Tag Archives: Warsaw

Jews of the Week: Nathan, Benzion and Yoni Netanyahu

Nathan Mileikowsky (1879-1935) was born in what is now Belarus to an Orthodox Jewish family descended from the great Vilna Gaon. When he was ten, he joined the famous Volozhin yeshiva and after eight years of diligent study was ordained as a rabbi. During this time he became drawn to Zionism and soon dedicated his time to the Zionist cause. He traveled across Europe, Russia, and later the United States to raise support for Zionism – becoming one of the world’s most popular Zionist speakers – as well as to raise money for the Jewish National Fund. In 1920, Mileikowsky made aliyah to Israel. He headed a school in Rosh Pina, promoted settlement of the Galilee, and wrote articles for the Hebrew press – often under the pen name “Netanyahu”. He continued to tour globally, at one point giving over 700 lectures in under 9 months, and publishing some of these talks in a popular book. Towards the end of his life, Mileikowsky settled in Herzliya and established a farm.

Benzion Netanyahu

Benzion Netanyahu

His son, Benzion Mileikowsky (1910-2012), was born in Warsaw while Nathan was head of its Hebrew Gymnasium. Growing up in Israel, he adopted his father’s pen name “Netanyahu”. Benzion studied at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, taking on a more hard-line approach to Zionism. He became editor of a number of Zionist newspapers, and later the chief editor of the Encyclopaedia Hebraica. In 1940, Benzion moved to New York to build American support for the Jewish state, serving as executive director of an American Zionist group. Later on, he became a professor of Judaic studies and medieval history at Cornell University. Benzion published five books on Jewish history, and edited a number of others. His three sons are: Iddo, a doctor and author; Benjamin, Israel’s current prime minister; and Yoni, the eldest son.

Last known photograph of Yoni Netanyahu

Last known photograph of Yoni Netanyahu

Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu (1946-1976) was born in New York, went to high school in Pennsylvania, and studied at Harvard. He first enlisted in the IDF in 1964, and fought in the Six-Day War, getting wounded while rescuing a soldier behind enemy lines. A few years later, he joined Israel’s special forces unit, Sayeret Matkal, and by 1972 became its deputy commander. For his heroic service during the 1973 Yom Kippur War he was awarded a distinguished medal. In 1976, now commander of Sayeret Matkal, Yoni led Operation Entebbe, successfully rescuing over 100 Israeli hostages held in Uganda. Sadly, Yoni was the mission’s sole casualty, and passed away during the flight back home. In 1980, his personal letters were published, and were described as a “remarkable work of literature”. Both a film and play have recently been made about his life.

Words of the Week

God treats a person the same way they treat their children.
– Rabbi Shlomo of Karlin

