|Amoha Danani writes:|
Nella storia dell'yishuv (la comunità ebraica palestinese che costruì una società che divenne lo Stato d'Israele), vi sono alcune figure divenute ormai leggendarie, soprattutto negli anni della lotta al nazismo e poi di quella contro la potenza mandataria britannica in Palestina (il nome coloniale della Terra d'Israele).
Tra queste presentiamo oggi due donne: Ada Sereni e Hannah Szenes.
Due eroine della resistenza ebraica provenienti da Paesi diversi: la Sereni dall'Italia, la Szenes dall'Ungheria. Eppure unite dagli stessi ideali, dallo stesso impegno per la causa sionista.
Aggiungiamo questo bel ritratto letto oggi su Ha'aretz on line, scusandoci per non aver potuto procedere ad una traduzione in italiano a causa della lunghezza del pezzo.
Saturday, April 26, 2003 Nisan 24, 5763
A woman called Zosha
By Neri Livneh
She was an anti-Nazi spy, a Zionist pioneer, a woman men loved. On Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Day 2003, the uhtold story of Sophia Poznanska.
Sophia "Zosha" Poznanska. The fact that she was beautiful and involved in stormy love affairs didn't rescue her from anonymity.
The story of the life and death of Sophia Poznanska, who was known as "Zosha," had all the elements of a heroic myth. In her willingness to sacrifice her life for the sake of her mission, Zosha was the equal of one of the great Israeli symbols of heroism, Hannah Senesh, and in her ability to withstand terrible torture, she even surpassed Senesh. Before her death, she even managed to contribute her part to the Zionist ideal, when she paved roads and split rocks into gravel in the Jezreel Valley. During World War II she was in occupied Europe, where she belonged to the inner core of the "Red Orchestra," the Soviet spy ring that included many Jews among its members. But even the fact that she was beautiful and was involved in several stormy love affairs didn't rescue her from anonymity.
Here and there Zosha was mentioned in a sentence or two in books dealing with the Red Orchestra. Only after her death did the State of Israel award her a citation for fighting the Nazis. Nobody named a kibbutz after her, or even a street. Now she is receiving the exposure she deserves in a thick biographical novel by Yehudit Kafri, which is based on thorough historical documentation and research. In the novel, called "Zosha," (published by Keter, in Hebrew), Kafri describes Zosha's life story from her birth in June 1906 until her death in 1942, and her own research from 1997-2000.
Kafri, who is 67 years old, has dedicated five years of her life - three years of research and two of writing - to the reconstruction of Zosha's life. The project included 13 trips abroad, interviews with 300 people, perusal of 100 historical research papers and books, university history courses, and of course hours of sitting in front of the computer. The force that motivated Kafri on this exhausting journey was a great love - for her father.
Kafri actually wanted to write a book about her father, Fischek Kafri (Kempinsky), one of the founders of Kibbutz Ein Hahoresh, who died in 1987. Her father was dying of cancer, and before his death, she managed to interview him a little about his life. She was left with many questions. Her mother, who was also ill at the same time, told her more details and Kafri, who took care of her mother and spent a long time on Ein Hahoresh, also visited the kibbutz archive. When her mother died, she wrote a book in her memory. It was clear to her that it was time to write a book about her father. In the archive they gave her her father's file.
Kafri: "In the file there was a conversation held by Shmuel Ma'ayan of Kibbutz Ma'anit with father and with Sarah Baram, for a book that he later published about the branch of Hashomer Hatzair [left-wing Zionist youth group] in Kalisch, my father's native city. During that conversation, both father and Sarah talk about a woman named Zosha Poznanska. Father mentioned that he and Zosha had been a couple, and both mention the fact that the Nazis murdered her because she was a spy for the Red Orchestra."
Kafri was very curious to learn more details about the woman who had been her father's first love. "Then I remembered that when I was a teenager and had a boyfriend, I spoke with my father several times about friendship and romantic attachments, and he did once tell me that when he was in love for the first time, he observed the `commandment' of Hashomer Hatzair mandating sexual purity. I was very angry at him at the time, of course, and the whole issue of sexual purity seemed old-fashioned to me, and the last thing that interested me as a young woman was to hear who my father's first girlfriend was, thousands of years ago, as it seemed to me at the time, nor did he mention the girlfriend's name. But now things were different, and I decided to check a little more thoroughly."
