In a recent Research Forum seminar, our students got to meet and hear from Arieh Oz, a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the IDF and Holocaust survivor. He told of his family’s history in pre-WWII Europe, his survival, and later immigration to Israel.
Oz, born Harry Klausner in Wuppertal, Germany, was the son of Polish parents who had immigrated to Germany. They were a non-religious Jewish family, who made a living by working in the garment industry. Before the war, Oz said, they felt German in every sense of the word: through language, culture and appearance. Yet the first years of his life were impacted by the growing Nazi government; when he was born in 1936, he was forbidden from receiving a circumcision by a rabbi and had it done by a German doctor instead. After years of debating whether or not to move to Palestine, the Klausner family finally decided to leave Germany after the destruction of Kristallnacht in 1938.
They first settled in Holland, which to their surprise, was invaded by the Nazis in 1940. For the first two years of occupation, Oz’s life was still safe. He and his sister were kicked out of school, and Jews had to wear yellow stars but that seemed to be as bad as it was going to get. However, in 1942 when the Nazis began rounding up and deporting Dutch Jews, Oz and his sister were sent with a young woman to live with a Dutch non-Jewish farming family. His father had fled to Palestine, and his mother went into hiding with another non-Jewish family. Oz adopted a new identity, speaking Dutch, praying in a church, and working on the farm. Despite multiple raids on the house, he and his sister were never found in their hiding places in the attic. In 1944 as the Allied forces advanced, Oz recalls hearing planes as he lay at night, listening to differentiate between models and countries.
After liberation by the Canadians in 1945, Oz made his way to Palestine with his mother, sister, and tens of thousands of other Holocaust survivors. Upon meeting his father, he remembers not feeling any connection, since he had not seen him since he was quite young. Oz grew up in Tel Aviv, where his father bought a home, and was sent to the best schools in the country. After initial hardship in this new country, Oz flourished, graduating high school the 3rd in his class. He joined the Air Force and became a well-known and well-respected pilot. His many missions included those to Amsterdam, his hometown, as well as work on the Entebbe raid. After leaving the military, Oz continued to fly, this time as a chief pilot for ElAl. In 1972, nearly 30 years after the end of WWII, he brought his foster parents from Holland to Israel. They were honored as Righteous Among the Nations and have a tree planted at Yad Vashem. Oz is married to his wife of 60 years, and they share two children and nine grandchildren.
Once he finished speaking students were invited to ask questions about his life and personal story. When asked about his post-war relationship with his mother, he told that due to hardships of the war, his mother was impacted for the rest of her life. His sister also had problems adjusting to Israel, and now lives in the United States. He answered students’ questions about his wartime life by remarking that he never shared his story of the war with his father, and his father likewise did not tell of his life in Palestine. The war’s toll on his family lasts until today; his sister is still very much traumatized by her childhood in hiding. Finally, a student asked about his name change. Oz said that upon arrival in Palestine, he wished to leave his European identity behind and embrace his new culture. Thus Harry Klausner became Arieh Oz.
When Oz joined the army he became a pilot in the Israeli Airforce, inspired by his time in hiding listening to the planes during World War II. He is involved in the From Survival to the Skies organization, which commemorates and documents an interesting phenomenon Oz is a part of. During the 1956 Suez Crisis 144 pilots in the IAF were Holocaust survivors, although this was not known at the time. Forty-four of the pilots are still alive. Once members of the IAF, including Arieh Oz, realized that a significant number of Holocaust survivors served in the IAF they established the From Survival to the Skies organization to collect their testimonies and honor their service.
Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program? You can find the application and more information at our website: http://holocaust-studies.haifa.ac.il/