Wednesday, May 4, 2011

From Holocaust Survivor to Nation Builder

About six weeks ago, while returning from a trip to Ashkelon, my husband and I happened upon Kibbutz Negba, one of the original Choma and Migdal (Tower and Stockade) kibbutzim of the 30s.
Negba was the southernmost choma u'migdal kibbutz at the time. Tower and Stockade kibbutzim were put up in the middle of the night in the Pre-State of the 1930s by young idealistic Jews who were trying to hold on to the Land of Israel before the British could partition it.
We walked around Negba, saw the sites and talked to some of the residents. We had such an interesting visit, we decided to return with our family.
And we did just that.
History from the Holocaust to Pre-State Israel
Just last week, we came to Kibbutz Negba for a tour with Meir Mindel, head of the Negba Heritage Center, and then we wandered around on our own. While walking through the Founders Garden (at left), we noticed that all the kibbutz members were riding bicycles. They had their children in boxes on the back of the bikes. They had them on their own backs.
We even saw a great-grandmother biking around. We walked over to speak with her. Eighty-one year old Rachel Mermelstein was a survivor of the Holocaust.
Born in Hungary 81 years ago, Rachel came to Kibbutz Negba in 1947, a year before Israel Independence.
Rachel Mermelstein's entire family, including her parents, grandparents and four brothers had perished in Auschwitz. She is still emotional when she thinks of her parents, HY"D. Rachel joined a group of teenagers, all Hungarian orphans who aimed to leave for Eretz Yisrael, then under the British Mandate.
They arrived on the shores of Eretz Yisrael and made it so near to the Tel Aviv beach, they could see the city. But the British caught them, and sent all the passengers to a refugee camp on Cyprus for nine months. After their release to British Mandate Palestine, the 35 Hungarian youngsters were sent to Kibbutz Negba. A group of Polish Shomer HaTza'ir youth were already living and working there.
The Hungarian youth knew nothing about kibbutzim. They had not done hachshara to learn about agriculture and prepare for life on a kibbutz, but as Rachel said, they had nothing – no home, no family, no possessions – and they were happy and grateful for the opportunity to begin a new life and have a home of their own once again.
Rachel said that the young people were excited about the prospects of building the kibbutz, and their idealism made their arrival so positive. Said Rachel, as she balanced on her large three-wheeled bike, "We didn't know then that the Arabs would give us trouble our whole lives."
Rachel started out her kibbutz life by learning Hebrew and working in the fruit orchards, the Children's House as well as the kitchen. Suddenly the security situation on the kibbutz worsened, Rachel said. "The Arabs attacked us on convoys, buses, etc. And then the war broke out."
Rachel was put in charge of an emda (lookout post). She was given a rifle and binoculars and was charged with watching out for the enemy forces. She 17 years old and frightened, but "you do what you have to do."
A very demonstrative and personable woman, Rachel said, "My children (she has four) asked me why I stayed here. The answer is simple. Ein li eretz acheret (I have no other country) and you do what you have to do to protect your land."
Of the 35 young people who came to Israel with her, there others (also responsible for the lookout posts) were killed – a girl and two boys.
Negba's 150 young people fought with heroism in the face of an onslaught by the Egyptian Army's 1000 soldiers. They were reinforced and during the second attack, they had 200 young people to face 2000 Egyptians. B"H, although the kibbutz was destroyed, the Negba youth had prevailed.
After the war, Rachel and the other youngsters married and began to raise families. They lived a fulfilling life on the kibbutz.
Now 70 years later, the kibbutz is not so kibbutz-y, but some of the original pioneers of Negba can still be found riding around the tree-lined paths. Most are in their 90s, but their lives are still active.
Rachel has two of her four children and several of her grandchildren living on Negba. After 64 years, she is still content to live under the giant ficus trees and the old water tower of Kibbutz Negba.
Meet Rachel Mermelstein in this clip:

No comments:

Post a Comment