A Jewish physician whose father fought with the British Army has told of the “remarkable” twist of fate that brought him his passport issued by the Nazis more than 80 years ago.
Daniel Robitshek, 59, from Atlanta in the US, embarked on a “fascinating” journey of discovery after a Facebook user in a moshav in northern Israel took to social media upon unearthing the document that languished among her father’s belongings for decades.
“The lady who had the passport speaks broken English and obviously Hebrew. I speak broken Hebrew and English,” he told Jewish News on Friday, explaining that he had spoken to Mira Ariav over the phone this month following her extraordinary find.
“She told me her father had passed away a couple of months ago and as she was cleaning out some of his stuff that was left, she found this passport. It was of my father as a teenager, and [our fathers] were good friends.”
Within hours of seeing Ariav’s social media appeal, which was shared hundreds of times, researchers at the Israeli genealogy website MyHeritage were able to track down Robitshek and help return the passport to him.
“The one thing that caught our eyes was the fact that this passport was issued by the Nazi regime,” said Nitay Elboym, the researcher who worked on the case. “We started from there. We had hints, like the date of birth and name. It only took us a few hours and we only relied on the MyHeritage system,” he added.
The document written in German and containing several Nazi-insignia and stamps belonged to Robitshek’s late father Zvi, who died in 1995 in Los Angeles aged 72. It appears to have been issued in 1939, after the antisemitic Nuremberg Laws stripped Jews of any citizenship rights.
The document’s remarkably “well-preserved” pages bear the marks of his father’s brushes with history but raised more questions than they answered, he said, before describing the many passport stamps it contained.
“It looks like [my father] went through Sweden, Greece, Turkey, and ultimately probably by ship to Palestine,” Robitshek said.
Robitshek, who hopes to write a memoir about his family’s stories of survival during the Second World War, revealed plans to translate the passport into English.
His father, he said, “kept things very close to the vest” after moving to the US, divulging very little to his son about his earlier years. Most of the details uncovered came from his mum, who died in 2014.
Born in Czechoslovakia, Robitshek’s father lost most members of his family to the Holocaust, including his two sisters, a brother-in-law, and both parents who perished in the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.
“He had a second cousin that he ultimately found in Canada many years later, and and a great aunt that he knew had escaped before the war,” said Robitshek. “Obviously his life was changed forever, and with that, and you can imagine the survivor’s guilt that he lived with.”
From Prague, he travelled to Denmark in the summer of 1939 after the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in March, and stayed with a Jewish youth group with Ariav’s father for a year-and-a-half. “They made their way to the Palestine mandate and they ended up in a Kibbutz together,” he said.
From there, he enlisted with the Jewish Infantry Brigade Group, a British Army regiment of 30,000 Palestinian Jews. He was stationed in Egypt and Italy before later moving to the US in 1958.
Robitshek’s four daughters have all seen photographs of the passport. Two of them, based locally, have physically touched it. “It’s an amazing connection with the past, to be able to feel it, to touch it, to see his picture and to look in the passport and see the stamps in Palestine mandate, where he was allowed to enter,” he said.
“It touched them in a deep way, and although they’re three generations remote from it, it’s still something that is meaningful to them,” he added.