Fifty Years after Yom Kippur War, an Unlikely Hero Tells His Remarkable Battle Story

TEL SAKI, Golan Heights, Israel – Fifty years ago, on October 6, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, Arab armies launched a surprise attack against Israel. 

It was a painful war with heavy casualties, but Israel eventually triumphed, thanks to many heroes who triumphed against long odds.

On the eve of Yom Kippur in 1973, tensions mounted as the country began its 25-hour fast and planned to spend the day in the synagogues, praying. 

At Tel Saki, the former battlefield on the Golan Heights, Lt.-Commander Yitzhak Nigreker met with CBN News and told us the incredible story of his role in the war. 

“Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we were here (in the Golan),” he said. “We received intelligence information from my brigade officer, and he explained to us about the Syrian forces we were facing.” 

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan dismissed reports of an imminent Arab coalition attack and convinced Prime Minister Golda Meir not to order a massive reserve call-up. 

Nigreker fought with the 188th Tank Brigade along the Golan Heights border with Syria. In his area, 15 Israeli tanks faced two Syrian brigades of 600-700 tanks. Only 32 Israeli tanks guarded the 55-mile frontier with Syria. 

“Now, when we heard these numbers, we almost attack(ed) the intelligence officer,” Nigreker recalled. “We saw the Syrian tanks preparing across the border – bulldozers digging holes and making tank stands, things like this – so when we received the information, we were simply scared.” 

That evening, Israeli soldiers slept in their tanks, got up at 5:00 a.m. on Yom Kippur, and went to the bunker to pray. 

“I’m not a big religious one to pray,” he told us, “But, to honor my friends, I also went inside, and I prayed together with them. About 10:00, I broke down. I couldn’t do it anymore because I was very tired.” 



Nigreker laid down facing Tel Faris, the largest hill in the area. 

“I slept really well because I was very tired and about 5 minutes to 2:00 p.m., I opened my eyes, to everything exploding around me, the murderous artillery of the Syrians. There was black smoke in the air, and I jumped up from the mattress and ran into the bunker and I yelled to my friends, ‘Guys, it’s a day of battle!’” 

Syrian artillery fire continued until dark, when the Syrian tanks began to move in, unwittingly trapping themselves. 

“They couldn’t escape,” Nigreker explained. “On the right side of the perimeter fence are bulldozers. On the left side they have the border fence. They can’t escape, and just like in tank practice, we wiped them out one by one from the end to the beginning. Thirty Syrian tanks were burning like torches.” 

However, Israelis’ ammunition was quickly depleted. 

“Then we receive(d) an order to move to Tel Saki and arm ourselves with shells from the damaged tank of Brigade Seven,” Nigreker said. 

Despite heroic efforts to defend this Golan Heights position against a massive Syrian attack, by morning of the second day, Tel Saki was under Syrian control. 

There, Nigreker and more than 2 dozen soldiers entered a bunker. 

“When we entered, we stepped on the bodies of our friends in the corridor. Menachem Ansbacher sees the morale and takes out a book of Psalms. He reads a Psalm, and religious and non-religious guys, all answer ‘Amen!’ Then he says, guys, ‘we’ll get out of here and we’ll all end the war together.’  

Suddenly, a Syrian grenade landed in the bunker, wounding Israelis, including Nigreker. 

“I stand and wait for instructions,” he recalled. “What to do? Suddenly, I hear Menachem, ‘Whoever can go out, go out and tell the Syrians that we are surrendering.’” 

Nigreker left the bunker with his hands raised. Outside, two Syrian soldiers shot at him, but he managed to evade the bullets. At gunpoint, they asked him how many others were in the bunker. 

“He (the Syrian soldier) points in the direction of the opening of the bunker behind me,” Nigreker recalled. “Inside the bunker I think of my thirty friends. They will face grenades.” 

He continued, “Therefore, at that moment I started to think of some logical number, and without blinking an eye, I made a sign of four. Why four? That’s a tank crew.  Three dead and I’m the only one alive. Whether they believed me or not they immediately motioned for me to come down.” 

Only then did Nigreker realize he was wounded. 

In less than three weeks, Israel emerged as the victor, though the nation suffered heavy losses. 

2,656 Israelis died, more than seven thousand were wounded, and 294 became prisoners of war, including Nigreker. 

After 8 months in captivity, Nigreker returned to Israel. Upon his arrival, he felt responsible for everyone in that bunker, believing them to have been killed, and he expected a firing squad. 

Instead, after an Israeli interrogation, an officer took him to a waiting taxi. 

“(A man) asked me, ‘Yitzhak, do you remember me?’ I tell him no. ‘Do you remember the guys in the Tel Saki bunker?’ So, I tell him ‘yes, but unfortunately, they were all killed and it’s my fault.’” 

What followed was the man’s stunning news for Nigreker. “He says, ‘wait, wait, stop. What are you talking about? They’re all alive and you’re the one who saved us! And we’re waiting for you! Menachem Ansbacher and all the other guys are waiting for you at your house in Yavneh!’” 

Now a husband and father of four sons, Nigreker had pledged during battle to name his firstborn son after his beloved commander, who died during the war. His family later returned to live in the Golan Heights. 

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