The Missing Children
On April 25th, 1996, Rabbi Avidor HaCohen, testified in front of the Cohen Committee in charge of investigating the disappearance of the Jewish children. Rabbi Avidor had an interesting story to tell the committee.
His story begins with a meeting between Rabbi Avidor and a couple from New York in 1963. The father was American, and the mother Israeli, with a girl, around the age of ten. It did not seem to Rabbi Avidor that this child was theirs.
Avidor later on spoke with the parents. They told him she was a Yemenite child, from Israel. Avidor recalls the girl having beautiful, large, dark eyes while both parents' eyes were of almost opposite coloration. He further recalls the girl being a darkskinned, beautiful Yemenite girl. The couple then told Avidor that there were other families in New York who had adopted children from Israel.
It was then that Rabbi Avidor found out about a man who organized these adoptions. It bothered Avidor that children who had immigrated to Israel were brought to the United States and sold for adoption.
When Avidor reached this point in his testimony, he was asked by the Judge Yehuda Cohen about the number of children adopted in this fashion. Avidor answered that back then he did not know, that they only told him they were bringing children, and that there were many of them. When Avidor returned to Israel, he began looking into this, in more detail.
Avidor further reported that he then spoke to Deborah Eliner of the immigration section of the Jewish Agency, and with others there and this is where Avidor discovered that the Israeli institutes that deal with adoption did not know anything of this whole incident. This made him even more curious as to what was being done, because he even had the names of the children.
Avidor then sent a memo to Minister Haim Shapira, because he was part of the "Mizrachi", a Jewish organization devoted to Religious Zionism, and Rabbi Dr. Yissachar Dov Bernard Bergman, the man behind the adoption of the children in the United States. Rabbi Bergman was one of the main people running the "Mizrachi" organization. Avidor found it unconscionable that an organization devoted to Religious Zionism was working to take Jewish children away from their homeland for profit. Avidor never received an answer from Minister Shapira. He then decided to call him on the phone. Shapira answered that there was much gossip about Bergman, but he is, all in all, a good Jew. Avidor still felt something was terribly wrong, since the adoption institutes here in Israel didn't know a thing about Israeli children being adopted in the United States.
He then tried getting various journalists interested in this story and a large amount of source material was given by him to almost every important journalist working for every newspaper in the Israeli mainstream press and this material was in their posession for many months. Avidor only got responses saying that there was no public interest in these cases.
He did not give up. He continued trying to get information to the public but nothing was published until he spoke to one journalist, Shalom Cohen, and told him of the information he held and how important it was to bring it to the attention of the public. The final agreement was that the information would be published with the names of the families indicated by initials only.
Avidor said that, at that point, he found out that the cases were not uniquely connected to the Yemenite community, that there were other Jewish children from many other countries being abducted and sold for adoption in this fashion. The entire matter was then published and received almost no reaction in the Israeli media. The treatment this issue was getting really bothered Rabbi Avidor.
It was then that he discovered that many social circles, mainly Askenazi religious zionistic ones, had a tendency to believe that instead of growing up in a poor family with many children, it is better for a child to grow up with a family that has more financial stability. Rabbi Avidor also says that there are still various religious social groups that believe this and thus justify the crimes that were committed against the children and their families. This is one of the "moral explanations" referred to in a previous article in this series. Rabbi Avidor was shocked to see religious Jews using these explanations.
The individuals who dealt with adoption here in Israel said they do not know of such things happening and so had no written records of these adoptions. In such a case, Rabbi Avidor claims, there can arise a terrible problem of marriges within the family including incest.
Rabbi Avidor learned then that it cost five thousand American dollars to adopt a child from Israel at that time.
It is also crucial to mention that Rabbi Dr. Bergman died a few years ago while in jail for a different crime - his fraud and abuse in New York nursing homes that he ran. This was an issue covered thoroughly in the United States and Israel. The New York Times, of the 23rd of February, 1975 reports:
"Bernard Bergman, the central figure in investigations into possible fraud and abuse in New York nursing homes, has decided to abandom his public defense of his business dealings.
In refusing to testify at televised Senate hearings last week, he invoked his constitutional rights under the Fifth Amendment. His lawyer has argued that to testify would be prejudicial if inquiries by Federal and state prosecutors result in criminal proceedings against Mr. Bergman. A Federal grand jury is known to be looking into his affairs. And a state grand jury, assisted by Special State Prosecutor Charles J. Hynes, has also been impaneled to study alleged improprieties in the state's nursing homes.
This is not the first time Mr. Bergman has been prominent in such inquiries. At a state hearing on nursing homes last week, Civil Court Judge Louis I. Kaplan, who in 1960 issued a report on city nursinghome abuses, tesitifed that Mr. Bergman was then, too, the major figure in the industry under investigation. He said he presented evidence of criminal fraud in the industry to former Mayor Wagner. No prosecutions followed and Mr. Wagner says he doesn't recall what happened to the socalled Kaplan report.
The first indictments in the investigations of the industry have been handed up. The owner of a Smithtown, L.I., nursing home and an accountant were accused of swindling Medicaid out of more than $500,000 by charging personal and improper business expenses to the program. In Connecticut, which is also investigating its nursing homes, a state official said at General Assembly hearings that top state officials had financial interests in nursing homes and used their influence to get favorable treatment for them".
It appears that the entire issue of Rabbi Dr. Issachar Dov Bernard Bergman, and the nursing homes in New York were a big issue in the United States back then, and the New York times spent much work on getting articles about it written. Bergman was a main figure in the Orthodox religious community in the States,as well as President of the United States branch of the "Mizrachi" movement. He was closely connected to the Israeli religious nationalist party (known as the "Mafdal"), which was directly linked to the "Mizrachi" movement.
In the early 1970s the New York Times began their investigation into the issue of Bergman's nursing homes. They reported that the Federal Government would grant a specified amount of money for every elderly person in a nursing home, that Bergman, his relatives and friends were taking huge amounts of money from these funds while the elderly people suffered. For those of you who may remember, shortly afterwards, many other newspapers and other media then joined the investigation. There were those that called it "The Jewish Watergate" and others who claimed it was simply antisemitic journalism. It is a pity that there were those in the Israeli government who agreed with the latter statement. As reported by the New York Times on the 30th of December, 1974, "TEL AVIV, Dec. 29 - Interior Minister Yosef Burg dismissed today as irrelevant a request by Representative Edward I. Koch, Democrat of New York, that Israel refuse citizenship to Bernard Bergman pending the outcome of a United States Senate hearing next month on nursing homes. Mr. Bergman is among 35 persons affiliated with nursing homes in New York State for whom subpoenas have been issued by Senator Frank E. Moss, Democrat of Utah and chairman of a subcommittee of the Senate Special Comitee on Aging.
