Volume 75, Number 15 | Aug. 31 - Sep 06, 2005


It’s all relative: Thinking of mycousins during the Gaza pullout

By Ed Gold

It was time, I thought, to find out how my cousins in Israel were dealing with the difficult decision of closing down Gaza and four small settlements on the West Bank. I have four cousins still living there who survived the Holocaust and I keep in touch with the two oldest who have mastered English as well as the computer.

Yehuda, the biologist, lives in the south, in Rehovot, and traditionally has been very uptight in his reports, i.e.: “My wife is fine. My kids are fine, and my son just had a new baby. Thanks for keeping us informed about our relatives in the States.”
Kobi, the oldest cousin to survive — the Nazis killed his two oldest brothers, his mother and an uncle — is more political, has been a kibbutznik from the beginning and still works in the cooperative complex he helped found in 1948 near the Lebanese border.

Their survival, let alone their success, has always seemed miraculous.

Kobi had gotten his degrees in physics and chemistry in Prague. The Germans for a while had spared the family because the oldest brother was a top surgeon and the Germans needed him. When the Russians began moving to the west, the Germans killed the oldest brother and turned against the entire family.

A second brother joined the underground, was captured and killed.

Another brother fled to England and joined the Free Czech forces.

Kobi somehow managed to flee the country. He has never told us how he escaped.

Meanwhile, Yehuda was hidden for a while by what we now call a Righteous Christian family. He has taken their family name of Marikovsky. But he was eventually captured and he and his father wound up in a concentration camp. As the Russians closed in, the Germans decided to take the remaining prisoners with them to Germany to fulfill the promise of the Final Solution.

Somehow, Yehuda and his father hid under floorboards in the camp’s sleeping quarters and survived the German exodus.

Kobi had a small problem on the ship heading for Israel. Single women with no jobs or relatives would be turned back. So he took a “boat bride,” Alice, and by the time the boat reached Israel he decided to make an honest woman out of her. They settled in Shomram, the kibbutz, had four children and now have eight grandchildren.

While he taught science in the local high school, Kobi preferred working in his kibbutz as a laborer, driving a tractor. He and the other pioneers had taken a barren piece of land and turned it into a modest cattle ranch, grew flowers and built a furniture factory. They found markets in Europe.

He writes now that the kibbutz has become fairly prosperous, noting that “the collective life in the kibbutz has been disrupted (sic) by a broad privatization,” which he feels, though an old socialist, has been an improvement. I know his wife feels that way. In the old days she was permitted to buy four dresses a year from one dress shop in Tel Aviv. And nothing else.

Kobi has given up tractor driving and is now bookkeeper for the furniture operation. He is 83 and getting ready to welcome his first great-grandchild. He adds: “We are relatively well with all the tsuris [trouble] that comes with age.”

Yehuda, two years younger, says that he is still doing “some work at the Weitzmann Institute and for that I am grateful.” He was in his heyday at Weitzmann one of the stars, the top researcher on blood corpuscles, who was in charge of the country’s largest microscope. He frequently went to Europe and the U.S. to lecture on his specialty.

Though very different in temperament and careers, they both look upon Gaza, and their Palestinian neighbors through the same lens.

From Yehuda: “I can only say [about Gaza] that we all wish it to be over with as little damage to both sides and with the hopes that with time the aggravation will calm down and normal life and peace will return.”

Kobi adds: “We hope all that will finish soon and we look forward to some kind of peace compact with the Palestinians.”

Two earlier messages come to mind. Right after 9/11, as suicide bombing peaked in Israel proper, came the query: “Are you all right? Did you get injured? We are terribly worried about you.”

And later, from Yehuda, who rarely reveals much about his thoughts, in a moment of anguish: “Why did you send all those people from Brooklyn to the settlements?”

It still seems a miracle to me every time we correspond. Five of my seven cousins survived. And so did their father, a Zionist leader in Czechoslovakia, who died in his home in Israel.

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