May 4th was a day of remembrance and reunion as Helping Hand Coalition hosted a Shalom House event to honor Israel’s fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism and welcome the return of the GAiN Germany team. Inviting twenty-two survivors of the Holocaust from Netanya, led by Rita Liberman, to HHC’s Caesarea Headquarters, the event made sure to respect Yom HaZikaron (Day of Remembrance) while also recognizing the survivors’ role in Israel’s independence!
Opening the event, Andre Gasiorowski (President) explained what Yom HaZikaron was about before the eleven o’clock siren sounded throughout the nation. Standing to remember those who have fought and died for Israel’s freedom was an impacting two minutes as the survivors, German guests, and representatives from other nations stood in silence to pay respect.
As everyone sat down, Luke Gasiorowski (Executive Director) spoke to the survivors about his time serving in the IDF. He said, “I was born in Poland, and we made Aliyah in the early 90s — like most of you. I served in the IDF for three years and will continue to do army reserves until I’m in my 40s. Last week, we were in Netanya for Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) and heard the testimony of a Holocaust survivor from Ukraine. Genadi Dubkin arrived a week ago and said that the one difference between the memories of the Shoah and the war right now was that before, there was nowhere to go, but today is different. Today, he has somewhere to go. And, so, it’s my privilege and honor, just like so many other soldiers, to fight for our country. So, today we remember all of the soldiers — nearly 24,000 — and terror victims — more than 4,000 — but we also thank you and remember you because you are the reason we’re here and have an army today! So, thank you very much.”
For fifteen years, Helping Hand Coalition has been serving the survivors of the Holocaust in Israel. Throughout that time, GAiN Germany has aided and supported our mission to help the survivors until the very last one is gone. Welcoming Klaus Dewald (Director & CEO of GAiN Germany) to the front, Andre asked him to share a few words. Searching for the right thing to say, Klaus took a moment before delivering an inspiring speech. “Global Aid Network (GAiN) was founded in 1990 when the Soviet Union collapsed. In Saint Petersburg, I met some ladies, and they said to me — after they had lost all of their children in WWII —‘Your grandfather came as an enemy with weapons, and you came as a brother and friend with love and help. We forgive you and your nation for what you did.’ Since that time, I’ve wanted to be a peacemaker in the world and help people in need. So, we focused all around the world, but not in Israel. Before I met Andre, we were not aware that the situation for the survivors was so bad. We thought that you would have a good life here. So, when I met Andre, and he presented me with a list like Schindler’s with the names of 80,000 survivors in need, it was like fire in my hands. I never thought that this could happen or that there were so many left and in need! So, I thought, as the nation responsible for the Holocaust, we had to do something to help. I went home with a weight and burden on my shoulders that we had to do something. It’s really a blessing and honor to stand in front of you, and we try to do our best, whatever we can, to change situations. You are not forgotten, and we are here.”
The survivors were deeply moved by Klaus’ words, giving him a round of applause when he finished. While many people continue to forget or ignore the events of the Holocaust and our responsibility to honor and care for those who survived, it’s a blessing to invite Germans to the Shalom House and watch them pour their hearts out to the survivors with gentleness and love.
Alexander Dietze, another German, performed a spectacular song about God’s forgiveness. Telling the survivors an abridged version of his story, Alexander explained that he didn’t know about his grandfather’s role in WWII and the Holocaust. Then, almost ten years ago, his grandfather came to him with a handful of Nazi medals, and Alexander’s world felt as though it had flipped upside down. He exclaimed, “This was the man whose lap I would sit on as a little boy. I really loved him. And now, I found out that he had special medals for his wartime and was part of the Nazi Regime! I could do no more but ask, ‘What should I do now?’”
After meeting Klaus and being introduced to Andre, Alexander and his family moved to Israel to work with the survivors. Wearing two medals given to him by a survivor, Alexander told the group that he threw away his grandfather’s medals and wears the two he was gifted with pride. “What you’re giving us as Germans,” he finished, “the love you’re giving us, it’s worth more than a million dollars.”
Changing the mood from remembrance to celebration, Bozena Gasiorwoski (Director of the Shalom House Project) introduced the day’s performers, Alyosha Ryabinov and Eve Woodard.
Music filled the villa as Alyosha began playing Chopin’s Nocturne in C sharp minor — a piece that saved the life of Polish survivor Natalia Karp during the Holocaust. The haunting melody immediately encompassed the room; however, despite the sad tune, hope shone through as Alyosha closed his eyes and let the music carry him away. The performance physically touched one survivor who was seen moving his fingers like he was the one playing the piano and punching the air in delight when the music stopped.
Bringing jazz and an American twist to the event, Eve Woodard — who recently made Aliyah from Texas — got everyone’s feet tapping and fingers snapping as she played her guitar and sang Miles Davis’ famous song, Summertime. The survivors loved the concert and were ready to get up and dance by the end.
Lunch, catered by Orly, was served to the survivors in bowls — with vegetable rice, meatballs, and salad — full of flavor that activated everyone’s taste buds. Conversing with one another, the survivors praised the morning’s event, taking time to express their gratitude for the invitation.
It was great to be among old friends again, but it was even more special to welcome new friends into our family. Each time Helping Hand Coalition hosts a group of survivors, our hearts expand as we invite them into our lives. Helping Hand Coalition would like to thank Rita Liberman’s group from Netanya, the GAiN Germany team, Alexander Dietze, Alyosha Ryabinov, Eve Woodard, and the HHC team and volunteers for being a part of this wonderful Shalom House event. Israel may be seventy-four years young but has been home to us for much longer! Thank you to everyone who continues fighting for Israel and supporting the survivors who came to the Promised Land, building this country after their lives were destroyed. It is truly an honor to live among such strong, determined people!