Harry Kay: I Was My Brothers Keeper

by Gad Nahshon

The fate of his people during the Holocaust era motivated Harry Kay to volunteer to the Israeli army in the 1948 Israel's Independence War. Harry Kay, who lives in Las Vegas with this great family is 75 years old. He served as a Marine Sargeant in the U.S. Army and fought in the Pacific as one of the many Jewish soldiers who served then in the U.S. Army. But he was also a brave fighter. After World War II, he learned about the Holocaust and about the struggle to establish a Jewish state. He did not hesitate and joined the North-American volunteers who came to fight in the war which was from Nov. 1947 to July 1949, when Syria signed the last cease fire agreement. The story of this American volunteer still is looking for an author.

It is a unique saga of a tribe of fighters, a story of a small minority who volunteered out of a million Jews who lived in America. These volunteers saved the prestige of the American Jewry since they were ready to give not just support or donations, but their own blood. Indeed, their story, because of many reasons, has been forgotten. They have not received the proper recognition in our historiography, perhaps because 90% of these American volunteers returned to their native land. Perhaps this is the reason why the unique heroism of Harry Kay, or Zvi-Ben-Ami Krivitsky, was exposed only at the ceremony which took place (April 6, 2000) at the Plaza Hotel, Manhattan.

Harry Kay himself, is a very modest person. He did not tell his story to many people. He viewed his volunteerism and heroism as a simple commitment to his people. He was a military leader. He taught the Israelis how to develop tank warfare. He told them how to fight as a modern army. He fought in Latrun. He fought in the Negev. But his heroism helped the Israeli army to stop the advancing Egyptian Army who was stationed an hours distance from Tel Aviv. In his last fight in Nov. 1948, Harry Kay, a hero, lost an eye. His unique contribution to the Israeli army and his heroism in the battles were recognized by his commanders and by David Ben Gurion. But only after 51 years, the Israeli officials came to the conclusion that Harry Kay deserved two special decorations. After the Israeli defense ministry approved these decorations, Maj-Gen. Zeev Livne, Israel's military attache in the U.S., informed Harry Kay and his devoted friends, some of them were also volunteers in 1948, that they planned this touching ceremony. Many celebrities attended such as: Israel's Consul-General in New York Shmuel Siso, New York D.A. Robert Morgenthau, who is a friend of Kay's, David Onn of the Israeli Aircraft Industry, Doron Cohen of Fidelity Holding, and many others.

At the ceremony, Maj-Gen. Zeev Livne honored Kay with the decorations and said that Israel is looking for peace since 'cold peace is preferred to hot wars.' At the ceremony friends such as Jerry Oren told the audience about the contribution of Kay to the Israeli victory. They explained that the Israeli army was poorly equipped and lacked the experience of a modern army. It is very important to listen to these soldiers because, today, the new post-Zionist Israeli historians teach the Israelis that the Israeli army was superior to all of the Arab's armies. We were not a weak, small minority. According to them, we were a military superman fighting against weaklings. So how come 6,000 soldiers were killed in this war? "I heard someone speaking English. I thought that this is an enemy soldier. But someone told me that this is an American volunteer who came to help us. This volunteer was Harry Kay," said Jerry Oren. It is very important to point out that the contribution of these volunteers was not just their military experience, like in the case of Col. Micky Marcus or Paul Shulman, or the fact that they fought and died in this war, but also the psychological effect of the feeling that they came to fight, that the Israelis were not ignored by the world. By the way, many volunteers were gentiles!

The story of Harry Kay and the story of other volunteers should be taught inside the American Jewish community. These heroes and their heritage is the best bridge between Israel and American Jewry. They should be presented as role models of the American Jewish solidarity with Israel. "We fought in the Negev. Suddenly, we had to deal with something new for us in the battlefield: Egyptian Tanks. Were were shocked! What to do? Then came our saviors from America, a 24 year old ex-marine, Tvi Krivitsky, today Harry Kay. He told us exactly what to do. He developed the anti-tank combat. He trained us. He wrote a special manual of how to deal with the tanks. His contribution and heroism pushed us to win the battles in the Negev," said Jerry Oren, today a businessman from Encino, California, who was born in Israel and was also a great fighter in 1948.

