Haviva Reik was one of 32 or 33 Palestinian Jewish parachutists sent by the Jewish Agency and the British Army Special Operations Executive from Palestine on military missions in Nazi-occupied Europe.
She was born as Emma Reik in 1914 in the Slovakian village of Radvaň and grew up in Banská Bystrica in the Carpathian Mountains. She joined the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement there. In 1939, she came she emigrated to Palestine, where she joined Kibbutz Ma’anit and later enlisted in the Palmach, the elite strike force branch of the Haganah underground military organization. She joined the new parachutists’ unit.
Jewish Paratroopers from right to left, top row:
Reuven Dafni, Zadok Doron, Abba Berdichev.
Bottom row: Sara Braverman, Arieh Fichman, Haviva Reik
In her native Slovakia, an uprising was in progress against the puppet government. The center of this uprising was in the Banská Bystrica area. The revolt had begun in the spring of 1944, initiated by the Czechoslovak Agrarian party, part of the Social Democratic party, the Communist party, sectors of the Slovak nationalists, and army officers.
In late December 1943, these groups aligned with the Slovak National Council. The uprising aimed to overthrow the Axis puppet Hlinkova Slovenska Ludova Strana (Slovak People’s Party of Hlinka; HSLS) and detach Slovakia from the Axis.
There were armed underground Jewish cells in each of the three Slovak labor camps before the SNR was established. Early in 1944, they established contact with the SNR and became part of the movement. The uprising was to coincide with Allied advances, particularly that of the Soviet Army. However, the Red Army held back. The partisans made considerable gains, and on August 28, the Nazis decided to occupy Slovakia and eliminate the uprising.
After their training, Reik and three others, Rafael Reiss, Zvi Ben-Yaakov, and Haim Hermesh (Kassaf) waited in Bari, Italy to be parachuted into Slovakia. However, the British authorities refused to send a woman behind enemy lines for a military operation. In September 1944, Reik hitched a ride with a group of American pilots who were flying to Banská Bystrica and joined the others on September 21. At the end of the month, a fifth parachutist, Abba Berdiczew, joined them, bringing radio equipment.
In Banská Bystrica, Haviva and the others engaged in relief and rescue activities. They organized a soup kitchen and community center for refugees, and facilitated the escape of Jewish children to Hungary and then to Palestine. Through their connections with partisan and resistance groups, they helped rescue allied POWs. Late in September, SS Obergruppenfuhrer Gottlob Berger, the chief commander of the German forces, was replaced by the Obergruppenfuhrer of the Hoherer SS and the Polizeifuhrer SS, Hermann Hofle. They used Ukrainian Waffen SS troops, among them apparently John (Ivan) Demjanjuk, to suppress the rebellion.
On October 27, 1944, the Germans occupied Banská Bystrica. Haviva and the other parachutists escaped with about 40 Jewish partisans. They built a camp in the mountains, but they were captured after a few days by Ukrainian Waffen SS troops of the Galicia division.
On November 20, the Germans shot most of the captive Jews, including Reik, Ben-Yaakov, and Reiss. Abba Berdiczew was deported to Mauthausen death camp and later killed. Haim Chermesh escaped, fought with the partisans, and later returned to Palestine.
On September 10, 1952, Haviva Reik’s remains were buried in Mt. Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem along with those of Hannah Szenes and Reiss. Kibbutz Lehavot Haviva, the Givat Haviva Institute, an Aliyah Bet illegal immigrant ship, and numerous streets are named for Haviva Reik.