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Who was Ze'ev Keren?

I was born in Romania on June 1st 1938 in Odorheiu Secuiesc, Transylvania, a city where the population spoke Hungarian but the government was Romanian. My parents wanted to immigrate to Israel in 1939, but that involved a horse sleigh ride on the frozen Danube. My father did not want to take that risk (with an eighteen months old baby and my older brother, who was three and a half) so we stayed in the city to start our lives anew.

When they started rounding up the Jews, we were taken to the police station by force. The Romanians treated us as if we were animals or lepers. They shouted at us and even hit us for no reason. Not everyone survived the station. Those who did were taken to the camp “Bârlad” and were subjected to inhumane condition: oppression, hunger, abuse and humiliation, beatings and more. My father was a WWI hero of the Austro-Hungarian army and had documents from the service which stated he was "Not Considered Jewish".

 

My father introduced those documents at the headquarters of the camp so they pushed us to a remote area, where we were not closely monitored. My father saw this as an opportunity to escape, took the family (my mother, my brother and me) and we did. I vaguely remember somewhere within a creek, in a deserted house of Hungarian friends of my father's, where they stuck us in the basement until the Russians invaded. When we came out of hiding my parents realized we were left with nothing - but alive.

After the war, my father found a job, rented an apartment and began efforts to immigrate to Israel. I went to elementary school, graduated six grade and received an excellence diploma from the government. I participated in sports that would not risk my well being, as directed by the father. Especially winter sports: skating on ice and snow. We traveled legally to Israel, on board the ‘SS Transylvania’.

We arrived in Haifa in September 1950. Like the rest of the immigrants at the time, we were taken to "Sha’ar Aliyah" reception camp and after the standard practices - disinfections, dusting, cleaning and questioning - we were transferred to kibbutz "Ein Shemer", which used to be a British airport. There, we lived in a long building with many other families, separated by hanging blankets instead of walls. We received cooked meals. My brother was taken away from us for "Aliyat Hano’ar" (Youth Aliyah) and I stayed behind with my parents.

 

Since the weather was much hotter than the climate I was used to, I drank a lot of very cold soda until I got tonsillitis. I was taken to the children ward at "Rambam" hospital, in Haifa. We were six children in the room and one of them had a tracheostomy, with a tube to help him breath and the occasional pumping of phlegm. One day, I saw that he was struggling to breath so I ran into the hallway, dragged the first nurse I found into the room, and they immediately pulled a grape seed that was blocking the tube. A short time later a Hungarian-speaking nurse came in and told me that I saved him from dying. I returned home with great pride.

From "Ein Shemer" we moved to "Givat Sha’ul", near Jerusalem, also intended for new immigrants. I learned Hebrew in elementary school, a simple two-rooms stone building by a landing strip, and I read the punctuated newspaper "Omer". From there we moved to a tin hut in "Hartuv", a holding camp near Bet Shemesh, where I went to a school that was merely three U-shaped huts, called "The Beit Shemesh Education House." I graduated from the first class of that school, and was designated for the Marine academy in Acre. With the “Youth Aliyah” my brother found himself in kibbutz "Beit Zera", near the sea of Galilee and decided to stay there. And since my parents decided to follow him, I did not join the academy. I studied and graduated from high school at the kibbutz. One day I received a small envelope addressed to Tiberius Klein (my original name) with a note that said, "You are qualified for the flight academy - volunteer!" So I did.

 

I successfully passed the Preparation phase, the Basics phase (led by Ze'ev Henfeld), the Primary one (led by Asaf Ben-Nun and the famous Yalovski), and almost finished the Advanced phase (guided by Dror Avnery). Two weeks before the course completion, I was told that I will not be graduating. In an interview at the headquarters, I was offered to go back to the academy and take the training for a light-aircraft pilot. I refused, of course, because those who were eliminated before I did, have already finish that course. I said "if you want me to be a light-aircraft pilot, I want to be stationed in the squadron 100". I was stationed at that squadron, and within one month and the help of Reuven Hirsch’s training, I was certified as a pilot and received my "wings" from the IAF commander himself, Ezer Weizman, in his office.

From 1959 to 1963 I belonged to the squadron 100. I got certified as a flight instructor and during one of the training sessions, I taught general Chaim Herzog how to land properly, since other instructors were tired of doing “the kangaroo" with him. Among others, I instructed the Chief of Staff of the IDF Rafael "Raful" Eitan, the commander of the Israeli Navy Yohai Ben-Nun, general Eli Zeira and other young pilots. I performed aerial evacuations from Eilat to Ben-Gurion Airport in really bad weather, at night, flying through the clouds all the way to Kiryat Gat, where I began to see lights.

In 1963 I was sent to a helicopter training course in France and from 1964 I was a pilot in squadron 124. Upon ranking captain, in the office of Ezer Weizman, my "light wings" were replaced with those with the Star-of-David, like all great pilots. I think I’m the only pilot who received their wings from Ezer, twice. I was then certified as a flight instructor and advanced to Chief Captain.

During the Six-Day War, I was assigned to Ariel "Arik" Sharon's division with the Bell 47 helicopter, which has a a transparent bubble canopy. I evacuated a soldier from Ketziot to Soroka Hospital in Beersheba, because there was no other helicopter. There, at the Soroka landing ground, I saw pilot Haim Nave, sitting in a Super Frelon and smiling when he saw the little Bell 47 bring in a wounded soldier.

After that, I was sent to find the ambush that blocked the brigade of Colonel Natke Nir, and indeed I found it and reported back. Later, I was sent to find the Egyptian General El Shazly's devision, and I located it en route from kuntilla to Nakhel. Arik Sharon’s Chief of Staff was sitting next to me and asked me to fly immediately to Nakhel, where the commander of the 14th brigade was, to give him the update. As I approached the brigade, I saw four of our Mystére bomber aircrafts diving into attack mode towards it. I immediately got on the radio and said to the attackers: "Nakhel is in our hands - go and attack the Mitla!”. The leader asked "Who is  this?” and I replied: “Keren" in plain language, and the quartet turned up and flew away. A few minutes later we landed by the brigade commander Motke Zipory, who was very pale and said with trembling voice "Did you see these planes?”. I told him it was I who sent them away. Motke replied that I saved the whole division!

Arik Sharon recommended me for a commander citation, for my operations during the Six-Day war, however the IAF commander thought I only deserved a letter of recommendation. For two years I was deputy commander of squadron 123 and then I went back to squadron 124 doing my reserve service until 1986. My farewell concluded with a party named “What a life - who is Zeev keren?".

 

I was in the civilian "jungle" for about a year and when Homeland Security was transferred to the Police Force, their Operations Department was founded by Zvika Shchory. 'Cheetah' (Eliezer Cohen) asked him to bring me back to a civil servant status and so I worked at the National Headquarters until my retirement, in 1986. That year, I also stopped doing my reserve duty. Since then, I do what I want, the way I want it, I live in peace and enjoy life, family and my 7 grandchildren.

Ze'ev Keren 1938 - 2017