מרכז תיעוד לתולדות העיר מראשיתה עד עצם היום הזה — סיפורים ותגובות שנכתבו על ידי אנשי העיר ואוהביה
Saturday morning, August 23, 2008: On entering my study this morning, a phone message from Erika and a short e-mail from Tuvia bearing the heartbreaking news “We are only 4 left, Eli died at night”. The 4 left refers to the original 9 Chevre from the Shomer Hatzir who fled Slovakia in April 1941 for Palestine where we joined kibbutz Merchavia.
Although Eli’s death was not completely unexpected, Eli having been very ill these past few months and getting weaker by the day, it still came as a big shock. We had a very special friendship with Eli spanning 74 years of our lives.
Eli and I sat next to each other in high school (Masarykovo Gymnasium) for four years between ages 10 and 14 (1934-1938). We quickly had become best friends among half a dozen other Jews in a class of about 40. We had two traits in common: Neither of us excelled as students, but we loved and were good in sports and gym class. This was in contrast to the other Jewish kids who were the best students in class (who always knew the correct answers) causing envy and resentment in the Goyim. But they were awful in the gym causing ridicule. These traits resulted in our fellow brethren to be the victims of cruel pranks and jokes, many of them with strong anti-Semitic overtones. Eli and I were by and large spared these humiliations.
An incident in class comes to mind when we were about 10 or 11 years old. In a class in “Slovenčina”, Eli was asked to read aloud a poem about a little kitten that ventured out in the street where it was run over by a car. Eli choked, burst into tears and sobbed. Embarrassing? For sure, but it shows Eli’s sensitivity, compassion and emotional makeup that always stayed with him. He may have learned to cope and hide it, but I witnessed it resurface on several occasions.
In 1936 Eli and I joined the BKB,together with Fredi (Avri) Frucht, Marci’s brother. We formed an inseparable trio (see photo). Two years later, in 1938, we were recruited by Jehuda Ziegler together with the other “Schratzen”, among them Tuvia Rübner, Shmuel Givoni (Salomon) and Jehoshua Lakner into the Shomer Hatzair. It was a cultural shock for us. The value systems in the BKB and Shomer were so different. In the BKB we thought, talked and “lived” for swimming and were judged by the results. A person who swam a few seconds slower than the others was low in popularity and prestige and even judged by some as being slowwitted.
In the Shomer Hatzair, sports played only a very minor role and importance was placed on intellectual endeavors, debating skills, knowledge of Zionism and Marxism and on conforming to the “party line”. The latter brings to mind another incident involving Eli: Eli had a religious background and upbringing. His religiousness clashed with the atheist ideology of the Shomer Hatzair. Eli grappled with that problem for some time and finally succeeded in dropping religion and conforming to the new ideology.
One day our group (kvutza) made a strenuous hike in the hills near Bratislava. On the way home, fatigued and exhausted by the heat, we stopped at a pub and ordered a beer. This was in opposition to the strict rules of the Shomer Hatzair which forbade the consumption of alcohol. Eli became agitated and furious and with tears in his eyes reprimanded us: “I left with great difficulties my past tradition behind and embraced the new ideology and its rules. You are all hypocrites and weaklings; at the slightest provocation you violate the rules to satisfy your desires.’
That was Eli: strong, principled, uncompromising and sticking to his beliefs. These attitudes permeated his life – even to his death. Life in the kibbutz was hard and the realities of everyday life often clashed with ideology. But Eli and Josefa, his wife, persevered for many years. Josefa and Tuvia, who still live in Merchavia, could and I hope will write about that period in Eli’s life. I left the kibbutz after 1 ½ years, in September 1942. It was a very difficult decision for me, not the least of which was the parting of ways with Eli. I remember Eli crying.
In 1946 I stopped over in Bratislava on my way to the United States. Eli and Josefa were there. They had been sent as “shlichim” (representatives) of the movement to aid the Jewish survivors and facilitate their immigration to Palestine.
So we were reunited again and spent a marvelous month together. One of our activites was training with my father at the track and field grounds of the old Makabea Club in Petržalka (see photo).
Although Eli and I lived continents apart, we kept in touch. During the last 40 years or so I visited Israel at least once a year and we always got together with Eli. The last time I saw Eli was in May 2007. In typical Eli fashion he had prepared a folder of things we had discussed over the phone. For example I had asked him whether he knew how high “Givat Hamore” was, a hill near Merchavia, where I had participated in a glider workshop in 1942, was. Eli had prepared a detailed surveyor’s map of Givat Hamore, far beyond what I had asked for. Another of Eli’s traits: he was precise, conscientious, detailed and thorough in everything he did. It extended from his professional photography work to his help in preparing the BKB meetings in Shavei Zion and to his research activities in archeology which he took up in his later years.
There are a few, very few, people in one’s life about whom one has the certainty that they will always be there for you, they will never disappoint or hurt you, whose loyalty you never question. Eli was such a person for me. He leaves a great void in my life.
As much as we miss Eli on this earth, he will be lovingly embraced in the BKB – Himmel by all of our friends who preceded him there.
Josefa, my thoughts are with you and your family. I wish you strength in coping with the loss and may you rejoice in happy memories of the past. Love, Chaim/Gyuri
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