Yehudith Yosef

After 7 long years on the road, I (Yehudit Turkiya Yosef), arrived with my husband to Hashed camp in Yemen. In the camp I gave birth to a daughter, Margalit, who died as an infant, and then to a son, Rafael.

In 1949, when Rafael was 3 months old, we immigrated to Israel; my husband flew before me, on a Saturday, and Rafael and I followed him on Sunday. Rafael was a healthy child—relatively fair-skinned and chubby. As we boarded the plane, a nurse told me I was lying, and that Rafael must be a year old, that’s just how big he was. She didn’t even believe that he was my son because of how white and pretty he was.

Rafael had one easily identifiable mark—a beauty spot just below his right eye. My husband, of blessed memory, always said that Rafael would never get lost because of that spot.

In Israel we reached an immigrant camp in Atlit. The mothers and their children would stay in the nursery all day long, and in the evening the mothers would go back to sleep in the cabins. A few months later, when Rafael was about a year and a half old, I was in the early stages of pregnancy with my second daughter. Rafael did not feel well, and had a fever. He was taken to the Rambam Hospital in Haifa.

On Wednesday, when I came to visit him at the hospital with transportation provided by the camp, I wasn’t allowed in his room. One of the nurses agreed to show him to me only through the glass window in the door. Rafael, who heard my voice, stood up and put his arms out towards me, crying ‘mommy, mommy,’ asking me to take him.

The sight of my crying boy calling out made me move away from his gaze, so that he wouldn’t get even more upset. Seeing him like this haunts me to this day. If he were truly sick, he wouldn’t stand up! He wouldn’t recognize me! When I saw him he seemed awake and full of life—not at all like a sick child.

The next time I visited I was told that he had died and was already buried. There was no body, no death certificate, and no explanation.

The following day we were moved to another camp in Ra’anana. I could not travel to the hospital in Haifa to try to understand what had happened to my son. There was no organized transportation and I was in the first few months of my pregnancy and very ill.

To this day I dream of hearing a knock on the door and being told that Rafael is alive and that it was all a mistake.

After the Shalgi Committee I finally received a death certificate (issued on 1.6.1995)—45 years late—along with a letter notifying me that according to government records and file number so and so, my son died from his illness at Rambam Hospital and was subsequently buried in the Neve David Cemetery in Haifa.

The death certificate is full of errors – the surname is wrong, father’s name is missing, the ID number is missing, there is no date of birth, and the cause of death is written with many mistakes too—our pediatrician told us that the cause of death section was so full of mistakes that it’s impossible a doctor wrote it.

My eldest daughter requested Rafael’s medical file from the hospital, which they said doesn’t exist as all files from that era were burned. She also called ‘Machaneh (Neve) David’ Cemetery in Haifa, where she was told a plot by that name did not even exist. And if all that is not enough to show that their response was pure fiction and deceit, just look at the invented date of birth—December 1949. I distinctly remember being in the early stages of my second daughter’s pregnancy when I was told about Rafael’s alleged death. My daughter was born in February of 1950.

Our Patriarch Jacob—who was told his son had died when he was actually sold to the Egyptians—found no peace until he was reunited with his son. I feel exactly the same way. I will have no consolation until I see my son again.

Yehudit never forgot Rafael. All this time she kept his baby clothes, which she sewed and embroidered herself. She kept the clothes in the closet, and every one of her children knew never to ask her about them. Yehudit brought 12 more children into the world, and loved and cared for them while her husband worked hard in agriculture during the day, and ran a butcher shop out of their own home in the afternoon.

One of her husband’s regular customers, who was of European descent, would come to their house, would look at Yehudit and her infant son, Binyamin, and would ask to buy him. Yehudit says that she remembers how every time she asked, the lady would tell her that certain things were done to her in Europe, and that because of them she could not conceive. And every time, Yehudit had to tell the woman that she was unwilling to sell Binyamin because he was her son. One of her older daughters, who was 9 years old at the time, recalls that the lady tried time and again to convince her mother: ‘it will make life easier for you, you will have less chores at home, look how much laundry you must do and how much food you have to prepare, you already have so many children’.

Back in those days, the family couldn’t even conceive of the idea of kidnappings. Yehudit’s husband used to say that it was impossible that Jews would do such a thing to other Jews. He was such a saint, that he even made sure to remove Rafael from his migrant rations ID, despite the fact that it would have allowed him to receive an extra blanket for his missing son.

Our Patriarch Jacob—who was told his son had died when he was actually sold to the Egyptians—found no peace until he was reunited with his son. I feel exactly the same way. I will have no consolation until I see my son again.