On October 23rd, ten people began a “journey of redemption” that would take them from death to life. Hosted by Radiant Israel and led by Dr.Howard and Janet Morgan, the tour started in Poland, where they spent five days attending a conference and touring Auschwitz-Birkenau. From the ashes of the death camps, the group flew to Israel to witness the ‘glory’ of the Land.
When speaking about the Holocaust, most recall the six million Jews who lost their lives; however, few realize that survivors are living amongst us. Today, about 185,000 Holocaust survivors are living in Israel. To introduce the “From Ashes to Glory” tour groups to a few of the survivors, Helping Hand Coalition and Radiant Israel came together to host a Shalom House event.
After a morning of stormy weather, the sun showed its face, animating the clouds to exhibit their incredible size and shapes. Standing on the steps of the Caesarea Villa, HHC’s volunteers welcomed the twenty former evacuees who now live in Hadera. As each survivor walked through the villa’s front door, they were greeted with a round of applause from the tour group.
After walking on the ground where millions had been killed, being in the presence of survivors was overwhelming for the “From Ashes to Glory” tour group.
Once everyone had taken their seats, Bozena Gasiorowski introduced herself and gave a quick summary of Helping Hand Coalition’s establishment. She said, “As an organization, we started to work among the Holocaust survivors over a decade ago, after hearing that many of them live below the poverty line. In the beginning, we were assisting the survivors as much as we could; however, we were soon told by many of them that they knew how to live in hunger, but that the loneliness around them was killing them. This statement was a hard challenge to face, but, fortunately, the Christian world joined us in this endeavor. The Shalom House project is a small part of the work we do, but, to me, it’s the heart of it. Why? Because we get to know one another on an intimate level.”
Taking the microphone, Gilad Rosinger, the founder of Radiant Israel, thanked HHC for their work and asked Dr.Howard Morgan to share about the purpose of the “From Ashes to Glory” tour. As Dr.Morgan spoke, he encouraged the survivors to tell their stories with the group so they could go home and share the stories and truth with their families, churches, and friends.
After a short introduction, from Alyosha and Jody Ryabinov, the concert began. The event was full of spontaneity. As Alyosha tickled the ivories of the grand piano, a group of dancers from Go Worship, moved to the rhythm in smooth, fluid, motions. The dancers were mesmerizing to watch, and before the song’s end, a survivor stood to waltz with one of the dancers. It was a touching moment that also symbolized the gift of life.
The villa filled with rejoicing as Alyosha performed his rhapsody of Hava Nagila. As the famous tune was played, the survivors clapped and danced along. Smiles spread across everyone’s faces as the survivors twirled and sang the words.
At the end of the performance, one of the tour group members exclaimed that as she listened to Alyosha’s music, she felt the Land come to life before her eyes.
Emotions ran high, and cheeks were damp from stray tears after two survivors stood to share their stories.
Tamara was the first to share her family’s experience in the war. As the Germans occupied Russia, her family attempted to escape with two-hundred other people. Forced to turn back by the Nazis, Tamara’s family were among the few who survived the massacres that took place in the village they lived in. Though she was born after the war, Tamara has never forgotten the story her mother used to tell about a ten-year-old girl who was sheltered by the Russians, but six months later found and killed by the Nazis. After moving to Israel, Tamara was astounded to find her father’s family name written in Yad Vashem.
Next, Rachel took her place at the microphone and shared the heartbreaking story of her time in the ghetto. She was five-years-old when the Germans invaded Ukraine, and her family had to run from their home in an attempt to survive. Rachel and her family crossed the border of Russia and took refuge with a family who shared their milk and food with them, but a week later, the Germans captured Rachel and her family and sent them to a ghetto.
Rachel explained that in the ghetto, winters were very, very cold; they had to sleep on a board and cover themselves in bags to try to stay warm. Weak and starving, her family was forced to work and chop wood for the Nazis. In 1943, the adults were commanded to dig a massive hole, which they knew would ultimately be their grave. That night, the hole was filled with snow and rain, turning it into a small pool of ice water. In the morning, the ghetto prisoners were told to climb into the hole. Rachel demonstrated that the frigid water came up to her chest.
“Suddenly,” Rachel narrated, “there were shots in the forest!” The Ukrainian police, who worked with the Nazis, ran away from the Russian army when they arrived to liberate the camp. Protecting her two daughters, Rachel’s mother’s hands were frozen around them when the Russians pulled them out of the water.
Before the war, Rachel had forty people in her family. In the end, only four remained.
Today, Rachel receives support from Germany and carries a card stated that she is a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp (ghetto).
After many hugs and words of gratitude, lunch was served.
For the remaining hour, the tour group spoke to the survivors and shared a light meal with them. Each story touched their hearts, and one woman said that the whole event was very emotional after being in Auschwitz-Birkenau and then spending time with the survivors. Every heart was full by the end of the event. Pictures and words cannot begin to express the atmosphere in the villa this afternoon.
After saying farewell to the survivors, Audra played original songs on the piano, while people spoke amongst themselves about the significance of the afternoon. It was a very special Shalom House.
HHC extends its gratitude to all that helped prepare the villa for the Shalom House. Jola, Donna, and Kristina, you are fantastic volunteers! “From Ashes to Glory,” HHC hopes the rest of your tour in Israel will be full of incredible opportunities and more life-changing moments. Thanks, also, to Radiant Israel for partnering with HHC for this event.