all the residents of the house where she had been hiding.

Somehow Brigg managed to reach Hungary, where he joined a group of Zionist Youth ("the group"). One day an informer was discovered in the group, and Brigg and his friend Alex "made sure that he wouldn't be able to inform again" (as described by Dina Gilboa, who belonged to the gang). Brigg, Alex and Dina were arrested, severely tortured, and when they refused to turn in their friends, were condemned to death. Brigg was asked for his last wish, and he

replied: To write a letter to my mother (he didn't know that his mother had already been sent to Maidanek). Two hours before the execution, the Russians arrived, and the three were released. He volunteered to continue to fight in the ranks of the Red Army, and after the war he immigrated to Palestine.

Brigg lived for two years in Kibbutz Tel Yitzhak, joined the Haganah (the pre-state military force), and during the War of Independence served in the Barak battalion of the Golani Brigade in the Jordan Valley. On May 14, 1948, when Iraqi forces approached Kibbutz Gesher, the battalion sappers tried to blow up the three nearby bridges over the Jordan, but only one of the three bombs worked. Facing heavy fire from the enemy, Brigg advanced, blew up the two remaining bridges, and returned without a scratch. For this act he was awarded a Medal of Courage, and was one of the dozen 1948 Heroes of Israel.

During the period after his discharge, friends told him about Nazis walking around free, and this fired his imagination. Together with them he set out on a private chase after war criminals in the cities of Europe, and settled accounts with them. One of those he caught was the officer from the Bukovina forest.

Brigg founded the Castel ticket agency in Tel Aviv. In his autobiography, "Stand Up and Fight," he expressed a hope that some day there would peace between us and our neighbors, and even if we have to endure more difficult tests along the way, "nothing will be as bad as the forest in Poland or the prison in Hungary."