Moshe (Mor) Noach, son of Frieda (nee Fried) and Baruch (Bernard) Willinger was born on December 12, 1928 (29 Kislev, 5689) in Uzhhorod, Czechoslovakia (later to become part of the Ukraine). Moshe, was the oldest of five children, the others being Viola (born in 1930), Helena (born in 1931), Vitchek (born in 1935) and Leiyush born in 1940). Their father Bernard (Baruch) Willinger was born in 1898 and was a farmer. Their mother Frieda was born in 1906 and was a housewife.
In March, 1939, the Nazi army invaded Czechoslovakia. At the time of the invasion there were 136 Jewish communities in the country and the Jewish population amounted to over 110,000. Right after the invasion a wave of arrests, incitements and persecutions against Jews began. Jews lost their factories and their valuables were taken from them. When WWII broke out in September, 1939, the situation became worse for the Jews as the terrorist regime came into being. Freedom to move around was restricted, jobs were lost and food rations were cut further. In 1940 many of the Jews in the town were recruited to work in forced labor camps under Hungarian military rule. Many of them were sent to the eastern front to build protective trenches against the invasion of the Russian army and perished there.
In April, 1944, two ghettos were set up in the town. In May of that same year the Jews from those ghettos were sent to Auschwitz in five transports where they were exterminated.
During the month of July, Moshe was sent to Auschwitz as prisoner number 118002. On January 22, 1945, he was deported to the Buchenwald Camp after the Red Army began its attack on Auschwitz. He remained there for a few months till the camp was liberated. During the time that he was in the camps, he dug for coal for the Nazis, suffering from the coal that was absorbed into his lungs which badly influenced his state of health.
Moshe lost his entire family, his parents and his younger siblings, in the Holocaust. He was part of a group known as the “children of Buchenwald”, children and youth who survived the camp and later immigrated to British Mandatory Palestine with the help of the “Youth Aliyah” (a movement originally established in Germany for the purpose of bringing young Jews to the Jewish homeland and training them to be farmers). In June 1945, Moshe was sent by train to France, together with the children from the Buchenwald camp. He stayed in a sanatorium that had been rented by the O.Z. (The Society for the Health of the Jewish Population (today Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants-OSE which was created in 1912 in Saint Petersburg (Russia). Its initial mission: to protect, feed and support Jewish children who were victims of poverty and persecution. During the dark years of World War II in France, OSE turned into a Resistance organization. Its leaders, trainers and educators became rescuers, caretakers and heroes, hiding children under their responsibility behind false identities. Once the War had ended, OSE faced the daunting task of accompanying to adulthood the children who had been orphaned and taking in others who had just been freed from concentration camps.) At that place where Moshe was in France, about 500 boys who had survived Buchenwald and Bergen Belzen had gathered. On July 7, 1945 the entire group sailed on the SS Mataroa to British Mandate Palestine. On July 15, 1945 Moshe and the others arrived there under the auspices of the “Youth Aliyah” movement. The boat was seized by the British and the pioneers were transferred to the detention camp in Atlit.
After he was released from Atlit, Moshe was transferred to a sanatorium for patients with tuberculosis, “Makor Chaim”, in Jerusalem, because of the lung disease he had developed in the camps. At the same time, two of his uncles who had come to British Mandate Palestine were in Jerusalem. One was Aharon (Adolph) Willinger who had come before the Holocaust and the other was Binyamin who had escaped during the Holocaust and immigrated a few years before Moshe. While Moshe was at “Makor Chaim”, both uncles contacted him and identified him because of the combination of names he had, Moshe Noach, who had been his grandfather, and for whom he had been named.
Later on Moshe joined the “Alumim” group of the religious youth movement “Bnei Akivah” and participated in activities at the Jerusalem chapter. He fit in well with socially, and because of his naughtiness he was referred to as”zichmich” (search for me) by all his friends. Within the movement he met many young boys and girls, some of them born in Israel and others that had immigrated to the country. Among them was his first cousin Pirchiyah, his Uncle Shmuel’s daughter, who was studying at “Beit Tzeirot Mizrachi” (school for young girls run by the Mizrachi Organization) and Rachel Weisel who became his dearest friend.