Kafri says that she had "unusual luck," and explains: "In my mother's room in the hospice there swas a woman named Yudka Alter. She, like my father, was a native of Kalisch, and was active in Hashomer Hatzair, and she was very friendly with my father from his youth. It turned out that she was also Zosha's best friend. I brought Yudka father's photo album, and she brought her photo album, and then suddenly I saw what Zosha looked like, and that was the first thing that attracted me to her - her beauty. I decided to research her life story, and I was captivated by the story and by her. Suddenly, at my age, I had found a role model. All my life I had no role models, and it's very funny that at my age, almost 70, I am suddenly in need of such a model, but that's what Zosha has become for me."
Kafri decided to change her plans, and to write her father's life story parallel to that of Zosha. "She was my father's first love, and my father was hers, but my interest in her went far beyond her importance in my father's life," she says. "It's impossible to say [merely] that I worked on the book during those years, because for five and a half years, the lives of Zosha and of my father were simply my life in every sense - a total experience emotionally and spiritually, and in terms of research and creativity. Sometimes I felt that Zosha was my mother; after all, she could have been my mother had she not left my father. Sometimes I felt that she was my older or younger sister, because she died at the age of 36; in other words, when I wrote about her I was much older than she. Sometimes she was my good friend, and sometimes - my daughter."
Fischek Kempinsky, Kafri's father, was one of the founders of the Hashomer Hatzair branch in Kalisch, in western Poland, served as an officer in the Polish army, and came to Israel in 1929. Her mother, Sheindel (nee Zask), was a member of Hashomer Hatzair in Buzak in eastern Poland, and arrived in Israel in 1931. The Hashomer Hatzair group to which she belonged was supposed to settle at Kibbutz Ein Hashofet. Fischek and Sheindel met at an agricultural training program in Hadera, fell in love and settled at Ein Hahoresh. Yehudit is their eldest daughter, and she has two brothers, Ezra and Itamar.
After her marriage to Gad Meiri, Yehudit went to live in Kibbutz Shoval. They had three children. They left the kibbutz in 1984 and now live in Mazkeret Batya. She has written nine books of poetry, five children's books and six commissioned biographies. In addition, she has translated many books, mainly on psychology, and has received the Prime Minister's Award (1967), the Rachel Prize (1993) and a Tel Aviv Foundation stipend (1977). Nevertheless, like the heroine of her present book, she has remained largely unknown as an artist.
"Father," says Kafri, "was undoubtedly the most important figure in my childhood, the only person with whom I had a complete and confident relationship, and on whose love I could rely. A man very rich in spirit and emotion, talented in all the arts, without specializing in any one of them. He was a wonderful teacher, and very well liked. He had a very clear and balanced personality, and at the same time, as I have heard from his students, he was also strong, but without trying to be authoritarian. Everyone who saw him loved him.
"From what I'm saying you also understand what I lacked in my childhood: My mother was absent as a mother. She was a very intelligent woman, independent, interesting, but there was no motherliness in her personality, and I always say that I learned to be a mother from my father. My father taught me what motherhood is. This point, of the absent mother, is also something that attracted me to Zosha. Her mother was happy at her birth and happy with her daughter, but two years later, when she gave birth to Zosha's sister, Manya, she went into a postpartum depression from which she never recovered, and she too was completely absent from her children's lives, because for many years she was hospitalized in a mental institution. Actually, it was Zosha who assumed the role of mother to her sister, and returned to Poland from Palestine in the first place in order to take care of her sister, who had fallen ill, and that's how she came to the Red Orchestra, and finally to her death."
Zosha grew up in an assimilated home, with her father and his parents, her older brother Olek (Alexander) and her younger sister, Manya. The family was very well-to-do, and their house was located on a street that was considered the wealthiest and most beautiful in the city. Zosha met Fischek in the Hashomer Hatzair branch: She was a 16-year-old member and he was her 19-year-old group leader. Their platonic love story lasted for about three years.
Zosha came to Israel with a Hashomer Hatzair group from Kalisch in August 1925; her brother, Olek, had arrived earlier. Fischek decided to remain in Poland a while longer, to continue in his work with Hashomer Hatzair, and to serve in the Polish army. They parted very emotionally in a park on the river, near the waterfall, and Fishek recorded this separation in a poem he wrote a few months later: "Above the rushing waters / Of a noisy waterfall / You stood trembling and pale / You parted from the place of your love." He didn't know that for Zosha it was a permanent parting.
