During her thirty years, Haviva Reik managed to do a lot. Talented and courageous, she lived a bright life. She could have achieved more – become a successful businesswoman, a famous politician, build a new Israel, raise children. But Reik wanted to fight and died, throwing her fate into the furnace of a terrible war that changed the course of history.
At birth, Haviva Reik was called Marta Reik, or, in Slovak, Marta Reikova. The girl was born on June 22, 1914 in the village of Nadabula in the Slovak Rudgorje, where the family moved from Budapest in search of a better life. Over time, the head of the family began to change not for the better and they had to move first to the rather large city of Szeged, and then even further – to the godforsaken Slovak village, where her father found the position of a clerk at a paper mill.
When the girl was not even four years old, the family decided to move away from the war. Not far from Banska Bystrica, in the village of Harmanec, her father again found a job at a paper mill, not as a clerk, but as a storekeeper.
Haviva Reik later recalled her childhood in Harmanec fondly. The family's financial situation stabilized; father no longer went on long tours in search of earnings. The idyll came to an end in 1922, when almost all the workers were fired from the enterprise for participating in a strike.
The family was forced to leave their homes again. The Reiks settled in the nearby suburb of Banska Bystrica, the village of Radvaň.
In Radvaň, the mother immediately enrolled Haviva, her sister Ilonka and brother Imre in a nearby Jewish school. Education there, however, was conducted in the Slovak language, but, in addition to general subjects, the children studied religion. Unlike the educational institution in Harmanec, where students, including Jews, had to cross themselves and put up a Christmas tree, the children studied the Tanakh and Jewish history at the new school.
In a Jewish school, the girl studied until the sixth grade. Then there were two years in an ordinary Slovak school, after which she had to make a difficult decision: either go to work or continue her education. After listening to the advice of her relatives, Haviva decided, after the eighth grade, to apply to a two-year college of commerce, where in a short time it was possible to master the specialties of a secretary and an accountant.
Realizing that the elderly mother did not and will not have any opportunity to pay for her university studies, Haviva, after graduating from college of trade, began working in the Neuberg brothers' agricultural machinery store. With the Neubergs, the 17-year-old graduate stood at the cash register, supervised accounting, performed secretarial functions, and soon became a real traveling salesman.
At the age of 18, Haviva became a Red Cross volunteer and almost the only girl in the ranks of the local fire brigade volunteers.
The girl was also interested in politics – she studied for some time in a circle founded in Banska Bystrica by members of the Democratic Party. She did not communicate with friends from the Jewish school since the sixth grade and considered herself an ordinary Slovakian, attending the synagogue on big holidays.
Everything changed after the girl met Yardena Weiss and several other members of the Hashomer Hatzair youth organization in early 1933. Literally after the very first conversation, the “proud Slovak” became a “fanatical Zionist”. Immediately changing the “galut” name of Marta to the Jewish one – Haviva – the girl seemed to enter a completely different world.
With her characteristic energy, Haviva, who knew neither Hebrew nor the wisdom of the Zionist movement at all, leaned heavily on books and soon bypassed her teachers. In 1935, the girl was appointed senior counselor in a detachment of 70 young participants in the movement from Banska Bystrica and the region. Over the years, she has become a fairly well-known figure and personal assistant to Oskar Neumann, chairman of the Zionist organization in Slovakia. Haviva, with her specialized education and outstanding organizational skills, was engaged in the transfer of funds and property of the Jews of Slovakia to Eretz Israel.
At Hashomer Hatzair, the girl met her future husband, Aron Martinović. After a decidedly non-religious wedding, the newlyweds-socialists decided that it was time to repatriate to Eretz Israel. Moreover, the attitude towards Jews in Slovakia deteriorated significantly with the growth of the influence and power of the Nazi Third Reich. In 1938, the Martinović couple left for Bratislava, where there was a center for preparing repatriates for life in Palestine.
In the late autumn of 1939, Haviva and Aron came to Eretz Israel and became members of Kibbutz Ma'anit, founded by members of Hashomer Hatzair from Slovakia, 40 kilometers north of Haifa.
