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The untold stories: Widows of the 6-Day War still suffer in silence 50 years laterThe Six-Day War widows are still dealing with the emotional scars that began 50 years ago. Simona Maar Ziv and Ruth Elul, both of whom lost their husbands in the war, share their stories of loss and pain. Over the years, both of them have been actively participating in IDFWO (IDF Widows & Orphans) activities.
50 years ago, valiant IDF forces crushed the formidable Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian armies during six days of intense warfare between June 5-10, 1967, which resulted in the liberation of the West Bank, the Golan Heights and the holy city of Jerusalem. Jews all over the world still revel in this astonishing feat. However, as the years have gone by, people tend to forget that there was a price to pay on the path to total victory, as 776 IDF soldiers lost their lives on the battlefield.
For the Six-Day War widows, a different battle has been waged since IDF officers knocked on their doors in June 1967 to inform them about the tragic loss of their loved ones. 50 years might seem like a long time ago, but for the widows, the emotional scars endure.
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For Simona Maar Ziv and Ruth Elul, both of whom are in their 70s, the disaster that befell them as young wives remains an open wound, despite the fact that both of them have moved on with their lives, remarried, yet divorced again years later.
It makes no difference to both of them if their first husbands have been dubbed ‘heroes’ by the IDF, military historians or even the Jewish people.
“There was this euphoria about the war but the reality for us was that the country won, but the widows lost,” Simona said matter-of-factly. “My son always says that we defeated the Arabs but the Arabs killed our father,” Ruth added. “People also tend to forget that if the widows had children when their father was killed, the children also carry the war on their shoulders as well.”
Simona was 20 years old and had been married for only 4 months when her husband, Herzl, fell in battle. At the time, the young couple was barely able to make ends meet. When she decided to pick up the pieces and remarry again a few years later, her former in-laws were so angry that she had dared to rekindle the happiness in her young life and not remain a widow for eternity, they removed all of her personal possessions. Forced to start from scratch with her second husband, Simona worked three different jobs to make ends meet and raise their two young sons. Alas, after seven years, her second marriage fell apart.
One would think that Simona would have every right to be bitter. But if anything, she retains her own fighting, optimistic spirit. “Yes, its’s true, for an IDF widow, survival is a profession here. It’s pretty amazing that I’ve gone from 20 years old to 70 years old in the blink of an eye,” she admitted. “But I get up every morning and try to live. Some people go to a psychologist but I go to the beach. That’s my therapy.”
Ruth was 27 years old and the mother of two young children when her husband, Yekutiel, was killed. The trauma was such that she refused to shed tears and held a grudge against her late husband for “getting himself killed,” for many years. Eventually, she made peace with herself and her late husband. “I honestly didn’t know how I would carry on but somehow, I did,” she recalled. “I remarried and had another child but my second marriage wasn’t very good, unfortunately.”
Ruth has persevered and has overcome both emotional pain and a rollercoaster second marriage. She has been a librarian, teacher and account manager. Though she is now in her mid-70s, Ruth continues to volunteer as an assistant in the local small claims court.
“I have had a good life and love my 7 grandchildren. But no one knows what kind of life my first husband and I could have had if he had not been killed,” she said, with a tone of sad defiance in her voice.
A key element in both Simona’s and Ruth’s emotional well-being has been their active participation in various IDFWO (IDF Widows & Orphans) organizational activities. The IDFWO currently works with 8,000 women and children who have lost their loved ones in the Israeli Defense Forces, providing a backbone of support that can make a world of difference in the widows’ and orphans’ lives.
“Once a war widow, always a war widow, even if you remarry and love your second husband. The IDFWO gatherings and activities are very important for a very specific reason,” Ruth disclosed. “We might not always agree with each other’s opinions about different things, but we ALL speak the same language and understand each other, as widows. Since we have all experienced the same loss and trauma, we can speak to each other in our language and help each other when we need to. Obviously, the most difficult day for all of us is Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day), when all the memories are rekindled during the ceremonies on TV and at the cemetery. ”
For the widows, Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day) and the liberation of Jerusalem kindles mixed emotions. “You can feel proud, but we have nothing to celebrate,” said Ruth.
So as we celebrate Israel’s illustrious battlefield victories and independence after thousands of year in exile, let us never forget those Jewish soldiers who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
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