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Erik Kinstler looks back on a life well lived




Pictured: Erik Kinstler celebrating his 100th birthday, holding his youngest great-granddaughter Lior Barash on his lap, with his daughter, Naomi Hadar, and son, Rafi, behind him.


Kinstler was born in Krakow, Poland, on November 27, 1915, while his father was fighting in the Austro-Hungarian army during the First World War.

He started his studies in a German-speaking school, later moving to where he was taught in Polish. 

From his youth he was active in the Akiva Zionist youth movement, where he rose to become a member of the executive and a madrich.

He qualified as an accountant, but never lost his dedication to the Zionist movement and influenced many young people in Poland to pursue the dream of aliyah, one which he shared.

But the Second World War intervened. Erik managed to escape from Krakow, taking only his siddur, tefillin and a few personal possessions. He had many narrow escapes over the next two years, but still managed to help members of the youth movement to get away to Palestine, sometimes arranging forged documents to assist in their making the trip.

He managed to cross the Russian border, making his way to Moscow and then south to Odessa. With his own forged documents, he reached Turkey, from where he travelled to Palestine, only to be arrested and interned in a British detention camp.

He faced the possibility of being deported to Mauritius. Fortunately he remained in Palestine and was released a few months later.

He then joined a kibbutz established by the Akiva movement. Hearing of the atrocities being committed by the Germans and their followers, he joined the British army in 1942, serving in the Royal Engineering Corps in Egypt and later in Italy.

When the war ended, he learned that almost his entire family had died in the Holocaust, but one of his brothers, Chaim, had survived. Erik received special permission to travel to Poland to find his brother.

He travelled via Milan, where he met Sarah at a centre for Holocaust survivors. Three days later, he proposed to her. 

He found his brother and returned via Milan to fetch Sarah and they all travelled to Naples, where Erik and Sarah were married in a British army ceremony, with four rifles supporting the chuppah. They were married for over 67 years, until she passed away in 2012.

After the wedding they all travelled to Palestine, Erik returning to the kibbutz with Sarah and Chaim moving to Tel Aviv.

The kibbutz later changed to a moshav called Bet Yehoshua, with Erik and Sarah as founder members.

Erik served in the Haganah and thereafter in the Israel Defence Forces, fighting in several of Israel’s wars.

He joined the regional municipality in which the moshav was situated and served as treasurer and secretary for more than 50 years. He headed several non-profit organisations, such as the body caring for Israeli soldiers, the cancer society and Lev-Lalev (Heart-to-Heart). He worked until he was 92 and is an avid reader.

He now lives in Johannesburg, where his daughter Naomi Hadar is the executive director of the IUA-UCF. His son Rafi lives in Israel. He has six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.




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