In her second year at the kibbutz, Haviva was offered to lead a new project in Ma'anita – an orange processing enterprise. Among other things, she coordinated the work of the branch of the Council of Workers (later – “Naamat”) in Karkur.
In mandated Palestine, Haviva's husband changed his outlook very quickly: an ideological Marxist, he became disillusioned with left-wing Zionism and became a fanatical communist. Due to serious political differences and constant quarrels, the couple decided to break up, although none of them officially filed for divorce.
In April 1942, Reik, who continued to work in the Zionist movement, was elected a delegate to the Hashomer Hatzair meeting. There she first heard the performance of Yitzhak Sadeh. A well-known commander of the Jewish settlement police in Palestine told those present about the serious security problems of the Yishuv and called on young people to be encouraged to join the shock companies – Palmach, created with the consent of the British.
Haviva enthusiastically responded to the call of the military leader and in May 1942 joined the ranks of Palmach. Soon, the girl ended up in Joa’re's training camp in the Lower Galilee.
Meanwhile, disturbing news came from Europe. In September 1942, Haviva received a postcard from her mother. Emilia wrote to her daughter that she, Haviva’s brother Imre and his wife Irene, as well as her older sister Ferenczi, were being sent from Slovakia to Poland. Haviva, of course, did not know what this move meant, but she immediately felt that it did not bode well. Two months later, at the end of 1942, news of the horrors taking place in Poland began to reach the Yishuv. Haviva hoped that her relatives were alive, but her hopes were in vain. They all died at Auschwitz.
Haviva and her colleagues begged the command to send them to free their homes from the brown plague. At the end of the commanding course, the girl's name appeared on the list presented by the Haganah to the British, who were creating special reconnaissance groups to work in occupied Europe.
Haviva Reik was an excellent candidate for this job. The girl perfectly knew a number of regions of Slovakia, spoke fluent German, Hungarian and Slovak languages, understood Russian, and in Palestine she perfectly mastered Hebrew and English.
As a result of rigorous exams, Reik was selected and, along with other volunteers, was sent to study. At first, the drill took place in Palestine as part of the Palmach courses. Much attention was paid to the means of collecting and transmitting intelligence, as well as improving local languages and dialects.
At the second stage, the volunteers had to continue their training with the British. In April 1944, Haviva was formally drafted into Her Majesty's Women's Auxiliary Air Force, and then under the agent name “Ada Robinson” began to undergo specialized training, including parachuting courses in Ramat David.
After completing the courses and several weeks of waiting, on July 19, 1944, the girl received an order to take part in a secret operation in the Banska Bystrica area. When, in the early summer of 1944, the eastern front approached the territory of the Slovak state, and Hungary was occupied by German troops, the British special services showed special interest in the territory of Slovakia.
The dangerous mission was under the code name “Operation “Amsterdam”. According to the order, Haviva was to act together with the commander, Zvi Ben-Yaakov, also a native of Slovakia. The agents were to create a network to rescue the Allied pilots, organize their escape from the POW camps and establish contact with the local Resistance. At the same time, according to the instructions of the Jewish Agency, they had to contact the local Jewish community and look for ways and means to save its members, as well as to organize the Jewish resistance.
Reik and her group were transferred to Cairo to await the mission. Time passed, and it began to seem that the chances of an early implementation of the operation were fading. The Bulgarian group was stuck in Istanbul. Soon, the British also canceled the Slovak operation, as the messenger who was supposed to give signals to the paratroopers on the spot disappeared.
In the early autumn of 1944, the paratroopers were resumed over the front line. Due to the national uprising unfolding in Slovakia against the pro-German government, Haviva's mission, postponed to September 1, 1944, was postponed for another two weeks.
In addition to Haviva and Zvi Ben-Yaakov, on September 4, 1944, two more paratroopers were added to the reconnaissance group, who were then supposed to make their way from Slovakia to Hungary: Haim Hermesh and Rafael Reiss. The British refused to land Haviva with a parachute. The Nazis could immediately find a spy in her – according to the official version, the British did not throw girls behind the front line.
