Giora Amir

* 1928

  • “The Zionist movements fought for every child. We found Jewish children in convents, and they often did not remember at all that they were Jewish children, and we found children who had come back, such as my two classmates who had come back, and they parents have died. The youth movement gave them a Zionist alternative. There was a struggle for every person. Do you want to stay in Slovakia? Communists promise equality to you… Or: They are now fighting for the Jewish state in Palestine, and that’s another alternative. People had to decide at that time. They youth movement had a decisive influence on my wife and on me and others who have decided for the Zionist alternative.”

  • “On the outside, we were very orthodox Jews and my father was not too happy about my sister’s joining Hashomer Hatzair. He convinced me to go to the summer camp organized by Bnei Akiva, because youth movements were organizing summer camps. Bnei Akiva was a religious Zionist youth movement. Hashomer Hatzair organized a summer camp in Levočské Kúpele at that time and Bnei Akiva held the same camp in Baldovce. Baldovce is a spa, too, in eastern Slovakia. It was already in 1939, a very problematic year, and they already set our tents on fire.”

  • “Since we were an orthodox family, I attended a Jewish people’s school, where profane subjects were being taught in the mornings, and after lunch we would go to cheder. Cheder means a room in Hebrew, but it also signifies a school for religious matters. I started going there in 1934 when I was six years old and I completed the ordinary school in 1939. We were no longer allowed to study at grammar schools at that time; my sister was already studying at a grammar school, though, but we were not allowed to enrol there, because there was numerus clausus. Numerus clausus meant that four percent of students could be Jews, but those four percent were being set aside for Jews who decided to be baptized.”

  • “The day when we ate the last lentils that we had was the most dramatic day of my persecution. Somebody knocked on the door. I always say that knocking on the door is a proof of civilization. You kick into a bunker; usually, they often kicked the door. But that day somebody knocked on the door. I opened the door of the bunker – the partisans had already gone to the mountains at that time in order to cross over to the other side, behind the war front, and their bunker remained empty – and so I opened the door and there was a man in a uniform in front of me, and he wore a white coat over his uniform and he saluted to me and said: ‘I am captain Zachar from the Czechoslovak Army and who are you?’ It was in the mountains, two thousand meters high. When I explained to him who we were, there was a long line of soldiers standing behind him.”

  • “Those two Jewish partisans came to warn us that on 28th October the Germans would come all the way to Žiar, because they would come to revenge that attack. On the 28th the Germans started shooting at the village, but we already had our bunker ready. This is another story. There were Jewish refugees from Poland in Slovakia. They already had the experience, they knew how Germans reacted and what needed to be done and they said: ‘Listen, the uprising will take a long time. Go to the villages and start preparing bunkers high up in the forests.’ My father and somebody else thus took sons of farmers from Žiar with them and they went high up to the forests and they started digging out shelters in the ground in the forests, and they were called bunkers.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Kfar Saba, Izrael, 15.03.2017

    duration: 01:36:59
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

We decided for the Zionist alternative

Giora Amir, March 2017.
Giora Amir, March 2017.
photo: foto Jitka Radkovičová

Giora Amir was born on August 2, 1928 in Prešov in Slovakia as Otto Špíra. He grew up in a Jewish orthodox family as the second of three children. His father traded in wood and his mother was a housewife. Otto attended elementary school and at the same time he studied at cheder, a Jewish religious school. He was a member of the Zionist movement Hashomer Hatzair, and his sister went with a Zionist group to the then Palestine in 1940. After the declaration of the Slovak State his father was granted the status of an economically useful Jew, which saved the family from the first wave of deportations in spring 1942. In the same year, fearing the renewal of deportations, his parents sent Otto and his younger brother to Hungary where the boys then lived until March 1944. Shortly after their return to Slovakia the whole family moved to Liptovský Mikuláš. After the defeat of the Slovak National Uprising they were hiding with other Jewish families in a forest bunker from October 1944 until February 1945. After the liberation they returned to Prešov where they witnessed an anti-Jewish pogrom in summer 1945. Otto became actively involved in the Zionist movement after the end of the war, and he was also helping to organize illegal emigration of Hungarian Jews to Palestine. In 1947 he studied in Prague at the Czech Technical University for one year and at the same time he was preparing for emigration to Israel where he then went with his parents in October 1949. He adopted new name Giora Amir. He was one of the founders of kibbutz Lehavot Chaviva, which he and his wife left three years later. He graduated from law at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and from 1958 he was working as a lawyer. At present he lives with his wife in a retirement home in Kfar Saba.