The Senate group, which issued the writes Dec. 20, announced at that time that it was joining the investigation of alleged largescale fraud among New York nursing homes that is being conducted by the State Temporary Commission on Living Costs.
The Israeli Minister, who represents the National Religious party in the Cabinet here, has affiliation with Mr. Bergman through the party's parent organization, the Orthodox world Mizrachi movement. Mr. Bergman is the dominant figure in the Mizrachi Religious Zionists of America. But this affiliation, Dr. Burg emphasized, is very loose, "The Israeli movement is absolutely independant", he said.
Mr. Bergman and his wife arrived in Jerusalem at the end of last month, apparently after learning that he was about to be subpoenaed to testify about fraud involving Medicaid funds. The Bergmans, who entered Israel as tourists, have no resident status here, though they own a luxury apartment in Jerusalem.
They left Jerusalem in the middle of this month and are reported to be living with relatives in Vienna. A Bergman relative there has said that the couple would be back in New York, before January 7. The press here has reported that the couple left after having been cautioned that they would not be protected from extradition, should the United States request it.
Dr. Burg, reached in Jerusalem by phone, said of the request by Representative Koch that he would make a statement in Parliament in response to a similar request, submitted in the form of a parliamentary question, by Shulamit Aloni. Mrs. Aloni is a member of the opposition Civil Rights Movement.
But the question of Mr. Bergman's citizenship, Dr. Burg said, does not arise at this time. "No request whatsoever about this case has come to me," he said. Mr. Koch had cabled Dr. Burg from Washington on Friday to urge that Mr. Bergman "not be permitted to exercise the right of return" pending the outcome of the Senate committee inquiry. Under Israel's Law of Return, a Jew can claim citizenship and a right to live here. Mr Bergman, an ordained but nonpracticing rabbi, holds the prestigious title of member of the presidium of the World Mizrahi Movement. He was elected in January, 1973, together with Tibor Rosenbaum, who is involved in a multimillion dollar banking scandal in Europe, and Rabbi Avigdor Zipperstein of Jerusalem. Rabbi Zipperstein resigned a few months ago. Mr. Bergman and Dr. Rosenbaum had been sponsored in the election by the Minister of Religious Affairs, Yitzhak Raphael, a controversial figure in Israel.
Mrs. Aloni said in an interview today that she had submitted her parliamentary question about Mr. Bergman to draw attention to her charges of corruption in the National Religious party. Support for Representative Koch's plea came today from the newspaper Maariv in an editorial. 'If Rabbi Bergman is innocent, if his actions as director of a chain of oldage homes in New York were without blemish, if he can disprove the charges against him, let him do so before the competent authorities,' the paper said.
'If he wishes, he can then come to settle in Israel and will be welcomed like any Jew who decides to come to Israel.'"
At one point, there was a public hearing in New York. In the hearing, workers from Bergman's nursing homes testified about elderly people dying of hunger, of ill ones dying of thirst, of tired elderly people lying in their own vomit without receiving any sort of medical care, and many others who suffered cuts and injuries that were neglected and uncared for.
"I looked at my father, and saw he was about to die", one witness told the committee formed to investigate the matter. She quickly took her father to the hospital, where he died of dehydration and infection. His entire body was covered with bruises. A qualified nurse told the investigators how the authorities twisted and changed her findings, after she reported to the city health authorities about the horrifying conditions in the home, as reported in "Haaretz", on the 5th of September, 1997.
Haaretz also reports that the testimonies of the workers and relatives in the committee often sounded like "terrible scenes from a sadistic horror film". It was then discovered that Bergman's nursing homes received 1.2 million dollars from "Medicaid" for treatment of people who never existed. It was even said, back then, that elderly people with no family who passed away in the homes were secretly kept for long periods of time in refrigeration, unburied, while Bergman continued to receive money for their care. Some of the newspapers even alleged that Bergman's homes served as a cover for the Mafia's financial activities and when they continued to investigate, they discovered the crimes Bergman's father committed when he smuggled heroin inside Jewish Holy Books. One day, in a mail office in France, a few Talmud books were accidentally dropped from one of the mail bags, and a stream of heroin poured out. Bergman used this incident to beg that he not be accused for his father's crimes, cried, and made comparisons between himself and the holy men of Judaism, but at the end was found guilty by a jury, Haaretz reported.
The best way to sum up most of Bergman's life is to quote part of a news article from the New York Times, titled "Many Roads Lead to Bergman", by Lee Dembart: ". . . In his public posture, Mr. Bergman combined a talent for fundraising, a friendship with politicians and a zest for selfpromotion to make himself a respected leader in Orthodox Jewish circles. In his business posture, Mr. Bergman used many of those same contacts to help him turn a $25,000 inheritance into a net worth he has certified at $24 million, though he insists he owns but two nursing homes . . . ."
To back up the claims, the article also mentions that "In 1960, the City Investigation Commissioner, Louis I. Kaplan, linked him to a total of 18 homes, and he was estimated to be worth $10 million", and later on in the article "When Medicaid started in the mid-1960s, the bonanza began. By 1973, Mr. Bergman's accountant, Samuel Dachowitz, certified to a bank that Mr. Bergman was worth $24 million".
The irony in the entire case is that Rabbi Bergman used his "friendship with politicians" to ensure for himself wonderful living conditions when he was imprisioned. One man that was not imprisoned was the man that Rabbi Avidor HaCohen met, with the adopted Yemenite child, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, Rabbi Tuch, who was also found to be involved in bringing Jewish children from Israel to the United States. It was a well known fact within the Jewish community in the United States that if a family wanted a child they could go to either Bergman or Tuch and simply pay the necessary fee.
The Missing Children
On the 9th of January, 1996, the Israeli newspaper "Yediot Acharonot" reported the following: ". . . A surprising development in the issue of the governmental committee for the research of the missing children: A private investigator, involved in the actions of the Shalgi committee, who investigated this case in the past, was recently questioned by the police, on the suspicion that he has suppressed evidence and witness testimony, and intimidated witnesses from testifying who were supposed to appear before the governmental committee currently in session and didn't.