Together with her group, Zosha worked making gravel and paving roads in Afula, and there she met Simha Diamant, whom she also knew from Kalisch. Now she fell in love with him and they became a couple. Because they were both adults, they were not required to maintain sexual purity, and they started to live together. She didn't tell Fischek about it, but simply stopped writing to him.
"My father apparently understood that it was all over," says Kafri. "He said to Shmuel Ma'ayan, `I already understood from the fact that I didn't receive letters from her, that something had gone wrong there.' Later on, when I found the notebook into which he had copied the letters he wrote to Zosha from the end of 1926 until the beginning of 1931, I also found the letter that described more precisely what he felt."
"The thread woven by our heart is unraveling by itself. Look to yourself for the reasons," wrote Fischek to Zosha in October 1926. "To be or not to be - that is the question."
All during 1926 fierce ideological debates raged in Kibbutz Dalet, the settlement group to which Zosha belonged. Leopold (Laibe) Trepper, who was a friend of one of the members of the group, came to participate in these debates. Trepper was still a member of Hashomer Hatzair, but had secretly already joined the Palestinian Communist Party (PCP). During these debates, which concerned the right of the Jews to settle the land, Zosha said that the solution to the Jewish problem and the need for Jewish labor could not come at the expense of depriving the Arabs of their land.
Because of this position, Zosha finally decided not to settle on the kibbutz with her group. She left Afula, Diamant and Hashomer Hatzair, and went to live in Tel Aviv, where she joined the Ihud, a communist cell organized by Trepper, whose members afterward joined the PCP. The members of the group that was concentrated around Trepper all lived in a hut in the Yemenite neighborhood, Kerem Hateimanim.
Zosha was happy in Tel Aviv, until she received a letter from her father containing bad news: Her sister Manya's condition had been constantly deteriorating from the time that Zosha had left her and gone to Palestine, and in the past weeks she had stopped eating entirely. Zosha wrote to her friend Yudka that she didn't want to return to Poland.
"Kalisch is a place to leave, and not a place to return to," she wrote, but her sense of obligation toward her sister made her change her mind, and at the end of 1926 Zosha returned to Poland on the ship "Polania."
"It was also customary that halutzim [young pioneers] who became exhausted here from hard work would travel to visit their families in Poland and to rest a little," says Kafri. "Even I, when I was two and a half years old, in 1937, was taken by my parents to visit my grandparents in Poland, and on the same ship that Zosha had taken several years earlier, the `Polania.'"
On the deck of the ship, Zosha again met Davcho Bierzwinski, whom she had known as a girl in Kalisch, and had then met in Afula. Now they became lovers. They arrived in Kalisch as a couple at the beginning of 1927. Davcho was to remain in Poland; in the course of her work on the book, Kafri located him in Warsaw, where she interviewed him at his home. When Davcho and Zosha arrived in Kalisch, Fischek was still in the city.
"I imagine that it was very hard for him to see his beloved returning home with another man," says Kafri. He wrote to a friend at the time: "Your heart keeps throbbing, and your brain is on fire, and you think that in another minute you'll break into little pieces, and a person wants to live, he seeks a ray of light in the surrounding darkness. He longs for life, for his own life."
For a year, Zosha lived with Davcho in a village near Kalisch and took care of her sister. When Manya recovered, Zosha decided to part from Davcho, who in the meantime had started working with the Communist underground in Poland, and she returned to Palestine. She arrived in November 1927, returned to activity in the PCP, and received her first spying assignment: Trepper found her work as a maid for a British police officer who was known for harassing Communists, so that she could find his list of suspects in his pockets and warn them in time.
Immediately upon her arrival Zosha renewed her romance with Simha Diamant, which continued until she met Shmuel Cinnamon at a secret meeting of the PCP. He was 30, she was 24, and they moved in together in a hut on the Tel Aviv beach. In 1929 the British police intensified its persecutions of the communists: Cinnamon was arrested and expelled from the country. A few months later, Trepper was expelled as well. They both chose to move to Paris.
