Tracking a Child’s Footprint: The Rescue of France’s Jewish Children in the Holocaust

"Colonie Scolaire" was founded years before WWII with the aim of supporting the children of Paris’s poor immigrants. With the beginning of Jewish persecution in occupied France, the organization went underground in order to save as many Jewish children as possible. This is the story of one of those children, told through the organization's documents…

Colonie Scolaire children on a summer outing to Berck-Plage

On August 27, 1942, the director of a French orphanage, “La Pouponnière” – Nouvelle Etoile des Enfants de France (“The Nursery”) – sent a short letter to a colleague at the La Mère et L’Enfant (“Mother and Child”) clinic at 36 rue Amelot in Paris, along with the outline of a child’s footprint, cut from a newspaper.

The newspaper cutout of a child’s footprint and the attached letter from the director

In the letter, the orphanage director requests the clinic’s help in contacting the mother of the child Cecile Beras, so that she can buy her boots in the shoe size of the footprint attached to the letter.  At the end of the letter, she confirms receipt of the postal check for 475 francs for the settlement of Cecile’s room and board.

Why did the director of the orphanage where Cecile was staying, send a letter to her colleague at another institution in order to contact the little girl’s mother? And why did she not mention her colleague’s name in her letter?

In the first half of the 20th century, Paris was flooded with waves of Jewish immigrants, many of them from eastern Europe, who crowded into the city’s poorer quarters. Rather than integrating into the French Republic’s melting pot, the new immigrants continued speaking Yiddish and lived their lives largely apart from the rest of French society, much to the chagrin of the official leadership of the French Jewish community.

Headed by electrical engineer Boris Wolski, La Colonie Scolaire was established in 1926 to aid the children of eastern European immigrants. It ran social services and a medical clinic called La Mère et l’Enfant, but the highlight of its activities was its yearly summer camps for the children living in the poor quarters of Paris. The camps were held at Berck-Plage on the Atlantic coast, an area familiar to us mainly from the works of Impressionist painters. These summer camps offered the children a chance to escape the suffocation of the crowded city once a year and breathe some fresh air. The organization’s offices were located in the 11th arrondissement in Paris, at 36 rue Amelot, an address that became the organization’s code name during the Holocaust.

The underground organization “Rue Amelot” was founded on June 15, 1940, twenty-four hours after Paris fell to the Nazis. It was headed by David Rapaport. Like any good third sector organization, Colonie Scolaire learned to adapt itself to the changing reality. The organization took under its auspices existing orphanages and at the same time opened four soup kitchens that operated in secret, through which medical services, food, and additional assistance were provided to children and their families.

The orphanage at La Varenne

The biggest challenge facing the organization stemmed from the mass arrests of Jews, especially of foreign Jews without French citizenship (many from eastern Europe, the organization’s target group). A large portion were incarcerated in detention camps or deported to extermination camps. As a result, many children were left without one or both of their parents, and a framework had to be provided for them. The need intensified in July 1942 after thousands of Jews were arrested and later deported in what became known as the as the Vel d’Hiv roundup (Vel’ d’Hiv was short for Velodrome d’Hiver, meaning “winter stadium”, where the detainees were held).

One of the most significant steps the organization undertook to deal with this challenge was the hiding of Jewish children from Paris with Christian families in rural France, as well as in French monasteries and orphanages. “La Pouponnière” where little Cecile was hidden, was one of these orphanages. Contrary to the familiar stories about children from eastern Europe or Belgium who were sporadically sent by their families to the families of acquaintances, Rue Amelot ran a supervised network that monitored the placement of the children with “caretakers.” Thanks to this network, the director of the institution where Cecile was staying could contact the organization to find the girl’s mother. Because of the underground activity, no names were mentioned in the letter.

The organization did not only manage the hiding of children throughout France. Rue Amelot trained volunteer social workers who visited the children periodically, both to deliver the monthly payments to the “caretakers,” which was usually about 700 francs, and to monitor the children’s health and development. The visits to each child were recorded on a special card file and in personal files, which included references to the child’s rate of development, their relationship with the caretaker, their physical and mental health as expressed in tendencies towards nightmares and bedwetting, for example, as well as comments such as – “beautiful boy.” The activity was organized in such an exemplary manner that viewers of the files must continually remind themselves that all of this was conducted in secret, and at great personal and daily risk. The network’s own activists destroyed much of the Rue Amelot archive after the Gestapo raided a number of Jewish institutions in 1943. Despite all this, a considerable part of the archive has survived, and includes, among other things, about 1,500 personal files, many of them from the post-war period.

