Guest Lecturers, Holocaust Survivor, Research Forum, Uncategorized

Holocaust Survivor Micha Gelber shares his story with Cohort VI

Gelberblog.pngThis week in the Research Forum, Holocaust Survivor Micha Gelber shared his story with Cohort VI.

Micha was born in 1935 in the Netherlands. His memories began in 1940 at age five when the Germans invaded. He recalled the Nazi restrictions placed on him and his family, from not being permitted to leave their village, to having the family’s house confiscated and going in and out of hiding. Fortunately, Micha’s father was well-informed through the company he worked for and by local connections and was warned in advance when there would be waves of arrests. In 1943, however, when a Dutch policeman warned them of further arrests, Micha’s father, who had been given information that the family would be receiving Red Cross exchange certificates, decided not to go into hiding. As a result, the family was sent to Westerbork, but did receive confirmation that the Nazis intended to keep them alive to be exchanged for German nationals living in Palestine. That certificate was one of the reasons why the family was able to survive together throughout the rest of the war.

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The Sternlager at Bergen-Belsen

Micha and his family spent five long months in Westerbork until 11 January 1944 when they were sent to Bergen-Belsen. At Bergen-Belsen they were kept in the Sternlager (Star Camp), which was comprised of other Jewish prisoners who were expected to be exchanged. Prisoners of the Sternlager did not have their heads shaved, kept their own clothing, and were not tattooed with a number. This is only because the Nazis benefited from the prisoners’ “wellbeing” for the purposes of the human exchange. At night, men and women were separated, but during the day, the families could spend time together and interact. As lucky as Micha and his family were to survive, they did not escape the traumas of Bergen-Belsen. Micha and his father suffered from typhus and it was impossible to avoid witnessing the inhumanities of such a camp. Micha recalled seeing people collapse and having their clothes stolen from them while they were still alive, as well as seeing dead bodies pile up around them. Micha also told our students how fortunate his family was to survive, stating that only 6 out of 1250 families in the Sternlager survived completely intact. Micha attributes this survival to luck, but also to strength and resistance. On 10 April 1945, just days before the British arrived at Bergen-Belsen, Micha and his family were deported east, either for extermination or to be used for trading with the Russians. While en route to whichever was to be their fate, they were liberated by the Red Army.

 

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Micha today lives in the Netherlands and spends his time giving lectures weekly at schools and universities. He believes that speaking about his experiences is perhaps a way of digesting his trauma. Despite his story, Micha says he has always been active and takes life as it is. He considers himself a survivor and not a victim. This is his character and his spirit.


Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website

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Guest Lecturers, Holocaust Survivor, Research Forum, Uncategorized

Holocaust Survivor Danny Chanoch Speaks to Cohort VI

Danny ChanochThis week in the Research Forum Holocaust Survivor Danny Chanoch spoke to Cohort VI to share his story of survival through solidarity. Danny was born in 1933 in Lithuania. He was nine years old when the Germans invaded. Danny recalled seeing the atrocities that accompanied the German occupation of Lithuania with his own eyes. Because of his blonde hair and Baltic looks, he was the only member of his family who was able to safely leave their home to buy food. Walking around Kovno as a young boy, Danny saw Jewish people being tortured on the street. At such a young age he had to put up a wall between him and what he saw happening. His duty was to get food for his family, and he was also unable to help.

In August of 1941 Danny and his family had been moved into the Kovno Ghetto. He survived a kinder aktion because his older brother, Uri, despite suffering severe beatings, refused to disclose his whereabouts. This was one of the many instances of solidarity in Danny’s story of survival.

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In 1944 when the Germans began to evacuate the Kovno Ghetto, Danny, Uri and their father were deported to Dachau, and Danny’s sister and mother were sent to Stutthof. This was the last time that Danny saw his sister and mother. A few days later, Danny and 130 other children from the Kovno deportation were then sent to Auschwitz, where they worked dragging roll wagons full of victims’ possessions from the ramp to the storerooms. Danny experienced another case of solidarity at Auschwitz. When working with the wagons, if one of the boys was unwell or felt he was going to collapse, the others would give the struggling boy a better position so that the Nazis could not identify that they were weak, which saved them from their certain death.

The surviving members of the 131 children, including Danny, were then sent to Mauthausen. Another act of solidarity occurred on a death march. Anyone who collapsed or fell during the death march from weakness was shot. The 40 boys left from the 131 had helped and carried each other throughout the march to ensure their survival.

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Eventually, Danny was liberated from Gunskirchen. After liberation, Danny and Uri were reunited in Italy and made their way to Eretz Israel in 1946. Danny, who grew up in a Zionist household, remembers that arriving in Eretz Israel and seeing his Israeli brothers and the Star of David on the flag was one of the greatest moments of his life.

