Returning to Israel after 2000 years in the Diaspora – Shlomo and Tova story

(The story of my grandparents on my mother’s side)


Left: Tova   Center: : Shlomo   Right:Shlomo’s service medals
Medals: Top Right: A German Iron Cross medal. Top Left: British Defense medal Bottom Right: The Jewish Brigade/British Army.


Shlomo – was born in March 1885 to a large family of nine children in Ostrow in the province of Pozens in Germany (today part of Poland). He was the sixth child. His parents had a ranch and they made a living by trading horses. His parents died when he was a still a young child. Shlomo and the other younger siblings of the family were sent to live with their older brothers and sisters. Shlomo was raised by his sister Frida Bektovitz. When the younger brothers were old enough, few of them, rented an apartment together and sharing their living expenses in a communal living style. In those days Shlomo was very active in the Zionist youth movement Blau-Weiss in his town. He was very popular among his friends. As a young adult, he began studying chemistry in Wurzburg University and later in Munich. The First World War erupted when he was finishing his PhD thesis. At that time there was an argument with in the Zionist movement whether or not Jews should join the war in support of their country.  Shlomo, with a group of other young Jewish people joined the German army to prove their loyalty to their country. He participated in battles as an artillery soldier and later became a Prussian officer. Shlomo was injured one the battlefield; a bullet entered his lung and stayed there for the rest of his life.  Shlomo received the Iron Cross medal when he was discharged at the end of the war.

Tova – was born in a town Pritzers Dokof, Germany (the name of the town could be slightly different as it is a translation from German to Hebrew to English). She was the youngest child in a family of two brothers and two sisters. She spent her childhood riding a pony that she received as a birthday present from her parents. She loved music and studied ballet and piano. She loved reading books. Tova was introduced to Zionism through her interaction with young Zionists who spent time on her parents’ ranch getting agricultural and Zionist training before immigrating to Israel.

Tova and Shlomo – knew each other since childhood. They got closer after Tova’s sister married Shlomo’s brother. They got married in the early 1920th in Braslaw, and moved to live in Berlin where Shlomo worked as a chemist and as a supervisor of pharmaceutical plants. During their first ten years as a married couple they brought to the world five children. Tova taught piano lessons and was devoted to her children. They lived well and had a nanny and a housekeeper. However, Tova continued to personally take care of her children with love and dedication to no end.

When Hitler came to power, and after Shlomo was attacked by Nazis, Tova and Shlomo understood that the time had come to fulfill their dream and to immigrate to Israel. After very difficult process, when they applied again and again for an exit visa, they were finally able to get approval to live Germany through their connections with Haim Arlozerov, a German Jewish Zionist leader who was later murdered on the streets of Tel Aviv in 1933. They loaded up a small portion of their belongings on a cargo ship and in 1934 they sailed with their five children to Israel. They were among the last Jews to leave Germany and survive. Their belongings however were lost and never reached their destination.

They settled first in Neve Yaakov, a neighborhood near Jerusalem. Shlomo used his past experience as a Prussian officer and joined the Jewish settlement police. He was appointed to the position of the Police officer for Neve Yaakov and Atarot near Jerusalem. These were the days of bloody Arab attacks on Jewish settlers. After four years, the family moved to Jerusalem where Shlomo worked first in construction and then as a sergeant in the British police where he served until the Second World War begun. Under orders from the Hagana (the Jewish Zionist freedom underground movement), Shlomo joined the British army and was in-charge of the weapon depot in Tzrifin. After that he managed the recruitment station in Jerusalem. He didn’t feel comfortable being in a clerical role in the rear when a war was going on so he requested a transfer. Since he spoke fluently three languages (English, French, and German) and also understood Italian, he was assigned to the British intelligence. He was transferred to Egypt, than to Create and other Greek islands. As part of his job he interrogated German prisoners and translated German documents (he was involved in several suspenseful operations that later became famous bestsellers). During that time Shlomo was away from home for many months. The contact with his family was renewed only at the end of the war.

