A surprise meeting

March 4, 2016 by Henry Benjamin
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Former Chief of the General Staff of the IDF Benny Gantz was on a visit to Sydney’s Moriah College where he unexpectedly met up with grandson of one of his late mother’s oldest friends. The two women had survived Bergen-Belsen, travelling to Palestine together after the war.

Benny Gantz and Ester Friedmsn

Benny Gantz and Ester Friedman

Over 800 people packed the theatre in Moriah College for a UIA  function at which Gantz was speaking along with Entebbe hero Doron Almog. Gantz broke the routine by asking Rabbi Yedidya Krauthammer to join him on the stage where he told the audience a little bit about the connection between the two men.

The two women met in Bergen-Belsen. A family member taking care of Ester was sure she would not survive the camp and asked others in the compound that if anything were to happen to her who would look after Ester. Malka Gantz offered her help and commitment.

J-Wire spoke to Rabbi Krauthammer to learn more of the story about his grandmother Ester Friedman and Malka Gantz…and how he met up with the Lt-General.

His story:

Benny Gantz and Rabbi Yedidya Krauthammer Photo: Giselle Haber

Benny Gantz and Rabbi Yedidya Krauthammer Photo: Giselle Haber

“I was in the kitchen at Moriah at the event which was being catered for the AIT operating under the Community Kashrut hechsher which I am responsible for. Benny Gantz came through the kitchen to get to the venue for whatever reason.  I said to him ‘Hi Benny…look at me – I am Ester Friedman’s grandson.’ He hugged me and asked after my grandma and asked me what I was doing in Sydney. I had met him over two years ago at my grandma’s house in Petah Tikva when he visited her on erev Yom Hazikaron and Yom HaShoah.”

Ester Friedman is now in her mid-80s and still lives in Petah Tikva.

She was 12 years old when she was deported in the first transport from Hungary to Auschwitz where she was selected by the notorious Dr Josef Mengele for experimentation. She eventually escaped his clutches and worked in a metal factory.

Rabbi Krauthammer continued: “My grandma told us the story. She said that in Israel, she did not meet the Gantz family after Malka died but my uncle gave a lecture to the IDF telling the story of his mother and her relationship with Malka Gantz. One of the high-ranking officers attending the lecture was responsible for bringing Benny Gantz to meet my grandmother.”

Ester and Malka after the war

Ester and Malka after the war

Gantz visited Ester Friedman at her home where she told him more of the story.

In Bergen-Belsen Ester Friedman had contracted typhus. At her home she told Benny Gantz:  “There were dead bodies everywhere. They didn’t even try removing them. I had typhus and they threw me on a mountain of bodies. Your mother was the one who pulled me from the bodies.”

Three days later the camp was liberated by the British and Ester Friedman was put under their care. The two women reached Sweden after the wardroom where they travelled to the Mediterranean  and beating the British blockade to land in Palestine.

Rabbi Krauthammer said his mother does not speak much of her early years but it is known that she was in the Palmach. At the end of her meeting with Gantz from whom she received a certificate and gratitude for her “contribution towards the foundation of the State and her efforts in the continuation of the Jewish people in our land. You are the living example of what heroism is.” She told Gantz: “Your mother always dreamed of having a son who would be a general.”

Rabbi Krauthammer spoke of his meeting. “It was very symbolic. To meet someone at the other end of the world who is very important to your family is special.’

Video of Benny Gantz and Rabbi Yedidya Krauthammer at the UIA function in Sydney.

The video below of the 2013  meeting of  Benny Gantz and Ester Friedman is in Ivrit
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