Gil Greenbaum’s story – a January 2010 report of “Mabat Sheni” (Second Look news program)
My kidnapped Brother – a report by Carmela Menashe and Eyal Tavor
Anchor woman: And now to a different matter. About a year ago we broadcasted here the story of Beter hospital, in which in the 50s young pregnant women of Mizrachi origin were hospitalized. When their baby was born they got a cryptic message about his/her fate. Years later it was discovered the baby was taken and given up for adoption to Ashkenazi families. Carmela Menashe and Eyal Tavor bring us this evening the story of two brothers, that discovered each other after half their life had passed. Here is the report – “My Kidnapped Brother.”
Gil: Everybody knew – everybody! Even my cousins knew. Everybody knew – but me. This is what came out later on. If it wasn’t for my wife, I would have never know all my life, till I was 100 years old.
They said the baby has died
Gil: “The people were indeed interested in an Ashkenazi girl, but without hesitation took the child they were offered, and he is now a candidate for adoption.”
Voice over: At the age of 40, because of a slip-up, Gil Greenbaum’s life changed. In a family gathering a relative whispered in the ears of Ilana, Gil’s wife, that he is an adopted child.
Gil: She did not know this was a hushed-up secret, she had no idea.
Voice over: In the beginning there was denial. Gil was not prepared to believe this rumour, but Ilana did not let the matter go, she went to the “Child Service” in the Welfare Ministry.
Gil: My wife started – how do people say – that it is the wife that does not let go? – She said “listen you do not look like them, you are dark-skinned and they are fair-skinned,” and then I told her “listen you are a little out of your mind, what’s going on with you, what are you looking for?”
Voice over: And she found it. The comment which was casually made in the party, turned out to be the truth. Gil was adopted by a couple of holocaust survivors from Poland, who were childless. His birth name was Yoram. His new parents, the Greenbaums, changed his name to Gil. Ilana tells him of this new in a phone conversation, and his whole world shatters.
Gil: She says to me “are you sitting, standing? What are you doing?” I said “I am sitting” so she said to me “I have the reply. You are adopted.” In that moment I simply blacked out. I saw black, I felt as if everything got wiped out of my life. I have no family.
Voice over: This is how it is when you find out you are adopted. You have to know. You have to know where you came from, what blood runs in your veins. More than ten years ago, at the age of 43, Gil met his biological mother for the first time.
Gil: They called you up and they said "I want to see you" – what did you say?
Gil’s biological mother: I said how is it possible? I was told he died, this is not possible. Before I gave birth I was sedated, so I wouldn’t feel anything. And then after I gave birth, they said “the child has died”.
Voice over: During the passing years Gil Greenbaum’s biological mother managed to get married, have five children and even grandchildren. And then suddenly after 4 decades the dead baby appeared.
Gil’s biological mother: to my knowledge he had died, I didn’t try to look for him. He found me, not I him.
Gil: And I, I will say this gently, I put her through a questioning and a grilling, from all angles possible
Interviewer: And you were an investigator in the military police
Gil: Yes I was a military police investigator - I was an investigating office. She did not break down in the investigation. She said “I knew that my child had passed away, died at birth. I went home and I cried for days at home, and this was the end of the matter, I left it behind me.” And I believe her that she is telling the truth.
Interviewer: In the past we exposed on this program the story of Dudu Dahan, whose mother was also told he died at birth. Both Gil and Dudu were born in the Beter hospital in Haifa, which till the 70s resided in this building. It seems that in the 50s and 60s, behind this wall, the “system” operated. Young girls of primarily Mizrachi origins who gave birth out of wedlock, were told after the birth that the baby had died. Someone decided for them, without their knowledge that the child was going to be given up for adoption. A letter which was sent from the Child Service to the Welfare Ministry in Jerusalem, hints heavily at a network of connections that raises many serious questions.
Gil: (quoting) “The management of the hospital helps us in many cases of childbirth out of wedlock. We are very interested in keeping the good and important contact with the hospital management, I am asking you that you take care in every way possible for payment on this account.”
Because the new mother, Gil’s mother, is unable to pay a debt of 91 pounds for her hospitalization, the Welfare Ministry is asking the hospital to cover the debt, so they can carry on making business.
The interviewer: Here is a letter for “Child Service” in which is written “we are very much interested in keeping the good relationship between ourselves and the hospital management”.
Gil: “And here you have a testimony after oath, by her.
The interviewer: Of the mother
Gil: Of the mother, “I immigrated to Israel in 1951, on the 1st of April 1956 I had a son, I don’t know who is the father, I here after give up all my rights regarding this child, in favour of the government’s Welfare Ministry, I swear here that this is my signature.” there is no signature. It was all fraudulent.”
Voiceover: Apart from the fact that the order for the adoption of Yoram is not signed by his biological mother, many other doubts arise from Gil’s adoption file. Gil’s biological mother is not represented by anyone in the adoption order. Only two lawyers who represent the Greenbaums are signed on the discharge order. And even graver than that – Gil’s ID number has not been changed, as is required by the law regarding an adopted child.
Gil, who was an only child to his parent, with few relatives who lived far, finds a new, big and loving family.
Olga: How are you?
Gil: How is it going?
Olga: Everything is fine
Voice over: Olga is his sister-in-law, but today she is separated from Gil’s biological brother.
