The Elad Association is seeking public assistance in locating the family of an unknown child buried 75 years ago on the Mount of Olives in a shared grave with a homeland defender. A mysterious enigma from the early days of the state's establishment still awaits a solution, and the thread has no end – even more than 75 years later. The Elad Association is now attempting to close the circle and seeking the public's help.
The story begins in Jerusalem in 1948, a few months before the establishment of the state, as the War of Independence was already underway, and the British Mandate was coming to an end. On the night of February 12th, the British arrested four defenders on lookout duty near the Mandelbaum Gate in Jerusalem and took them on a tour vehicle. After a short drive, the fighters were thrown out of the vehicle in the Damascus gate area, and the next day their bodies were found near the Lions’ Gate after being murdered by a mob of Arabs.
One of the four fighters was Shimon Nisani, the owner of a carpentry shop in the Beit Yisrael neighborhood, who was not supposed to be on duty but was present after exchanging shifts with his friend in the Hagana organization, Pinchas Shpigelman, just minutes before the shift began. Thanks to the shift exchange, Shpigelman was saved.
A Fateful Decision
The story of Nisani’s burial seems to be taken out of a drama movie. Due to the dire security situation, burials on the Mount of Olives only occurred at certain times. Nisani was taken for burial along with other deceased bodies in recent days. Nisani, a native of Persia, was supposed to be buried in the Sephardic section, but while the pallbearers were busy burying someone else, a fire broke out in their direction, forcing them to flee the scene.
Given the circumstances, Nisani was quickly buried where his body was placed, and his companions turned to escape on their own – but Isaac, Shimon’s brother-in-law, stopped. He noticed the body of an 8-year-old girl lying on the ground near them, unburied. According to the death records of the Sephardic community, her name was Rachel, the daughter of Victoria Haim. Quickly, Isaac dug a hasty grave next to Nisani’s fresh grave, buried the girl’s body within it, and covered them together in eternal rest – without any marker or tombstone. Despite being buried in a different section, the records of the Sephardic burial society still indicate that Nisani is buried in the Sephardic section.
The Solution and the Mystery
Only in 1990 was Nisani’s grave identified. This happened after Shpigelman conducted an in-depth investigation to locate the grave of his fallen comrade, after many years of carrying a sense of guilt. An old picture, combined with signs that Shimon’s brother-in-law, along with the assistance of an Arab worker who helped with the burial, marked the approximate location of the grave. When the grave was opened after 42 years, Nisani’s family discovered, along with his remains, the little girl’s remains.
Thus, after decades, it could be confirmed with certainty that this was the long-lost grave of Shimon Nisani.
The two were buried again, and their remains were left in place without being moved. A military headstone was later erected at the burial site bearing Nisani’s name, but the little girl’s identity remains a mystery. Apart from her name and her parents’ names, nothing is known about her.
Honoring the Anonymous Child
Starting in 2006, the Elad Association has been operating an information center on the Mount of Olives, as part of its efforts to locate and provide information about those buried in the area. So far, the project has achieved great success, and many graves, including many anonymous ones, have been identified and marked. Thanks to these efforts, many families have been able to find closure and visit the graves of their loved ones after many years.
With the aim of honoring the unknown child, the Elad Association has also become involved in this case. On Memorial Day, the association held a commemoration ceremony for the anonymous child for the first time in 75 years and placed a sign by her grave in her memory. To gather more information about her life and identity, the association is trying to locate family members or friends who may know the story closely and shed light on the details of the case.
“People Who Have Been Forgotten”
“In recent months, we have taken many actions to find information about the anonymous child, but so far we have not been able to find even a lead,” says Yonatan Manovich, director of the information center operated by the Elad Foundation. “Volunteers from the ‘Giving a Face for the Fallen’ organization and employees of the Jerusalem Municipality archives have been involved in the search, but since the search efforts have not led to a breakthrough, we decided to turn to the public for help.”
“People don’t know the story. There were so many events during that period between the UN declaration on November 29 and the declaration of the state on May 5. These are people who have been forgotten,” says Sarah Barnea, a researcher on the Mount of Olives, who has been working diligently to trace the history of the anonymous child. “We don’t know who she was, we don’t know anything about her family. Something needs to be done to remember her.”
If you have any information that could help solve the mystery, please contact the Information Center on the Mount of Olives:
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