Being in a room with Holocaust Survivors never loses its spark. June 10th’s Shalom House was once again hosted at Helping Hand Coalition’s villa in Caesarea. There were a couple of familiar faces as Holocaust survivors from “The Survivors of Nazism,” based in Hadera, graced us with their presence for an afternoon that was beautiful and emotional.
Hosting the event, Bozena Gasiorowski welcomed the survivors and our guests from Germany, America, and Israel. Alyosha and Jody Ryabinov led the concert along with their musical friends, Claudia and Eve. A group from Germany, Messiah’s Community Dinkelsbühl, also blessed the group with songs and their serving hearts.
Playing favorite Hebrew songs like Od Avinu Chai and Eytz Chaim, Eve Woodard got the audience clapping along, perfectly beginning the afternoon’s concert festivities. Claudia also gifted our ears by playing a piece on the piano before Alyosha performed.
With his eyes closed, Alyosha gave the music control, his fingers gliding over the keys as if their connection was magnetic. Each note was played with emotion that one can only describe as an awakening. The song, called Abba, felt as if we were watching a caterpillar transform into a butterfly, a metamorphosis of life.
Next, the leader of Messiah’s Community Dinkelsbühl, Reinhard Myers, shared with the survivors and announced that he was celebrating his birthday. In his own words, Reinhard described how he felt as if he was celebrating in his country rather than as a visitor of someone else’s. Reciting the words Ruth told Naomi, “Your people will be my people, your God will be my God,” Reinhard shared his love for the survivors and their country.
Joining her husband on stage, Ursula and Reinhard sung a song about God giving people a way out even when there doesn’t seem to be one. Giving off a small Johnny Cash feel, their voices complimented each other and when the rest of their group joined in, the walls echoed in beautiful harmony. They also sang Hodu la’Adonai Ki Tov, giving thanks to God for His goodness and love.
Ending the concert, Claudia, Jody and Alyosha sung Hebrew songs like Hava Nagila that got everyone’s feet moving. With our guests and volunteers leading the way, the floor filled with more than half the survivors standing to participate. Spinning in circles, finding dance partners, and singing along to the tunes, there wasn’t a smile missing from anyone’s face. The party had begun!
Usually, this would be the time of the afternoon where food was served before the bus came to collect the survivors, but something extraordinary occurred after lunch. Not only were people not ready to leave, but three survivors asked if they could share stories about their lives during the war!
Emotions flooded around the room as each story touched the hearts of those listening. One lady exclaimed how thankful she was that she and her two sisters could come to HHC’s Shalom House and be welcomed in such a loving way after a childhood of searching for their next meal and having only potato peelings to fill their stomach.
Another survivor told a story that cannot be paraphrased: As a young girl living in the ghetto, the night the Germans came to take the Jews to the concentration camps is a day this survivor will never forget. Following her father’s command, she hid in the basement and was told not to come out until the Germans were gone. However, she didn’t want to be separated from her parents and wished to find them, but before she could attempt her plan, a neighbor locked her in the room so she wouldn’t get on the train carts.
For a year and a half, she begged for food and prayed that her parents were still alive. When the war ended, she went back to her house and waited. It took twenty-one days of walking for her parents to make it back home from the camp, but being reunited was the best reward! Immigrating to Israel in 1990, and now 98 years old, this survivor thanked God that she is alive and was very grateful for all the people who took part in this event.
The impact of the last survivor’s story bringing one of the German guests to tears, the young German woman cried as she apologized for the treatment brought about by her people and declared that she would not let the world forget about the survivors or the Holocaust. Amazingly, the survivor who had last spoken asked for forgiveness if she had offended the Germans when talking about the officers’ treatment during the war!
After thanking Helping Hand Coalition for making these events happen and gifting each survivor with a small bag full of goodies, the afternoon drew to a close. Nevertheless, with nobody wanting the party to end, songs were sung, and people danced all the way to the bus!
A big thank you to our volunteers, Jola and Lila, for their stunning food presentation; the survivors from Hadera for joining us for a second week in a row, and our guests from Germany and America who made today so special. Without everyone’s participation, the afternoon wouldn’t have been as enjoyable or impactful as it was!