Research on Henri began with a search note that was placed on his gravestone on Mt. Herzl. The note was put there by the volunteers of the organization Giving a Face to the Fallen. This is what the volunteers place on graves of fallen soldiers whose personal stories are missing information. We refer to these soldiers as unknown soldiers. The note was found by ABIGAIL KLEIN LEICHMAN.
Abigail Klein Leichman and her mother Nancy, who had come on a family visit from the United States, were strolling through Jerusalem about six years ago. Nancy (who is 92 now) recalled that she had corresponded with a young man named Henri many years before. She told her daughter, who was greatly surprised and excited about the story. Nancy couldn’t remember the young man’s last name and therefore had never visited his grave. During Corona, Nancy searched through her mother’s things and found the list of names of the young people who had had pen pals abroad, and located Henri’s last name, Fernebok, (not Fernbick as it appears on the gravestone).
Nancy and Henri became pen pals, writing to each other for two years as part of a project headed by the World Jewish Congress, which encouraged young men and women in the U.S. to correspond with Holocaust survivors from Europe. When Henri was killed, Nancy’s letter was found in his pocket and the Defense Ministry wrongfully concluded that Nancy was his relative, so they notified her of his death.
After over seventy years, when she could, Abigail acted upon her mother’s request and visited Henri’s grave. That is when she found the search note. However, Avigail could not recall any personal information about Henri, since, neither she nor her mother knew the details of Henri’s life nor did they have his picture in their possession.
Abigail publicized her mother’s moving story about Henry on Israel Channel 21. Dr. Israel N. Kochin, a doctor from Brooklyn, N.Y. heard the story and made people aware of the connection between Henri, the unknown soldier and Daniel Gershtenkorn’s (a holocaust survivor) account of his family during those years, mentioning that Henri Fernebok, his cousin, had been killed during Israel’s War of Independence. (Because I speak French, I received this fascinating research)
Private Henri Fernebok was born on August 15, 1928, in Warsaw, Poland. He was his parents’ firstborn child.
He was killed on October 10, 1948 on Chol Hamoed Succot, south of Jerusalem.
His father, Yossef Fernebok, who was a tailor, was also born in Warsaw in 1905 and perished in Auschwitz in 1942.
His mother, Esther Hudes, was born in 1907 in Warsaw, and was a nurse.
His brother Jacques was born in Paris in 1932 and his sister Alice was born there too in 1940.
The Fernebok Family immigrated from Poland to France in the early 1930’s. The first to arrive was the father, Yossef, who received a temporary work permit to work in the mines in the town of Mont Saint Martin. Afterwards, Esther and Henri arrived there too. When Yossef’s work permit expired, Esther and the children moved to Paris. Yossef could not join them during those years because he was not in possession of legal documents at that time.
During the war, the mother and her children hid in various places. The children were sent to the uncles and aunts and other family members residing outside of Paris and a Jewish relief Agency called Rue Amelot (the name of a street, not an agency) cared for them.
Yossef Fernebok was arrested in Paris on May 14, 1941, together with over 3,700 Jews having foreign citizenship papers and were all sent to the Pithiviers Camp. From there they were exiled in July, 1942 to Auschwitz on transport no. 6.
The family’s situation during the war was very bad. The mother did not work and had no way of supporting her children. She was on relief, getting money from various sources for her family which helped her to obtain education for them, and even so, it was very difficult for her.
After the war, she married for a second time, to Albert Zelago and with him had a child named Paulette, in 1946.
When he was sixteen, Henri began to learn to sew leather and became an apprentice for a man in the trade. The boys, Henri and Jacques were not comfortable with their stepfather so the relief organization found them other accommodations.
Henri decided to leave home at the age of 18 and make his way to Palestine. Because in France he was still considered a minor until the age of 21, Henri probably made his way to Palestine under false identification with volunteers from abroad who were sent to help organize life for the Jews there. Maybe that is the reason that his name cannot be found on any official document of immigration or on any lists of passengers aboard ships going to Palestine.
According to the Yizkor site, Henri arrived during the month of May, 1948 as an expert in leather and apprenticed as such.
During the night between the 19th and 20th of October, Operation Vine took place. The Etzyoni Brigade, commanded by Moshe Dayan, intended to capture military posts in the area of the Miss Kerry outpost, such as Kfar Vollja and other posts that overlook Beit Jalla south of Jerusalem. The intent was to widen the Jerusalem corridor so it would include the railroad to the rest of the country. In this battle, the brigade ordered Regiment 61 (Regiment Moriah), under the command of Zalman Mart and Regiment 62 (Regiment Beit Choron) where Henri was stationed under the command of Meir Zorea and other helping units were ordered to capture as many posts as they could.
Henri Fernebok and four other soldiers fell in this battle.
Henri was buried at Sheik Badder temporarily and moved two years later to his permanent resting site on Mt. Herzl.
Henri’s brother and sisters survived WWll.
Jacques died leaving no family.
Henri’s sister Alice, who passed away, is survived by two children, a son and a daughter.
His sister Paulette passed away leaving no family.
After Henri’s death:
We will mention Henri’s mother’s family: her sister Sheiba and family whose story was told by her son Daniel Gershtenkorn, whom I met in France, and his brother Kalmen-Cami, who has members of his family that live in Israel and are present here with us.
In 1995, Henri was awarded a Certificate of Gratitude given to volunteers of Machal France (volunteers from abroad, in this case France) by The State of Israel and The Defense Ministry. The event took place at the Israeli Embassy in Paris, in the presence of the Ambassador, Eliyahu Ben Elisar and the military attache’. The certificate was handed to Henri’s Uncle Cami, who represented the family.
During the month of May, 2011, Henri received Israeli honorary citizenship which was awarded after the War of Independence to all those who fell in the war before receiving their citizenship. May His Memory Be Blessed.
The information appearing on this site is based upon research done by volunteers of Giving a Face to the Fallen. We would be happy to add on any information, document or photograph that might enhance the life story of the above and his family.