Haviva came to the location of the Slovak rebels on September 17, 1944, having flown there from the Italian city of Bari on board the American B-17 “Flying Fortress” aircraft, which brought 8 tons of weapons to the enclave liberated by the Slovak rebels. Together with Haviva Reik, 6 secret officers of the American Strategic Services Department flew on the plane.
Three male paratroopers, who were dropped on September 14, 1944, 50 kilometers from the originally planned point, a few days later, with great difficulty, reached Banska Bystrica. Imagine their surprise when they found the headquarters organized by Haviva, who was already actively working with local Jews.
For 6 weeks, the Yishuv envoys managed to establish contact not only with the British Airborne Force Windproof, but also with the command of the rebel detachments from the regular Slovak army, which had gone over to the side of the rebels. Thanks to these contacts, the paratroopers managed to rescue about 60 Allied airmen who were shot down in the Carpathians.
But the agents considered their main task to be the salvation of the Jews, entrusted to them by the leadership of the Yishuv. In August 1944, about 5,000 Jews remained alive in the area liberated by the partisans, mostly from various camps.
There was no consensus among the Jews of the enclave about an open uprising against the Slovak regime of Josef Tiso. With difficulty, Reik achieved a truce between various Jewish organizations, which as a result created a coordinating committee in Banska Bystrica.
With the help of the British, the girl opened a tailoring workshop for Slovak partisans, in which Jews in need found work. As part of the refugee assistance program, she dealt with such vital issues as organizing a free cafeteria, finding housing, medical care, and making (forging) documents. Several groups of Jewish refugees were evacuated closer to the Hungarian border, in the hope that the Russians would reach there earlier than the Germans.
When it became clear that the rebels were doomed to failure, the Slovaks suggested that the Jewish saboteurs evacuate by plane to Italy. To this Haviva and her comrades replied with a decisive refusal: “We have come here to be with you, and we will be with you under any conditions”.
In early October, large enemy forces reached the outskirts of the free enclave and approached Banska Bystrica. Reik and her friends began organizing the evacuation of Jews. The paratroopers left the city on October 26, two days before its fall. The last group of Jews, about 40 people, left with them. However, it was not possible to leave unnoticed. Haviva refused to leave the elderly, so the ascent to the mountains near the village of Pohronský Bukovec took longer than originally planned. Local Nazi accomplices noticed that caravans of people were climbing into the mountains covered with forests and organizing a temporary camp there.
The only surviving paratrooper, Haim Hermesh, a native of Hungary, witnessed the last days of the life of a brave girl. Early in the morning of October 30, 1944, Hermesh woke up from shouts and gunfire: in the thick fog, Ukrainians from the Waffen-SS Halychyna division approached the camp and began shooting and throwing hand grenades into the thick of the tents. Haim with a hand grenade clutched in his hand and several other people were able to break through and hide in the thicket. He never saw Haviva, Rafi and Zvi, their commander, again.
On November 20, 1944, the heroine, along with other 250 Jews, was taken to the village of Kremnička and shot. They were all buried in a mass grave. After the liberation of Slovakia in April 1945, the British army began to search for their fallen soldiers. The bodies of Haviva and two of her comrades – Zvi Ben-Yaakov and Rafael Reiss - were found in a pile of corpses. They were identified by scraps of the book “Kibbutz women”, which Haviva had with her.
7 years later, in 1952, the remains of the heroes-paratroopers were solemnly reburied on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem during a military ceremony in memory of the paratroopers of the Palestinian Yishuv who fell in Europe.
A kibbutz, a river in Israel, a gerbera flower and a ship from the time of Alia Bet are named after the brave parachutist. There is also Givat Haviva, the national educational center of the Kibbutz Federation in Israel, which has been awarded a UNESCO Prize for its many years of work to promote Jewish-Arab dialogue and reconciliation. Haviva Reik continues to create and fight even after death.
1914 – 1944