Below is an overview of his life that we shared with the staff and board today.
It is with deep sadness that I write to tell you that Shalom Yoran passed away yesterday at the age of 88. A partisan fighter at the age of 14, Shalom shared his story with the world through his remarkable memoir, The Defiant, which was also made into a documentary film, and in the Museum’s exhibition, Daring to Resist: Jewish Defiance in the Holocaust.
Shalom described his wartime experiences in a letter he wrote urging people to become members of the Museum:
In 1939, at the age of fourteen, my family and I fled our home in Raciaz after the Germans attacked Poland. We spent three years in flight and were finally stranded in Kurzeniec, another small Polish town. On erev Yom Kippur in 1942, I awoke at five o’clock in the morning. My father had left to pray at a shteible (small synagogue) an hour earlier. As German soldiers approached our home, my mother, brother, and I fled for the woods nearly six kilometers away, dodging bullets while we ran.
Then my mother disappeared.
I later learned that my mother and father were killed with 1,040 other Jews from the area. They were loaded into trucks, taken out of town, and shot. Others were directed to a barn that was then burned to the ground. I returned to the site of this massacre years later as a grown man and found pieces of bone from those who perished — friends, neighbors, and perhaps my own family.
Before being separated from my mother, she told me, “Go, fight . . . try to save yourselves, avenge our death, and tell the world what happened.” These are the words that guided me through that dark period, what gave me the strength to fight, and what inspires me to share my story today.
As a partisan, I blew up trains, the main mode of transporting food and weapons to the German army. I was also involved in ambushes. I burned factories that produced German supplies. I attacked the enemy’s camp in the middle of the night.
When the war ended, Shalom made his way to Palestine and reunited with members of his extended family. Shortly after his arrival, he recorded his wartime experiences while the memories were still fresh and then put the notebooks away. Forgotten, they were discovered again in 1990, when with his wife, Varda, he translated them from Polish into English. In 1996, his book The Defiant was published by St. Martin's Press.
After Israel became a state in 1948, Shalom joined the Israeli Air Force and launched his career in aircraft repair and maintenance. Seven years later, he joined the fledgling Israel Aircraft Industries, and for the next 22 years helped to create the largest and most vitally important state-owned company in Israel. It is known today as Israel Aerospace Industries, building rockets, satellites, speedboats, fighter planes, and in-flight re-fuelling systems for the world market.
In 1978, Shalom moved with his wife and two daughters to the United States, where he became the chairman of a private aircraft company in New York City until his retirement in 2003.
Shalom’s bravery was exceeded only by his kindness and his generosity. He was a founding Trustee of the Museum of Jewish Heritage and a governor of Tel Aviv University, where he and Varda were honored in 2011 with the Chairman’s Award.
Most recently, he served as the inspiration for Living with Dignity, a non-profit that provides Invacare recliners to immobile and handicapped seniors. A gala benefit for this important effort is scheduled to take place at the Museum on October 9, which will most certainly be a great tribute to his memory.
We will remember Shalom’s warmth, his infectious smile, and his unflagging devotion to honoring his mother’s last wish through his words and actions.
Our love and condolences go out to Varda, daughters Yael and Dafna, his oldest grandson Kori, a member of the Young Friends, and to his younger grandchildren.
May Shalom’s memory be a blessing always.