• The Supreme Court of Israel, with the Knesset in the background | Photo: Wikimedia Commons by israeltourism

The quest for justice

Tal Hartuv - 10 January 2023

Prof. Aharon Barak, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel, began his life in pre-war Lithuania. Like all little boys in a culturally Jewish environment, little Aharon also wanted to emulate his father. His father was passionate about justice, and Aharon wanted to grow up and follow in his footsteps.

When he was just seven years old, the Nazis invaded Lithuania. Along with 30,000 terrified Jews, he and his parents were shoved into a neighbourhood of Kaunas which had tiny run-down houses and no running water. There in the Kaunas Ghetto, under dreadful conditions, Jewish people young and old were forced to make uniforms for the German army. Life had barely settled down when terror struck again. 5,000 children and 5,000 adults were removed from the factories, taken to a fort outside the city, and shot.

“5,000 children and 5,000 adults were removed from the factories by the Nazis, taken to a fort outside the city, and shot”

Former Chief Justice of Supreme Court Aharon Barak attends the conference of the Israeli newspaper “Makor Rishon” at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, December 8, 2019. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

For two years the Jewish community slaved for the Germans believing that if they could make themselves useful for the Nazi war effort, they could possibly survive. But when rumours began to circulate that there would another mass murder of children, Aharon’s parents knew they had to act. They came up with a daring plan. They decided to smuggle him out of the ghetto in one of the sacks containing the German uniforms.

His parents stuffed him in the sack and told not to utter a sound. Little Aharon was placed on one of the wagons that took the goods outside the ghetto. To his and his parent’s horror, a Nazi sat on the pile of sacks to guard the goods. Aaron was in the top sack. Under the weight of the Nazi, he could barely breathe.

The Germans drove the supplies to a nearby farm and threw the sacks into a barn. When all was quiet, Aharon popped his head out and was astonished to see his mother hiding behind a pile of hay. Although she never thought she would see her husband again, she wanted to give the boy hope. She told him Father would meet them after the war in the Land of Israel. Throughout the next year, brave local farmers hid the two of them in their barns, sheds and basements. Aharon and his mother had to constantly move to different hiding places to avoid suspicion of the neighbours. There were plenty of people who were looking for Jews, and happy to denounce the rescuers too. During that year in hiding Aharon’s mother taught her son math and history. She taught him everything in whispers so as not to raise the alarm. Only some evenings did they dare go outside for a little fresh air.

“After the war, Europe was still not safe for Jews. Only the Land of Israel was the true refuge”

Once the war had ended, their perilous journey continued. Europe was still not safe for Jews. Only the Land of Israel was the true refuge. The two of them walked through a war-torn and hostile Europe. First, they passed through Lithuania, then made their way through Poland, Romania and Hungary. After an exhausting journey when they reached the Austrian border, 9-year-old Aharon could hardly believe his eyes. Waiting for them was a division of the Jewish Brigade. On the soldier’s sleeves was an emblem of the Israeli flag. The soldiers took them to the coast and put them on a ship to Israel.

His mother’s promise came true when in Israel, Aharon was reunited with his father.

As soon as he was old enough, he enrolled into the Hebrew University. In his thirties, he was already offered the position of Dean of the Faculty of Law. The little kid who hid in a sack would also one day participate in the 1978 peace negotiations with Egypt, but the most unforgettable achievement was his appointment to the Supreme Court of Israel to serve as Chief Justice of the court. This is when Aharon the man, knew that his childhood aspirations of following in his father’s love of justice, had finally materialized.

Former President Reuven Rivlin is saying goodbye to the senior judges of the Supreme Court of Israel on Tuesday, June 15, 2021 | Photo: Wikimedia Commons by Mark Neyman GPO


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