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Remembering the Holocaust with survivors at the Haifa Home

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27 Jan 2021
Remembering the Holocaust with survivors at the Haifa Home

On January 27, the world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day—held each year on the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp in 1945. One of the best ways to honor the six million victims of the Nazi genocide against the Jewish people is to care for those who survived, which is what the ICEJ does at our Home for Holocaust Survivors in Haifa.

The ICEJ has a team of dedicated Christian volunteers serving and comforting the elderly residents living in our Home for Holocaust survivors. This time of the coronavirus pandemic has been especially difficult for our aging residents. As Israel has experienced three long lockdown periods, the isolation and lack of freedom to meet with family, friends and each other has been the most difficult aspect over the last year. This has impacted many both mentally and physically. But renewed hope rolled in as 2021 began!

New Hope

Although Israel is currently in another lockdown, there are flickers of hope for protecting those in high-risk groups like the elderly, thanks to a fast-paced vaccination drive now underway. For residents in the Haifa Home, the idea of life returning to normal is certainly a comforting thought. Most of our residents have received their first and some even their second shot of the vaccine. By the end of January, the majority will be protected. And during February, we hope to open the community dining hall again, so the survivors can eat together, socialize, and feel alive again! That is a day that we are all so looking forward to!

Celebrating the Many Years

Meantime, birthdays do not go unobserved! Yaacov, originally from Poland, has been living at the Home since 2012 and just celebrated his 97th birthday! Although his birthday party was in the corona ‘complete-lockdown’ style, there was good reason to celebrate. In the past three years, Yaacov has had a live-in caregiver, who takes great care of him. He still walks every day and is grateful for the life he has at our assisted-living facility. Once he said: “It was a good idea to make Aliyah and come to Israel in 1948, but it was the best decision to move to the Haifa Home. It’s like a family here!”

Snippet of a Conversation

That feeling of family expressed by Yaacov is shared by many other residents. One of the ICEJ volunteers, Kerstin, cleans their apartments, accompanies residents on their visits to the doctor and dentist, and helps wherever she is needed. She recently recalled a conversation with Judith on their recent trip to the doctor. Judith is a 92-year-old survivor from Auschwitz and here is a snippet of their sweet conversation:

Kerstin: “Judith, you are looking so beautiful again today. I especially like your scarf.”

Judith: “Really, do you know how old that scarf already is? For sure 20 or 30 years!”

Kerstin: “Wow, Judith, then is that scarf even older than I am?”

Judith: “It was given as a present from my friend. We were the same age, but she passed away already. All my friends have died. I am the only one remaining, but I am not alone. I have you and you are always there whenever I need you.”

Mania’s Poem

So many of these tender interactions are experienced daily at the Haifa Home. Mania is an 87 year-old survivor from Bessarabia who became an artist and writer. Although this time of corona has been extremely difficult and lonely for her, she tries to keep herself busy by being creative. “We need to create and keep our minds busy and not sit passively behind a TV, which only depresses us”, she tells the others. An avid painter, she has now taught herself to paint on the computer. Every day, she draws a new picture and writes a poem with it. She was excited to share her latest poem:

The school opposite my home
Watching children play outside my window.
Whose only worries are
To play, do homework and study
At my old age
I long again for those days…
(Translated from Hebrew)

We Remember

On January 27 it was 76 years since Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp, was liberated by the Russian Red Army. Like every year on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we conducted a ceremony at the memorial flame of the Home. Usually, hundreds of people fill the street, and many dignitaries come to address the people. However, due to the strict lockdown rules this year, it was a very small ceremony. With only a few Survivors, photographers, and media, the ceremony was opened as Shalom S. (96) and Judith H. (92), both Survivors of Auschwitz, lit the memorial flame. After a rabbi sang prayers, ICEJ staff member Yudit Setz told the gathering:

“Unfortunately, we cannot say that 76 years after the liberation of Auschwitz Birkenau, anti-Semitism has disappeared. Therefore, these ceremonies to remember are important, but the eloquent words being spoken are useless if they do not go together with action. . . . Together with Yad Ezer l’Haver, we are working shoulder to shoulder to care for Holocaust Survivors in the last stages of their life. Jews and Christians together. This Home itself is a symbol of hope 76 years later.”
Indeed, it is a great privilege for the Christian Embassy to care for these precious people for as long as they are still with us. Your support goes a long way in helping us do so.  

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