In October 1929, Fischek disembarked from the ship in the port of Jaffa. Later that month, he decided to visit his first love, who was then living on Allenby Street in Tel Aviv. He asked Zosha to come with him to the kibbutz. Fischek, who later recorded the meeting in his notebook, wrote that Zosha replied: "I am ideologically closer to that man in France [Cinnamon], but my emotions are with you. I'll come with you, Fischek, I want to come with you, I'll come with you if you don't go to the kibbutz." And he replied: "Were it not for the kibbutz, I wouldn't have come to Palestine at all."
"That's how their relationship ended," says Kafri. "For both, love was a central element in life, but even more important was ideology, and because of an ideological gap - and despite the fact that they loved one another very much - they parted."
In mortal danger
Zosha decided to travel to France to join Cinnamon. She arrived in Paris at the beginning of 1930, and lived there with Cinnamon in an attic in the Latin Quarter. In the neighboring attic lived Laibe and Luba Trepper, and in a third lived a friend of theirs, Alter Shtrum.
Even before their arrival in Paris, in early 1929, a large Soviet spy ring, which operated by the "workers report" method, began to operate in France. Communists who worked in munitions and explosives plants would send articles to L'Humanite, the organ of the French Communist Party. These articles weren't published in the paper, but were sent straight to the Soviet embassy in Paris, and from there to Moscow.
The network was headed by Isaiah Bir, who became an almost-legendary figure when the French police didn't succeed in capturing him, and was therefore nicknamed "Fantomas" [hero of a series of pre-World War I French thrillers]. In the press and in police reports the entire network was called the "Fantomas ring." Alter Shtrum was his deputy. Shtrum apparently brought Zosha and Leopold Trepper into the network. Their partners, Cinnamon and Luba Trepper, didn't know anything about this activity. In 1932, the French police succeeded in exposing the network, and arrested several of its members, including Shtrum. Trepper managed to flee to Moscow. Zosha fled to Brussels. Luba Trepper and Cinnamon, who were not members of the network, remained in Paris.
In Brussels, Zosha worked in a factory that manufactured gas masks, and apparently continued to transmit information to Moscow. During that same period she began an affair with Naftali Kenarek, a Communist activist, and a married man. Hella, Kenarek's wife, knew about her husband's lover, and preferred to remain silent. Every weekend Zosha would go to the Kenarek home and disappear with Naftali for two days. Every weekend, a friend of the family told Kafri, Hella Kenarek's world would cloud over. Years later, during a visit by Kafri to Kenarek's son Louis, who lives in Belgium, Louis told her that his mother remembers Zosha well as "the woman who was in love with my husband."
In December 1936, Trepper was sent from Moscow to Paris, in order to discover who had betrayed the Fantomas network. On the way to Paris, Trepper dropped in to visit Zosha in Antwerp, and suggested that she return to Paris. She agreed, despite the fact that this meant the end of her affair with Kenarek. In Paris she returned to the arms of Cinnamon, had an intimate relationship with another man, Jasha Aharonovitch, lived with another man, Benek Katz, and once again returned to Cinnamon, who was destined to be her most steadfast lover.
In the summer of 1938, Trepper received an order to set up a Soviet spy ring to be called the Red Orchestra, which would operate in Western Europe. Jan Berzin, the chief of Soviet military intelligence, was the person who appointed him. In order to set up the network, Trepper recruited some of his close and loyal friends, including Zosha. He recruited her for the "orchestra" at the end of 1938, and sent this report to the center in Moscow: "Sophia Poznanska is a Jewish woman from Poland. I met her in Palestine, where we both belonged to an illegal organization that is fighting for the liberation of Palestine from British imperialism. Sophia revealed great intelligence, courage and determination in this activity. One can only dream of a better candidate for our network!"
Zosha traveled to Moscow in early 1939 and was trained as an encoder. Afterward she returned to France and worked on the network's radio transmitter in Paris and later in Brussels, where she received a new identity as a Belgian citizen, Anna Verlinden, and where a hideout was found for her. The only office of the Red Orchestra was opened in Brussels, and she transmitted from it. But when World War II broke out, the Soviet Union had already signed an agreement with Nazi Germany.
After the German occupation of Western Europe, Trepper decided to transmit the information gathered by the network from Paris, and Zosha returned to the French capital. From there she transmitted information to Moscow about the Nazi intention to attack the Soviet Union. She transmitted a detailed report about the German preparations for the attack. And in fact, on June 22, 1941, the Nazis violated their treaty with Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union. A short while later, in July 1941, Zosha was sent to Brussels.