His friend Yechiel Amitai was quoted as saying, ” I met him for the first time on an evening at the Jerusalem chapter of “Bnei Akivah”. I remember the first impression he made on me. He was a tall, thin guy, with curly blond hair. He was as ordinary as the next guy but there was something that attracted people to him, something fascinating. He had a nice smile that never left his face. After a few seconds, I already knew all about him and we became good friends. He was a quiet guy but he was always involved with others, knowing what was going on. He always had a kind smile and a joke to tell. I heard about his sufferings, that of a young, lonely man without a family, more than once. But Moshe didn’t complain about the situation. He told me about it offhandedly as a joke, like something that had happened and was done with.”
Moshe never told his friends about the horrors he had endured in the camps. They never asked him about it. As young boys and girls, they never really absorbed what had happened during the Holocaust. Rachel Wiesel was quoted as saying, “this was very typical of him, you don’t speak about bad things that happened, only about good things.”
The relationship between Rachel Wiesel (who later became Irit Ron) and Moshe came about following Moshe’s aunt’s marriage to Rachel’s uncle. “We were not blood relatives,” Rachel said, “but we felt very close, like family. Moshe called my mother ‘aunt’ so I wasn’t surprised when he referred to me as his “cousin”. Moshe used to come to “Beit Tzeirot Mizrachi” riding his bike and he and Rachel used to go out on hikes. Since the boarding school that Rachel attended was religious, there weren’t many close relationships between boys and girls but the fact that Moshe and Rachel claimed to be cousins allowed them to have a close relationship.
Moshe was one year older than his friends. Since his behavior was more mature, he became their role model. “He was considered an authority”, said Yechiel. “Moshe had a bicycle on which I rode with him and I felt like I was floating on a cloud. To me he was like an older brother.”
Yechiel’s mother ”adopted” Moshe who was living alone in some family’s home in the “Kerem Avraham” neighborhood in Jerusalem. She nicknamed him “Moishele” while he found a mother figure in her that he missed so much. She was a wonderful cook. One of her best dishes was “gefilte fish”. She used to save a piece for Moshe every time she prepared the dish since he loved it so much.
With the help of the movement’s ‘’employment office”, Moshe got a job as an electrician in Jerusalem and began working at the “Kalish Electrical Appliance Store” on Ben Yehuda Street. He was successful at his job and very happy with what he had achieved. Moshe dreamt of a quiet life in Israel, as he was slowly finding the right path for himself. One day, when someone told him that he wasn’t saving any money for his future, he answered, “ Why do I have to worry about the future when I don’t know what tomorrow will be like? Therefore I live quietly now and let others do the same.”
Moshe’s friend continued telling what had happened. “The war broke out. The smell of death spread all over Jerusalem. Victims fell from the enemy’s shells and nobody shot back. Those days were the worst days known to the people of Jerusalem. When evening set in, fear set in too. The streets emptied itself of pedestrians, rarely was there someone who quickly strode by and disappeared. But Moshe didn’t feel fearful. I remember one dark night when many shells were falling from above, with the air smelling of death. I was sitting in my room when suddenly the noise of the bell of a bicycle was heard. The noise was familiar to me. It was the sound of Moshe’s bicycle. I jumped up from my chair and ran to the door, wondering. Was it possible that during such a terrifying time Moshe would come to my house? It was he, and he had a smile on his face. I admit that I had been sitting, terrified of the future, just before he walked in, but the minute I saw his quiet smile, I was no longer afraid and even burst out laughing. ‘What are you doing at home?’ he said. ‘Let’s go out for a walk in the city!’ These were his words when no one else dared to step outside, when a person expected to be shelled at any moment. But all of this didn’t faze Moshe, he wasn’t afraid of death.”
When the order from the heads of the Jewish settlements came in, at the end of April, 1948, Moshe reported for duty in order to defend the people with that same air of confidence. “Fear was far from him because he thought of victory, of a new homeland and of leading a quiet life,” his friend explained. Moshe served in the “Etzyoni” Brigade which was part of the “Jerusalem” Brigade, also known as Brigade number 6 of the “Hagana”( Jewish underground in British mandatory Palestine). Moshe was assigned to the PL”M(Plugat Mishmar), guard company, then transferred to company number 63. “Because he was an electrician,” his friend relayed, “he was sent to all the fronts as such and as a telephone technician, but in those days every soldier had to be knowledgeable in every possible field, and that is how Moshe became the machine gunner of the unit.”
