FIDF Poland Trip for Holocaust Survivors

More than forty Friends of the Israel Defense Forces(FIDF) supporters from across the country will join Holocaust survivors on a mission to Poland and Israel from May 2nd to May 10th. They will be accompanied by forty five soldiers and officers representing all branches of the Israel Defense Forces(IDF.

Joining the delegation will be Holocaust survivor Sophie Tajch Klisman, 89, of Detroit. Klisman, along with her sister Felicia, survived the Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, and Salzwedel concentration camps. The youngest of four children, she was only 10 years old when Nazi Germany occupied Lodz, forcing the family into the Lodz ghetto of 68,000 Jews. Both sisters were liberated from Salzwedel in April 1945, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1949, settling in the Detroit area. The remainder of their family perished.

“If I look at the rest of the family, they were already adults and grown-ups and here was this child; that was just a miracle that I survived; it was meant for me to survive,” Klisman said. “I just hope in conclusion, that nobody, nobody should have to live through such terrors, such horrible conditions at such a young age, or at any age. It was a horrible experience, but I’m glad that I finally was able to tell it.”

Also joining will be Holocaust survivor Gizella “Gita” Mann, 89, of Israel. Mann’s community in Hungary was forced into a ghetto and later brought to Auschwitz, where she and her sister were separated from their family. Gita was later separated from her sister and sent to Germany, where she worked for most of the war. After narrowly escaping death, she was taken to Sweden and stayed there until 1946. She returned to Hungary after the war and reunited with her sister and three brothers. In 1948, she moved with her then-fiancé to Israel, where she stayed until emigrating to the U.S. in 1964, and finally returning to Israel five years ago. Mann has two children who live in New Jersey, and she currently lives in Jerusalem.

Led by FIDF National President Bobby Cohen and FIDF National Director and CEO Maj. Gen. (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir, the nine-day “From Holocaust to Independence” mission will span Jewish history, from its darkest moments to its most triumphant. Israeli soldiers and Holocaust survivors will accompany the FIDF supporters on a trip across Poland, starting in Krakow, once home to more than 60,000 Jews, and tracing the community’s steps from the city’s ghetto to the Buczyna forest, where the Nazis executed more than 800 children, and then to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camps.

The entire delegation will then fly to Israel on an Israeli Air Force (IAF) airplane, after the IDF Chief of the General Staff granted the FIDF delegation exclusive access, and land at an IAF base. The group will visit IDF bases and meet soldiers serving on Israel’s front lines, commemorate Yom HaZikaron – Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror – and celebrate Israel’s 71st Independence Day.

“This historic mission will survey Jewish modern history through the eyes of those who survived the horrors of the Holocaust and those who risk their lives to defend the Jewish homeland,” said Klifi-Amir. “We’ll celebrate our story of heroism – from near annihilation, to the triumph of establishing the state of Israel. When we march tall and proud through the gates of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camps, together with Holocaust survivors, FIDF supporters, and 45 Israeli officers in uniform, gratefully flying the Israeli flag, we will send a clear message: that we are here, we will never forget, and we will do whatever we must do to protect our country and our people to guarantee – Never Again.”

“This mission serves as one of the last opportunities for survivors to return to Auschwitz and share its dreadful stories,” said Cohen. “We will walk through the gates of hell, where countless Jews suffered and perished at the hands of the Nazis. We will ensure the stories of survivors live on, safeguarded by those brave soldiers who defend and protect the state of Israel, and Jewish people around the world.”

Film Chat: Follow Me

— by Hannah Lee

Anyone who’s been disappointed by the 1977 movie, Raid on Entebbe, will be captivated by the new documentary, Follow Me, which gives an account of the life and tragic early death of Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu, the commander of the rescue mission and the elder brother of Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel.

It’s a profile in courage and leadership, with the filmmakers having gotten unprecedented access to Yoni’s letters, both published and unpublished, family photos, and home movies. There are also interviews with former Israeli prime ministers Ehud Barak and Shimon Peres, the soldiers under Yoni’s command in the elite Sayeret Maktal (commonly known as “The Unit”), and even his ex-wife Tirza “Tutti,” who had never before agreed to speak about her relationship with Yoni.

More after the jump.
Fierce patriots, the Netanyahus spent some years in the United States — in our fair city — while their father, Ben-Zion, pursued scholarship at Dropsie College.* The father was professor of Hebrew language and literature, and later, chairman of the department, (1957-1966), and professor of medieval Jewish history and Hebrew literature. As a 16-year-old, Yoni arrived to attend Cheltenham High School in Wyncote, PA (where he was a classmate of Baseball Hall of Fame member Reggie Jackson). This is the reason Bibi Netanyahu speaks colloquial English with a Philly accent. In his letters, Yoni wrote about his discomfort with the expansiveness of homes in the United States and the carefree lives of his classmates, who cared only for cars and girls.

The Israel depicted in the documentary is the one we grew up with and our children are taught about in school — an ideal world with pioneers who fought for a dusty land and who wished only to be allowed to live in peace. The Netanyahu brothers came of age in a young nation that was subject to struggles for survival — in the epic wars of 1967 and 1973.

After his military service, Yoni returned to the U.S. to study at Harvard on scholarship, but he was troubled by the existential crises of his country and he returned to Eretz Yisrael as an officer in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). Yoni was a leader who inspired his men by working alongside them. He never sent them to do anything he would not do himself.

Yoni Netanyahu is immortalized for leading the counter-terrorist hostage-rescue mission carried out by commandos of the IDF at Entebbe Airport in Uganda on July 4, 1976. On June 27th, an Air France plane with 248 passengers was hijacked by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the German Revolutionary Cells, and flown to Entebbe, near Kampala, the capital of Uganda. The passengers were sorted by ethnicity and country of origin– Jews and Israelis from the other passengers. That afternoon, 47 non-Israeli hostages were released. The next day, 101 more non-Israeli hostages were allowed to leave. More than 100 Israeli and Jewish passengers (along with the non-Jewish pilot, Captain Michel Bacos, who refused to leave his passengers) remained as hostages and were threatened with death.

The IDF acted on intelligence provided by the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad. Israeli leaders decided on a covert rescue mission, while publicly agreeing to a release of military prisoners. The operation took place at night. Israeli transport planes carried 100 commandos over 2,500 miles to Uganda for the rescue operation. The operation lasted 90 minutes. They rescued 102 hostages. Five Israeli commandos were wounded and only one, their commander, Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, was killed. (According to Wikipedia, all the hijackers, three hostages, and 45 Ugandan soldiers were killed; 30 Soviet-built MiG-17s and MiG-21s of Uganda’s air force were destroyed. Twenty-four hours later, a fourth Israeli hostage was killed by Ugandan army officers at a nearby hospital.)  The rescue mission, named Operation Thunderbolt, is now sometimes referred to as Operation Jonathan.

Like King David, Yoni Netanyahu was a courageous military leader and a sensitive poet. Yoni’s letters as voiced in the film make me mourn for the man he was. Yoni, we hardly knew you!

Jonathan Gruber is the writer, director, and producer and Ari Daniel Pinchot is also director and producer. Follow Me is being distributed independently and it’s making its rounds of film festivals. It’s being shown in the greater Philly area exclusively at the Bala Cinema in Bala Cynwyd. At press time, it’s not known if the engagement will be extended beyond Thursday, August 2nd.

*Rabbi Dr. Joel Hecker notes that the library collection of Dropsie College is now housed at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Dropsie College is now only known by its honorific, alav ha-shalom