Olga: My husband came back home and told me he had a brother.
Gil’s biological brother: My mother gathered us up for a dramatic meeting, she told us in advance to not bring our spouses, and then she told us we had another brother. He left a photo album of himself and his family, with telephone numbers, and said that whoever wanted to, is welcome to get in contact.
Olga: And after a week we met with Gil and all the family.
Gil: they invited us then on Saturday for lunch, you have never seen a table with so much food, so many dishes – as if you came in to Ramat Aviv for a huge dinner. And then I learnt that Olga went to her late father and borrowed money from him – I think about 200 shekels, something like that, to make all this food because they did not have that kind of money.
Olga: Gil helped us a lot, in our most difficult times. Gil has always been there to listen and also helped us financially.
Voiceover: During all this time Gil’s parents were not aware in any way of the drama that occurred in their adopted son’s life.
Gil: So now there was the dilemma, what to do. After all, the instinctive desire in to get into the car, drive to the parent’s home, knock on their door, and to kick up a stink. Listen, is not any old kind of lie. And I decided not to do this for one simple reason: I told myself that coming to people who are over the age of seventy, and saying to them “guys, you have lied to me over 40 and so years, I want to hear the story” - a person could sit down and his heart would immediately stop. I was afraid they would not take it.
Voice over: Gil’s date of birth is the 1st of April. A symbolic date for someone who has lived a lie most of his life. In order not to destroy the illusion, Gil finds himself torn between the new family he has found and his adoptive parents.
Gil’s biological brother: the story was that his parents must not know I exist, I was always referred to as a friend from the army
Olga: He used to come with the children, and then we had to plan what to tell the children, because the children must not know that Gil is their father’s brother
Shlomi, Gil’s son: We knew from the morning that someone is arriving – a good friend of father, a friend from the army he has not seen for many years. A moving reunion – what exactly I do not know.
Gil: My parents would hear that we are traveling – we said we are going to Haifa, we did not say where to exactly. “What do you want there? What have you lost in Haifa?” and every time we lied.
Shlomi, Gil’s son: and then we met and we were introduced “this is Yaakov, he is a friend of Father’s from the army, and we got to know his family.
Gil: the children were young, and the parents, the Polish mother used to investigate them till they bled just to find out where we were going to.
Gil’s biological brother: they had never seen me, it was forbidden for us to meet face to face.
Gil: You must understand to what lengths we met so that the parents will not discover that in actual fact I know they are not really my parents.
Voiceover: The children grew up and Gil could no longer explain the strange relationship with the fictional friend from the army.
Shlomi, Gil’s son: They took me and my cousin to have some hummus, I was sixteen, and so they told us. He started by saying “you are cousins” and that was that. And then he told me, that grandmother and grandfather, the adoptive parents as it were, do not know that we know.
Voiceover: In the beginning it was euphoric to discover the new family. Afterwards Gil’s financial situation got worse, and with it his contact with his biological family.
Interviewer: you have no contact with him
Gil’s biological brother: Nowadays no, I don’t.
Voiceover: But the let-down of not being in contact anymore, has not prevented him from trying to locate his biological father nowadays.
Gil: I want to find the father. If there is a chance of finding him, the window of opportunity is not that large, let’s say.
Social worker: The question is if he knows at all?
Gil: That’s it – it is possible he does not know.
Social worker: you might not be able to verify this.
Gil: of course, but if I will find out… listen; I might be simply on a goose hunt.
Interviewer: Have you been in contact with you ex-partner?
Gil’s Biological mother: No, he simply tricked me.
Interviewer: Do you know his name?
Gil’s biological mother: Schlesinger, that was his last name.
Interviewer: He was your boyfriend?
Gil’s biological mother: We went out together.
Interviewer: And he disappeared on you when you got pregnant?
Gil’s biological mother: Yes, He disappeared as soon as he found out.
Gil: At the time, you said you know that there were all sorts of fraudulent agreements.
Social worker: In the past I know that there were, but I have no idea what kind of fraudulent agreements. It’s what I heard from adopted children that they discovered through looking at their files. And then they checked with people who could tell them about it and then all sorts of fraudulent agreements came to light. But it is not regulated things, not pre-arranged agreements.
Gil’s biological brother: they say "Yemenite children"; they did not only do this to Yemenite children. People of Mizrachi origin. The state decided for my mother that she does not need this child. And did with him what it felt like. They traded in children. There are no other words – they traded in children. The state has robbed my mother of her son.
Gil: My late father contracted cancer. I looked after him for a year and a half. I told myself that maybe, now that I am with him 24 hours a day, now he will say to me “listen, I have something to tell you”. It did not happen.
Voiceover: There are those who would say that the adoption has only done Gil good. They will say that what he received from his adoptive parent, who were well off, he could not have received from his biological mother. But this argument does not rectify what was done to these young women of, in most cases, Mizrachi origin, who were used in order to supply childless Ashkenazi couples with children. Somebody there decided to play the role of God.
“My Lost Brother”
Directors: Carmela Menashe, Eyal Tavor
Editor: Esther Levin
Photographers: Adi Sasson, Dror Garami
Recording crew: Rafi Garbali, Oded Hornick
Lighting: Shai Cohen, Menashe Mu’alem
Mixing: Yaron Cohen