The day after International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a Shalom House event was hosted by Helping Hand Coalition for fifteen survivors from the Foundation of Holocaust Victims based in Haifa. Their first time attending a Shalom House event, the group was lively and didn’t shy away from standing in front of the room to share their stories. Unlike most events, this afternoon focused more on connecting and learning about one another’s lives than listening to a musical performance. It was emotional to hear what each person had been through, but, at the same time, it was also heart-warming to form new bonds with individuals we hope will come back to the HHC Caesarea Villa.
Welcoming the group to the villa, Andre and Bozena Gasiorowski shared a few words about their passion for the work Helping Hand Coalition is doing and the importance of publicizing the survivor’s testimonies for the world to read. Bozena encouraged the survivors to speak, adding,
“Your past and the things you went through need to be told so we can carry your stories with us to future generations.”
To commemorate the memory of the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, Jola, one of Helping Hand Coalition’s incredible volunteers, lit a few candles that had been beautifully displayed around a Star of David in the center of the living room. As the flames began to melt the candle’s wax, Claudia played a song on the grand piano, dedicating the piece of music to the memory of those no longer among us.
Before more music could be performed, however, two survivors asked if they could share a few words. Berta Zhukov was the first to speak and surprised the audience when she said that she could tell her story in both English and Russian.
Born near Leningrad, Berta was on the way to visit her great-grandparents with her mother and two siblings when the war began. When they were being evacuated, Berta’s immediate family fled back to Leningrad, going two weeks without food and dodging bombs that were being released from enemy planes. Her father joined the army at this time and fought in Germany, where he died and was buried in Berlin in May 1945. After a grueling few years, Berta’s family survived the war, though the memories continue to cause great pain.
Eva Gorlik was next to speak, and she told the group about hiding from the Nazis, her father’s capture, and the years they lived in Orenburg. (Click here to read her full story) Over coffee, Eva continued talking about her life with Tamar and shared about her dream of visiting London coming true in 1995. Today, Eva is very thankful to be living in the Holy Land, though she misses going to the Russian theater, as ticket prices are too expensive.
Inspired by the survivors’ stories, Tamar stood in front of the survivors with great emotion and apologized for the way Britain had refused to allow the Jews to seek refuge in Palestine when they were fleeing Europe. After learning about her country’s actions, Tamar has come to Israel to study the Holocaust at Haifa University and has a passion for educated her fellow Englishmen on the events that took place during and after the Second World War.
Claudia was the only German present at the event, and when she spoke about her family’s experience in the war, a stillness settled in the villa, the lives of those in attendance impacted by her words. During the war, Claudia’s grandfather took a stand as a Christian and refused to submit to Hitler’s regime. Though he was threatened to be imprisoned or sent to a concentration camp, Claudia’s grandfather remained steadfast in his belief in mankind and continued to help the Jewish people. Claudia ended her speech by apologizing to the survivors for what her country did, stating,
“You are God’s nation, His people! We (Claudia’s family) are so upset that this (the Holocaust) happened, and I can only ask for forgiveness.”
Tamar and Claudia performed a few songs following their testimonies. Newfound respect could be felt towards these foreigners who have come to Israel to bless the land and its people.
Before lunch was served, Avi Mizrachi, a second-generation survivor, was asked to share how his family immigrated to Israel. For many years, Avi had no idea what his parents went through during the war. It wasn’t until his daughters were given a school assignment to learn about their roots that he learned the truth. During the war, his mother’s family fled to Istanbul while his father, after being tormented by the Nazis, ran into the forest and joined the partisans. They came to Israel seeking refuge, though the British turned them away and they were relocated to Cyprus until May 1948, when David Ben-Gurion proclaimed independence in Tel Aviv. As he spoke, Avi touched on what each person had talked about and personally accepted the apologies of Tamar and Claudia. He said,
“Yesh Tikvah. There is hope. In God, there is Hope. We are here, in spite of Satan trying to kill us. We are alive; not just us, but our children and our grandchildren. We are going to continue living in this country because God promised this country to us, and God is a good God. He’s a faithful God. What He promises, He fulfills. I’m here to give you a bit of hope. Our national anthem is Hatikvah. We are back here. AM ISRAEL CHAI. We will continue to live in this country, build this country, serve this country, and serve the God of Israel. Amen!”
Lunch was a buzz of chatter, as many of the survivors were eager to talk to the guests and volunteers after an amazing time of testimony. Our Helping Hand volunteers outdid themselves with their delicious display of food; one survivor exclaimed her wish to “Kiss the hands that had prepared lunch.” More stories were shared, and lives were blessed with the relationships that were made. Though the Holocaust is a very sensitive topic to talk about, it was amazing to witness how open the survivors were with the guests and how they spoke to one another as if they were long time friends.
Helping Hand Coalition sends a heartfelt thank you to the Foundation of Holocaust Victims for coming to the event and being so open and willing to share. To Tamar, her husband Raffi, Claudia, Avi Mizrachi, and other guests, it was a pleasure having you at the event and gifting the survivors with your music, support, and stories. Our hearts were touched and lives impacted, January 28th’s Shalom House will be an event that will not soon be forgotten.