Saturday, 26 August 2017

Survival was my Hope; Celebrating Life is my Victory

That title encapsulates the essence of the story I am about to unfold to you, a moving story of survival, hope and its eventual rewards of success.

Avraham Moshe Minkowski, also known to his friends as Manny, was born in 1926 in the town of Starachowica, in the southern part of Poland.

His religious Jewish family of ten enjoyed the quite life of their shtetel.  Manny belonged to the local chapter of Beitar and lived through a relatively normal childhood until that dreadful day in November 1939 where his world turned upside down as the Nazis marched into their little town.

On that day, at the young age of thirteen, soon before his Bar-Mitzvah, Manny and his father were separated from the rest of their family. That is when his  painful pilgrimage through the inferno of drifting from one Nazi labour camp to another, towards the final destination at Auschwitz, where he was reduced to number A19762 (etched in his brain in German until this very day!), started.

That journey is laced with tales of struggle, pain, humiliation, repeated beating, starvation, theft, death and other horrors which are too harsh and too many for this paper to contain. Manny’s strong spirit, however, overcame them all. He belongs to a very special and exclusive group of Jews who have inspired many of us, Shoah survivors. He is one of the invincible. No power would or could ever extinguish their tiny spark of Hope, a spark that ignited their desire to go on living and pass their legacy to future generations.

Manny’s journey of survival, however, did not end when the Russians liberated Auschwitz. Fortunately, neither had hope left his heart.

Soon thereafter, he realized that his road to freedom was still speckled with many more harsh experiences woven with pain and betrayal, forever testing his resolute Jewish Spirit which eventually prevailed. His wanderings took him to Germany, then back to his home town and after what seemed like an eternity, Manny found his way to a refugee camp in the most southern spot of the Italian boot.

While in Italy, where he spent a year and a half, first in its southern part and later in Arona in the north, Manny joined the Italian branch of the Irgun which had over a thousand members of Beitar who had arrived with the flood of Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe. It was there that he acquired the skills of mechanics and electricity which would eventually earn him a very important role in the history of the early days of the nascent state, Medinat Yisrael, our Jewish Homeland.

 These skills were first handy when Manny became part of the team that prepared the explosives which were used to bomb the British Embassy in Rome on October 30th, 1946. The explosion which took place in the early hours of the morning, destroyed the central part of the building. Though the planners made every effort to avoid casualties, two Italian civilians were injured.

Then there was the Altalena Affair. Manny was selected to be one of its ten crew members.
The Altalena was an American made war ship, more precisely a landing craft. It was chartered for a twofold purpose, to bring European refugees to Eretz Yisrael and badly needed weapons for both Etzel (Irgun) and Haganah. In addition to the close to 1000 people on board, the ship also carried rifles, rounds of ammunition, Bren guns, armored vehicles and other war equipment.

                                                             Manny on board the Altalena 

                                  Training on board of the Altalena as it was making its way towards Yisrael

 A few precautionary measures were taken in order to assure that hostile powers would not be able to detect the ship. The first, a radio silence was declared and it had been agreed that the Haganah (a Jewish paramilitary organization during the British Mandate era which later became the core of the IDF) would send them a coded message where to land and unload the badly needed weapons.
Another measure was to blur the connection between the ship and the identity of its occupants. Some of the Hebrew names were changed into less sounding “Jewish”. That is when Avraham Moshe became Manny.

Unbeknown to the Altalena crew, a UN brokered truce was accepted by both sides. The first cease fire of Israel’s War of Independence went into effect while it was making its way to Yisrael.

On June 20th, 1948. The Altalena arrived at the shores of Yisrael. No signal was given as to the place of landing, as had been agreed prior to its departure from France. The crew suspected that something was terribly wrong although they could not point their finger to it. They awaited further instructions.

After an unexpected delay, the temporary government instructed it to land in Kfar Vitkin, a small town along the Mediterranean coast half way between Haifa and Tel Aviv. Soon thereafter, the offload of most of the weapons commenced. Most of the refugees were brought to shore.

Menchem Begin came to greet them. Suddenly, some shots were fired at them and they all hurried back into the ship. Begin instructed them not to fire back. “There will be no war between brethren,” were his words. They obeyed him.

From there, they sailed to Tel Aviv, flying a white flag which was visible to all. Their only wish was to negotiate. As they approached Tel-Aviv, heavy shelling of the boat was what welcomed them. The shooting came from what was known as the “Red House” – the headquarters of the Haganah. That is where the Tel Aviv Hilton stands today.

The shelling and shooting never ceased. The wounded were evacuated from the ship under fire and those who could, jumped into the water and swam ashore. Manny was one of them.

Manny pointing at the Altalena as its survivors, himself included, are swimming ashore. Notice his tattooed number A19762

Today, Manny and his beautiful wife, Rachel live a rewarding life here in Yisrael. They are surrounded by the love of their three children and ten grandchildren. His son, Yaron Minkoowski is a world renowned and one of Yisrael’s top fashion designers. Yaron married his beloved wife, Pazit Yaron Minkowski, a well-known Yisraeli actress, in 19.7 (the first three digits of Manny’s Auschwitz number). Their daughter, Ori Minkowski, 16, followed in the footsteps of her father and is now the youngest fashion designer in the world.

Manny (second to Left) in the company of  his three children (two daughters to his right), four of his grandchildren. His son, Yaron in the middle and his granddaughter Ori in front of her father, Yaron. To his left is his beautiful and talented wife Pazit Yaron Minkowski. To the left of Pazit is Rachel, Manny's amazing wife of 60 years.

For Manny, Hope and Survival undoubtedly transformed themselves into one big Celebration of Life. We wish him many more years of Health, Celebrations and sheer Bliss.


  1. Thank you Yaaciv.
    Looking forward to reading your father's story.

  2. Thank you Yaaciv.
    Looking forward to reading your father's story.