Tag Archives: Cairo

Jew of the Week: Abba Kovner

“The Jewish Avenger”

Abel “Abba” Kovner (1918-1987) was born in what is today Belarus and grew up in Vilnius (then part of Poland). As a young man, he was a member of HaShomer HaTzair, the Zionist youth movement. When the Nazis invaded Vilnius in 1941, Kovner escaped to a convent, but soon returned to the Vilna Ghetto to organize a Jewish resistance. At the start of 1942, Kovner secretly published a manifesto inside the Ghetto to inspire the Jews to fight back, writing that it was better to die than “go like lambs to the slaughter”. Along with several other young men, Kovner formed the United Partisan Organization, possibly the first armed underground Jewish group in Nazi Europe. Before they could launch their first large-scale attack, the Vilna Ghetto was liquidated in 1943, forcing the group to flee to the surrounding forests. From there, they launched a guerrilla warfare campaign against the Nazis. The small group began calling themselves “the Avengers” (HaNokmim) and were successful enough to draw the attention of the Red Army. They would go on to coordinate with the Soviets to crush the Nazis in Eastern Europe. Once the fate of the Nazis was sealed towards the end of 1944, Kovner was among the founders of a new group, called Bricha (“Escape”), which worked to get Jewish refugees out of Europe and to the Holy Land. Over the next couple of years, they would successfully move 250,000 Holocaust survivors to Israel. Having seen first-hand the horrific devastation inflicted by the Nazis, Kovner yearned for revenge. He started yet another group, called Nakam (“Vengeance”), seeking to punish Germany for the Holocaust. “Plan B” was to poison the water supply in Allied prisoner-of-war camps where Nazi SS soldiers were kept. The far more controversial and shocking “Plan A” was to poison the water supplies of several major German cities in order to kill 6 million Germans, one for each Jew lost in the Holocaust. Thankfully, Plan A was soon abandoned, though Kovner was still arrested by the British and held in a Cairo prison for several months. He did aim to accomplish Plan B, and Nakam members infiltrated a POW camp bakery in April 1946, coating the loaves of bread with arsenic. Over two thousands German soldiers fell ill, though no deaths were reported. In December 1947, Kovner joined the Haganah and fought in Israel’s Independence War as a captain of the Givati Brigade. Following this, he lived out the remainder of his life in a kibbutz, working tirelessly to strengthen the nascent state. He also helped to design several Holocaust museums, and testified at the Eichmann trial. More famously, Kovner wrote a series of poetry books (in Hebrew and Yiddish) describing the struggles he faced during the Holocaust and in Israel’s early years. This made him one of the country’s most celebrated poets and writers. For this, he won the Israeli Prize for Literature in 1970. A heavy smoker, Kovner succumbed to tracheal cancer before his 70th birthday.

Words of the Week

It is perfectly clear that the Arab nations do not want to solve the Arab refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as an affront against the United Nations, and as a weapon against Israel… Arab leaders don’t give a damn whether the refugees live or die.
— Sir Alexander Galloway, former head of UNRWA

Abba Kovner (Centre) and his Avengers.

Jew of the Week: Yolande Harmor

Yolande Harmor

Yolande Harmor

Yolande Gabbai Harmor (1913-1959) was born in Alexandria, Egypt. She went to school in France and returned to Egypt at 17 to get married. Working as a journalist, she soon became a noted writer in Egypt, as well as a popular socialite and member of Egypt’s “high society”. Meanwhile, Harmor was also drawn to Cairo’s Zionist circles. In 1945, she was recruited by the Jewish Agency and became a secret agent, gathering intelligence about Egypt’s royalty and politicians. She was able to get close to people like the Grand Mufti of Cairo, members of the Muslim Brotherhood, and even Egypt’s King Farouk himself. Her intelligence reports included detailed accounts of Arab military plans and troop numbers, giving the nascent Israeli state critical information to win the War of Independence. In July of 1948, Harmor’s cover was blown and she was arrested. However, as a favourite of some of Egypt’s most powerful people (many of whom had fallen in love with her), she was dealt with fairly lightly. After a few months, it became apparent that Harmor had developed stomach cancer. She was released from prison and deported out of Egypt. Harmor moved to Paris, and served on Israel’s UN delegation, and then for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Throughout this time, she continued to use her sources in Egypt to secure key intelligence information. In 1951, Harmor finally settled in Israel. Unfortunately, her efforts for the State of Israel were soon forgotten. Saddened, and further weakened by the passing of her beloved second husband, Harmor succumbed to her cancer at the young age of 46. In recent years, her incredible story has come to light once again. The city of Jerusalem established ‘Yolande Harmor Square’ in 1997, and a documentary film about her life was released in 2010.

Words of the Week

The Jews have been objects of hatred in pagan, religious, and secular societies. Fascists have accused them of being Communists, and Communists have branded them capitalists. Jews who live in non-Jewish societies have been accused of having dual loyalties, while Jews who live in the Jewish state have been condemned as ‘racists’. Poor Jews are bullied, and rich Jews are resented. Jews have been branded as both rootless cosmopolitans and ethnic chauvinists. Jews who assimilate have been called a ‘fifth column’, while those who stay together spark hatred for remaining separate…
Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin, ‘Why The Jews?’