President Reuven Rivlin on Monday May 6, 2019 visited the grave of Tzvi Fred Gross HY”D at Har Herzl and said kaddish for him. Fred, a Holocaust survivor, Etzel fighter and IDF solder who was like one of the Rivlin family, was killed defending the country days after its declaration of independence and did not have any family.
In the early years of the State of Israel, it was not uncommon to see IDF soldiers with a number tattooed on their arm. Tzvi Fred Gross, born in Germany, was part of the Rivlin family and was adopted by neighbor of the family. Just before the War of Independence they hosted him for Seder night. Shortly afterwards, on May 17, 1948, two days after the declaration of independence, Fred was killed in the battle for the Police Academy in Jerusalem.
During his years as an elected official – as a member of Knesset, minister and speaker of the Knesset – the president has made sure to tell Fred’s story at events commemorating fallen soldiers and to keep him in his heart as a family member.
About a year ago, after Fred’s name was mentioned, a volunteer from the “Giving a Face to the Fallen” organization that identifies details of fallen IDF solders managed to locate his place of burial and found details about him and his family. The organization searched the various archives and were able to trace Fred, whose full name they did not even know at the beginning. Fred lived on Aza Street in the Rechavia area of Jerusalem, and the photographer Rudolph Yunes, a neighbor of the Rivlin family who came from Germany adopted him as a son. The family contacted Rudy, Fred’s 90-year old brother who lives in New York and found the descendants of his nephews who live in Israel. Suddenly, Fred had a face, a history and a memory.
“I was a nine-year old when Freddy came to the neighborhood,” said the president when he visited the grave. “He was handsome and very special. He related to with great seriousness. I remember him trying to chat with us, in the English we knew. When we found out about his death, we cried so much that Freddy had been killed. It hit us like a member of our own family, and we feared we would not be able to bury his body. The family wanted to take part in his funeral. We were here in 1949 when they started to bury the dead of the War of Independence and Freddy’s picture was on a table in our house as if he were a member of the family. For me, Freddy was one of the heroes of that time, and he lives with me as an example to follow. Thanks to him and to people like him, the State of Israel was established.”
Among Fred’s family members who came to meet the president at the grave were Esther Raveh, the wife of his nephew Danny Ravinski-Raveh, their daughters Orna and Ilana and their children. His older brother is still alive, aged 97.
The voluntary organization “Giving a Face to the Fallen” commemorates fallen soldiers whose gravestones are missing information and whose life story is not known. The organization aims to honor the obligation of memory due to those who fell in the establishment of the State of Israel.
Of the 811 fallen soldiers killed before the establishment of the state and about whom information is missing, “Giving a Face to the Fallen” has identified and found information over 100 life stories in the records of the Ministry of Defense.
In some cases, their gravestones were changed by the IDF’s soldiers’ commemoration unit. Most of the fallen soldiers came from Europe, and some were the last in their families who came shortly before the war as illegal immigrants, which explains why there was missing information about them. In a few cases, they came from Arab countries. Some of the fallen soldiers are considered “fallen whose place of burial is unknown” and do not even have a gravestone, so that the information gathered by the researchers is their only memorial.
“Giving a Face to the Fallen” was established in 2013 by Uri Sagi and Dorit Peri. All 28 of the researchers who work on the project are volunteers and the organization is assisted by many archives around the country and works with the assistance and cooperation of the Ministry of Defense, the IDF’s soldiers’ commemoration unit and Yad Labanim.
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem/ photo credit: Mark Neiman, GPO)