Introductory Note: I am grieved to post this, but honesty in Jewish life and in democracies demand that we confront moral failures wherever and whenever they occur. It is the only way to be assured that they we don’t repeat them.
I post here what constitutes among the most heinous moral failures of the State of Israel in its history. As a Jew, I am ashamed. That being said, anyone who knows me knows that I love the State of Israel. Israel is in my DNA. I love the people and regard the Jewish State as the greatest miracle of the past 2000 years of Jewish history.
CNN covered the story about the hundreds of missing Yemenite and Arabic Jewish children in the early 1950s when they were brought by their parents to Israel and can be viewed here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kp4IDws6f74
I requested the article below from my friend Noah Efron of “The Promised Podcast” (TLV1) out of Tel Aviv who reported the story this past week on the podcast. Noah had originally brought this story to light in 2014. With the recent statement of an eye-witness, the full episode of what happened to hundreds of Yemenite and Arabic Jewish babies in Israel in the early 1950s was revealed. I share Noah’s commentary on “The Promised Podcast” with his permission:
“We heard this week the remarkable and heartbreaking testimony of 85 year-old Shoshana (שחם) Shaham, a Holocaust survivor who was a student nursemaid in the transit camp, or Maabara, in Rosh Ha’Ayin through the first half of the 1950s, and only now told journalists for the first time that she saw kids of new immigrants in the camp, mostly from Yemin, being given up for unofficial adoption, without their parents knowledge, much less agreement, and of course they would never agree, and then she saw these same parents lied to, told that their kids had died and been immediately buried.
“We would see cars coming, and from the cars people would emerge, dressed well, in city clothes. They spoke a foreign language. We saw these people putting babies in their cars. So I said, “What a minute, where are they taking them? So they said, ‘We are improving their circumstances. They are going to be in a different family, so they won’t get sick and dehydrated. So they won’t get dehydrated, they’ll give them liquids, they’ll give them food.”
Shaham said she knew that they were being taken from their parents, beyond a shadow of a doubt. She says that she knew, at the time, that the parents knew nothing of this. She said that when the parents came, the doctors lied to them, saying their kids died. “We were witnesses,” she said. It was one of our crimes on the way to independence.
Shaham’s testimony is among the first to come from someone who was on the side of the people in the white coats. Until now, the only reports we had of this came from heartsick parents.
Those reports — victims testimonies — have been heard by now by a succession of three official committees (one in 1967, the next in 1988, then in 1995) assembled to investigate the disappearances documented in 745 cases, although activist organizations have gathered evidence of several times as many cases, maybe as many as five thousand. The events are known here as “The Yemenite Children Affair,” although in point of fact, a third of the missing children came from Iraq and other middle eastern and north African countries.
Reading the testimonies of long-bereaved parents before one or another of the investigating committees, one learns both that each instance of loss was unique, with its own tragic circumstances, and also that the disappearances followed patterns. Most of them happened in one of two places: a ma’abara children’s house or a medical clinic. Usually, parents were told that their children were being taken for some special care of which they were in absolute need. These parents were not given an option to refuse; in some cases, a baby was pulled from the arms of a parent wailing in protest. When the parent later came to visit their kid, they were told that a tragedy had occurred: the baby died. They were never shown a body, they were not invited to participate in a funeral. They were not given a copy of a death certificate. They were not taken to a cemetery plot. Sometimes, they were told, by way of offering comfort, that they could conceive a new baby, if they wished.
Most of these parents spent the rest of their lives looking for these kids, some into their 90s, and they never found them, which is a thing of incomprehensible weight.
But, there was more. Not only did these parents and sisters and brothers and uncles and aunts have to live their entire lives in the chilled shadow of this loss and cruelty, but they also had the secondary trial of not being believed.
Each official committee concluded that, while the testimony of families were heartbreaking and they were sincere, their kids had almost surely just died, at a time when medicine was poor and disease was hearty and records were scanty. They’d lost their child, and no one doubted the depths of their suffering, but they’d lost their kid to disease, maybe the oldest, if still the saddest, story there is.
But the parents, and in time their surviving kids, and then grandkids, knew that they knew what they knew. And for years, they insisted, and they cajoled, and they protested, and they organized. And for years, they were not believed. For years, people said, “Then why doesn’t some nursemaid come forward and say, I saw this with my own eyes. If it really happened, there would be a nursemaid who would say that.”
Well, now one has.
And I … and the podcast … are implicated in this, too, in the following way. When I introduced the subject for discussion three years ago, I said this:
Now, there are some persuasive reasons to believe that no babies were kidnapped and given to more presentable – that is, Ashkenazi – families to raise. Shifra Shvarts, the leading historian of health care in Israel, says that she’s examined 30,000-40,000 files form that time, and never seen a clue of kidnapping. And then there were those expert commissions. At the same time, if the babies just died, how did they not let the parents see them, mourn them, bury them? I mean, who does that?
So my questions for you mooks are these. If all the evidence says that no kids were kidnapped, and no direct evidence says they were, then why does the belief that they were persist?
And then the discussion pretty much ended with Don [Futterman] saying this:
It’s not the Israel of today, and I think it’s not correct to go back and judge the way the way people behaved then. I’m not talking about the prejudices, but what they were able to do with their limited capacities. Thinking about Israel today, these are two very different countries and times in history.
Which are not the most benighted things to say, but still, you can feel that I’m saying, like so many other well-fed, self-satisfied, dicks over the past 70 years: “Well, surely, something terrible happened to you all those years ago, and I know you think you know what it was, but I’ll tell you that it wasn’t what you think, and the people you blame weren’t really to blame, and it was a long time ago, after all.”
And reading and listening to Shoshana Shaham’s witness this past week, I felt so sad and so terrible, first about what she described, and second about the 70 years of awful denial. And about how easy I found it to join that legacy of denial.
There is so much pain in this world and it takes vigilance, constant vigilance, to not let your heart go hard. And here, yet again, I failed. There’s no one to apologize to, but having put those words out there.”