As harrowing as his story is, it is a reminder that even through the worst times there were still moments of support and solidarity. Danny attributes every single survivor to acts of solidarity, stating: “There’s not a single survivor which survived without solidarity and without help.”


Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website

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Holocaust Survivor, Research Forum

Holocaust Survivor: Zev Kedem Shares with Cohort V

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Zev Kedem and Hana Green

Earlier this year, Hana Green, a student in Cohort V, met Holocaust survivor Zev Kedem. She and Dr. Yael Granot-Bein invited him to shared in a Research Forum. We were very fortunate to hear his story. Here’s what he shared:

The Germans invaded Poland in 1939, Zev was only 5 years old. He and his sister were on holiday, which was cut short, his mother made them leave early. Zev remembers being so upset, he said, “Little did I know that this darkness of the Holocaust would pursue me for six years.” They took the train back which stopped short of home, he and his family had to walk through Krakow in the middle of the night, to their grandparent’s home.

Zev shared about another time they traveled together; they were walking when they came upon a German checkpoint in the road, many cars were lined up to go through the checkpoint. Zev’s mother was very beautiful and charismatic, she went right up the a German soldier’s truck and convinced them to give her and Zev a ride into Krakow. Alone, they would likely suffer at the checkpoint. As they got into the car, Zev’s mother looked down at him and said, “See, the impossible is possible.” He remembered this the rest of his life, and made it a sort of mantra.

In 1941, all Jews in the area were forced into the Krakow ghetto, before this Zev’s family was living outside Krakow in poor conditions. Zev and his family were hoping to live with his grandparents in the Krakow ghetto, but they already had three other families living in their apartment. Zev and his family moved into the apartment next door in order to be close, Zev said they were proud to had a whole, small, room to themselves, and even a bed. Food was scarce, life was hard and then the deportations started.

The deportations forced a division in the ghetto, those with a work permit lived in one section of the ghetto, those without lived in another section. Zev’s mother had a work permit, and she was the only one in the family with one. Hunger forced Zev to smuggle food. Children were less suspicious, so he snuck out of the ghetto with his head down and shoulders up. A habit, he admits, he still keeps today. While he was out two German soldiers called him out and started asking questions, but two pretty Polish girls came and talked to the soldiers, giving Zev an escape. He went to the farms he had stayed at, along with his family, and they gave him some food, not much but as much as they could afford. When he returned his mother was frantic but they had food.

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The square in the Krakow ghetto where deportations took place. The chairs were installed as a memorial to those that were killed here. (Photo was taken during Cohort V’s study tour to Poland) 

In March 1943, the Krakow Ghetto was liquidated; as Zev stood in the crowded square, a man was shot and fell next to him. His mother came and grabbed him from the crowd, she hid Zev, his sister, and his grandparents in his uncle’s pigeon coop. She told them to stay there, she closed the coop, locked the doors leading to the coop and went back to work. They could still hear the deportation for two or three more hours, then silence.

A truck came through and announced to anyone in hiding that if they didn’t come out they would be shot on sight. Then they heard shooting gradually coming toward them. Zev heard a Nazi making his way up to them. He stood at a metal door which his mother had locked, so as to look like no one could be behind the door. Zev’s grandparents had vials of poison but Zev realized they only had two, so he and his sister would have to endure what the Nazis had in store. Zev said, “You can’t realize how a child of seven or eight has to internalize the direct fear of death.” But the German didn’t come through the locked door, his mother had hid them well.

An announcement was made among the workers of the ghetto for volunteers to go through the quarter and salvage valuables. Zev’s mother, of course, volunteered. She came and saved them, Zev’s grandparents could pass as laborers but she knew she needed to hide the children. She negotiated with her wedding ring to hide them in a wagon which was used to bring the valuables back to a warehouse.

But he didn’t make it to the warehouse. He was pulled from the wagon and told to go to an unfinished barrack alone, it was dark and he heard someone moaning in pain next to him. He didn’t know this was part of the plan. Then his mother came in with a doctor, he said to Zev, “if you want to stay alive you will have to be silent and invisible.” Zev attached himself to a group of older boys; they became his camouflage. He followed them wherever they went.

He ended up working with them in a brush factory. He sat in the back row on top of a box to make himself look taller, and older. He was only eight years old, the age limit was thirteen, any younger than thirteen, and the children couldn’t work so they were killed. Zev shared his perspective while at the factory, he said “I realized I had no right what so ever to be alive in the concentration camp. Many of the inmates had lost their children, so they resented me.” In order to prove his worth, he made more brushes than anyone in the factory. He sat next to a man who had been a teacher, all of his students had been killed, he said to Zev, “If you survive, you won’t be a human being unless you learn to read and write.” Somehow he got Zev a Jules Vern novel, and taught Zev how to read.

One day in the factory, a man was shot by a German guard. The guard said the man was working slowly, the thought was that it would terrorize everyone to make them work harder. Then the small boy in the back, Zev, caught the eye of this German. Luckily, Zev spoke German, he told the guard admittedly that he was smaller, but this meant that he ate less, and he proved his productiveness with his hard work. The guard was conflicted but left Zev alone. Zev explained that he never gave himself the luxury of feeling like he was suffering, rather he told himself he was playing a game, and winning the game meant survival.

Dr. Gross, the doctor that Zev had met before, was on Oscar Schindler’s list, Zev and Dr. Gross became very close, he was something of an adoptive father to Zev. Dr. Gross pulled strings to get Zev, Zev’s sister and Zev’s mother on Schindler’s list as well. Zev recalled that they travelled all over the Third Reich to different factories with other people on the list. During one of the their travels the women’s train, where Zev’s mother was, was sent to Auschwitz but Schinder negotiated for their return before they were killed, he sent a train to pick them up. The train conductor took five boys with him to Auschwitz on this train meant to save the women. Zev was abducted onto this train.

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Crematoriums at Birkenau. (Photo taken during Cohort V’s study tour to Poland) 

Zev arrived to Auschwitz in October 1944, he remembers the gates were closed so they were ordered to walk around the entire perimeter of the camp to the crematoriums in the back. They were ordered to strip naked, Zev knew about the gas chambers and he was sure he would be killed. But they were taken to a table, and a man started tattooing a number on Zev’s arm; Zev cried, not because it hurt, which it did, but because he was so happy, a number meant registration to the camp, which meant a chance for survival.

He and the four other boys were taken to the children’s barrack. Zev explained that they were on reserve for Dr. Mengele’s experiments. He remembers a young handsome looking German coming into the barrack and offering sweets, Zev hid under a mud covered blanket, he didn’t trust this man. The children that left with, who he assumed to be, Mengele, never came back.

When the Russians were closing in on Auschwitz, Zev was convinced that those who couldn’t march would be killed: the sick and the elderly (and the young), so he volunteered to leave. Eventually he made it to Mauthausen Concentration Camp, he worked in one of the fifty sub-camps but towards the end of the war he returned to Mauthausen. In Mauthausen there were two fields of labor: the death industry, and the quarry. Zev knew he wouldn’t be strong enough for the quarry so he worked as a Sonderkommando.

One day, he recalls, he came out of the hospital (where he worked clearing dead bodies) and the gates to the camp were open. Soldiers were standing at the main entrance to the camp, and he was convinced they would kill him because he was still under thirteen years old, so he ran. He discovered that the kitchen of the SS was completely empty so he ate as much potato salad as he could, which wasn’t very much. He remembers, “To this day, I have never had a better meal.”

As he left, he came upon more soldiers, one of them threw him a chocolate bar, but he still didn’t trust them, because of Mengele and his sweets. He took a closer look at the soldiers and realized one of them was black, so he knew these soldiers weren’t German, and that he could trust them.

He left Mauthausen and sought refuge in nearby villages, but he says “I got shot at more during this time than ever before.” Austrians were afraid of the inmates because they were scared of them for two reasons: the truth they held and of their illnesses.

After the war, the American troops organized for Zev to be sent to the UK. There he grew up with an adoptive family, and received an Oxford education. After forty years, Zev met his mother again in communist Poland, on her deathbed. It was hard to get a visa to Poland, but he managed it. One of the after effects of the Holocaust was divided families, and this was very much Zev’s case as well.

Today Zev lives in Haifa, Israel. He lives a very active life sharing his education and experience with University students. We were pleased to host him and hear his heart-wrenching story.


Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website

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Current Events, Holocaust Survivor

Yitzhak Weiss-Livant’s Legacy

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Yitzhak Weiss-Livnat with his wife, and director Yael Granot-Bein.

With a heavy heart, we announce the death of Yitzhak Weiss-Livnat in late March, 2017. The Livnat family invited Cohort V to the funeral which was held March 28. We were fortunate to have Yitzhak Livnat as a central element to our program, every cohort since the inception of the program has heard Yitzhak’s testimony.

Doron Livnat, Yitzhak’s son, shared with Cohort V earlier this week. Doron told the story of when Yitzhak started to talk about the Holocaust. During his childhood and even into adulthood, Doron’s father never talked about the Holocaust. Everyday at 2 o’clock the family would listen to the radio, in Israel for several years after the Holocaust the Israeli radio hosted a program that allowed survivors to announce the names of those they were looking for. Faithfully, the Livnat family listened, but never talked about the names Yitzhak was hoping to hear. Then during the Eichmann trial the family dutifully listened, but again they never talked about the Holocaust.

