Israel’s Independence Day-birth-day is celebrated according to the Hebrew calendar, on the 5th day in the Hebrew month of Iar. The celebrations begin with a Memorial Day ceremonies for the fallen. When the 5th day in the Hebrew month of Iar falls on a Friday then the Memorial Day ceremonies and then the celebrations are moved 2 days before the actual date. Since this year, the 5th day in the Hebrew month of Iar falls on Friday, April 20th, 2018, Memorial Day ceremonies begin on Wednesday, April 18th and celebrations begin that day in the evening and continue all of Thursday, April 19th, 2018.
Reminiscing childhood I think it is appropriate to go back 70 plus years to how it came about I was born in British Mandate Palestine 8 months before the state of Israel was born.
From My Mother’s Side
My mother was a Zionist and a member of the Zionist youth movement Ha’Shomer Ha’tzaair in Vilna, Poland. Her parents not so.
My mother had to sneak out from home and sometimes jump out of the window of her home to join her friends in their youth movement’s activities whether in town or weekends away from home. She often got into trouble for not obeying her parents, my grandparents.
My mother begged her parents to emigrate to Palestine-Israel but they would not hear of such a thing.
Eventually, my grandfather Yosef Katz managed to obtain immigration passes to the United States for his family, along the restricted USA immigration quotas of that time. However, Mr. Katz had a sister who met an American fellow and wanted to go live there by his side. The good brother he was, he gave his immigration passes to his sister. Aunt Rachel-Leah got married and had a family and lived well in the USA.
Yosef Katz and his wife Rivka-Gurewitz-Katz were forced to move to Ghetto Vilna and then were murdered in the Holocaust and their bones never received a respectable funeral and burial. My mother Rachel and her sister Chaya did a 5 year term in Nazi labor and concentration camps. After liberation by the Russians, there was no way for them to go but to Israel. There was no family nor a home to come back to. All were murdered, all was confiscated.
From My Father’s Side
My father came from a very Zionist family. So much so that when he and his two brothers and one sister entered their home they had to speak Hebrew and only Hebrew. The Gringer family had it in the back of their mind to immigrate to Israel but no action was taken.
Then the war hit Warsaw and the Gringer family had to move to the Warsaw Ghetto. My grandfather, Leib-Arye, knew greater troubles for the Jews were imminent. He told his kids to run away and go as far north as you can. North meant to the Russian side of the allies forces. That was easy saying, more difficult doing.
The second oldest son Nachum was already married and had a wife and a baby. He did not want to move so he stayed with his parents. The younger brother, Mordechai managed to run away and so did the only sister and the oldest of the kids. Mordechai did not run away far enough and the Germans got him and killed him, so we think but do not know his fate.
Riva ran away far enough north and survived. At the end of the war she returned to Warsaw, Poland, where she lived till my father found her in the early 1950s and brought her to be near him in Israel.
Leib-Arye Gringer, his wife Chaya Lipshitz-Gringer, their son Nachum Gringer and his wife and child I do not know their names, all perished in the Holocaust.
My father Yisrael, the youngest of the kids, jumped the Warsaw Ghetto walls, joined the “Anders Army.” The Anders Army refers to the Polish armed forces set up in the former Soviet Union in the period 1941-1942, named after its commander, General Władysław Anders. When Anders’ Army reached Palestine, of its over four thousand Jewish soldiers, three thousand left the army and some, among them Yisrael, deserted, while others, including Menachem Begin who later became Israel’s Prime Minister, obtained permission to depart their formation.
The majority of Jewish soldiers who left the Anders’ Army joined other military units, especially within the British Army ranks. Yisrael joined the anti-aircraft unit in the Jewish Brigade in the British Army.
Anti-Semitism in the Polish Army
The Polish army did not pursue the Jewish deserters and it is said that General Anders actually facilitated the release of Jewish soldiers because he did not in particularly want Jews in his forces. It is a matter of public record that Jews who served in Polish military units in the Second World War were often subjected to anti-Semitic abuse, including death threats, by their ethnic Polish compatriots. In consequence, many Jewish soldiers deserted their Polish units to join British units with whom they could continue to fight the Nazis without enduring bullying by their comrades.
How My Parents Got Together
The war ended and both, my mother Rachel and my father Yisrael, took off to look for any family survivors. Poland was already off limits because you could have been stuck under Communist rule. My mother got a job with a Jewish Information Center helping those who were seeking to find surviving family members.
To that center my father, in British Army uniform, walked in and met my mother. In a blue eye-to-blue eye immediate love story the pair decided on their future together, you guessed where – Israel.
My mother left for France from where she traveled to British Palestine on a ship name Biria. Off the ship on the Mediterranean Sea of Palestine, the illegal immigrants were all taken to a British Detention Center named Atlit.
Yisrael returned to his unit in Belgium, returned his equipment and uniform and then made it back to Israel. There he found out that his wife-to-be Rachel was again doing time in a camp. With connections he had, Yisrael got Rachel released and off they went to build their home in Israel.
I was born a year later.
Eight months ago, I celebrated my 70th birthday in Israel. It was meaningful to celebrate what the country gave me – the love of Zion, the love of being Jewish.
This week, the state of Israel is going to do the very same, celebrate her 70th birthday and say ‘thank you’ to Zionists like Rachel Katz-Gringer and Yisrael Gringer who made their mission to make the [third] Jewish Commonwealth, Israel, happen again.
Am Yisrael Chai – the Nations of Israel is alive.