The complaint that has been filed against A., the private investigator, a resident of Jerusalem, was filed by one of the governmental committee members . . . ." The article goes on to state that: "It should be noted that A., who is considered an exceptionally skilled private investigator, and received many praises for his actions in aiding the Shalgi committee, and his work was said to be 'devoted and skilled'. The investigator, A., refused to comment yesterday, as long as it is still under police investigation."
The day I read this, I called a friend who has devoted his life to researching this subject and who prefers to stay anonymous, to ask him who "A." is. The answer was: "A.? That's Ami Chovav, didn't you know?".
It was then that I recalled certain suspicions different members of the community hurt by this whole issue had voiced about Ami Chovav.
It was about a month and a half later that Ami Chovav finally responded to a journalist for the "HaAretz" newspaper, Yigal Mashiach. The article was published in "HaAretz", of the 16th of Febuary, 1996 following media coverage which Chovav had received that week.
As the article reports, on Tuesday of the previous week he appeared on the "Erev Chadash" newsshow, on channel one, was interviewed on channel 2, for the five o'clock news, and later on that night, on the "Chasifa" show, also on Channel 2. The article reports Ami Chovav repeatedly used the same words in all interviews, "as a welltrained actor, repeating a well learned, memorised text".
Ami Chovav was a member of the first investigation committee, headed by Yosef Bahalul, and Reuven Minkovski, and was an official investigator for the second committee, headed by retired Supreme Court Judge, Moshe Shalgi.
Chovav was interviewed concerning the allegations that were current then, that medical experiments were conducted on Yemenite children hospitalized during the 1950s.
Chovav was also interviewed, on Sunday of that week, on the "Mabat Sheni" news show, on Channel 1. There, he attempted to discredit any talk about children being stolen from their parents.
Ami Chovav began investigating this case in 1966 at the time when families with children who were reported dead as infants began receiving military summons for drafting into the Israeli Defense Forces. Chovav says he went to the Defense Ministry to try and find out how such a thing could have happened. He reports that the answer he received was that everything was a mistake. He was told that when the Defense Ministry received information on the new immigrants from the Immigration Department of the Jewish Agency, the Ministry of Interior forgot to report the death of the infants to the Ministry of Defense, and so, the summons reached the families. Chovav says that that answer was more than enough for him, since he immediately understood it was simply a mistake in the reporting of deaths. When Chovav was asked who the people he got that answer from were, he says he "doesn't remember". The reader should note that this was an official government investigator, on an official government investigation.
Chovav recalls that he was first chosen to investigate the case, since he is a Yemenite, and has a past in the Military Intelligence.
Ami Chovav's final conclusions, regarding the fate of thousands of missing children was, as first claimed, that the children had died in the hospitals.
Moshe Sharabi, living in New York, speaks of his disappointment in Ami Chovav after Chovav's visit to New York, where he addressed members of the Yemenite Jewish community. According to Sharabi, Ami Chovav has deceived the entire Yemenite and Jewish community. He also says it is impossible that Chovav has reached such definite and complete answers for the disappearance of so many children.
Chovav has been working on the case ever since it first came up, even before a government committee was formed. There was a public committee formed in 1966 that he worked for as well, and afterwards, in '67, the government formed a committee to look into the matter, with two Ministers to supervise the committee, which were Sampson Shapira, the Minister of Justice, and Eliahu Sasson, who was Chief of Police. Chovav was appointed to this committee.
Chovav also claims that many of the disappearances of the children can be explained by the fact that when a child was sent to the hospital, it was done with no written records, and thus many children were taken from their families with no one knowing to whom the child belonged. When the family wasn't found, the child was sent to the WIZO institute, and then, to adoption.
Chovav's findings point to the fact that hundreds of children were sent to WIZO institutes, and while some were returned to their parents, most were put up for adoption.
However, when speaking of numbers, one important thing Ami Chovav was quoted as saying in the "HaAretz" article was "It is possible that there are parents that have had children disappear, and didn't mention it to anyone. For instance, after the Bahalul-Minkovski committee, other parents showed up, that haven't mentioned anything to the committee." Another astounding fact is that the Shalgi committee, three years after it began its work, reported it was in a crisis. It had hundreds of individual cases it was unable to solve, there was no cooperation by the police, and after three years of work, it had found solutions for only twenty two of the cases. After Chovav joined the committee, it was reported that in the next two years, Chovav managed to solve all the remaining cases on his own.
Chovav reports that many of the children were taken to hospitals, and their parents were not allowed to see them, since there was the fear of contagious diseases.
In connection to a previous article in this series, three different witnesses, according to Yigal Mashiach, have said that they saw Ami Chovav speaking to Sonia Millstein, the nurse mentioned in Part Four of this series of articles, during her testimony in front of the Cohen committee. Mashiach also says that, according to these three different people, Chovav was guiding Millstein in what to say in her testimony. Haim Giat, also mentioned in Part Four, who testified that Millstein lied to his uncle and aunt, telling them their child was dead, and after they made a lot of noise, returned their child to them, has filed a complaint against Chovav with the police stating that Chovav tried to convince him not to testify. This is in addition to the fact that Yehuda Cohen, head of the Cohen committee, filed a complaint against Chovav with the police stating that Chovav intimidated witnesses from testifying and suppressed witness testimony, even though Ami Chovav had no formal connection with the Cohen committee.
It is also evident that in Chovav's interview with Yigal Mashiach, whenever he was asked something that raised certain questions about what actually happened, his response was that he "couldn't remember".
One thing, strangely enough, that Chovav did not do, in all of his years of research, was open graves and search for body remains. When he was asked why some graves were found empty, Chovav said that the bones were probably washed away in floods and such. He claims that even the head of the "Chevra Kadisha" (Israeli burial authority) told him that, in the early 1950's, they would not dig very deep graves. When Chovav was asked the name of the head of the "Chevra Kadisha", he claimed he "couldn't remember".
One of the people who Chovav reportedly attempted to intimidate from testifying is Menachem Chatucha. Chovav's response to hearing this particular accusation was that all he did was tell him he had no need to testify, since he knows where Chatucha's brother is buried.
