After 70 Years, a Minister's Kaddish for a Father He Never Knew
For the first time in his life, 72 year old Yossi Peled, a minister in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government, stood last week to say Kaddish for the father he never knew – after being spared from being murdered in the Holocaust as a child when his parents deposited him with a Christian family for the duration of the war.
The little-known circumstances of Peled's early life emerged last Friday, during a ceremony outside Berlin commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Wannsee, where the Nazis made the final decision to exterminate European Jewry. The ceremony, in which Israeli and German officials participated, took place at Wannsee House, the villa where the fateful decision was made. Speaking to reporters on his return to Israel Wednesday, Peled, whose family name in Europe was Mendelevich, said that “the moment I was asked by the government to participate in the ceremony, where the decision to destroy Jews was made by the inhuman Nazis, I felt the opportunity had come to say Kaddish and the mourner's prayers for my father, since I had never had the opportunity to pray at his grave.”
Peled's father, along with the rest of his family, was deported from Belgium, where the family had escaped to after the Nazi onslaught on their native Poland in 1939. Before they were taken, Peled's mother handed him and his two sisters with a Christian family, who protected them during the war, while the rest of the family was taken to Auschwitz. There, all his relatives and siblings – except for his mother, who survived the war, were murdered.
Peled's mother returned after the war, nearly six years after he was left with the Christian family – and he was shocked to learn that he was Jewish, he said. His mother took him and his sisters to Israel, making aliyah as the state was established. Peled went on to a 30 year career in the IDF and a long stint in the Knesset – and last week, as an official in the government of Israel, Peled felt that the time had come to say Kaddish in honor of the father he never knew, in the epicenter of where the decision to murder him, and six million other Jews, was made.
“My name is Yossi Peled, a minister in the government of Israel and a former IDF general, but it is not Yossi Peled standing before you today,” he told the crowd at Friday's ceremony. “This building, which was witness to one of the most difficult moments in the history of humanity, is host today to Jepke Mendelevich,” Peled said, using the nickname he acquired as a youngster.
“Seventy years may have passed, but neither 70 nor 700 years will be enough to make us forget the savagery we experienced. In my mind's eye I see the millions marching to their deaths,” Peled said, “one of them the father I was not privileged to know, and next to whose grave I never had the opportunity to pray, nor to say the Mourner's Kaddish, as is customary for a son to say for his deceased father.” And, at the end of the ceremony, Peled indeed intoned the ancient words of the Kaddish, in memory of his father, and the millions of other victims of the Holocaust.
“I cannot say I have closed a circle,” Peled said upon his return to Israel. “This is a circle that can never be closed. But there is no question that this was one of the most emotional moments in my life.”