Jew of the Week: Rabbi Menachem Ziemba

Rabbi of the Warsaw Ghetto

Rabbi Menachem Ziemba

Rabbi Menachem Ziemba

Menachem Ziemba (1883-1943) was born in a Warsaw suburb in Poland, and raised by his grandfather, a Hasidic rabbi. As a young man, Ziemba quickly proved himself as a genius Torah scholar and Hasidic master. By 18, he was already married, and for the next few decades was wholly dedicated to Jewish studies, writing over 10,000 pages of his Torah-related thoughts, and teaching at the Mesivta Yeshiva. Out of both humility and devotion to Torah, he refused to take on more prestigious roles of rabbinic leadership, including an offer at being Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. However, in 1935, at the request of his own rabbi, Ziemba started taking on community roles and obligations. He soon became world-renowned for his wisdom and took up a key position with Agudas Yisroel, the central organization of Ashkenazi-Orthodox Jews. Following the Nazi invasion of Poland, Ziemba was quarantined in the Warsaw Ghetto along with 400,000 Jews, in an area less than one and a half square miles. Despite the fact that he lost his wife in the Ghetto, Rabbi Ziemba constantly worked towards inspiring hope and optimism among the Jews. He laboured tirelessly to ensure that Jews could continue observing Torah law in the Ghetto, smuggling in provisions (including Kosher for Passover goods) and religious articles, secretly setting up areas of Torah study, and continuing to teach Judaism quietly. He even broke through his own apartment roof so that he could build a proper sukkah for the community. Rabbi Ziemba was given multiple opportunities to leave the Ghetto (including one by the Catholic Church) but refused to abandon his people. Though initially favouring passive resistance, after the 1942 deportations that killed hundreds of thousands of Jews, Rabbi Ziemba was convinced that the Jews had to fight back. He was an important supporter of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and was himself the first to donate funds in order to purchase weapons. To quell the uprising, the Nazis began destroying the Ghetto and burning it down. Rabbi Ziemba was caught in one of these fires, and shot by SS troops while trying to escape. To great shock and sadness, he was killed on the 19th of Nisan, 72 years ago today. Following the uprising, the rest of his family was rounded up and taken to Treblinka, where they were also killed. The vast majority of his writings and teachings were burned in the Warsaw Ghetto, though three books survived, and are still studied today. In 1958, Rabbi Ziemba’s body was exhumed and brought to Israel, where he was finally laid to rest.

Words of the Week

In the past, during religious persecution, we were required by the law ‘to give up our lives even for the least essential practice.’ In the present, however, when we are faced with an arch-enemy whose unparalleled ruthlessness and program of total annihilation know no bounds, Halakha [Jewish law] demands that we fight and resist to the very end with unequaled determination and valor for the sake of Sanctification of the Divine Name.
– Rabbi Menachem Ziemba

Jew of the Week: Krystyna Skarbek

The Original ‘Bond Girl’

Secret Agent Krystyna Skarbek - the inspiration for James Bond's Vesper Lynd

Secret Agent Krystyna Skarbek – the inspiration for James Bond’s Vesper Lynd

Maria Krystyna Janina Skarbek (1908-1952) was born in Poland to a Catholic father and a Jewish mother from a wealthy family. From a young age, Maria enjoyed horse-back riding, skiing, and extreme physical activities. At 22, her father died and her mother’s family wealth ran out. Skarbek got a job in a Fiat dealership but fell ill from the fumes. To regain her health, she returned to the slopes and spent the majority of her time skiing and hiking. With the outbreak of World War II, Skarbek fled to London and enlisted in the British Army. She found her way into the Secret Intelligence Service and was sent to Hungary for “espionage, reconnaissance and sabotage”. From there she re-entered Poland by hiking across the mountainous border. Skarbek first attempted to save her mother from the Nazis, but her mother refused to leave and was killed in a camp. Skarbek’s main work was to organize the transfer of vital intelligence reports out of Warsaw to the SIS. (One of these correctly revealed Germany’s planned invasion of the USSR, of critical importance to the Allied victory). She also assisted in smuggling weapons and exfiltrating key military personnel. Arrested by the Gestapo in 1941, Skarbek bit her own tongue until it bled, then pretended to have virulent tuberculosis and used the cover to escape her captivity. She made her way through the Balkans to Turkey, then to the SIS headquarters in Egypt. Upon arrival, she was suspected of being a counter-spy secretly working for the Germans! Thankfully, she cleared her name and returned to work. In 1944 she was posted in France under the name ‘Madame Pauline’. Here were some of her most infamous missions, including demolishing bridges and infiltrating a Nazi prison to save her commanding officer. After the war she was awarded with an Officer of the Order of the British Empire and France’s Croix de Guerre. However, she was dismissed from service with only a month’s salary and left alone in Cairo. She slowly rebuilt her life as Christine Granville. Sadly, in 1952 she was assassinated in a hotel room. Skarbek’s story inspired Vesper Lynd, the original ‘Bond Girl’ in Ian Fleming’s first 007 story Casino Royale. Many consider her Britain’s first female secret agent.

Words of the Week

God transforms spirituality into physicality; the Jew makes physical things spiritual.
– Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov