Portrait of Zvi Hirsch Harmatz.
Photograph | Photograph Number: 34194
Circa 1939 - 1941
- Photo Designation
LIFE BEFORE THE HOLOCAUST -- Lithuania -- Family/Friends/Portraits
- Photo Credit
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Joseph Harmatz
Portrait of Zvi Hirsch Harmatz.
- Joseph Harmatz is the son of Abrasha and Dora Harmatz. He was born January 23, 1925 in Rokiskis, Lithuania, where his father was a wholesale merchant who owned a warehouse in the town's market square. Joseph had two brothers: Zvi Hirsch (b. 1923) and Ephraim (b. 1927). The Harmatz family moved to Vilna in 1940, where Abrasha purchased several factories. Joseph was enrolled in a Lithuanian gymnasium for his final year in high school and soon became involved in the Komsomol, the communist youth movement. In the fall of 1941, soon after the Germans occupied Vilna, the Harmatz' were forced to move into the ghetto. By this time Zvi had left for the Soviet Union, where he soon enlisted in the 16th Lithuanian Division of the Soviet Army. In 1943 he was killed when his battalion was sent to the front to defend Moscow. The transition to ghetto life was particularly difficult for Joseph's father. Lacking a trade or personal contacts within the Jewish community, Abrasha was unable to receive a work permit, and had to rely upon his sixteen-year-old son to provide for the family. He soon lost the will to live and took his own life in 1942. Joseph worked for a time at the Vilna railroad station, but when leaving the ghetto each day became too risky, he used his connections to secure a position on the ghetto police force. By this time, Joseph had joined the underground (FPO), a role he had to conceal, since the ghetto administration viewed the FPO as a threat to the continued existence of the ghetto and its remaining Jewish population. In the summer of 1943 Joseph's mother was deported to the Kaiserwald concentration camp in Riga. A year later, she was transferred to Stutthof, arriving on August 9, 1944. When the camp was evacuated in January 1945, she was sent on a death march. Soon after, she was liberated by Soviet troops. Joseph's brother, Ephraim, was deported from Vilna to the Klooga camp in Estonia in September 1943. He was killed there one year later shortly before the arrival of the Red Army. Together with the members of his FPO unit, Joseph escaped from the Vilna ghetto on September 23, 1943, the final day of the liquidation action. Their escape route was through the city's sewer system. Eventually Joseph's group reached the Rudnitski Forest, where they formed the La Nitzachon (For Victory) battalion. Joseph was appointed head of special operations and participated in numerous acts of sabotage against German targets. For several months after the liberation in July 1944, Joseph worked in a high level position for the Vilna NKVD. He might have remained there indefinitely had not his fellow partisan leader, Abba Kovner, entreated him to leave for Palestine. Departing on January 17, 1946, Joseph proceeded to Lublin, where he met a large group of former resistance fighters. There, he participated in the founding of the Bricha. Joseph was assigned the task of creating a secure Bricha route from Poland to Romania. Shortly after reaching Bucharest, Joseph was reunited with his mother. He wanted to accompany her to Palestine, but felt compelled to remain in Europe and participate in the mission of the emerging Nekama (Revenge) group, headed by Abba Kovner. In the early summer of 1945 the Nekama group left Bucharest for Pontebba, the base of the Jewish Brigade in the mountains above Tarvisio in northern Italy. Kovner hoped a meeting of the two groups of Jewish fighters would convince the Brigade to lend its support to his mission of revenge. Though the former partisans were warmly welcomed in Pontebba and were actively aided by individual Jewish soldiers, they did not receive the Brigade's endorsement. Joseph left Pontebba on September 7, 1945. His destination was Nuremberg, one of five German locations where Nekama intended to mount retaliatory attacks on their former persecutors. In coordination with the Nekama central command in Paris, Joseph developed two projects: Project A, to infiltrate toxins in the local water supply and Project B, to contaminate the bread supply of the Stalag 13 POW camp for members of the SS near Nuremberg. Project A was aborted after five months of preparation, when Abba Kovner was arrested by British authorities on his way back to Europe from Palestine, where he had obtained the required toxins. Project B was then implemented, but the operation went awry and had minimal impact. Joseph and his group were secreted out of Germany and given places aboard the illegal immigration vessel, Josiah Wedgwood, sailing from Italy. When the ship reached Haifa, the passengers were taken to the Athlit detention camp. Upon his release, Joseph joined his mother in Tel Aviv. After a few difficult years Harmatz married, started a family and launched a distinguished career of service in the Jewish Agency and ORT Israel.
- Photo Source
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Copyright: United States Holocaust Memorial MuseumProvenance: Joseph HarmatzSource Record ID: Collections: 1998.150
- Published Source
- From the Wings - Harmatz, Joseph - The Book Guild, Sussex, England - p. 25
Record last modified: 2003-10-24 00:00:00
This page: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/pa1100852