One of the reasons claimed by Chovav that a body was never seen and a grave site was not specified in many of the cases is, to quote, ". . . The child that died would be sent to the institute of pathology. Many were sent. It was for a humanitarian cause, for advancing medical research. I do not see anything wrong with that at all." When he was asked about permission from the family to do such a thing, he answered "In many of the cases, they did not know who the child belonged to, or where it came from. When there was a family, they didn't want to show it the body.
Once the autopsy was completed, the body would be completely dismembered. Were they supposed to show that to a religious parent? The refrigeration compartment would eventually fill up, and then they called the Chevera Kadisha to come and bury all the body parts." He added, regarding the pathological institute not telling the parents anything, "I asked them. They said it wasn't their job, it was the hospital's job. But the hospital did not always know who the child belonged to . . . ."
One example of a reason for this that was given by Chovav: "In one case, the children were taken in the ambulance in cardboard boxes, since they weren't going to put babies on stretchers. On that specific trip, they put notes with the children's names on top of the boxes. The wind blew all the notes away. That is how the children were brought to the hospital."
One man who spoke against Ami Chovav was Yigal Yosef, head of the Rosh HaAyin city council. Yosef was a member of the Shalgi committee, and when the committee finished working, he refused to sign its final report.
Yosef mentions that Ami Chovav is "working for someone." He says that "All that interested Chovav was to get everything done with as quickly as possible. He worked in the Shalgi committee like he worked in the Bahalul-Minkovski committee, without even checking the authenticity of the documents. His main concern was to close cases." He adds, later on ". . . I do know he was very enthusiastic to get cases closed. From the moment he began working for the committee, everything worked out for them. I have a very serious problem with the methods he used, especially regarding the WIZO institutes. Why wasn't the committee looking for the children who were sent to the WIZO institutes? After all, Chovav claims they were sent to WIZO for adoption because of names being confused, because they weren't able to find the parents, so why weren't they looking for all of those that were given up for adoption through WIZO? Why did the committee concentrate on the dead, and not the living?"
To add to what Yosef said, this should have been especially crucial, since the committee did not check any graves, only the death certificates that were unverified. There were many cases where death certificates were issued and the children were found alive later, and other cases where death certificates were found, but never the bodies of the children The readers should remember the report in Part One in this series, where Yehuda Cohen and the committee found a cache of presigned blank birth and death certificates in the country's archives with the help of Yehudit Hivner, a retired highranking Interior Ministry official, who was unable to provide answers to many of the committee's questions, and denied the allegations that she supposedly had lists of the children that disappeared in the 1950's. It is obvious that a presigned death certificate does not point to anything definite in these cases . . . .
Yosef also states that the reason the infants were listed as deceased was to "make them anonymous, so they could be easily sold for adoption."
Yosef also mentions that Chovav was hired for the committee by Moshe Shalgi, and he himself had nothing to do with it. Yosef says "It seems like Chovav was hired to obstruct our work. It is part of that same suspicion that causes everyone to question him. He was rushing, obsessively, to every event that had anything to do with the missing children, as if he did not finish his job of quieting things, on behalf of highranking forces in the government."
As said before, it should have been the job of the committee to open graves, and at least verify the death certificates. To this date, none of the three different committees has done anything of the sort. When Moshe Shalgi was asked why they did not open graves, he answered "The committee's mandate was to look into the fate of the missing children, not to go into questions beyond that, like the behavior patterns of that time, or the treatment of the Yemenites."
There are many people who were not satisfied by this answer.
Again, it is extremely important to remember that the cases of missing children range through many of the different ethnic groups of Jewish immigrants, probably all, and that the Yemenites were most definitely not the only ones against whom such crimes were committed, although it is often the Yemenites that take drastic measures to bring the issue to public attention. It is notable that the issue of stolen babies has become stigmatic of the Yemenite community, and is only referred to as "The case of the stolen Yemenite children", or "The Yemenite children issue", and so has been kept from public scrutiny, as people have come to see it as a "Yemenite problem".
A strange comment by Moshe Shalgi was that "Ami Chovav is not a representative of the committee in any way or form. He speaks enthusiastically, but only for himself." This comment is strange, since Shalgi also was said to have worked hard to hire Chovav himself, and has supported his work all the way. He has even admitted that "I don't remember the exact words I used, but I recommended he get the job of the investigator, thanks to the experience he had gained in the Bahalul-Minkovski committee . . . ."
All in all, Ami Chovav is a controversial figure, and many people do not know what to think of him.
The readers of this article now have some of the facts, and can draw their own conclusions.
The Missing Children
An article appeared in "Yediot Acharonot", an Israeli mainstream newspaper, on the 12th of November, 1985, which was written by Dr. Hertzel Rosenblum, who was then the Editor of the newspaper, before he died.
In this article, Dr. Rosenblum addressed the issue of the stolen children in Israel. However, as mentioned in previous articles, it is a common misconception that these crimes were committed only against members of the Yemenite Jewish community. This is evident in the article.
The article is titled "The Hidden Scandal", and states the following:"We have grown tired of all the 'Investigation Committees' of ours. However, when you read of the shocking epopee of the immigrants of 'The Magic Carpet' [the operation to bring the Jewish Yemenites to Israel, during the first years of the existence of the State of Israel.] , where at the time of their arrival in Israel, the immigration they had longed for, 500 of their babies, which they had brought with them, were stolen from them, and these disappeared into the darkness, as if swallowed by the ground - you cannot avoid demanding, with their devastated parents: 'An investigation shall take place!'
"Because there is not an exceptional case here, but an organised crime, done by someone, or some people, that turned the immigration of these babies into a business, while they sold them for greed, and this is a deed that if it would happen elsewhere in the world, it would become an international scandal. For instance, a few tens of parents sold their children in Brazil, and see what a scandal has arisen due to that deed, and over there it has happened not with hundreds, but with tens, and not stealing, but miserable parents selling their own children. And here - a terrible silence!
"True: the scandal happened at a time when the country was fighting for its existence, and hundreds of problems it had to deal with were there, but even so - our silence in this terrible matter, that went on for a generation, has turned us into partners in the crime.
"Only with the Yemenite Jews - the quiet, modest and defenseless people - could anyone act like this.
"Any other immigrant community (the Russian, the Iraqi, the American) would organise a pogrom on us a long time ago, and rightfully so. But even the Yemenites - their heart bleeds until this very day for their children, that were stolen from them.
