“I’m looking at you and my heart is full, full, full of love. And I just can’t hide it,” these were the first words that opened, Holocaust survivor, Yitzhak Livnat’s seminar. The Weiss-Livnat International MA Holocaust Studies Program is founded on the generous donations from the Livnat family. Every year Yitzhak Livnat welcomes our students by telling his story. This is the fifth year he has been able to share his story of surviving the Holocaust with a room full of eager students.
Yitzhak shared about departing from a happy childhood in Hungary, and being forced into hell. He arrived at his first concentration camp, Birkenau, when he was 14 in 1944. On his first night in the concentration camp, he lost his sister. The “man in the pajamas” told him to let go of his sister’s hand when they left the cattle car. Yitzhak refused, until a trusted neighbor, who had also been in the transport, came and took his sister from him. Together, the neighbor and his sister, walked to the gas chambers. Of course, Yitzhak did not know this would be the last time he would see his younger sister.
The Angel of Death met Yitzhak again on the eve of Yom Kippur, 700 inmates waited in one of the blocks in Auschwitz to be sent to the gas chambers. Yitzhak was one of the 700. Yanek, a friend of Yitzhak, saw him waiting in the block, he left and brought back 5 boxes of sardines, and 20 US dollars, which he gave to the Nazi officer at the front of the block. He left the block with Yitzhak. That was the price of Yitzhak’s life, 5 boxes of sardines and 20 US dollars.
Months later, Yitzhak was forced into a death march to Mauthausen (near Linz Austria), more than 500 kilometers, in minus ten degrees and snow around his knees. This was the only time that Yitzhak “gave up.” When he did, he fell into the snow, thinking that he could not walk any further, he wanted to just fall asleep there. One of the Nazi soldiers kicked him and barked at him to get up, he said “You are too young, go ahead!” Yitzhak was startled, he got up and ran. The men that did fall into the snow, and didn’t get up, were shot, so that no testimony of the atrocities were left behind. Yitzhak’s memory lives on, and it’s a testimony that our students now hold.
Yitzhak was liberated in Mauthausen by the American Battalion 761, one of the only African-American Corps in the American military. A large plaque has been hung in Mauthausen thanking these men. After liberation Yitzhak’s torture was far from over. He made his way back to his hometown in Hungary, which is now within the borders of Ukraine. He went by foot, and by automobile or train when he could. When he got to his family’s home, another family was living there. They said someone had taken their home, and they had to make this their home. For the next two years he was “illegal, homeless and hungry.” He was arrested on the border of Austria and put in jail. A man who worked with displaced Jews to bring them to, then, Palestine found him there.
Yitzhak boarded a ship to Palestine. When he reached the coast they had to swim through very rough waters to the shore. He said, “when I looked back and saw the Mediterranean there, I was surprised. I thought I had drank it all.” The group he was a mix of Palestinians and survivors. The Palestinians decided to burn all of their ID papers. When the security picked them up, they all said their name was “Abram Ben Abram.” The British Palestinian Police asked him the name of a particular Palestinian coin, which Yitzhak correctly identified as a shilling. His knowledge of the currency “proved” his Palestinian citizenship, and he was allowed to enter the country. Now Israel is his home.
At the end of his talk, the family shared their hopes and expectations for our students. The foremost is to educate. Yitzhak did not discuss his memories of the Holocaust until his children were adults. Now the family sees how important it is to talk about the Holocaust. It’s too important not to talk about it. Our students accept the responsibility of carrying Yitzhak’s testimony, and moreover, the memory of the Holocaust. The Holocaust is not and never will be understandable. But our students studies endeavor to ensure that humanity will never give way to such hatred. Never Again.
Yitzhak’s son, Doron Livnat, said there are two important messages he wanted our students to leave with. First, don’t be a victim. It is your decision to be a victim. He said his father made the most difficult decision to not be a victim. The second, is to not hate. But offer forgiveness, and keep moving forward. Don’t look back. Doron said, “when you hate, there is another Shoah.” He gave our students the order to take this message with them, as their paths lead them all over the world.
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/