Colonel (ret.) Nori (Norbert) Harel

* 1929  †︎ 2013

  • “The Messerschmitt, the Avia, was a poor quality plane but it was important because at that time we didn’t have any fighter planes. Egyptian Dakotas were bombing Tel Aviv and we couldn’t do anything with light aircraft. The Messerschmitt, however, brought down two Dakotas over Tel Aviv. Suddenly, we had an Air Force...As the Egyptians were approaching Tel Aviv four planes commanded by Weizman bombed and stopped them. It was a lousy aircraft; many of our people were killed flying them. But that was the beginning and it was a necessity. Without those planes and other weapons, riffles and machine guns, Israel probably wouldn’t exist. We didn’t have anything.”

  • “My father had typhoid fever and died. I was left alone in Russia when I was twelve years old. That’s the “short story”. How did I survive? I was good at opening locks. I stole food, flour. I lived off what I stole. When the War ended in 1945 I wanted to go home. I didn’t have any form of identification, my clothes were all torn. I took the train. I jumped onto one train, then another. I travelled in one direction, then I found out I was going the wrong way and had to change direction. It took me about a month and to reach Těšín in Poland.”

  • “My normal name was Kurzberg Norbert. They turned Norbert into Nori, everyone called me Nori anyway. Kurzberg became Harel. I had to change my name and take a Hebrew one when I was being given a passport. I was already with the Air Force and I needed to go abroad for training with the RAF. It all happened very quickly. I was in Tel Aviv applying for a passport and I had to phone my wife so that we could choose a name. After giving it some thought we chose Harel. Har means mountain in Hebrew, Berg also means mountain. Kurzberg is a short mountain; Harel means the mountain of God. Perhaps God chose the name.”

  • “No. 101 squadron RAF had Messerschmitt aircraft, No. 105 had Spitfires. When they were being dumped, Weizman was my Base Commander. He said to me: “Norik, one spitfire is mine. I’ve got a friend in England, he’s a vice-marshal and he’s got his own plane.” So I chose the best spare parts and the best aircraft. And that’s the famous Spitfire No. 57. Weizman and I were friends. He got me out of the Air Force. I was supposed to join the staff but he needed me as managing director of a company in Karmel. He was “Chairman of the Board”. We travelled abroad together on business trips. He used to say to me: “Norik, you’re going to take care of that plan for as long as I live.” So I took care of it for all those years. I had retired but I still took care of the plane. “As long as I live” he said. About a month after he died the motor of the aircraft went caput. It somehow went hand in hand. We’re looking for a new motor now.”

  • “There were 75 of us at the reunion we held in Liberec. Perhaps there are others, probably in America. They later spread all over the world. About twenty of them live in Israel today. I was the youngest of the group. They used to call me “suckling” because they used to get coffee with bromine, I still got milk. In the morning they’d call out: “Attention suckling, your milk is here.” There were Hungarians, Poles, and Americans, even some Russians among them.”

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    Kiriat Bialik, Haifa, Izrael, 26.02.2008

    (audio)
    duration: 01:59:31
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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I was left alone in Russia when I was twelve

Nori Harel in Czechoslovak uniform
Nori Harel in Czechoslovak uniform
photo: archiv pamětníka

  Nori Harel was born into a Jewish family in the German town of Bochum as Norbert Kurzberg. His parents moved to Český Těšín in 1935. He escaped the Nazis by fleeing to Poland and subsequently to the Soviet Union with his father and brother. His father died and his brother was killed on the front; twelve year old Norbert had to survive on his own in the region known today as Kazachstan. After the War, he set out on a journey, illegaly, taking several trains, back to Český Těšín, where he was reunited with his cousin, who was the only one of his closer family to have survived. He began training as an aircraft mechanic in Liberec and in 1949 left for Israel with the “Jewish” Brigade. He served in the Israeli Air Force first as an aircraft mechanic, mechanics instructor, and eventually as commander of an alternate aerodrome. After leaving the army he worked in the arms industry. In the 1990s he spent two years in Prague working for Israeli companies doing business with Aero Vodochody. He lived with his family in a suburb of Haifa. He died on 18 of March 2013.