"And there is need to lend them a hand in finding their children - and the stealers of their children."
According to the "Mishkan Ohalim" organization that turned to former Editor of "Yediot Acharonot", after Dr. Rosenblum, Mr. Moshe Vardi, the son of Dr. Hertzel Rosenblum, and requested permission to publish this article, Vardi announced that under no circumstances would he allow it. He even forbade them to publish it in any other newspaper, or their own, and his secretary let them know that Vardi even said that, if they do publish it anywhere else, that his newspaper would sue them. Also, you will see that, besides the mistake made by stating that the crimes were committed against the Yemenite Jews only, Rosenblum was also misinformed as to the number of children stolen.
Moshe Vardi, on the 22nd of January, 1998, was "convicted of two counts of illegal audio surveillance" ("The Jerusalem Post", January 23rd, 1998). According to "The Jerusalem Post", an English language Israeli newspaper, the two former Yediot Editors that were convicted (Moshe Vardi and Ruth Ben-Ari, former news Editor of "Yediot Acharonot") ". . . had listened to a recording of a phone call made from the house of Dov Yudkovsky, a shareholder and former editor-in-chief of Yediot. In another instance, they listened to the tape of a phone conversation between Arnon Mozes, one of Yediot's editors and Ofer Nimrodi, one of the owners of Ma'Ariv." ("Maariv" is another mainstream newspaper in Israel. Although "Yediot Acharonot" is the most widely circulated newspaper in Israel, Maariv is its number one competitor). Vardi has admitted to his crimes. He was quoted as saying: ". . . I listened [to the conversations], I admit. I was found guilty of listening to two recordings, punished and will pay the fine."
It is not surprising that "Yediot Acharonot" did not publish many stories of children who could have been stolen, with a small number of exceptions. It at least did not publish as many as other newspapers, such as "HaAretz", and "Yom LeYom".
The "Yom LeYom" newspaper, for instance, gave personal stories of families who had their children disappear in mysterious ways. One of these stories is that of the Chief Rabbi of Bnei Brak, Rabbi Shlomo Korach. The article reports the detailed search Rabbi Korach and his family have been conducting, in search of his missing sister and niece, who, according to him, were kidnapped. Korach's family arrived in Israel with substantial assets. They sent their money through London, and so were able to buy their house in Jerusalem, which cost, back then, one million Dollars. Korach was then a sixteen year old boy, and was sent to learn in the "Makor Haim" yeshiva. He tells the newspaper of his story, "My parents, Rabbi Ichia and Naama, may they rest in peace, died in sorrow for this story. They immigrated to Israel, and arrived in Rosh HaAyin in 1949, and the nurses pressured them to hand over their daughter, who was then only nine months old, so they could examine her in the baby ward. They did not want to part with their daughter . . . But they took her, almost forcefully, and said: 'We will return her to you soon'. She was an especially beautiful baby. We have not seen her since. One day later, they told us she died. My parents asked, demanded and begged to see the grave. They were treated like rags." His sister, Yona Hovera, living in Holon today, lost her daughter as well. She and her husband, Haim, came to Ein Shemer where the child, Masha, was taken from her mother to the baby ward. The article reports Yona saying: "One day, I arrived to nurse my daughter and they told me: 'You can't nurse her today. She has pneumonia'. I was very surprised, since the child was completely healthy, but they said she needs to be sent to the Pardes Hannah Hospital, for three days. I told them I will go consult my husband and will be right back. We lived about five meters away from the baby ward. Three minutes later, I arrived, with my husband, but they told us: 'They already took her'.Three days later, a man arrived, announcing that Masha Hovera had died. My husband asked that they bury her. They told him: 'You are her father? She has died. Sign here'. He said: 'I'm not signing. I want to see a body and bury it'. They told him: 'They buried her yesterday, along with another five children'. My husband was in shock. He asked: 'Are we in Israel or in Germany'? He asked and begged to see the grave, and they did not let him. He said: 'I am not signing, nor mourning'. Every day, I would go to the manager's office, and beg that they show me where my daughter was buried. A few days later, they manager told me: 'Go, there is a room downstairs, they will give you your child, but do not touch her. She will be given to you, wrapped up, and you return her to the grave'. I went, and saw a strange package, that didn't look like a dead child to me. I felt I was being fooled. I said to myself, I'll open it, maybe it's a dead cat. I removed a rag, and another rag, until I reached the last one, and found nothing. Only rags. I started to cry: 'Why did you give me rags?', the manager told me: 'We wanted to calm you down, we didn't know you were so smart' . . . ."
To this very day, they do not know of their child's fate. The Ministry of Interior reported to them that the child is not listed as dead. The Population management reported that she left Israel in 1963, and the Welfare Department reported that there was no record found regarding adoption.
The article also reports an interesting twist to this story. Masha was named after an Israeli nurse that assisted the mother, in Yemen, during the birth, and loved the child very much. Members of the family suspect that this nurse, who lives in Savyon (a city, in the Tel Aviv area), has something to do with their child's disappearance. According to Yona, the mother: "She would tell me 'Don't let anyone touch her!' I did not understand why she was telling me what to do". The article also reports that the nurse, who tried to delay their immigration to Israel, would come to = Israel once every two weeks. The family members found her address, and went to visit her. The nurse was showing them picture albums, when Yona found a picture of a child, looking much like Masha. She says "I asked her who that child was, and she told me it was her sister's daughter, as she grabbed the album, and ran to a different room".
The readers should remember that these are only the stories where the families were extra suspicious of the authorities, and were sure to check everything as thoroughly as possible. This happened mainly with the rich families that felt more "in control" in the camps. In most cases, the parents did not suspect anything because these people, that brought them to Israel, were the only people they could trust. It is commonly believed that most cases weren't even reported, up to this very day.
Another interesting story reported in the same article tells the story of a Yosef Aharon Hammami, who has already passed away. Hammami came to Israel with two wives, Kadia and Mazal, and one child was taken from each. Hammami died over ten years ago. His wife, Mazal, tells the story of how her son was kidnapped. Hammami's other wife has passed away by now. The family lived in Bet Dagon, when she was sent to give birth at the "Kaplan" Hospital.