One of the files belongs to Isaac Beras, Cecile’s brother. Isaac was born on December 27, 1933 to Sarah (Monique) and Chaklis (Charles) Beras, an immigrant couple from Lithuania. His personal file also includes a document from 1947, in which the then 14-year-old Isaac describes his experiences during the Holocaust. The family had lived in Gagny, a suburb of Paris. In the testimony, Isaac describes how the family was deported from Gagny following the German occupation, and little Isaac was forced to give up his place in the car, and walk on foot to the destination. The walk was difficult for him and the child cried until his mother occasionally put him in the car. His parents were also very tired from the journey.

Eventually they reached a large garage and his mother ordered him to stay calm and quiet while she went out with his father. They were arrested and interrogated for several hours by the Germans. At the end of the interrogation, they were released and allowed to return to their home.

Isaac Beras’s testimony from 1947

Thus Isaac remained with his parents for two years until one morning he woke up to a knock on the door. When his mother saw the policemen standing on the doorstep she started shouting and crying. Isaac’s father was immediately arrested and two hours later, the police brought him back so that he could pick up his coat. Isaac’s mother wanted to give her husband strawberries and cheese but he refused and gave them to Isaac instead.

It was the last time the two saw each other.

Document preserved in the Memorial de la Shoah in Paris documenting the deportation of the father Chaklis (Charles) Beras to Auschwitz from Drancy on September 14, 1942

Isaac then underwent surgery and remained in hospital for a month. A nurse who visited their home in 1942, apparently on behalf of Colonie Scolaire, recommended that his mother send him to an orphanage. At the hospital, he was prepared for the transfer, and his mother visited him twice. His mother and one-and-a-half year-old sister Liliane were then deported to the camps.

Document from the Memorial de la Shoah: Liliane, born May 29, 1941, deported from Drancy on November 11, 1942. Sara Mednik, born in Poukovitch on December 27, 1912, was deported on the same day

Isaac remained in the countryside, first with one “caretaker” and then for an additional two years with a different “caretaker.” In a letter preserved in the archives, the caretaker tending to Isaac and his brother Jacob wrote to the organization asking for money for items such as stockings (socks) that she needed to buy for him, due to the costs involved in raising the child. After staying with two “caretakers,” Isaac was sent to an orphanage, where he remained even after the war. His sister Cecile, whose footprint was mentioned at the beginning of this article, had wanted to stay with him but was sent to Switzerland. She later returned to France and was adopted by a family from Alsace.

The caretaker’s letter

The card file with the visits of the Rue Amelot activists to the families with whom Isaac was hidden are preserved in the archive. The file mentions the items given to Isaac by the activists, including socks and other items of clothing, and also notes the condition of the shoes in his possession.

Visitation card

Isaac was unable to contact his sister Cecile after the war. He also searched for his brother Jacob who had survived the horrors of the Shoah. Jacob recently passed away in France. Isaac Beras remained at the orphanage until 1949 when he immigrated with the Youth Aliyah to Israel. He eventually started a family, and now lives with his wife in Zichron Yaacov. Cecile also survived and lives in Strasbourg.

Isaac Beras as a child. Photo courtesy of the family


Isaac Beras today. Photo courtesy of the family

The Colonie Scolaire Archive includes documentation of thousands of Jewish children in France during and after the Holocaust who were cared for by the organization. Each such child is an entire world with a complex background that remains mostly hidden away in the archive files. Like the tale of Cinderella, we set out in search of a small footprint left behind, and discovered the story of the Beras family’s children.


The Colonie Scolaire Archive is now preserved at the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People at the National Library of Israel.

We are grateful to Dr. Miriam Caloianu, who devoted herself to cataloging the Colonie Scolaire Archive with all its children, and drew our attention to this story; Tami Siesel for the background research; Nachman Fahrner for the translations from French; Germain Choukroun for the introduction to Isaac Beras and his thorough research on the Beras family; and especially Isaac Beras, who has allowed us to tell his story. Due to privacy restrictions, the Colonie Scolaire files at the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People are closed to the public. If you have interest in the files, please contact: [email protected]

The Family Trading Company That Became a Relief Network for the Jews of Yemen

In late 19th-century Yemen, Suleiman Habshush built a prosperous trading empire and harnessed its success to help needy members of the local Jewish community. Later, when his grandson inherited the firm, the family helped to bring the community to Israel

Yechiel Habshush and Yemenite Jewish orphans in the Land of Israel

Suleiman Habshush was born to a Jewish family in Sana’a, Yemen, in 1856, the youngest of five sons. When he was eight years old, his father passed away. Suleiman worked as a coppersmith in his youth, like his brothers and father before him. Yet he struggled to make a living in this field and soon switched to commerce. Suleiman left Sana’a and began building the great mercantile network that would one day become a household name in Yemen.

Suleiman, who knew poverty and deprivation in his early years, decided it would not be right for his family alone to enjoy the fruits of his success. In his travels throughout the country, he was exposed to the difficulties suffered by Jews across Yemen – neglect, persecution by the Muslim authorities and unemployment. “Upon realizing that there was a need to represent the community, he secretly took it upon himself,” wrote Suleiman’s grandson, Yechiel Habshush.

Suleiman gradually expanded his trading network, which alongside its business activity, also served as a relief network for Yemen’s Jews. During the horrific siege of Sana’a in 1905, Suleiman came to the community’s assistance.  He described this terrible period in his book Eshkolot Merurot, noting that “about two-thirds of the residents perished in this siege.”

The bustling atmosphere and the generosity practiced in Suleiman’s home in Sana’a were well known and became instilled in his grandson Yechiel, who was born a few years after the siege. In the preface to the book that Yechiel wrote in his adulthood, he described the family home during his childhood as filled with visitors at all hours of the day and night.

There was hardly any private life in any sense of the word. The doors to our home were open almost all day until late into the night, with the houses functioning as residences where the family ate and slept, as well as a center for trade in Yemen and abroad, on-site warehouses for the goods, and business offices. From the early morning hours, the street of the Habshush family, which was closed on one side, was filled with visitors. The street was lined with horses, mules and donkeys belonging to the visitors, telegram messengers and mail carriers, government officials, brokers, traders, buyers and sellers from Sana’a and across Yemen, troublemakers, businessmen, people asking for aid, people waiting for the distribution of bread at noon, and guests from Yemen and abroad. A council house for sages and businessmen, weddings and Brit Milah ceremonies, and also, unfortunately, mourning rituals and the like. The whole house was busy constantly.”

Suleiman died in 1922 and the trading network he founded passed to his sons and grandsons, who re-named it “Suleiman Habshush & Sons” and expanded it to other countries. As history would have it, the trading company came to prominence during the period that some called “the Second Return to Zion”—the era of the great waves of Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel and the establishment of the State of Israel.

Yechiel Habshush in 1992. Photo: Courtesy of the family

Over the course of his own life, Yechiel Habshush maintained the family legacy of generosity and philanthropy. Yechiel was a businessman and public activist as well as a writer, poet and researcher of Yemenite Jewry. He eventually donated the family’s vast archive to the National Library of Israel which has enabled us to trace the Habshush family’s broad humanitarian activities. It was here that we learned that Yechiel immigrated to Mandatory Palestine from the port of Aden in 1930. He had arrived in Aden three years earlier from Sana’a, and worked to develop contacts with the Jewish Agency office in the city, helping many Jewish families immigrate to the Land of Israel.

Upon his arrival in Palestine, he immediately joined the local branch of the family’s trading company in Tel Aviv opened by his uncle David Tov. At the Tel Aviv branch, the Yemenite Jews living in the Land of Israel could send money back to their families in Aden or Sana’a. With no banks in Yemen at the time, the fastest, and perhaps only way to transfer money was through trading companies. How did it work? A person would deposit a sum of money at the Tel Aviv branch, and the branch manager in Sana’a or Aden would then transfer the deposit to their relatives in Yemen.

The Habshush family company kept detailed records of these donations, and in the archive, there are hundreds of hand-written receipts for the funds received in Yemen. On the margins of these receipts, Yechiel added notes to his brothers in Yemen to “give so-and-so the liras that his relative donated to him.”

Hand-written receipts of donations transferred to Yemen

And what of those who were not so fortunate? What of the refugees and the needy who did not have family abroad who could send such funds? In order to help, Yechiel and his cousin Meir Levi joined the Ezrat Ahim organization in Tel Aviv dedicated to the affairs of the Yemenite immigrant community in the Land of Israel. As for the work in Yemen itself, Yechiel mobilized a group of young men he knew from his days in Aden. These connections would play a crucial role in bringing Jews who still remained in Yemen to Israel.

An entire file in the Habshush family archive offers evidence of a critical part of Ezrat Ahim’s activity, which was dedicated to the care of Jewish orphans in Yemen. According to local Islamic law, children orphaned of both parents were obliged to be placed in the custody of a Muslim family that would raise them according to the religion of Muhammad. To preempt such an eventuality, a smuggling network was organized to rescue the orphans—first by transferring them to other Jewish communities, and then onwards to the Land of Israel, as quickly as possible.

Thanks to Ezrat Ahim’s activity and the help of the Youth Aliyah movement under the leadership of Henrietta Szold, hundreds of orphans were brought from Yemen to Mandatory Palestine before the establishment of the State of Israel.

List of names of orphans brought to the Land of Israel by the Ezrat Ahim organization in 1945


Yemenite orphans in the Land of Israel. From the book The Habshush Family


The Habshush Family’s Efforts to Promote Zionism in Yemen

Apart from providing real aid to refugees and the needy within the Yemenite communities, Yechiel and his family members urgently believed in their cause because they no longer saw Yemen as a place suitable for Jews. Before and after the establishment of the State of Israel, Yechiel worked to convince rabbis and Jewish leaders in Yemen to support the Zionist movement. In the archive we found a vivid example of this in a letter written by Yechiel to Rabbi Yosef Shemen, one of the last leaders of the Sana’a Jewish community, in which he explained to the rabbi about the Jewish national movement that was calling on Jews to immigrate to the Land of Israel.

The letter Yechiel Habshush sent to Rabbi Yosef Shemen in Sana’a

The Habshush family attached great importance to education of the community’s children. In the 1940s, a Hebrew school for boys was established in Sana’a alongside a school for girls. This was an extraordinary development, as the education of girls in the Yemenite Jewish community had largely been overlooked beforehand. The students studied both religious and general studies, as well as Hebrew—perhaps in preparation for their immigration. The schools for boys and girls were managed by the leaders and rabbis of Sana’a, with donations by the Habshush family funding its establishment and operations.

Soon rumors spread throughout all the Yemeni Jewish communities about the possibility of travelling to Mandatory Palestine through the British-controlled port city of Aden. Crowds flocked to the city. The approval certificates were slow to arrive and the infrastructure could not support the influx of so many people. Many died of hunger and disease. Once again, Ezrat Ahim mobilized to help in these tragic circumstances.

Aside from the activity in Yemen itself, Yechiel saw importance in outreach to the rest of the Hebrew settlement, and with his sharp business sense he initiated a number of welcome initiatives. Among other things, he suggested to the mayor of Tel Aviv to organize a day devoted entirely to collecting donations for Aden’s refugees.

An urgent request presented to the mayor of Tel Aviv: “A Collection Drive to Help ‘Our Miserable Brethren'”

The materials in the Habshush family archive reflect the enormous scope of Ezrat Ahim’s activities. It seems that on every occasion one of the community’s members needed assistance, the organization rushed to help, to the best of its ability. The assistance included – requests from the Broadcasting Authority to resume performances by “the beloved announcer and singer Mr. Yechiel Adaki,” help with housing and rent for immigrant families, an appeal to the Mandate authorities on behalf of Jewish prisoners, and much more. Ezrat Ahim did not hesitate to involve itself in the life of the community in Yemen: it informed the members about the organization’s activities, and even called upon them to cease any bickering within the local community and unite behind the common cause to rescue the community.

In 1985–1986 Yechiel published a two-volume book about the Habshush family and included many documents from the archive to tell the story of his family. Yechiel remained active right up until the last remaining Jews in Yemen were brought to Israel in the 1990s. He passed away in 2002, at the age of ninety-one.

The book The Habshush Family by Yechiel Habshush [Hebrew], an independent publication

Thanks to Amitai Aricha and Dr. Menashe Anzi from the Department of Jewish History at Ben-Gurion University.

The Yechiel Habshush Archive has been made accessible with the courtesy of his descendants. It is dedicated to the memory of David Tov, son of Hanina and Amy Habshush. The archive was initially cataloged as part of the research project of Dr. Menashe Anzi, supported by the Israel Science Foundation, and later thanks to the kind donation of the Samis Foundation, Seattle, Washington, dedicated to the memory of Samuel Israel.

Dr. Anzi is currently conducting extensive research on the Habshush family trading company.

Around the World in Three Years: How the “Tehran Children” Were Rescued

In February 1943, the “Tehran Children” arrived in Israel. These child refugees from Poland were gathered in Iran from where they were sent via a circuitous route to Mandatory Palestine in one of WWII's most comprehensive and successful rescue operations. Documents and photos in the Ein Harod Archive offer an intimate glimpse into the complex absorption process and heart-wrenching personal stories

The “Tehran Children" on a train bound for Mandatory Palestine, 1943, photo courtesy of the Central Zionist Archives

The train pulls into the station. Children stare out from the carriage windows and doorways. Hundreds of small, sad faces pressing up against the windows and doors, looking with astonishment at the strangers waiting for them on the platform.

The year is 1943. No, this is not another awful scene of children being sent to their deaths in the East. It is the opposite. This particular train carries children who have been rescued from the European inferno, and it is passing through stations of the Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel—Rehovot, Lod, Hadera, Binyamina and Atlit—providing the residents with an opportunity to welcome the refugees with open arms.

The strangers on the platform cry, smile, wave and extend a hand, cakes and flowers to the embarrassed and surprised children. They sing songs that some of the children have already learned the words to from the counselors at the transit camp in Tehran: Hatikva, Shir Hama’a lot, and others.

Among the children are two brothers: Aryeh and Moshe Drucker. Aryeh is much older than his fifteen years, a result of what he has witnessed and endured. Moshe is ten years old, still a child, perhaps thanks to his protective older brother who makes sure he remains so.

Some of the Tehran Children standing outside the train at Atlit. Aryeh Druker is the first on the left.

The names of the Drucker brothers are the first on the orderly list of children preserved in the Ein Harod Archive. Name. Date of birth. Country of birth: Poland.

While going through the yellowing and almost crumbling documents in the archive, just before they begin to undergo the process of conservation and digitization at the National Library of Israel, we discover that Moshe is still alive, and that he is happy to talk with us.

The list of the children preserved in the Ein Harod Archive

From Poland to the Children’s Transit Camp in Tehran

20,000 kilometers, 719 children and three continents—these are the dry figures behind the rescue mission. The children, collected from orphanages and gulags across the Soviet Union, were transferred to a temporary tent camp in Tehran. From there, they set out, together with counselors and other adult refugees, on the long and circuitous journey to the Land of Israel. They came to be known collectively as the “Tehran Children”.

Almost all the children were born in pre-war Poland, in the eastern part that was transferred to Russian control as part of the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. The Polish Jews who suddenly found themselves on the Soviet side of the border were quickly labelled as enemies of Mother Russia. Many were sent to Siberia or the endless Asian steppes of the USSR. Many others had fled there on their own accord after the German invasion in 1941.

“We actually came from Katowice,” says Moshe, “but when the war broke out, mother, Aryeh and I were visiting Aunt Rosa, in Polish Ukraine. And we were ‘stuck’ there.” On the day Poland was partitioned, their little family was also torn apart: all of a sudden, there was a border separating Clara, Aryeh and Moshe from Leon (the father) and Herman (the older brother). A border that could no longer be crossed.

When Clara was put on the train to Siberia with her two sons, her world shattered. She never imagined that it was there that she would find the chance to save her children.

The fact that things were worse in Germany did not make life in Siberia any easier. After almost two years of battling hunger, cold and disease, and without any way of being able to properly feed or clothe her sons, at the first opportunity, Clara placed them in an orphanage.

“At night we would sometimes sneak back to her house to sleep,” Moshe recalled, “and we would bring food with us, what we managed to steal from the kitchen. If it weren’t for our leftovers, there would have been days when she wouldn’t have had anything to eat.”

When the Polish government-in-exile established an army under the command of General Władysław Anders, inside Russian territory, the Soviet authorities allowed Polish citizens to join it by crossing the border into Iran, which was then under British control. This exceptional sharing of interests was a rare chance for the refugees inside the Soviet Union to escape.

In order not to miss out on this opportunity, Zionist activists worked to collect Jewish children from the orphanages, in the hope that the British authorities would eventually approve their entry into the Land of Israel.

With a heavy heart, and knowing that she would probably never see them again, Clara chose the option that was more likely to save her sons’ lives: she sent them with the HeHalutz and Histadrut activists to Iran and from there to the Land of Israel.

When the Anders Army arrived in Tehran together with the Jewish refugees attached to it, the Jewish Agency set up a temporary camp for the 719 children, most of them orphaned from at least one parent. A majority still didn’t even know what had happened to their parents or siblings.

There, for the first time in close to three years, they no longer had to worry about their most basic needs. There were now adults who cared for them. The counselors came from Mandatory Palestine, or were refugees themselves, graduates of the various Zionist training courses in Eastern Europe. The director of the operation, who was also beginning to plan the complex absorption process, was Henrietta Szold, who until then managed the Jewish Agency’s bureau for youth immigration.

She reported to the annual council meeting of the “Institute for Children and Youth”:

“The members of the HeHalutz organization in Tehran removed the Jewish children from the Polish group and placed them in a special camp, a camp that consists of one small house, one large barracks and tents. Most of the children we are waiting for are currently living in these tents. They have no beds; they sleep on the floor. Their upkeep is reasonable. They have blankets but no clothes; there is not enough instruction.”

With Szold at the helm, aided by her assistant Hans Beyth, the absorption program was managed down to the minute details that only someone who cared deeply and truly for the children’s safety and future could think of.

“Not all the children are orphans, but at the moment none have parents; perhaps in the future these children will find their parents, or the parents will find their children in The Land [“of Israel”]. This is the reason I asked that the children in Tehran be photographed with their names so that the parents will recognize them when they arrive in The Land despite the changes in their facial features.”

With every council meeting and discussion, it became clearer that the children required food, clothing and housing, and that their education, psychological counseling, and practical training for their eventual independence also required attention.

“I have already insisted that a different concept should be given to the word refugee, these children are not refugees, they are olim [Jewish immigrants to the Land of Israel], and the approach to them and our duty towards them should be as olim, we are olim and the country needs olim.”

(Henrietta Szold)


Here Come the Children: Initial Absorption in Israel

When the trains filled with children finally arrived from Egypt, they were greeted with great excitement.

From contemporary descriptions in the press, it appears that the Jewish settlement did all it could for these children, wishing that it could do the same for rest of the Jews who remained in Europe.

At the stations, waiting to welcome and embrace the new arrivals were the leaders of the Yishuv, rabbis and their wives, entire classes of children, entire schools and regular people from near and far.

“The crowds stood on the platform and between the tracks, holding gifts, sweets, baskets with white flour rolls brought from Givat Brenner, canned fruits, crates with bottles of fruit juices.”

“The thousands of people, everyone calling out in Hebrew, everyone overflowing with endless love for them, reaching out to them with the gift of their love—a bouquet of flowers, a chocolate bar, a refreshing drink, a word of endearment, ‘Welcome, welcome to you, Polish orphans of orphaned Poland!’”

            (Hatsofeh, February 19, 1943)

Among those waiting were the refugees’ relatives, themselves recent-arrived immigrants, and officers from the Anders Army who were also waiting to greet their families. Many could not hold back the tears when one of the children loudly asked those waiting at the station “Do you know where father is?” – his father was not there.

Also at the Atlit station waiting to welcome the children after their long journey was Henrietta Szold, ready for the huge task of caring for the hundreds of youngsters, each of whom was hurt in ways that a person from the local Jewish settlement could not even begin to comprehend.

Henrietta Szold welcoming the Tehran Children. Photo: Nadav Mann, Bitmuna, from Hadassah Hospital. The Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

In Atlit, the children underwent their first medical examinations, and from there they were taken by bus to transit camps, which were actually “children’s homes” prepared for them in advance throughout the country.

A recruitment letter addressed to possible candidates for the positions of counselors and caretakers for those children’s homes, emphasized:

“We do not wish for there to be a refugee camp atmosphere in these places, but that the children and youth will be kept occupied during the day, according to the different ages, in learning, gymnastics, playing, field trips, etc.”

A letter from Henrietta Szold asking if the recipient is willing to serve as a counselor for the Tehran Children. The original document is preserved in the Ein Harod Archive

Aryeh and Moshe arrived at Beit Hahalutzot (“Women Pioneers House”) in Jerusalem, where, as Moshe tells us, “We went back to being children.”

The counselors and caretakers encouraged them to play the many games they received as gifts from the public, taught them Hebrew and took them on field trips around the country.

A group of the Tehran Children on a visit to an agricultural school in the Talpiot neighborhood, Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of the Ben Zvi Institute (“Israel Revealed”), Talpiot  Agricultural School Collection, Jerusalem

The Adoptive Kibbutz

The transition period ended once the children reached their permanent residences. Thirty-three children went to Kibbutz Ein Harod, which had considerable experience in youth immigration in the 1930s.

The children’s admission documents were filed along with the few other documents found in their possession—entry visas and various medical certificates. Birth certificates or other civil documents are almost non-existent. These seemingly formal documents provide a heartbreaking glimpse into the loss of the children’s former lives.

“Father: Leon Drucker. Profession: Factory owner. Current location: Remained with the Germans.”

Moshe Drucker’s admission file. The original document is preserved in the Ein Harod Archive
Aryeh Drucker’s admission file. The original document is preserved in the Ein Harod Archive

In a majority of the forms, the descriptions—”Remained with the Germans”; “Died in Poland”; “Killed in Russia”—repeat over and over.

In what voice does a child read these answers to a young counselor standing in front of him, who likely does not even speak his mother-tongue? Can one still call this person a “child”?

Fifteen years later, the poet Nathan Alterman thought – no, these could not be children:


Time moves away and sinks below,

But suddenly burst out of it in a cloud

The wars of despair and the burden and the strength

Of the children of the day, of the elders of Tehran.

Yes, the war of the elders of Tehran, aged ten,

 And the war of the six-year-old elders of Kazakhstan,

all the elders of the battles between Siberia and Polesia

The little old men, persecuted by fire…


Kibbutz Ein Harod not only provided these adult-like children with room and board, but also prepared a comprehensive rehabilitation program for them beginning with the psychological evaluation of each child by Dr. Moshe Bril (who himself died of an illness less than a year later), and culminating in a detailed education program approved by Henrietta Szold herself.

To this day, Moshe remembers the days in Ein Harod as a healing and happy time. His brother Aryeh was his rock, his protective shield that allowed him the freedom to behave just like any other mischievous child.

Even after the children were sent to their permanent residences, Henrietta Szold kept a careful eye on their care. She continued to visit them, received letters for them or about them from parents who were able to contact her and wrote to parents who were able to receive mail.

Clara, who did not know where her children had eventually ended up, sent letters to the Bureau of Children and Youth Immigration at the Jewish Agency, and to Hans Beyth, Szold’s close assistant, who answered her and forwarded her letters to Aryeh and Moshe.

She requests to come to the Land of Israel to be with her children“, Hans Beyth’s letter to the secretariat of Ein Harod reporting on his correspondence with Clara. The original document is preserved in the Ein Harod Archive
A page from Clara’s letter to her children. From the moment of contact with Hans Beyth, she wrote many letters to the children and their caretakers. The original document is preserved in the Ein Harod Archive

After the War

World War II ended, and the Tehran Children became an integral part of the fabric of life in the country. Some of them remained in the kibbutzim and moshavim where they had been initially assigned, while slowly and determinedly taking their place among “Sabra” society (which at first had a hard time accepting them). Some were adopted by relatives or kind-hearted strangers and some, like Aryeh and Moshe, waited for their mother or father or older siblings, who somehow had managed to keep in touch and knew they were still alive.

Clara ended the war in the Asian steppes of the Soviet Union. She knew that Aryeh and Moshe were safe and being cared for. On the other hand, she knew nothing about the fate of her husband Leon or of her eldest son Herman. So she traveled to Europe. Back to blood-soaked Poland and its ghosts.

When she arrived in Katowice, she met one of her former neighbors, who was thrilled to see her alive.

Hoping to find a grave, or at least some information about how her family had died, she asked, “Do you perhaps know what happened to any of the Drucker family?”  The neighbor looked at her in astonishment and replied, “But Mrs. Drucker, your husband is waiting for you at home.” And Leon was indeed there.

When the Germans tricked the Jews into registering with the occupation authorities “for the purpose of food rations,” Leon saw what was happening and told his son that he would rather die of starvation than be on a German list. With whatever was left of their possessions, they purchased fake “Aryan” documents and continued to live as Poles in their home. Herman was finally caught by the Gestapo after they received a tip from one of his classmates, but he did not give up any information about his father.

Herman was murdered by the Germans. At first, the family thought that he had been killed in Katowice, but several years ago, Moshe’s granddaughter, during a class trip to Poland, found her great uncle’s name in the lists of those killed in Auschwitz.

While they attempted to obtain visas to immigrate to Palestine, Clara and Leon continued to live in their house in Poland. But when Clara did finally arrive in Israel to reunite with her sons, she came alone. Leon died of a heart attack just three months after his incredible reunion with Clara but without seeing his sons who were waiting for them in the Land of Israel.

“We now have here fresh and cheerful children,” wrote Shoshana Geller, who was one of the caregivers assigned to the Tehran Children. She and Atara Shturman devoted themselves to the children, trying to fill the huge hole left by their mothers.

Two years later, they were proud of the results of their work:

“Girls full of humility and grace, tall upright and broad-shouldered young men… there is great satisfaction and joy in seeing them so, and there is sadness for the mothers and fathers who were unable to accompany their children during this period of growth and see with their own eyes how their sons and daughters have grown and developed.”

The documents in this article are preserved in the Ein Harod Archive and will be available digitally as part of a collaboration between the archive, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the National Library of Israel.

The Case of Agatha Christie’s Mysterious Disappearance

One rainy December evening, Agatha Christie left her house and never returned. The disappearance of the bestselling mystery writer shocked the British nation, including Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, who took a surprising part in the unprecedented search mission…

Autographed photograph of Agatha Christie

One rainy December evening, Agatha Christie disappeared without a trace, as if she were swallowed up by the ground.

All of Britain was anxious about the fate of their beloved novelist, and thousands of fans and volunteers joined in what was, at the time, the largest ever search operation conducted by the British police. Among the volunteers was none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who employed methods that might cause you to raise an eyebrow or two.

It sounds like the plot of a good English detective story. One that Christie herself, or Conan Doyle, could have easily written, but it turns out that reality sometimes trumps fiction.

In December 1926, Agatha Christie was already a famous writer. Her book The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, published a few months earlier, spread her fame beyond England and made her a respected figure in the international literary world. Her married life, however, was not as great a success.

She wed Archie Christie (whose name she kept until her death) on the eve of the First World War, in a hasty decision that was characteristic of many marriages all over the continent at the time.

Their relationship began to fizzle after the war. Archie returned to London from the trench war in France as Colonel Archibald Christie, and typical of the men of his day, he had a hard time dealing with his wife’s independence and professional success.

Agatha, however, was devoted to her family, even with her successful writing career well underway. “I didn’t consider myself a writer. A married woman was a profession in itself. Writing books was something I did on the side,” she said of those years.

Still, that “something she did on the side” was a sensation that brought publishers and fans knocking on her door while driving her husband away.