"The Center" demanded that Brussels transmit for five hours every night. The transmissions were carried out from an apartment in Rue des Atrebates in Brussels, the apartment where Zosha lived. Clearly this arrangement placed her in mortal danger.
"The explanation is very simple: These people were sacrificed," as Gilles Perrault, who wrote the most famous book about the Red Orchestra, said to Kafri.
`I still cry for her'
On the night between the 12th and 13th of December, 1941, apparently tipped off by an informant, members of the Gestapo broke into the house in Rue des Atrebates and seized the transmitter, two telegraph operators, the landlord and the encoder, Zosha Poznanska. All those arrested were sent to the Saint Gilles prison and were tortured. Zosha's torture was the worst of all, because only she knew the code, which was based on two books: "Le Miracle du Professeur Wolmar," by Guy de Teramond and "A Woman of Thirty," by Balzac.
For nine-and-half months Zosha underwent indescribable tortures - tooth extractions, electric shocks, constant lashings, hangings, ice baths and electricity, nail extractions - and refused to reveal anything, except for her name. On the morning of September 28, 1942, during the daily walk in the prison yard, she met an old acquaintance who was also in prison. Zosha, who passed by her, managed to whisper to her: "They won't catch me alive!"
"At 17 hours and 18 minutes," it says in the prison records, "prisoner Poznanska, Department D, cell 41, was found hanging in her cell. The suicide was carried out with the belt of her coat, which was tied to a kerchief on a hook on the wall, at a height of 1.7 meters above the floor. When the body was found, rigor mortis had already set in in some of her organs. The deceased never asked for a doctor, and didn't complain of any illness. The jailers describe her as an exceptionally introverted and quiet prisoner. Sometimes they saw her crying. One can conclude from this that she suffered from depression, and committed suicide in a fit of depression."
Until the publication of Perrault's book, "L'Orchestre Rouge," in 1970, Zosha's brother Alexander Poznansky, who lived in Jerusalem from 1950, knew nothing of his sister's fate. From the moment he found out that she was a member of the spy ring, he turned to the Belgian authorities and asked for their help in reconstructing the circumstances of her death. When Kafri managed to find Posnansky's address in Jerusalem, in 1997, she met his daughter, Ilana Shur, who told her that her father had died three months earlier. "But she gave me Zosha's own photo albums, and this is where my major research began."
Kafri also met several times with Perrault and with the deputy chief of the Red Orchestra, Anatoly Gurevitch, who was called "Kent," and who was Zosha's direct activator in Brussels. Kafri hints in her book that Gurevitch was the man who decided to sacrifice Zosha, "because he was responsible for the idea of transmitting every night from the same place, and what makes me furious is that Zosha died, but Kent, damn him, is alive. I met him in St. Petersburg and he's even Jewish, although he denies it."
She also met with some of the heads of the Resistance in France, with Davcho, with the son of the Kenareks and with dozens of people all over the world. "I also made sure to travel to places which Zosha had visited, on the anniversary of the dates when she was there. I also went to innumerable archives, and in the final analysis I found many original documents and met wonderful people."
It was a difficult mission, she says: "I had to learn everything possible about the beginning of modern settlement in the Land of Israel, about the establishment of the Hashomer Hatzair kibbutzim and the Fourth Aliyah [the wave of immigration to Palestine from 1924-29], about the Palestinian Communist Party, about World War II and about Soviet spy networks. For five and a half years I became a historian, and I really think that this is the only way to do historical research, out of love and deep identification with the subject. And I fell in love with the figure of Zosha, because of her love and responsibility for her younger sister, her war against the Nazis, her heroism, her withstanding of torture, her anonymity, her stormy love life, her rich cultural life and her beauty."
She says it's very important to her "for people in Israel to know that there was such a person, and what she was, and what she fought for, and how because of her devotion she was able to withstand even tests of the worst evil invented by man. You know, a few days ago I said to a very good friend of mine, `I still cry for her, the pain doesn't leave me.' Then he asked, `The pain over what? Over the fact that she wasn't your mother?' I said, `No, the pain over the fact that she died.'
"But only recently did I actually understand the connection: I started to learn about Zosha at about the time my mother died, and all the research and writing were done after my mother's death. It's very strange to me that until then I didn't understand the connection: Zosha could have been my mother." n