"I gave birth in the morning, to a healthy child. My son weighed 2.5 kg, and the entire staff in the birth room, including Professor Cohen, congratulated me. They told me they would return him to me the next day, so I could nurse him. The next day, I waited to get my child returned to me, and the nurse there, who was named Leah, told me: 'You can't get your child, he's in treatment, and don't worry'. Two more days went by, all the time when I am begging to see my son, and suddenly, the nurse tells me, angrily these words, that I cannot forget: 'You will never see him. He is in treatment'. I started to cry, and my blood pressure began rising. I asked her: 'What do you mean 'in treatment'? If he died, tell me he died', as I saw they told other women that gave birth to dead children, and saw them, too. I wanted to see what treatment they were giving my son. But she did not let me, and kept on saying: 'You will never see him. He is in treatment'. I thought I was going crazy, and she started to 'calm me down', by saying: 'Calm down, calm down. You have two children at home. Raise your other children'.
"But me, I didn't stop asking her: 'If he's dead, tell me he's dead, but what is 'in treatment'?' And she ignored me, and again told me 'in treatment'. I turned to her and said: 'If someone would take your child, what would you do? Why do you cause me sorrow? If my son is alive, sick, or dead, I want to see him. Let me see my son, just for a moment'. And she answered me, again, 'You will never see him, he is in treatment'. A few days later, a few doctors and a policeman arrived, and I saw them talking, and looking at me. I began to cry, I was in so much pain: 'You sold my son to this cop!'. They told me: 'You are speaking nonsense'. And I, every time I saw a baby, I would go crazy with sorrow, for my own child. A nurse came, and warned me: 'Don't talk back to the doctors. They can give you an injection and kill you'. I left the hospital, in great sorrow. Someone in the hospital told me to go to the health department, and complain. But we, what did we know? I would cry all the time. I couldn't sleep. This is how two years of terrible depression passed . . . Afterwards, I gave birth to a dead child, and my husband attempted to comfort me, while saying: 'You see, you can't cry too much'. If this would happen to me today, I would fight. Maybe even take another child and not leave until they gave me mine, alive or dead.
"But then, we only cried. Up to this very day, I cannot forget my son. I saw him for only half an hour, after birth. And I feel he is alive. If a person is dead, you can forget about him. But a live person, you cannot forget. His soul remains. I was immediately calmed about my dead son, but in this case, I knew all along that he was alive. It haunted me for a great number of years. The Rabbis would tell me: 'You are right. You cannot forget, but hold back your emotions, don't show them'.".
It appears that, in most such cases, this is exactly what thousands of parents have done . . . held their emotions back . . . not showing them. However, they never did forgot. They cannot.
The Missing Children
In Part Seven of this series, you read about Yosef Aharon Hammami and his two wives, and how one child was stolen from each. In the last part, you read about the son taken from his wife, Mazal. His other son was taken from his wife, Kadia, who has since passed away.
The story of the other son is told by Hammami's daughter, Shosh Philo, living in Tel Aviv. She was quoted as saying: "I was four years old then, when my parents immigrated to Israel, and lived in the immigration camp in Znoach. The nurses found that my brother, who was almost a year old then, would suck two fingers in a 'strange' way: he would suck his middle and ring fingers, together, so they told us that they were taking him for treatment. He was sent far away, and they brought him to my parents, sometimes. They bandaged his fingers, so that he would get used to not sucking them that way.
"One day, they told us he had died. My parents could not understand how such a healthy child could just die, and they told them that, since he wanted to suck his fingers, but could not (because of the bandages), he suffered, and died . . . of course, they brought us no body, and no funeral.
"My parents were naive and could not believe they were being lied to. But a few years later, when the other cases became known, my mother would say sadly: 'Too bad we were naive. If it would happen today, I would go with him, and stay by him all the time'." This story, too, was reported in the "Yom LeYom" newspaper.
An interesting report appeared in the "Makor Rishon" newspaper of the 12th of December, 1997. In this report, the journalists Zeev Sharon, and Pini Ben-Or use recorded testimony of a man who was an ambulance driver back then, and has since passed away.
According to the report, there was a letter sent in 1953, by an attorney, Shlomo Perles, to the ambulance driver, who also reported he would drive an ambulance that took infants from a hospital, in the Tel Aviv area, to the WIZO institute, where they were given up for adoption.
The report also speaks of how the ambulance driver chose a child and adopted him. In the letter, Perles offers the driver an opportunity to join an endeavor he is working on, to acquire birth certificates from the government that do not mention the fact of a child's adoption and look like normal birth certificates, and which would show the adoptive parents as the birth parents. The same article reports the story of Tova Barka, a resident of Tel Aviv, in which she reports that she was adopted at the age of three months and knew nothing of her adoption until she was twelve years old. She says that when she reached that age ". . . my aunt came to our house, and wanted to speak with me. And so, in the presence of my adopting parents, she told me I had been adopted. I was in shock.
"According to my adopting mother, my biological mother passed away, right after my birth, and they adopted me. I suppose that not even they knew the truth, and were probably told this story. A few years before her death, my adopting mother moved to a new home. While moving her belongings, I opened one of the bags, and found the court order referring to my adoption. It was issued when I was eight, and I found my birth certificate as well." It was then that Barka realised that she was, in fact, according to the documentation, nonexistent for eight years. She continued, "My adopting mother, who did not deny the validity of the document, claimed she knew nothing about my biological parents, but she mentioned that she did know I was of Yemenite origin.
"When I was thirty eight years old, I decided to go to the 'Sherut LeMaan Hayeled' ("The Service in Favor of the Child") building, on Ibn Gabirol St., in Tel Aviv, in hope of finding my origins, which were yet unknown to me. The social worker in the building [who's name was not reported by "Makor Rishon"], gave me my mother's biological name [also not reported], who was born, according to the social worker, in 1921, and immigrated to Israel in 1945. According to the social worker, the documents she was looking at show that my biological mother arrived in Israel with no possessions, no family, or relatives. The social worker also told me that the rest of the facts in the document were blurred, and she could not understand what was written. Afterwards, she said that the information was actually classified. I was shocked. I didn't know what to do or say. I tried calling her on the phone a few times to get her to search for more details. But she told me that she already told me all she knew.
Back then, after I found out I was an adopted child, I would cry during the nights . . . I very much wanted to know if I had any biological relatives, maybe even brothers or sisters. I didn't want to upset my adopting parents, so I would only cry at nights, when I was alone. Up to this very day - this entire issue won't give me rest. I want to know who I am, where I came from, who my family is, and what my roots are. I am already a grandmother, and still cry about this."
According to Israeli law, an adopted person has the right to look at their personal file, in the presence of a social worker. The fact that so much of the information was classified is baffling, at the least.
Another horrifying story is that of Shlomo and Sarah Adani, who live in Immanuel. The story was told to Yehuda Israelov and Shmuel Amrani, of the "Yom LeYom" newspaper, by their daughter-in-law, Miriam Adani, from Bayit-Vagan, a neighborhood in Jerusalem.
"My mother-in-law, Sarah, arrived in Israel, with her baby daughter, Miriam, then eleven months old. Miriam was highly developed for her age. She was already saying 'Mom', and even walking a little.
"Sarah's husband was not yet in Israel. She was taken to the Rosh HaAyin immigration camp, and they immediately took her baby from her.
"Miriam was still during nursing stage. They took the baby to the baby ward, in Tzriffin. Only once every three weeks did they take the mothers, in a truck, to see their babies, beyond glass, without even allowing any physical contact!
"Every once in a while, when the truck that took them arrived, they would announce the names of the children that died. One day, they announced that Miriam Adani had died. Sarah, the mother, tried to ask for details, and was told that they had buried the child, but showed her no grave.
"A few days later, her husband, Shlomo, arrived, and they tried to build their life anew, but the tragedy repeated itself, and even worse than before. Sarah gave birth to a healthy child, that weighed 4 kilograms, at his time of birth. Everyone congratulated her, and she started taking care of him, and even nursing him, after she gave birth.
"Not many hours passed, when the doctor arrived. He slapped the child's mother strongly, and told her: 'You are a bad girl. You suffocated your baby at the time of birth'. The exhausted mother was in shock: 'I was nursing him only a few moments ago, he was healthy?', but no one paid attention to her tears.
"Her husband, who was at the hospital that day, was in shock, as well. It was only that morning that they congratulated him, for the birth of his son, and what do they mean, to tell him he died at the time of birth? He asked to see the body, and they only told him: 'We buried him'. On the same day!
"Every Sabbath and Holiday, for their entire lives, they mention the children that were stolen. My father-in-law has fought fiercely, to be sure his children receive a Jewish, religious education, and he is one of the few who were able to do it as well as he did, but he is in terrible pain for not knowing how his other children were raised.
Did they even circumcise his son? Was he raised as a Jew? The pain is too much to bear".
The next story in the article is that of Nanjan Cahani, an immigrant from Persia, who recalls how her daughter, Leah, was stolen from her in the hospital in Haifa. Nanjan is certain her child is still alive.
It was only recently that the members of the family received a death certificate, written by hand, from the office of population records, in the Ministry of Interior. The article also mentions that the same office sent Leah's sister, Mali, a document that states Leah ceased to be an Israeli citizen in July of 1963.
Nanjan, Leah's mother, recalls a story from a whole new angle, where she was even offered an opportunity to sell her children.
After Nanjan immigrated from Persia, she gave birth to twins, a boy and girl, in the Rambam Hospital in Haifa. The son's name is Shmuel, and Leah is the daughter, who was stolen. Immediately after the birth, according to Nanjan, the doctor asked to buy one of the children for a certain amount of money. She says that "The doctor told the nurses he would have more of a chance when asking for the daughter, since it seems I was more attached to Shmuel. When I refused, the doctor told me: 'But, you have other children'.
A few days after I gave birth, I returned home with my twin children. Two weeks later, nurses from the hospital came to my home, and told me that they need to return Leah to the hospital because she has a bruise on her ankle, and if she dies it will be my own fault. My husband and I would go visit Leah in the hospital every day. One day, when I was ill, my husband went alone, only to be told that Leah had died. They refused to allow him to see her. I am convinced that Leah is still alive. I will continue to believe so, until the day I die, and will continue to hope that, someday, I will see her. The death certificate that they sent us now does not change a thing".
It appears that many of the families who have suffered similar atrocities have exactly the same hopes and expectations . . . they want to see their lost family members. The men and women that they have not seen for decades, ever since they were infants. They want to meet them, to hear from them, to hear where life has taken them, where they grew up, what they do today . . . they want contact, however brief. The present situation makes that too much to ask, for most of the families. Their grief still remains.
The Missing Children
As expected, different people reacted to this issue of stolen Jewish infants in the Land of Israel. One such reaction came from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menechem Mendel Shneerson, in his book, "Hitvaaduyot", written around 1987-88.
To quote from his writings:
"It is well known what happened thirty to forty years ago during the Aliyah [immigration] of children from Yemen and Teheran [Teheran, the capital of Iran. It seems that he, too, was unaware of the many different communities from which the children were stolen] to the Holy Land.
"Small children, who came with their parents to the Holy Land, were suddenly taken away from their parents, who were given strange and unfounded reasons for this, such as the need for medical treatment, and that their children were in bad shape. These explanations continued, until the parents were told that their children had died . . . . And all this for the simple reason that they (the authorities) did not want them to be educated by their parents, who kept Torah and Mitzvot (commandments), but wanted to educate them as they wished, in a way totally devoid of any connection with their Jewish heritage! For this purpose - children were stolen from their parents!!"
What Rabbi Shneerson wrote then was based on the fact that when many religious Jewish men and women immigrated to Israel, there were people in authority that thought that religion was not what the country needed in its first days. Certain actions were taken by these authorities, such as shaving the beards of new immigrants and cutting off their side curls. Not to mention all the Torah Scrolls, Holy Books, and many other possessions taken from the Jewish immigrants back then. Although this explanation is accepted by some, others do not accept this as a possible reason for the kidnapping of children, since so many of these children were sold abroad for profit.
Rabbi Schneerson continues:
And nevertheless, not only did he not prevent this from happening, he cooperated, and was even amongst those who were in charge of the people who committed this terrible crime!"
Here, Rabbi Shneerson was referring to Rabbi Dr. Issachar Dov Bernard Bergman, who we spoke of extensively in Part Five of this series of articles.
"And when people started an outcry, as to how this could possibly have happened, for it is an act that is the complete opposite of all that is just and right, and the complete opposite of humane behavior, they were told: 'We saved them from death and gave them a new life, therefore it is as though these children belong to us . . . .'
