I was born on October 4, 1934 to two refugees in Antwerp, Belgium. The monarchy spared my parents’ deportation and granted them residency, but not citizenship. I was born stateless.
My earliest memory is of the bombing of Antwerp on Friday, May 10, 1940. From our window, I watched the scene and heard the madmen shouting in Flemish, “Jews out!” Two days later, we boarded the only train leaving Belgium for Spain. Eighteen of the train’s twenty cars were bombarded on route. Those of us on the last two cars survived the attack, and arrived a week later in southern France.
There we were stopped by Vichy forces, detained in a village, and interned in the Brens concentration camp. We fled to Marseille, where we lived with forged French documents that my father, a member of the French Resistance, had acquired. Later, he was arrested, imprisoned in Drancy, and murdered in Auschwitz.
My mother, pregnant, and solely responsible for my brother and I, took our future into her hands. Pretending to be mute because of her inadequate French, and using me to speak on her behalf, she led us aboard a train headed for the Swiss border. She was arrested and imprisoned; we boys were sent to a Catholic convent.
Months later, an anonymous friend of my father organized a joint escape. For three days, we trekked through the snow-covered Jura Mountains. On March 14, 1934, we crossed the border into Switzerland. Twelve days later, my brother was born. Seventy years later, I wrote Silent Letter to give my mother the opportunity to tell her story to her beloved husband, my father.
I was expelled from Switzerland, and arrived illegally in Palestine in May 1946. I began to work at age twelve (and have worked without interruption since). I did my homework on the bus each day from Bnei Brak, where we lived, to Tel Aviv, where I attended high school. It was my only spare time, and my teachers never noticed. They appreciated results, and I provided them. I graduated after three years instead of the usual four.
I studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where I had remarkable teachers—Leah Goldberg, Ernst Simon, Martin Buber, Yeshayahu Leibowitz—whose lessons I have carried with me throughout life. I taught school, and sold scientific magazines (all too few). I received room and board in a residential home in exchange for caring for the children.
In 1958, I took all these experiences with me to a kibbutz in the burning valley of Beit Shean. It was miraculous and wonderful. I taught in the communal school, was put in charge of cultural activities, played chess, and wrote plays.
To crown all this, I married Rivka, a student in the Bezalel Academy of Art. Off we went to England, where we marked the start of our long love story, which included several foreign missions (a few of them secret escapades to rescue Jewish children that even Rivka knew nothing about).
Later, the missions were simpler. I served as Israel’s Consul General in Zurich and Montreal, Israel’s Ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg, and its Ambassador to Switzerland. Life was busy between postings. But providence has always enabled me to love what I do, and to do what I love. I never feel that I work; rather, that I pursue great hobbies and challenging pleasures.
My greatest pleasure was to lead the Yemin Orde Youth Village for eighteen, beautiful years. We began with one hundred orphaned children who believed they had no futures. When I ended my tenure, the village had 450 children, one of the best high schools in the country, and girls and boys who lived music, art, and theater, and found joy in Jewish tradition and its eternal ethical teachings. While at Yemin Orde, I wrote songs full of love for people, country, and humanity that built the children’s confidence and helped them realize their God-given potential. When I get together today with my former students, now in their fifties and sixties, we and their families still sing those songs. It is worthwhile living for that alone.
But a variety of other assignments combined to give meaning to my life. I wrote. I published. I became a member of the Israeli Press Council, and the World Zionist Executive. I served as Vice Chairman of the Israel Broadcasting Authority, Executive of the Jewish Agency, Council Member of Yad Vashem, Senior Advisor to the Ministry for Education, and now, Advisor to the Center for Strategic Dialogue of the Netanya Academic College. I never retired, and am in no mind ever to do so in the future.
As Rivka and I head into the sixtieth year of our union, we take pride in the accomplishments of our three daughters—Esti, an academic and painter, Effi, an actor and kindergarten teacher, and Dr. Chayale, a periodontist—and six grandchildren, the eldest of whom is working on his doctoral studies, and the youngest already in high school.
All this so far—so much more than I could ever have hoped for in the ominous Jura Mountains that loomed high in the night, between the doom brought upon us, and the survival that became our destiny.