by Gil Gertel and Noam Even
During the War of Independence, many of those who fell in the battles of the roads to Jerusalem were buried in the Cemetery at Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim. A monument was built next to the site of the military cemetery, in memory of the fighters. The sculptor Menahem Shemi, whose son Jimmy, was killed in the war, built the memorial. Both father and son are buried here.
The cemetery at Kiryat Anavim is in a small Wadi near the kibbutz. There is a stark difference between the shabby road that leads to the cemetery and the cemetery itself. The surrounding hills and trees envelop the area, creating the intimacy of a small hidden place. At the entrance on the right, a large fig tree looms. On the left, a small orange sign (in Hebrew) indicates that this is also a military cemetery. Members of the kibbutz care for the cemetery grounds with its impressive paths and gardens. The first plots, to the right of the entrance are those of kibbutz members. Beyond that and to the left of the main path are the rows of graves of soldiers from the Harel Brigade who fell in the battles for the roads to Jerusalem. During an 11-month period, 138 fighters were buried here.
The atmosphere here is electrifying. The silence, enfolding hills and orderly graves are meticulously maintained. Passing these graves, along the same path brings you to the main monument overlooking the cemetery from the east. It is a tall monument, built of light colored limestone, rising to the heavens.
During the War of Independence, there were three Jewish settlements on the mountainous road to Jerusalem, Kiryat Anavim, Ma’aleh Hahamisha, and Neve Ilan. The three are close to the Arab village of Abu Gosh, whose inhabitants chose to take a neutral stand during the war. The majority of the fighting force gathered in this area and was called the Harel Brigade (“Hativat Harel”).
The regimental headquarters were at Abu Gosh and from here soldiers went out on their missions.
When they returned from their battles, the injured were brought to a field hospital, which was set up at the Abu Gosh church. The fallen were buried in the cemetery at Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim, the oldest settlement in the area. After the war, many families chose to leave their loved ones in this cemetery, which became a symbol of the military battle for the road to Jerusalem
The grave of Aharon Jimmy Schmidt is in the highest row of graves (westward). Jimmy was a company commander, one of a group of junior officers enlisted into the Palmach (a special Strike Force of the Haganah) before the War of Independence. During the war, the soldiers were young and inexperienced, (21-22 years old). As the graves attest, many were even much younger, 18, 17 and even 15. They were absorbed into their units, and had to follow their commander’s example.
Many of these company officers were killed in battle because they always led their inexperienced soldiers into battle. Jimmy was killed almost at the end of the War of Independence on the hill that today is the town of Bet Shemesh. Jimmy’s father was the artist and sculptor, Menahem Shemi Schmidt. Following is part of what he had to say in 1951:“
When visiting his grave on the 30th day after the death of Jimmy, Idel, his best friend related that during the days of the battle, they would visit the cemetery from time to time. They chatted and reminisced by the graves, telling anecdotes about their friends who fell and were buried there. During one of these chats Jimmy said ‘look how wonderful these boys, who are lying here, were!
The cream of our youth is buried in this soil. Do you know? When this war ends, I will come home and ask my father to design a memorial in this place, which will be worthy to their memory!.’ The war ended, and behold, my son lies here, together with those who were buried in the same ground.
I treasured the words that Idel had told me and I saw them as my son’s dying wish. I started to design the memorial. It was my desire to shape a figure in a gigantic and abstract stone block, which would shoot out from the ground toward the heavens, and within this stone block, I wanted to create the act of leaping. On the face of this block, I projected a console salient, on which the entire weight of the giant block rested, inclining above the deep space as if it were hanging above a void. Its purpose was to express the cry of distress at the terrible injustice of life having been severed in the prime of youth."
Menahem died in 1951, and according to his wish was buried in this cemetery. His grave is on the other (eastern) side of the central path adjacent to the water canal.