The Survivor Who Fell During Israel's War for Independence
With the outbreak of World War II, Katriel Wertzberger was drafted into the Hungarian army ’s forced labor battalions, and during the war years became a prisoner of the Red Army. In 1947, Katriel attempted to immigrate to Eretz Israel on the “Knesset Israel” ship, but the Ma’apilim vessel was intercepted and sent to Cyprus. While in the detention camp in Cyprus, Katriel made a sculpture in the form of a tombstone for his parents, who had been murdered in Auschwitz. After the establishment of the State of Israel, Katriel immigrated and enlisted in the IDF. He fought in War of Independence, and fell in October of 1948.
Katriel Wertzberger was born in 1920 in the city of Borsa, Romania, one of Beila and Zvi Wertzberger’s ten children. Three of his older siblings immigrated to Eretz Israel in the 1930s. When World War II broke out, Katriel and his brother Leizer were drafted into the Hungarian army ’s forced labor battalions. Both of them survived. In the spring of 1944, Beila and Zvi Wertzberger, their daughter and her family, and three of the younger children were sent to a ghetto, and from there were deported to Auschwitz. Beila and Zvi, their daughter and her family were murdered on arrival. The three younger Wertzberger children were sent to forced labor, and survived.
After the war’s end, Katriel and his three surviving siblings – Moshe, Tova and Pesia – were reunited in Borsa, and made the decision to immigrate to Eretz Israel. Tova managed to reach Eretz Israel in November 1946. Katriel, Moshe and Pesia boarded the Ma’apilim ship “Knesset Israel”, but the ship was intercepted by the British army, and the three were sent to a detention camp in Cyprus. While in the camp, Katriel sculpted the tombstone in memory of his parents, who had been murdered in Auschwitz. Katriel and his brother Moshe enlisted in the IDF as soon as they reached Israel, and Katriel fought in the battles near Latrun. Tragically, on 10 October 1948, Katriel was killed in an enemy attack, together with several of his friends. He was laid to rest in the military cemetery in Nahariya. The memorial tombstone that he sculpted in Cyprus was donated to Yad Vashem by his brother Yosef.