Between Ancient Caves and Cyclamen: The Cave Path in the Keren Carmel Forest in Memory of Martin Finkelgrün

Thursday, October 01, 2020 3:00 PM

 
What began as a small project in Cologne in memory of well-known German journalist Peter Finkelgruen’s grandfather, Martin Finkelgrün, with a tree planting ceremony in 2012 in front of Peter’s house by the municipality in conjunction with KKL-JNF will soon launch into its second phase.

 
The Cave Path in the Keren Carmel Forest. (Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive)
 
The refurbishing and replanting of a popular hiking trail in the Carmel Forest in northern Israel donated by Peter Finkelgruen and his friends in memory of Finkelgrün will be a place for recreation and enjoyment of nature for both the Jewish and Arab residents of the surrounding communities.
 
Sadly, the memorial plaque next to the tree in Cologne commemorating Martin Finkelgrün was vandalized in 2016. The damage was later on repaired.
 
Keren Carmel Forest information sign. (Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive)
 
As a child Holocaust survivor, Peter’s educational and life experiences helped cement his dedication towards the principles of tolerance and coexistence and the new trail dedicated to his grandfather is meant to be a living symbol of these ideals.
 
Martin Finkelgrün, who had been hidden from the Nazis by Anna his non-Jewish wife for three years, was beaten to death by a Nazi guard named Anton Malloth on the day he arrived in the Theresienstadt Gestapo prison after his hiding place was discovered in 1942. Anna was also captured by the Nazis and she survived imprisonment in three concentration camps.
 
In 1988 her grandson, who was then living as a journalist in Israel, traveled to Germany, where he tracked down Malloth in Bavaria. He played a key role in bringing his grandfather's killer to justice. Ultimately, the negotiation lasted twelve long years. Anton Malloth died before the sentence could be carried out.
 
Peter's parents, the lawyer Hans, born in 1908, and Esti, born in 1913, had fled to Prague in 1938 and married in Prague in February 1939, also to increase their chances of emigrating. In March 1939, the CSSR was occupied by the Germans, Peter's parents and grandparents were now existentially threatened. Hans left Prague in February 1940 and arrived in Shanghai in May 1940 on adventurous routes via Moscow and Tokyo. In November 1940 Esti followed him on the same escape route.
 
Peter Finkelgrün was born as a Jewish refugee child in the Shanghai ghetto. When he was 20 months old, his father died. The boy and his non-Jewish mother were left alone in China, where they survived the Shoah.
 
After the war Peter and his mother Esti returned to Prague where they lived with Anna. Esti struggled with poor health and died in 1950.
 
A little later, in 1951, Peter and his grandmother set off for Israel. There, in kibbutz Kfar HaMaccabi, lived Hans' sister Dora (in Israel: Rachel) and her husband Gerhard (later: Israel). They had emigrated to Palestine as committed Zionists in September 1938 and were among the founding members of Kibbutz Kfar HaMaccabi.
 
Peter and Anna spent half a year there but then moved to a village on the slopes of Mount Carmel near Haifa where he attended a French Catholic school, studying with students from different religious and ethnic backgrounds.
 
In 1959 Peter went to German to study history and political science, establishing himself in Cologne in 1962, where he currently lives. He went on to have a successful journalistic career working as an editor at Deutsche Welle and working as an Israel correspondent in Jerusalem from 1981-1988. Finkelgruen was the first German journalist to whom Golda Meir granted an interview in the summer of 1966.
 
In Jerusalem he was also representative of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom which promotes making the principle of freedom valid for the dignity of all people.

The Cave Path in the Keren Carmel Forest. (Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive)
 
The Carmel trail was chosen as a site to honor Martin Finkelgrün because of its proximity to where Peter grew up, as well as because its location in an area of Israel known for its good relations between all the surrounding communities including Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze residents.
 
After the 2010 Carmel Forest fire which killed 44 people and destroyed 27,000 dunams of forest, 4,000 dunams belonging to KKL-JNF in the northern area of Mount Carmel in northern Israel, just outside of Haifa, more picnic areas and recreational sites were needed for people in the southern area while the damaged forest areas was given time to restore itself.
 
It is in this area that the hiking trail, which circles around two kilometers of forest filled with pine, oak, carob and olive trees as well as natural forest growth trees, will be refurbished for visitors to enjoy. Some trees are 60 years old. In the winter the area is replete with the blooms of the delicate white and purple cyclamen flower, known in Hebrew as rakefet.
 
On a recent visit to the site Ala’a Fahmawi, KKL-JNF fire chief of the Carmel region from the nearby Arab town of Fureidis, explained that one way KKL-JNF works to maintain the area less-susceptible to forest fires is by working in conjunction with local shepherds who are permitted to graze their herds in the area in certain times to reduce the growth of the underbrush which spreads fires quickly throughout the forests.
 
One of the caves along the trail. (Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive)
 
A fairly easy path to walk which climbs up to an overlook with a view of agricultural terraces, the area is dotted with secluded picnic tables and there are ancient Hasmonean-era graves located along the way which have been restored by the Israel Antiquities Authority, noted Pnina Ceizler, KKL-JNF northern division project coordinator and accessibility advisor who is from Kiryat Yam.
 
 Inside the cave. (Photo: KKL-JNF Photo Archive)
 
“In recent times before Covid-19 we had two to three groups a week coming out here to help maintain the path,” said Fahmawi, “We had soldier groups, groups from schools, factories and international groups.
 
As Israel struggles with the Covid-19 pandemic along with the rest of the world, the trial is still a favored location for Israelis to enjoy some time in nature when they are permitted outside and in the meantime KKL-JNF is preparing for its renovation so it will be ready for families and groups to fully enjoy once again when the pandemic is over.