Very few Israelis know what netball is — yet another Anglo-Saxon sports import to Israel — and I am very proud that my niece is on the Israeli netball team. Tonight, on Yom Hazikaron, she is flying to the Isle of Man to represent Israel in an international tournament.
My niece is playing a game that her mother and her aunts learnt and played in Australia. However, for me, there is a very special significance to the location of the tournament on the Isle of Man as my niece will be walking in the footsteps of her grandfather and her great-grandfather.
Neither my father or my grandfather (his father) would have described the Isle of Man as it is described by the official tourist site:
“Shrouded by mystery, a sea-bound kingdom with its own captivating story to tell. With a rich history, that echoes through the ages. A melting pot of character and taste, where true heroes exist and sea monsters bask in the shallows. Landscapes carved from pure imagination and magical vistas of the Seven Kingdoms. A world of tangled trees and twisty trails.”
Our family has a different captivating story to tell. A personal story connecting Yom Hashoah last week with Yom Hazikaron today and with Yom Haatzmaut tomorrow.
My father and grandfather were both interned on the Isle of Man. My grandfather, a German soldier in World War I, was captured by the Russians and then interned by the British in an internment camp on the Isle of Man. My, father, a 17-year-old refugee from Germany in England was interned by the British on the Isle of Man in 1939 before being sent to Australia in 1940. Three years ago we discovered, translated and read letters sent by my grandfather in Germany to my father who was interned on the Isle of Man and later in Australia.
On January 30, 1940, my grandfather wrote to my father with humour —
“In our thoughts, we are always with you and I imagine the camp the way it was 22 years ago, when the English accommodated me.”
In March 1941, my grandfather references the Isle of Man a second time when he writes in his letter to my father who is now interned in Australia:
“Dear Hans. A few days ago, your first card from September 12, 1940, bearing only your signature, arrived. It made us very happy. I sent a similar card home 22 years ago.”
Probably that would translate today to a cryptic “Hi” sent on whatsapp from a child who is travelling around the world. As a parent who has waited anxiously for news from my travelling children, I can see how that made my grandfather happy.
Life can be symmetrical: in 1918, A Jewish German POW, interned on the Isle of Man, sent a postcard bearing only his signature to his parents in Germany and in doing so delighted his parents in Marburg Germany, who were waiting for a sign of life from him. In 1940 A Jewish German POW, formerly interned on the Isle of Man and now interned in Australia, sent a postcard bearing only his signature to his parents in Germany and in doing so delighted his parents in Offenbach Germany who were waiting for a sign of life from him.
In 1918, the Jewish German POW was captured whilst fighting for his homeland- for Germany and returned to Germany a hero rewarded with an iron cross.
But the comparison stops here. By 1939 the world had changed. The son of the war hero fled Germany because he was Jewish and was imprisoned by the British because he was German. In Germany, his father, the war hero and his mother were murdered in Treblinka in September 1942 because they were Jews.
I can imagine the joy and pride on the faces of my great grandparents when their hero son returned from captivity in the Isle of Man in 1919. My father, the son of the war hero, described how his father was convinced that he would not be harmed because, after all, he had fought for the homeland and been awarded an Iron Cross. However, the war, the heroism, the loyalty – it all meant nothing. It made no difference to the German Nazis who pushed my grandparents on the cattle train headed for extermination in Treblinka.
Today is Yom Hazikaron, the day that we remember the thousands killed whilst in the IDF and in terror attacks. We recognize that the wars, the heroism and the loyalty are what allowed us to create the miracle of the State of Israel today. At the ceremony today in my neighborhood of Baka in Jerusalem, as in hundreds of similar ceremonies throughout Israel, the residents came together to support the families and friends of those who have paid the heaviest price that can be paid. We mourn together.
In their final letter which was sent on September 15th 1942, twelve days before their transport, my grandmother wrote
“We will depart from here in the coming days and our destination is uncertain. As soon as it becomes possible, we will be in touch again. It is difficult for us to leave our home behind, but our strong will and our trust in G’d will not leave us.”
In September 1942, my grandmother considered Germany still home.
We are privileged beyond words to be part of a living reality that is truly home. This year on Yom Ha’atzmaut, my niece is playing netball in The Isle of Man, the very place where her grandfather and great-grandfather were held captive. She is representing her true home and this in itself is a victory. The odds are against the Israeli netball team – they do not have the experience and the height of their opponents – but this will not stop my niece or her team mates from putting their hearts and souls into the game and representing their home to the very best of their ability.
And that is what we will all be celebrating on Yom Ha’atzmaut. We will be celebrating our home, our spirit, our desire and our ability to keep on learning and to keep on battling. In our family, we will be celebrating the victory of the miracle of the Israeli team playing netball in the Isle of Man. Wishing the Israeli team success in the games and most importantly that they represent Israel with pride and joy.