עטיפת אחת המהדורות הראשונות בעברית
An early Hebrew edition of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

On the night she disappeared, her husband confessed to her that he was in love with another woman—Nancy Neele— that he had been having an affair with her for two years and that he wanted a divorce. After dropping this bombshell, he left their house to spend the weekend in the arms of his mistress (who would later become his wife). Christie then went into her daughter’s bedroom, gave her sleeping child a kiss, and then she too left the house.

She didn’t come back.

Her car was found the next day between an abandoned quarry and a lake, with its headlights on and the motor still running. Inside was a bag with her personal belongings and an expired driver’s license.

Britain was gripped with worry. Did the beloved writer commit suicide? Had she been murdered? Did she drown in a terrible accident?

Thousands of volunteers (estimates range from 2,000 to 15,000), sniffer dogs and police officers embarked on an unprecedented search. For the first time in the history of the British police, planes were sent to assist in the search. But in vain.

Her disappearance made waves far from Britain’s shores, and was reported in the Jewish press around the world.

Haaretz made do with a short and somewhat laconic news item:

“In London, the well-known author Agatha Christie has disappeared. Following matters between her husband and herself, she left the house in an automobile and the automobile was later found stuck in mud.”

The editors of the American Yiddish newspapers Forṿerṭs (The Forward) and Der Ṭog devoted more space to the headlines, and in general were much more informative:

This edition of The Palestine Bulletin was also quite detailed:

It was at this point that no less a figure than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle entered the story. The creator of Sherlock Holmes offered to help with the police search for the vanished murder mystery novelist. However, contrary to what one might have expected, he did not offer Scotland Yard the benefit of his sharp logical mind, instead volunteering to help in a completely unexpected way.

By this point in his life, Conan Doyle had become an ardent spiritualist, something that Sherlock Holmes would have surely curled his lip at. He was now a firm believer in the existence of the world beyond this one as well as our ability to communicate with it.

The “Cottingley Fairies” appeared in a photographic series published in England in 1917. Apparently, Conan Doyle considered this proof of the existence of fairies. In the 1980s, the girls in the photographs revealed that the images were fake. The fairies were pictures cut out from a children’s book. The photographs can be found today in the National Science and Media Museum

The police gave Conan Doyle one of Christie’s gloves that was found in the abandoned car. He then took it to a local medium hoping that she would use her special abilities to uncover Christie’s whereabouts. The medium was unable to find out the exact location of the missing person, but declared decisively that she was alive, in no physical danger and would be found soon.

The proof Conan Doyle had been waiting for came eleven days later. A waiter or receptionist at a spa hotel in Harrogate where Christie was staying under a false name recognized her, and contacted the authorities. She was picked up by Archie and the police, safe and sound, her sanity intact, but she never fully explained her disappearance.


שרלוק וווטסון, איור של הסראנד לאחד מסיפורי הולמס של ארתור קונן דויל שפורסמו בעיתון זה.
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, an illustration by Sidney Paget from the Sherlock Holmes adventure The Greek Interpreter, which appeared in The Strand Magazine in September, 1893

The official version (probably put out by her husband) was that she suffered from what would be described today as dissociation, and was not aware of what was happening to her the whole time.

But this explanation, is, shall we say, less plausible than some other possibilities. Did Agatha Christie stage her own disappearance? And if so, to what end?

She never offered an official version of events and the episode is not even mentioned in her autobiography. But years later it came out that on that evening, after abandoning her car, Agatha boarded a train to London, where she stayed the night with a friend in Chelsea Park Gardens.

The cynics tried to claim that it was a brazen publicity stunt. A sort of elaborate ruse to promote her detective novels.

The romantics, on the other hand (and probably also tabloid readers, in other words – almost everyone), thought differently.

Was it an attempt to embarrass her husband (whom the police snatched from Nancy’s bed the night Christie went missing), or worse—to frame him for her murder? Was she trying to shock him so that he would return to her or was it really the mental collapse of a woman who had just discovered the answer to a mystery that had been brewing in her own home for over two years?

In retrospect, we can reasonably assume that the motives were related to the betrayal, since beyond the extraordinarily coincidental timing, it turns out that the pseudonym Christie used to register at the hotel included the last name of her husband’s lover—she called herself “Teresa Neele.”

We will never really know for sure. This mystery, unlike all the hundreds of mysteries she solved for us, will remain just as it is: open and intriguing.

From that point, Agatha Christie’s life took a massively positive turn. She remarried an archaeologist, Max Mallowan, who took her on fascinating journeys around the world, and she won unprecedented professional success, the likes of which no other writer has been able to replicate to this day. Only the Bible and Shakespeare have sold more copies.

Agatha Christie on an archaeological dig in the Middle East with her second husband, Max Mallowan

In 1971, Christie was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, so in fact proper protocol would decree that we should have added the title “Dame” to her name throughout this article.

Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie passed away on January 12, 1976, taking the secret surrounding her disappearance for eleven days with her to her grave.