Friday, April 26, 2013

Desperately seeking mum and dad

 Refugee children in the Beit Lid camp, 1951

 In the chaotic first years of Israel's existence, many hundreds of children went missing -- at least 800, perhaps more than a thousand, reports Israel's State Archivist, Yaacov Lozowick. Was it conspiracy, or callousness -  he asks:

These children were younger than three, and their families were new immigrants living in tent camps (ma'abarot) where they were temporarily parked upon arrival. The children were sent to hospitals and never came back. When their bewildered and frantic parents went looking for them, they were told their children had died and been buried.

In some cases, letters from the military arrived in the late 1960s, requiring the teenagers be screened for service. By then the parents were no longer bewildered and disoriented refugees, and when they realized there were others like them, they demanded an investigation. Since then, there have been four separate public investigations. Since most (but by no means all) of the children were from Yemenite families, the issue is know in Israel as The Case of the Yemenite Children.

The various investigations have shown that indeed, most of the missing children really did die at the time - but not all of them have ever been accounted for. Some people continue to believe that there was a conspiracy to remove children from large immigrant families and to hand them over to wealthy childless Ashkenazi families. Also, keep in mind this earlier post, which told how many Yemenite Jews had never encountered a physician, which partially explains some of the context.

One of the documents we published as part of our Declaration of Independence collection deals with one of these cases. (ג-3013/12)

On November 3, 1950, Yehezkel Sahar, the Chief of Police, wrote to Minister of Health Moshe Shapira. A few months earlier, there had been a report in the media about an infant who had gone missing in one of the camps. Sahar assured Shapira that he put his best investigator on the case, and here's the result: a three-page detailed report written by S. Sofer.

We think the report undermines the conspiracy theory, but it does demonstrate a frightening degree of callousness in the chaos:

February 29, 1950: The story appeared in Davar.
March 17, 1950: A social worker from the Beit Lid camp confirmed that the 7-month-old child was transferred from there to the hospital on Dec 21, 1949. Having been cured, he was sent mistakenly to a different camp, Ein Shemer. At Ein Shemer they have his discharge paper from January 8, 1950 -- but they don't have him. Nor can they explain how they have his discharge form.
A doctor at the hospital confirms that the child was brought from Beit Lid on December 21. He was sent back on January 8 -- to Ein Shemer. She doesn't know who the ambulance driver was.
The parents reported that their baby son was sent to the hospital but not returned, and when they asked they were told he was sent to Ein Shemer. (Oddly, the dates in their recounting are a bit later, in February.)
A doctor at Ein Shemer fond no record of a child by this name, but confirmed that on January 8, an unnamed child was brought from the hospital.
A registrar at the hospital recorded all patients. But when they're sent back, it's with an ambulance service from Ramat Gan.
A doctor at the hospital remembers discharging the child and sending him to Ein Shemer.
The ambulance driver has a record for children transferred to Ein Shemer on January 8, one with this name. There is a procedure for handing over children, and he acted accordingly.
A doctor at Ein Shemer said that they refuse to accept children whom they didn't send. Sometimes, he says, drivers leave children and quickly depart so as not to be stuck with them.
A police sergeant found no records at Ein Shemer. He brought the mother to the children's home but she didn't identify her son. On April 7, he returned to Ein Shemer and heard from an administrator that there's lots of confusion in their records.
Officer Sofer completed his report with the comment that it might be possible to investigate further but he didn't see how this would help find the child. He recommended that someone look into the matter and determine who is responsible for the lax procedures. He complimented the original social worker who had invested time and her own money in traveling back and forth in her efforts to investigate.
At the ISA, we asked ourselves if we have any documentation about the child at a later stage of life. Since his name was common, however (we've withheld it in the publication), that wasn't possible -- and anyway, if we assume that he didn't starve in the Ein Shemer camp but was probably picked up by some other family, there's no way to know what his name was. If he's still alive he must be 64 years old.

The lost child of Beit Lid

With thanks: Ralph

Soly Anidjar in Maroc-Amitie has a similar tale, or tales, to tell about Jewish babies abandoned in Morocco, lost (or taken) in transit in France or on arrival in Israel. These babies are now in their 60s or 70s and may be desperately seeking their mothers and fathers.

There are two categories:

First, babies born out of wedlock to Jewish girls in their teens. The girls would have been made to abandon their babies at birth so as not to bring shame on their families. They were the result of a liaison with a boss, an American GI from the Nouaceur base, a married man, a non-Jew or a rape.

Then there were Moroccan-Jewish  babies stolen between 1946 and 1950 in the transit camp in Marseille or on arrival in Israel.

In 1946 in Marseille, a pregnant woman from Sefrou had twins. One was stolen a few days later. It was a large family, but unlike most of the other families in the camp d'Arenas in Marseille, the Benarroch family were given separate accommodation by Jewish Agency staff.

The children of new immigrants were stolen in Israeli hospitals. The doctor sent the supposedly ailing baby to hospital. When the parents arrived the next day, they were told that the baby had died in the night. The parents not speaking Hebrew and being naive, they were helpless when the doctor told them he could not show them the child's body, as it had already been buried that morning.

Says Anidjar, children were given to Ashkenazi families, to Holocaust survivors who had lost their children or were unable to have any. They were Moroccan or Yemenite children.

If you have a story to tell on this topic Soly Anidjar would like to hear from you


Anonymous said...

It's hard to believe that Jews are responsible for such inhumane acts.
It reminds me of a book by my Autralian friend Alan Gill called "Orphans of the Empire" where similar events are described.
And it is only now that the -authorities have asked pardon to the survivors
Shame on those who participated in the terrib le story.

Rachamim Slonim Dwek said...

Between 1948 and 1954- the window during which this dynamic took place- Israel absorbed more than 700,000 Mizrachim and close to 400,000 Ashkenazim. Medical staffers spoke literally close to 100 languages and oftentimes could not even understand one another, much less families of patients.

Factor in that amongst many Mizrachim that mothers were as young as 11 and 12. Those from Yemen had walked for literally weeks through the desert to reach Aden for their flights to Israel. Arriving they were housed in tents. It doesnt take a genius to realise that many babies died. In fact, during that six year window Infant Mortality was close to 50% in Israel across the board. If we realise then that amongst demographics like Yemenites that figure must have been in the 70th or even the 80th percentile things become much clearer.

In fact, over the course of half a century Israel has had four separate and fully independent investigative committees examing this dynamic. All told there were 1,033 babies whose fate has been questioned. Of these 1,033, all but 51 have been confirmed dead in infancy.

What of the remainjng 51? There isnt even circumstantial evidence to support appegations of trafficking, etc. The records state words like "gone," which in normal cases would assumed to mean "dead." With these allehations though people latch onto such words and weave fantasies based often only upon conjecture. Could some of the 51 have been adopted? Of course. When kids recovered enough they were placed im group homes if no family visits had taken place during convalesvence. With the chaotic conditions and language barriers families may have not been able to locate the hospital where a child was taken. Often times Olim had never gone beyond their own village and now in a new and unfamiliar nation it just resulted in more chaos. So, possibly some of the 51 were adopted but that has nothing in common with "stolen babies."

Rachamim Slonim Dwek said...

Sultana: What is sad, even shameful is that people do not critically examine such allegations and learn the truth. In this case the truth is that this never happened.