Tova had a wonderful ability to adjust to difficult situations without getting depressed or losing her ability to function. Coming from a rich family, she was unprepared for the difficulties that she faced. She learned how to run a household with almost nothing. She learned from her Arab neighbors how to cook and how to wash cloth using a tub in the yard. During that times she walked around the area picking up wood to light fire under a large tank. Her dream of becoming a mother of many children was perhaps the only of her childhood dreams that was completely fulfilled. Five additional children joined the family in Israel. She used to say with a smile on her face; “I delivered five children in Germany and five children in Israel so neither side will be in disadvantage”. Throughout all the difficult years of adjustment in Israel (which was an extremely difficult task for German Jews), Tova was able to keep a warm home and to respond with humor and a smile to all the difficulties that she faced. She always knew how to find something good and happy in difficult situations. During the Second World War she was worried about Shlomo; she didn’t know his whereabouts. She kept her fear hidden from her children, sharing it only with the older ones. During that time she continued to maintain a warm home for the family. In the years of the struggle prior to Israel’s Independence War, the older sons joined the Hagana forces. Despite her fear, Tove did not stop them.

Shlomo couldn’t find work when he returned from the war. At that time Israel had little need to people with PhD in chemistry. This situation was very difficult for him as a head of a household of ten children and a wife. Eventually he found work in the government’s cartography department. While working there he transferred maps to the Hagana. These maps were later used in battle planning during Israel’s Independence War.

In 1947, Shlomo and Tova were finally able to overcome the financial daily struggle and fulfill their Zionist dream by purchasing a farm in Herut village. The years in the village were difficult but fulfilling; Shlomo was never accustomed to hard physical work, but he insisted on working in the field until one day he suffered a serious heart attack. After that, Tova insisted that he’ll restrain himself to lighter work.

Shlomo and Tova were able to overcome any challenge that life threw at them; Shlomo lost two brothers in the First World War and later he lost a brother and a sister in Auschwitz in the Second World War. However, when their son Gideon, a commando soldier in the young Israeli army, was killed in the Battle of Kalkilya in 1956, Tova and Shlomo couldn’t take it anymore; Tova died a year and a half later in 1958. Shlomo lost interest in life when Tova died; he became ill and was restricted to his bed for the rest of his life. He died from cancer in 1966. They are buried in Tel Mond, Israel.


Shlomo Pick (Right) in German army uniforms with his grandfather Bernard Schmidt(center) and his brother Chaim and Chaim’s son Pinchas (Pinchas grew up to be the famous military historian Professor Pinchas Pick)

According to family information, Haim Pick who was a Zionist leader moved to Jerusalem and was in-charge of issuing British immigration certificates to Eretz Israel, a certificate he refused to issue to his brother Shlomo, which needed it badly to escape the Nazis after his release from Nazi prison for being a Zionist leader. According to this information Haim said that he couldn’t show favoritism, but the real reason was a family fued between the two of them after Shlomo lost rare books that Chaim asked him ship to Israel from Germany. In despair, Tova requested the help of another Zionist leader and a relative, Chaim Arlozerov. He issued the certificate immediately and the family left Germany. Chaim Arlozerov was later murdered in Tel Aviv. His murderer was never found. Arlozerov street in Tel Aviv was named after him. Shlomo and Chaim Pick both  lived in  Jerusalem, but never spoke to each other. Chaim and his family were orthodox Jews. Shlomo and his family were secular Jews. Their kids, although in the same city, lived in two different worlds and the family grew apart. Today, some of the grandchildren are trying to reconnect.


Shlomo (right) was stationed in Cairo, unaware that his oldest son Yona (left) was also in the Jewish brigade and was also stationed in Cairo. One day, by pure coincidence they ran into each other in Cairo’s market. On the left is their picture from that day.


In this picture: Shlomo in a wheel chair. My mother sitting on a chair, my sisters to his sides. A friend standing next to the wall, and I’m checking Shlomo’s knee.