Connecting with Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s memorial day for fallen soldiers and terror victims, can be difficult for immigrants. Unlike most Israelis, immigrants may not know any families who have lost loved ones. So I was intrigued when my friend Deena Levenstein wrote about participating in a project to bring attention to the sacrifices made by early immigrants to Israel. It’s a way of connecting families with no one to remember, to heroes who have no one to remember them.
Today, as part of the MyIsrael project, I am going with my mother and sister to visit the graves of three young people (early twenties) who were each lone Holocaust survivors, made it to Israel and were killed in Israel’s War of Independence, leaving behind no one to visit their graves.
I just read their stories. They are heartbreaking. And it’s inspiring that they came to Israel and fought to make sure Jews, going forward, will have a haven in a world full of those who hate us.
This is a link to one of their stories.
The Story of Esther Dreisinger Koifman, 1923-1948
Esther, the daughter of Bluma and Moshe Dreisinger, was born on 27 Heshvan 5684 (November 11, 1923) in the city of Miltz, Poland. The daughter of a religious family. From the age of 6, she was raised in the home of her childless aunt and uncle in the town of Oswiciem, in south-west Poland. The home of her aunt was also a religious, hasidic home. When she finished the required studies in the local Polish school, she helped her uncle in his business.
On the eve of World War II, about 3,250,000 children lived in Poland, which had suffered for years from tremendous anti-Semitism. In September 1939 the war began with the conquering of Poland by Germany. In the coming month the Jews were gathered in ghettos, while the able among them were sent to forced labor.
In the following years 90% of Polish Jews were decimated in the death camps. The largest camp, established near the town of Oswiciem, was known as Auschwitz.
All of Esther’s family, her parents and her adopted aunt and uncle, were murdered in the Holocaust. Only she survived after being transferred from camp to camp, staying in Chezhanov, after being transferred to the Baunberg work camp and from there to other camps, until the day of liberation.
At the end of the war, not finding any remnants of her family, Esther decided to join the training (hachsharah) kibbutz of the Ihud movement in Ostrovic, near Kielce. She moved with the kibbutz to Germany, to the refugee camp in Degendorf, where a training kibbutz “Lanegev” of the “Noham” movement (noar halutzei meuhad)was being formed in Minkofen.
In December1945, Esther and her friends left the American area of Germany and moved to Bergen-Belsen, that had become a DP (displaced persons) camp after liberation. From there they planned to sneak over the German-Belgian border and join the pioneers (halutzim) in Belgium, but they were caught and sentenced to a few months of jail in Baunberg. Upon their release they went to Landsberg, and in the spring of 1946 to Italy. There, in Vilmadona, Esther joined the “Ayala” group of Bnei Akiva.
On August 2, 1946, Esther immigrated with her group on the boat for maapilim (illegal immigrants) boat “23 Yordei Hasirah” The boat, organized by the Hagana’s Mossad le’aliyah Bet, sailed from the port at Boca de Magra in Italy with 790 maapilim. When it reached Cyprus the boat was spotted by a British scouting plane that sent a destroyer. The British sailors overtook the boat and towed it to the Haifa port. The maapilim began a hunger strike to protest their expected deportation, but after a violent struggle they were taken onto a deportation boat and and brought to a detention camp in Cyprus.
In the beginning of 1947 Esther was released from the island, came to Israel and joined Kfar Etzion, the first of the Gush Etzion settlements. She gradually acclimated to the country and its society.
In Kislev of 1947, two months after her arrival,, Esther married Zalman Koifman, a resident of Kfar Etzion.
According to the UN partition plan, from the 29th of November 1947, Gush Etzion was no longer part of the Jewish state. Immediately afterward, the surrounding Arabs began an attack on the Gush and the approach road from Jerusalem, and blocked it from every direction. During the next few months the Gush was under siege, and supplies arrived only by a supply convoy or by air.
Like all residents of the Gush, Esther served in the Haganah in the Etzioni unit #6 (Jerusalem unit) — and participated in guarding the village during the siege. The Haganah fortified the Gush with fighters from the Harel unit of the Palmach and the field corps of the Irgun from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Because of the importance of Gush Etzion to greater Jerusalem, the Jordanian army (the Arab legion) launched a powerful attack before the end of the mandate and the exit of the British from the country. The attack took place on may 12, 1948, the date on which the Arab forces succeeded in conquering several of the army posts surrounding Kfar Etzion.
The next day, 4 Iyar 5708 (May 13, 1948), the Arab forces opened an attack and stormed Kfar Etzion. Esther and her friends, who were responsible for giving first aid, were in the shelter under the German monastery in the village. The Legion’s strength did not succeed in penetrating the shelter, so it blew up the building overhead, and the defenders were buried under the ruins.
Over a hundred defenders of the village fell on that day, with many murdered after surrender. Esther and her husband were among the fallen.
The next day, the 5th of Iyar 5708 (May 14, 1948), the day of the declaration of Israeli independence, the rest of the defenders of the three Gush Etzion settlements surrendered: Revadim, Masuot Yitzhak, and Ein Tzurim. On that day the Gush stopped existing and the remains of the soldiers were taken to Jordan.
Esther was 24 when she fell. The bodies remained where they had fallen, now Jordanian territory, for more than a year. Their remains were gathered in 1949 in a special campaign by the army rabbinate, and brought to rest in a large collective grave at Har Herzl in Jerusalem during a national ceremony on 24 Heshvan 5710 (November 17, 1949.
(This page is part of a national project Yizkor, complied by the defense ministry.)