Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Lost Child of Beit Lid

In the chaotic first years of Israel's existence, many hundreds of children went missing -- at least 800, perhaps more than a thousand. These children were younger than three, and their families were new immigrants living in tent camps (ma'abarot) where they were temporarily parked upon arrival. The children were sent to hospitals and never came back. When their bewildered and frantic parents went looking for them, they were told their children had died and been buried. In some cases, letters from the military arrived in the late 1960s, requiring the teenagers be screened for service. By then the parents were no longer bewildered and disoriented refugees, and when they realized there were others like them, they demanded an investigation. Since then, there have been four separate public investigations. Since most (but by no means all) of the children were from Yemenite families, the issue is know in Israel as The Case of the Yemenite Children.

The various investigations have shown that indeed, most of the missing children really did die at the time - but not all of them have ever been accounted for. Some people continue to believe that there was a conspiracy to remove children from large immigrant families and to hand them over to wealthy childless Ashkenazi families. Also, keep in mind this earlier post, which told how many Yemenite Jews had never encountered a physician, which partially explains some of the context.

One of the documents we published as part of our Declaration of Independence collection deals with one of these cases. (×’-3013/12)

On November 3, 1950, Yehezkel Sahar, the Chief of Police, wrote to Minister of Health Moshe Shapira. A few months earlier, there had been a report in the media about an infant who had gone missing in one of the camps. Sahar assured Shapira that he put his best investigator on the case, and here's the result: a three-page detailed report written by S. Sofer.

We think the report undermines the conspiracy theory, but it does demonstrate a frightening degree of callousness in the chaos:
February 29, 1950: The story appeared in Davar.
March 17, 1950: A social worker from the Beit Lid camp confirmed that the 7-month-old child was transferred from there to the hospital on Dec 21, 1949. Having been cured, he was sent mistakenly to a different camp, Ein Shemer. At Ein Shemer they have his discharge paper from January 8, 1950 -- but they don't have him. Nor can they explain how they have his discharge form.
A doctor at the hospital confirms that the child was brought from Beit Lid on December 21. He was sent back on January 8 -- to Ein Shemer. She doesn't know who the ambulance driver was.
The parents reported that their baby son was sent to the hospital but not returned, and when they asked they were told he was sent to Ein Shemer. (Oddly, the dates in their recounting are a bit later, in February.)
A doctor at Ein Shemer fond no record of a child by this name, but confirmed that on January 8, an unnamed child was brought from the hospital.
A registrar at the hospital recorded all patients. But when they're sent back, it's with an ambulance service from Ramat Gan.
A doctor at the hospital remembers discharging the child and sending him to Ein Shemer.
The ambulance driver has a record for children transferred to Ein Shemer on January 8, one with this name. There is a procedure for handing over children, and he acted accordingly.
A doctor at Ein Shemer said that they refuse to accept children whom they didn't send. Sometimes, he says, drivers leave children and quickly depart so as not to be stuck with them.
A police sergeant found no records at Ein Shemer. He brought the mother to the children's home but she didn't identify her son. On April 7, he returned to Ein Shemer and heard from an administrator that there's lots of confusion in their records.
Officer Sofer completed his report with the comment that it might be possible to investigate further but he didn't see how this would help find the child. He recommended that someone look into the matter and determine who is responsible for the lax procedures. He complimented the original social worker who had invested time and her own money in traveling back and forth in her efforts to investigate.
At the ISA, we asked ourselves if we have any documentation about the child at a later stage of life. Since his name was common, however (we've withheld it in the publication), that wasn't possible -- and anyway, if we assume that he didn't starve in the Ein Shemer camp but was probably picked up by some other family, there's no way to know what his name was. If he's still alive he must be 64 years old. If.

1 comment:

  1. V interesting. Crossposted here: