An Interview with David Argaman,
A Member of Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet
Interviewed by Daniela Ozacky
In his mid-90s, David Argaman sits at home on Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet and continues to read books. He makes sure to read the books with the best reviews and to see the recommended movies at the regional theatre on Kibbutz Ein Hashofet.
Argaman’s story begins in the early 20th century, in 1917, when he and his twin brother Mordechai were born in the Polish town of Bielsk Podlaski. In 1935, when he was eighteen years of age, his parents decided to move to Palestine. This decision was the result of the difficult situation in Poland at the time, as well as his parents’ understanding that as members of the pioneering Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair, their sons would eventually move to Palestine, with or without them.
“My oldest brother was thirteen years older than us,” Argaman explained. “He moved to Palestine during the 1920s and was expelled by the British for being a communist.”
When his family arrived in Palestine, Argaman searched for a suitable framework. After giving the question serious thought, he decided to join Kibbutz Lashikhror, which was then located in Rehovot and which had members who were Rehovot residents that were older than him. “During my time in Rehovot, I did all kinds of work. I also worked as a baker because it was a night job. This enabled me to work as a youth counselor for kids in Rehovot during the day. During that period, I moved into ‘family housing’ (cheder mishpacha) (as people referred to it as the time).
The kibbutz began preparing to settle on the land in a permanent location and sent a company to Reihania in Ramat Menashe. Argaman stayed in Rehovot, where he was active and where he was needed. WWII was at its height, and the kibbutzim were charged with providing a quota of inductees in order to establish a Jewish brigade.
Tell us about your induction into the British army.
“One day I was informed that there had been a lottery at Reihania and that I had been selected to join the military units then were then being established. From that point on, things began to develop in an unexpected way. I was living at Sarafand at the time, and one evening I was informed that a few other guys and I needed to be ready to leave the next morning for an unknown destination. After a great deal of searching and wandering, I arrived at the headquarters of Montgomery, whose forces were then fighting on the northern front of Africa.”
How did you begin writing your “war diary?”
When I arrived at headquarters, I decided to write down the things I was going through–my experiences in the army. That is the origin of the diary that was written with no thought of publication, but with the knowledge of Chaya–my girlfriend and partner for life.”
Your diary was published in 2008 by Moreshet, the Mordechai Anielevich Memorial Holocaust Studies and Research Center. Tell us about your work at Moreshet.
I started working at Moreshet in 2007. Before that, I worked at Yad Yaari on a research project on Hashomer Hatzair in Poland and published three books. At Moreshet, I worked with Yehoshua (Robino) Bichler, who has since then passed away. Bichler taught me how to work in the archive. I organized and catalogued large amounts of material. One large project I worked on in the Moreshet archive was organizing and recording personal questionnaires completed by kibbutz member Holocaust survivors.”
Where did the idea of publishing your diary come from?
“All these years, my diary had been sitting in a closet at home. One day when I was getting a ride home from a friend at work, Israel Peleg from Kibbutz Ga`ash, I told him about what I did during the war and about the diary I had written. He suggested that I show it to Dr. Graciela Ben Dror, the director of Moreshet, and she decided to publish it. The diary was ‘launched’ in 2008.
My daughter Deganit translated it into English with the help of one of my granddaughters, and the original diary was placed in the care of the Moreshet Archive. I am pleased to have the opportunity to talk about the journal and to publicize it on the internet, because it does not have a large circulation. I am not publicity hungry, but the diary is an important historical document and should have a wider circulation.”
David (Farber) Argaman’s journal from WWII, which he wrote while serving in the British army, was published by Moreshet under the title Diary Chapters. The diary, which covers the period of March 1, 1943 through December 12, 1943, was edited by Josef Rab (deceased), and Prof. Eli Zur contributed a fascinating introduction.
On August 24, 1943, Argaman writes about the birth of his daughter Deganit whom he had not yet met at the time:
“Today, my thoughts are especially preoccupied with the creature that was born on the morning of August 4, 1943, and that entered the world after endless yearnings of Chaya and me. I suggested the name [Deganit] to Chaya before she was born. I envisioned the red, blooming flower of the star-thistle plant [deganit] and tall cereal crops [dagan]. I was captivated by the name. Now, it belongs to my daughter…In contrast to many other people, I wanted a daughter and not a son. I grew up in a house full of males–three sons and a father. My mother was the only female, and she was always busy in the store doing business. I always dreamed of having a sister, but I never got one. In the meantime, I grew into a man and a husband, and my dream transformed into a longing for a daughter. Chaya and others have written that she looks a great deal like me…Are her mannerisms and movements similar to mine? I am a far-away father trying to imagine her and having no success whatsoever.”
In his preface to the book, Prof. Eli Zur writes:
“David (Farber) Argaman’s diary, which was written on the pages of three notebooks, is a fascinating historical document. It provides an account of his life for an eleven month period from the beginning of 1943 through December of the same year, which was the critical period of reversal during WWII. In his diary, Argaman relates to three aspects of his life: his personal life, or the family, the kibbutz, and the country he left behind; his world as a low-ranking soldier at the bottom of the military food-chain; and the inner life of a man with intellectual curiosity who aspires to understand and analyze the reality in which he lives and the world around him, a world at war.”
To purchase a copy of David Argaman, Diary Chapters, please contact Moreshet Publishing House:
Address: 13 Leonardo da Vinci Street, Tel Aviv 61400, P.O. Box 40009