The Birth of THE YOUTH OF 1948
By Noémi Schlosser
Last year for Yom HaShoah, like many other Tel Avivians, I gathered into someone’s living room to listen to a Holocaust survivor’s story. After some cake and tea, our Viennese lady started recounting her life under the Nazis, the camps, the liberation. But she didn’t stop there… she continued about her arrival in Israel, the difficult years of austerity. How her mother told her to lie to the neighbor “Say we don’t need milk, tell the neighbor that I drink my coffee black”. Our 90 something lady paused, smiled and continued “I very well knew my mother adored milk in her coffee, but there simply wasn’t any money that week for milk… and she didn’t want the neighbor to know, she was ashamed” The Viennese lady laughed when she told us that, and we laughed with her at this bitter sweet little lie. Being poor was difficult, but being poor in a Jewish homeland was something different… “We didn’t feel we were poor” is a sentence that I heard a lot since that first encounter with THE YOUTH OF 1948.
After that afternoon, I recalled my great grant aunt’s own story. How her parents fled Vienna for Palestine in 1936 and decided not to take their 6 year old little girl with them to this unknown foreign country. Instead they sent her to Sweden to a boarding school for young Jewish girls, not knowing that a world war would explode and keep their daughter away from them for 11 long years of insecurity. How she arrived in 1947 with a little suitcase and a gift to deliver to a certain Harry, the brother of her best friend from that Swedish boarding school. How she met Harry and married him 2 months later. How happy she felt to be reunited with her mother, as her father had passed away from natural causes a few years earlier. How she remembers the excitement of her first day in Jerusalem. And how she later escaped the Siege of Jerusalem. “After the hell of Jerusalem, Bnei Brak felt like a complete different world.”
My name is Noémi Schlosser and usually I write plays. So my first reaction was: Let’s write a show about 1948 and so I started writing, inspired on my great grand aunts story. Over the next few weeks I worked on this love story with an historical background. I thought it would be nice to speak with other people who were in the British Mandate/ Israel in 1947/48, to inspire and deepen my side characters and my plotline. So I posted on social media, looking for these YOUTH OF 1948. Through grandchildren I connected with grandparents. I travelled to them with my little note book and asked questions relevant to my potential story line and listened to their life stories. But after 2 ‘visits’ I started feeling a terrible sense of loss…
It simply didn’t feel right that I would be the only one hearing these life stories, these emotions, these adventures of these truly historical times. And just like that from one day to the next, I decided to do something I had never done before. I put my emerging theater script in the freezer and started filming and researching for a documentary. All I needed was a camera and a good friend gave me his professional camera and that was it. I didn’t wait to overthink or find a producer. I didn’t plan in the long run. All I knew mattered was to gather these stories before this generation, THE YOUTH OF 1948, disappeared with them. Very soon my agenda blew up with people to interview, from all over Israel, from all different backgrounds. People who were children at the time, people from the Lechi, people from the Palmach, housewives… and every one of these testimonies are part of the history of Israel. Very soon I figured again, that this was not going to be enough. That one documentary of 90 minutes would never translate these hundred of hours of footage I am collecting. That if I wanted to do a good job, it should be a documentary series, with specific topics brought up by THE YOUTH OF 1948. And just like that THE YOUTH OF 1948 PROJECT was born.
What I thought to be a little play, maybe a musical became a massive endeavor. The documentary series is growing with every interview and I am growing too. It made me understand Israel better. It made me want to be part of this country even more. And with me making Aliyah this year I see it as my gift and contribution to this country. It makes me reflect on life on so many levels. It mostly humbles me. I feel so much gratitude towards these people. So much respect. They had nothing, but what they had, they shared, with the newcomers fresh from the boats. Someone told me her first childhood memory: “Waking up I went to the living room, and on the floor slept 3 strangers. The Haganah had brought them in the night before, when I was already asleep. One of them, a man from Vienna came every week on Wednesday to eat with us. He was waiting for his wife. I remember when he came my mother made knitsot, because he didn’t have any teeth.”
I hope this documentary series will inspire the new generations of Israelis and show to the people abroad that Israel was not just given to us. Or that it wasn’t stolen as some might claim. Israel was the common goal of those 600.000 people living here in 1948. They gave up their personal dreams to work towards something bigger than themselves and 10% of these people died for it. Nobody I interviewed so far came unharmed out of this war. Everyone lost a brother, a sister, a parent, a friend, a neighbor…
“We were so naief, but that was the life we had” or “We were just children, we believed lock stock and barrel that we would win”. Even at the most difficult times they didn’t give up. Because giving up simply wasn’t an option. Some can argue that without a certain ceasefire the Jews would not have been able to win this war, while others turned to G’d for victory. But they were all Jews fighting for their right to exist.
And eventually we won, we have this Homeland, with all the good, the bad and the ugly… There is that sentence of Ben Gurion saying “We will know we have become a normal country when Jewish thieves and Jewish prostitutes conduct their business in Hebrew.” We definitely have become that country too… But let us not forget these teenagers, these boys and girls, this mothers and fathers who made Israel happen. Let’s record THE YOUTH OF 1948 before it is too late.
Noémi Schlosser is a Belgian playwright & director. In 2004 she started her theatre company Salomee Speelt with shows on 4 continents and in 5 languages. Her shows are inspired by modern (often Jewish related) history based on research.Noémi is on the board of the Alliance for American Jewish Theatre, a representative of the League of Professional Women in the Theatre, Schusterman Foundation and a ROI Community member. She started teaching at the Academia de Musica in Jerusalem and will make Aliyah in 2017.