Harry Kay is still a very modest person. He is a great optimist. In the ceremony, he spoke about peace, not about wars. He loves Israel. He loves his great family which escorted him to this event. Kay's herosim has been recorded by some writers such as Dan Kurzman in his classical book "Geness 1948" (p. 580-590). In November 1948, David Ben Gurion sent him a letter in which he wrote to 1st Lieut. Zvi Krivitsky (Kay), the following: "I hereby express my gratitude for the valuable contribution you have made to the defense of our country." He related Kay's herosim "to our noble chapter of honor and valor..."

The story of Kay's heroism was recorded by Gen. (Res.) Matitiahu Peled, a commander in the second battalion, 'Givati' (Shimon Avidan was the commander of Givati). Gen. (Res.) Peled wrote in his "Report on Zvi-Ben-Ami Krivitsky" the following:

This man who served in the Givat Brigade for over 7 months both as a 2nd lieutenant for 3 months and within a month he was promoted to 1st lieutenant. Zvi Ben Ami came into my company at my request. Prior to that he had served in another sector teaching tank warfare. He also served as a leader of a group of American volunteers in the Haganah in the same regiment.

His experience as a Marine Sergeant in the American Forces serving in the Pacific revealed itself in every battle he participated in and made a valuable asset to our Army, and gave him the designation as a fearless, level headed fighter and organizer with great knowledge. He thus became a symbol and an inspiration for all our soldiers. Soon it became evident that our military leaders needed to gain knowledge of tank warfare because the enemy was equipped and attacking with tanks. We sent men from each company for training in tank warfare under Zvi ben Ani. They returned with confidence that they would be able to overpower the tanks of the enemy, Zvi pointed out to the men the deficiencies and the handicaps of the tanks and assured them that with the proper knowledge of the enemy's weapons and with determination together with their inspired belief in their cause they could overcome all tank attacks. His art of teaching and methods of training coupled with his knowledge of tanks and methods of fighting tanks was entirely different from anything we previously had known. After a short while his company became the best informed and trained in all the regiments. He also taught his men how to handle themselves during battle, and how to spread out and encircle the enemy and utilize their weapons in every crisis. He also knew how to inspire his men with self confidence in their cause, and with confidence in him and themselves. He was also very cheerful.

He taught the men how to get into the enemy's territory and ferret out their positions and secrets without being observed and return to tell. He accompanied them personally on many such a mission and showed them how it was possible to detect their strength and observe their positions without being seen and to bring the proper report back to their headquarters. Through all his accomplishments he won the acclaim of all the men and all the leaders. Under fire and during battle he was unusually calm, level headed and fearless, inspiring all the men who served under him with confidence. Because of all these outstanding qualities in the battle against the Egyptians his advice was sought by the highest military command on how to deal with bazookas, grenades, and flame throwers. Although he lacked knowledge of the Hebrew language, he was able to make himself understood by gestures and at no time was his language deficiency a handicap to conveying his knowledge of the type of warfare necessary.

The character and adaptability of Zvi's ability as a military leader revealed itself to its fullest extent on the night of October 17, 1948 in the battle of the Negev. There were military observers who had witnessed Zvi's courage previously at Ltrun and Asaud. But in my company, I was the only one who had been with Zvi in these earlier battles. However, the men had all heard tales of his courage and fearlessness. He led the men personally into the enemy lines. He was the first of two to get into the enemy lines, and when his superior officer was killed, he immediately assumed leadership and re-organized the men, serving as a symbol of courage and fearlessness to them. They followed him with complete confidence.

When they reached their position on the hill the battle began. Under his great leadership they overtook the enemy positions, and enabled the second company to fulfill their mission. Because of his quick thinking and quick decisions, it was possible for his company to keep the hill and repulse the Egyptians instantly in their attempt to regain their strategy which ordinarily would have taken hours of planning. In this attack many men were lost, but through it all he inspired his men to continue the battle with courage and confidence until a third company came to their aid. During this attack Zvi lost his left eye and for a few moments he was unconscious, but almost instantly he regained consciousness and encouraged the men to continue fighting. He lay in a trench this way, and though he was seriously wounded and bleeding he continued to urge his men to continue the battle against the enemy. After withstanding the attack, they repulsed attacks all the following day and Zvi, unable to see what was going on, was still able to command his men and advise them upon the method of attack. Not until that evening were they able to contact headquarters and were relieved by another company. The wounded, including Zvi, were taken to the hospital.

The loss of Zvi to his company because of his wounds was a great one, and the entire military command hoped that he would return to them soon.

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