Imagine this, you are a young Israeli man serving in the IDF as a combat soldier. You are Jewish, your parents are Jewish, and you are a proud Zionist. Imagine then being told your great grandfather was a Nazi during World War II. Would you believe it? This is exactly the scenario Yonatan Handelsman faced.

Handelsman was working on a family tree project for school when he noticed there was next to no information about his maternal great-grandfather. Intrigued by the lack of a name or even a picture, the boy asked his mother for answers.

Sergeant Yonatan Handelsman (Avi Chai)

His mother tried to avoid the subject at first, but eventually told Yonatan that his great-grandfather was a Nazi officer. Naturally, Handelsman didn’t believe it, but then his mother explained to him the story. Yonatan’s mother grew up in Germany and was not Jewish. One day, whilst she was 14, there was a neo-Nazi demonstration in Munich conducted by former Nazi officers. Yonatan’s mother went to protest the demonstration, along with her brother. Suddenly, they saw their grandfather participating in the march, which was a huge shock to them. After further investigation, they found out their grandfather was a former Nazi officer.

Following the discovery, Yonatan’s mother was horrified. So much so that it motivated her to convert to Judaism and then to eventually move to Israel. After her move to the Jewish state, she got married and started a family.

This puts Yonatan in an incredibly unique situation. On his father’s side, his grand-parents are Holocaust survivors, and on his mother’s side, his great-grandfather was a Nazi officer.

Handelsman’s great-grandfather (Avi Chai)

Yonatan said it took him time to take it all in and accept his newly discovered family history. Speaking to i24 News, Yonatan said, “I had to deal with this part of my past, I was at war against it, I didn’t know what to think but today I only think about my relatives who went through the Holocaust”.

Yonatan Handelsman’s story is truly remarkable and shows the diversity and incredible family history of many who serve in the IDF and live in Israel.

Contributed by Daniel Kosky, CAMERA Intern.

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