"And not only did they behave with the children as a man would behave with his "Canaanite servant" [In other words, a slave] who "belonged" to him, but even worse. They treated the children as an object that was their own private posession, that could, if they so wished, be burnt - where in this matter, the burning was of the children's soul and not of their body, Heaven forbid. [What Rabbi Shneerson says here conflicts with reports of children that know they have been sold in this fashion, when they were children. In these reports, most of the people report that they were raised with love and care, as if they were the real children of their adopting parents].
"During that period, hundreds of small children disappeared without a trace, and until this very day, the parents do not know what was the fate of their children, and where they are today."
Rabbi Shneerson mentions hundreds of children, although the number of such occurrences is now known to be in the thousands.
"Today, after thirty to forty years, it is still possible to trace these children, for the same offices that dealt with the children then have exact lists that contain the names of all the children, where they were sent to, etc. The trouble is that noone wants to give out the lists of the names of the children!"
As for the lists of the children's names, not everyone accepts the idea that there are lists of the names of the original families of the children, as so many of them were said to be stolen without the kidnappers even caring who the original parents were. Why should they? It is also commonly believed that, considering all the forged and "confused" documents, there are no real documents. Also, there are those who believe that real documents did exist until Ami Chovav, the investigator mentioned in Part Six, "took care" of the records, as Chovav worked in the national archives, following his investigation. He was quoted in "Haaretz" as saying:
"After the Shalgi committee, all the material was in a mess. The committee finished its job, but none of the documents were catalogued in order, in the archives. The main archive manager asked me to organize all the material, of both investigation committees, in order for the archives. So I sat in the archives, and organized the material, until the order was given to hand the material over to the current (Cohen) committee".
Of course, there are also those who believe that the documents do exist, some say in a certain safe, in Jerusalem. An article in the "Makor Rishon" newspaper, written by Journalist Pini Ben-Or, describes these suspicions.
To quote the article:
"George Klein is the manager of the archives, belonging to the Ministry of Interior, where appear the records of all the people that are removed from the population records: People who have died, been adopted, left the country, and so on.
"From one investigation protocol of George Klein, from the 16th of September, 1997, it is seen that, in his archives, there is a safe where all the adoption records, ever since the British Mandate in Israel, are kept.
"In his questioning in front of the committee for investigating the disappearance of these children, George Klein said that only he has access to the safe, which is located in a safety room. He received the adoption orders, as well as the original personal file of the adopted child, from the bureau of the Ministry of Interior. The material is placed in the safe, and the child receives a new birth certificate, where the names of the adopting parents are found.
According to Klein, he writes the original I.D. number of the child, in the adoption book.
"After writing the details, Klein has the information updated. The original birth certificate, along with the adoption certificate, are placed in an envelope, that is filed in the safe, in the safety room.
Anyone looking in the adoption book only sees the new details of the adopted person, but adding up the new details and what is written in the envelopes that contain the old details - will reveal who the adopted person is.
"The biggest secret is in the hands and safe of George Klein. Maybe there, an answer to the issue of the missing children can be found."
Since that article was written, it has been rumored that the safe has been moved, although not everyone believes that. Again, it is commonly believed that records of which children went where do not even exist. Although, it is possible that details of a certain number of the missing children can be found there.
To return to the writings of Rabbi Shneerson:
"Lately, a few people have woken up and begun to ask for the lists of the children but unfortunately, this was but 'the sound of the tune of defeat', and nothing came of it.
"And not only this, but as always, there are those who immediately make a 'mockery' out of everything, and they made a mockery out of this request too! . . . . And we know that one should not talk with scoffers, and even not sit in their company, as king David said at the beginning of the Book of Psalms - 'Happy is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the wicked . . . . Nor sat in the seat of the scornful.' (Psalms 1:1) Our sages have already told us that a 'Cult of Scoffers' is one of the four cults that 'do not receive the Divine Presence'.
"However, this claim also has no place in the discussion. For, although it might be very hard work, nevertheless, in no situation is one allowed to despair of a Jew, and noone can take the responsibility to say that, as far as so and so is concerned, nothing can be done to bring him closer to Torah and Judaism."
Here again, it is evident that Rabbi Shneerson believed that these children were stolen to keep them away from Judaism, and Torah.
"And, in any case, as long as not everything possible is being done to correct the situation - it is as though the crime is continuously being committed! Obviously in this matter, doing Teshuvah (repentance) will not help - for Teshuvah is between man and his Master - and so above all, what must be done is to correct the injustice and the crime that was committed against both the children and their parents!
"After all this, if anyone thinks that they (the authorities), regret their past deeds, and certainly will not repeat them, God forbid, 'Trouble shall not rise up the second time' (as said in Nachum, 1:9), they are making a bitter mistake.
"Not only do they not show any remorse, and are not even trying to return the situation to its rightful state, but on the contrary - until this very day, they are repeating what they did (to the children stolen back then) with the children of Teheran [Iranian Jewish immigrants], and in a more acute way, and no one is standing up to be heard, and let the world know. And especially those who are meant to represent, so to speak, the demands of the Charedi (ultra-Orthodox) Judaism - even they are sitting quietly and doing nothing at all!
"It is the holy obligation of anyone who has it in his powers to do whatever they can to prevent and to stop the stealing of children that is currently happening, and in addition, to try and correct what was done in the past.
"And those who cannot do anything, as far as this matter is concerned, should increase their activities in the field of education.
In other words, try and ensure that all Jewish children receive a Jewish education that is in the spirit of the Torah, and no effort should be spared (just as no effort is spared by those opposing the matter), for one is talking about Pikuach Nefashot (the saving of endangered lives)!
"To what can this be compared? To a man who sees a house burning - he surely will not spare any effort to try and save the people who are in the house. Not only that, but even if he is unsure if there is anyone in the house, he will knock on the blinds and the windows, etc., to check if there is anyone in the house, who can be saved. And the moral of the example is an endangered spiritual life.
"Remember: 'And he that stealeth a man, and selleth him, or if he be found in his hand, he shall surely be put to death' (Exodus, 21:16).
And his death, according to the Halachah [Jewish law, as set by the Rabbis . . . although there are many laws in Halachah, such as this, that are not enforced in these days], is by strangulation."
This is what the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menacham Mendel Shneerson, has written about the issue of the stolen children. Apparently, Rabbi Shneerson, as well, knew what went on. According to him and others, such things are still happening, although, as many say, on a much smaller scale.
Yechiel A. Mann,
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