Another friend who served with Moshe said that “he had known him for about four months before he fell, when they were sent to guard and protect the southern part of Jerusalem. His behavior towards his friends and his dreamy eyes led me to believe that he was a young ‘boy’ who had accidentally joined us ‘men’ who were serving the people. Among us there were 30 year olds and older, but when we were handed out our jobs, we suddenly realized that this young ‘boy’ was better qualified than all of us. He installed a system of bells at the different posts for the use of calling for help when needed (we didn’t have telephones for that purpose). During the first days of being assigned to the area, we needed to send several people out on a special important mission and he was one of those who happily went to fulfill jobs.”
Moshe and his unit were transferred from the south of Jerusalem to the northern front of the city, in the area of the Mandlebaum Homes which was the most dangerous center, with constant fighting during the War of Independence in Jerusalem. Those homes, which were situated very near to the Arab neighborhoods and the way to Mount Scopus, was the cause for eruptions of fierce fighting right after the declaration of the United Nations of the partition plan. This fighting only became worse after the declaration.
The area of the Mandelbaum Homes was one of the main routes for the Jordanian army to invade Jerusalem. Forces from the “Hagana” managed to take charge of a few neighboring houses there and converted them into Jewish posts but with the outbreak of the “Ten day” fighting in July, 1948, the Jordanian Legion tried to gain control of these houses in order to establish a stronghold in the northern part of the city, threatening the Jewish neighborhoods of Meah She’arim and Bet Yisrael. After fierce fighting, among the worst Jerusalem had seen during the War of Independence, the Jordanian forces were stopped and they retreated to their former posts.
This was the area that Moshe served in, connecting or fixing telephone lines whenever asked to do so. One of his friends who served with him in his battalion said, “It was typical of Moshe to go to visit his friends stationed at other posts, even though he was not supposed to have guard duty. He would kid around, tell jokes and play jokes on his friends, sharing with them whatever supplies he had on him. He was a very righteous person who believed in comradeship, always remaining among the last to take furloughs and other social allowances.”
At dawn on August 15, 1948 (10th of Av, 5708), the Jordanian Legionaries that were stationed in Sheich J’arach decided to invade the city. They bombed the entire front and used thousands of shells. One of the shells hit the telephone that connected the Mandelbaum House to headquarters and Moshe and a friend volunteered to immediately set out to fix the line. His friends relayed what happened during those last minutes of Moshe’s life, “He walked up to the house, as tall and straight as could be, showing absolutely no fear. He smiled confidently.” Moshe and his friend managed to fix the broken line and began returning through the main road in the neighborhood of “Nachalat Yitzchak” where there was no protective wall. His friend safely passed through first and Moshe quickly followed suit. However, midway back to safety, an Arab sniper’s bullet hit him in the stomach.
Moshe was rushed to the “Ziv Hospital” where he was declared mortally wounded and died soon after. Because of the fierce fighting that was still going on all over the country, many of his friends could not attend the funeral and pay their last respects. After his death, his personal belongings were delivered to his friend Rachel Wiesel, who Moshe had designated as next of kin who would receive all his worldly possessions should anything happen to him.
Moshe was 20 when he fell. He was buried in a temporary grave in Sheich J’arach on August 15, 1948 (10 Av, 5708). On August 30, 1950 (17 Elul, 5710) he was permanently buried in the Military Cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. Moshe was the last survivor of his nuclear family.
In 2015, after research done by the volunteers of “Giving a Face to the Fallen”, Moshe’s tombstone was replaced with one stating his full, correct name and the details of his life.
On May 14, 2015 the “Unit for Memorializing Soldiers” and the voluntary organization “Giving a Face to the Fallen” held a memorial service for Moshe at his gravesite, with the participation of his cousins who had been located, friends, a squad of soldiers and other guests. The sentence “Last survivor of his nuclear family who perished in the Holocaust” was added on the tombstone.
The details of Moshe Willinger’s life appear in part on the “Yizkor” site of the Israeli Ministry of Defense.
The story of his life was researched and completed in 2015 by the volunteers for “Giving a Face to the Fallen”