Elizabeth Rela Ben Yaakov, born in 1923 in Budapest, immigrated to Israel from England in 1948, a registered nurse.
She started working at WIZO Mother and Child Tel Aviv (Women’s International Zionist Organization) on December 1948, and then transferred to WIZO Rosh Ha’Ayin as Head Nurse from November 1950 to December 1951. There she oversaw the professional work, with Mr. Shimon Shershevski as administrator. She was the wife of Yehuda Ben-Yaakov, then director of the Aid Bureau in Rosh Ha'Ayin. Rela worked for WIZO until 1983.
Her first position was with WIZO Tel Aviv Mother and Child Tel Aviv, which relocated to several addresses in the city. She claims that some of the children in the institution were marked in advance for adoption, and all were placed only through the Welfare Services or the Aid Service of Tel Aviv municipality. No child was given to adoption at the request of a parent.
According to her, the children intended for adoption were admitted at a young age, often newly born, straight from the hospital. The children were delivered to WIZO with new names, not the names given to them by the biological parents. Their last name was “Amets”, (“Adopt” in Hebrew) a policy which was later abolished, but still existed in '48. According to the Committee Investigator, documents were found which prove that at least until 1956 the policy of substituting the original surname with “Amets” was still in place. According to the data presented by the Committee's Investigator, with the new surname, forms were kept in the adoption files in which the original name was recorded, along with data such as the hospital where the child was born, the mother's country of origin, etc. Ben-Yaakov testifies that she does not recall whether or not she knew the mother's country of origin. She claims that the children came to WIZO Tel Aviv only from hospitals in the Tel Aviv area. She does not remember admitting any children born in immigrants’ camps.
The Committee's Investigator confronts her with the testimony of social worker Pnina Palmon, who brought children to Wizo Tel Aviv from Haifa as well, but Ben Yaakov claims that she does not remember such an occurrence.
From November 1950 to December 1951, she served as professional manager (Head Nurse) of the Rosh Ha’Ayin Children's Home. WIZO Rosh Ha'Ayin admitted children from Rosh Ha'ayin Children's Hospital, children recuperating from illness who were brought there for recovery, as well as children from the camps themselves, if they were in poor condition. As in Tel Aviv, the referral to WIZO was made by the Welfare Services of Rosh Ha’Ayin.
Ben-Yaakov was the professional head nurse, and the doctor in charge of Rosh Ha'Ayin Children's Hospital was also in charge of the WIZO Children's Home, Dr. George Mandel. According to Ben-Yaakov, many babies in Rosh Ha'Ayin camp were in very poor condition and malnourished. In addition to caring for the sick children interned there, in the morning hours mothers would arrive from Rosh Ha'Ayin camp and the Children's Home staff would instruct them in the preparation of food for their young, and on how to take care of them. She does not remember the name of any care giver who worked with her in Rosh Ha'Ayin. The occupancy of the nursery was about 40 children.
The Committee's Investigator presents Ben Yaakov with the testimony of George Mandel, who testified that there were many children in Rosh Ha'Ayin Hospital in good health but whose parents could not be located, had no registered address, and that was why they were transferred to the Children's Home. Ben Yaakov claims that she does not remember anything like that at all. Later in her testimony, she is confronted with the testimony of Ester Golan, who was a nurse at the Children's Home in Rosh Ha'Ayin at the same time as Ben Yaakov and testifies that there were many abandoned children waiting at the Children's Home for adoption, "just pick one", was a common phenomenon. Ben-Yaakov denies this, and claims that she does not remember Nurse Golan.
Ben Yaakov testifies that the children arrived at the Children’s Home accompanied by nurses or parents, and with documents attesting to their names and their parents' address in the camp in the referral letter, and most of the children were visited by their parents. According to her, for the minority whose parents did not visit, the efforts made to locate them were not always successful. In such cases, the Welfare Services were notified. Children who were taken to the hospital due to illness, were also transferred with their full name and data to the Welfare Services.
WIZO did not keep track of those babies.
According to Ben Yaakov's claim, in Rosh Ha’Ayin camp none of the children left without parents in the Children's Home were adopted, because of the lengthy procedural requirements. She claims a total of four children whose parents were not located who were sent to the Children's Home in Tel-Aviv when the Rosh Ha’Ayin’s home was closed.
The Investigator presents Ben-Yaakov with evidence and records of mothers who wanted to adopt and testified that they were indeed referred to the WIZO Children's Home and there they accepted children for adoption, with the consent of the institution. Ben-Yaakov claims not recalling a single case of adoption that occurred in Rosh Ha'Ayin. She also claims not to remember the name of any doctor who referred to adoptions at the Children's Home (along with the other doctors who worked at Rosh Ha’Ayin at the time, except for Dr. George Mandel). This statement by Ben-Yaakov, that adoptions had never taken place at the Rosh Ha’Ayin Children's Home, contradicts the interview she gave just a year before to “Haaretz” journalist Yigal Mashiach, where she clearly testified that about ten percent of the children were given up for adoption from Rosh Ha’Ayin.
The Investigator confronts her with this, and Ben-Yaakov claims that Haaretz's reporter wrote incorrect things (even though he quoted her), and furthermore that she does not remember details. She also claims that she does not remember the name of a single nurse who worked with her who is still among the living.
Ben-Yaakov is also interrogated by the Minkovsky Committee. An inspector named Ben-Shalom records her testimony about her position and, with her consent, conducts a search at the Tel Aviv WIZO Mother and Child Home. The files and photos of the children who were in WIZO Rosh Ha'Ayin were transferred to WIZO Tel Aviv and given to a person whose name she does not remember.
This testimony conflicts with the memorandum of understandings that the Committee's Investigator holds from the Bahlul-Minkovsky committee (February 15, '67), in which it is alleged that a search was indeed conducted at the Tel Aviv WIZO Mother and Child Home guided by nurse Rela Ben-Yaakov, but no records of the Children's Home of the Rosh Ha'Ayin camp were found. She claims that she definitely gave the children's files to some person connected with the police (this is what she also claimed in the interview with Yigal Mashiach).
As for WIZO Tel Aviv, Ben-Yaakov testifies that there were adoptions from there, mostly from the Premature Department, as well as children who arrived at the Home already as candidates for adoption. Some were admitted because of mothers' illness (tuberculosis cases) and were returned when the mothers recovered.
The Commission's Investigator presents to Ben-Yaakov that according to the Minkovsky Committee, WIZO Tel Aviv took part in a process of transferring children between different institutions in Israel, in particular WIZO’s, for example in Jerusalem, Haifa, and Safed. Ben-Yaakov claims that she does not remember transferring children to institutions in other parts of the country.
The Investigator confronts her with the testimony of Yehuda Ben-Yaakov, the director of the Aid Bureau in Rosh Ha'Ayin, subsequently her husband, about a Yemenite father who put his child in the Children's Home in 1950, and in 1951 returned to retrieve the child who could not be found. When asked why he did not look for it all this time the answer was because he had to work. Although she was employed there during that time, Ben-Yaakov claims not to remember the incident.
She also claims that she does not remember the names of any of the nurses who worked at the Rosh Ha'Ayin hospital at the time, not even the head nurse, Ruth Merling.
The chairman of the Committee asks her if she knew that there were rumors of child abductions among the camp's residents, and she says that she does not remember. Furthermore, she is asked about her connections with another children's home that existed within the Rosh Ha'Ayin camp, but she testifies that she did not know that there was another children's home in the Rosh Ha’Ayin area.
Rela Ben Yaakov's interview with Haaretz journalist Yigal Mashiach (Hebrew):