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Weiss-Livnat Family and Cohort V

When Doron met a German woman, Marian, now his wife, he decided to study in Germany. On Saturdays and Sundays they would walk their dog through the forest, and Yitzhak would visit often. One day as they walked through the forest, behind some houses, the farmer’s dogs started barking at the small group. Yitzhak sarcastically said, “On the death marches, the dogs would bark and bark, and the farmers saw nothing.” Doron was surprised and shocked, but Marian asked Yitzhak to share more. Doron was even more astonished when his father divulged more.

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Yitzhak Weiss-Livnat and his wife with students from the program.

This was in 1978, since then Yitzhak has shared his testimony all over the world. Through his testimony, he inspired the audience to compassion and tolerance. Yitzhak fought hate and the ugliness of this world which he knew all too well. We’re all aware of the ignorance that continues, which is prevalent in today’s politics. Doron shared that the Livnat family sees the Weiss-Livnat Holocaust Studies program as Yitzhak’s legacy. We are proud to carry his name, and share his values. Doron charged us to “fight the deniers and to teach the ignorant.”

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Doron Livnat speaking to previous students about his father.

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Holocaust Survivor, Research Forum

The Hidden Children

Hidden children, like Tswi, were told to be quiet. They were given new names, a new family, a new religion, and a completely different and new identity. The were told not to remember their old lives. Their new identity was their lifeline. Even after the Holocaust caretakers and professionals told them not to talk about it. There was no possibility to express oneself. The adult survivors, those of concentration camps, were easily recognizable, but the hidden children had suffered different traumas.

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Dr. Kobi Kabalek introduces speaker Tswi Herschel.

Tswi outlined the different traumas common among child survivors. They had to part from their parents, losing security, shelter and identity. When they were taken in by a new family, they were in the constant fear of losing them. Many children were taken from family to family, one of Tswi’s friends had twelve different homes during the war. Every time they were moved to a new home, they got new names, new families and new religions (different Christian sects, so they had to learn new prayers). Tswi said, “You don’t know to whom you belong, your foster family didn’t know either how you had to be.” He had no role model, later in his presentation, Tswi told us that he found his father’s diaries and in them he found a role model. These children were also subject to the same terrors as any wartime civilian, running from cellar to cellar to escape bombings.

After the war, 8,000 Jewish children were without homes and without parents. If family members survived they could take the children from the foster homes they had known for years. Then the children would have to learn their true identities, some in the case of Twsi never knew their real name. (Twsi was an infant during the war.) They were introduced to Judaism again. But it was not always easy for surviving family members to get custody of their children. A mother, who had survived Auschwitz, came back to Holland to claim her two daughters, but the state deemed her unworthy to care for her children. They stayed with their non-Jewish family, and this was often the case; the government made it difficult for the children to leave their non-Jewish homes. In many cases too, the Dutch government kept inheritance from child survivors for many different reasons. Unfortunately, in order to get the inheritance money was needed to pay for lawyers, money that they just didn’t have.

In Tswi’s case, his grandmother had survived and was able to care for him after the war, but their relationship was strained. She always introduced him as, “this is the son of my son,” not grandson. Tswi said this was common among child survivors, that a depersonalization would happen. Tswi’s grandmother didn’t actually tell him his real name, she said he was called Hermann. When Tswi found his father’s diaries he also found out his name, he was nine years old at the time.

Tswi’s grandmother emphasized another common trauma for the child survivors, the unimportance of the past. Fortunately, Tswi was able to stay with just one family during the war. After the war without a moment to say goodbye, Tswi’s grandmother came to get him. He was not allowed to see them again. She said, it’s not important, you have a new life now. He was expected to forget his past but this is impossible. The general attitude in Europe was that the war was over and they wanted to wash their hands of it. But they couldn’t because it wasn’t over. Many child survivors could never stabilize themselves, they led lives that led them into addictions and unhealthy relationships, so even in adulthood family was taken from them.

When Tswi went back to school, he was going back to school with children of the collaborators. They said to him “They forgot to gas you, dirty Jew.” But Tswi didn’t even know that he was Jewish, he had to come home and ask his grandmother about what it meant to be a Jew. She was too traumatized to help him. She didn’t know where to start. Some child survivors even today do not know their Jewish identity. Tswi lived a sort of double life: one at school and in public, and one at home and they never mixed. He had no one to talk to about his public life, and no one to talk to about his Jewish life. When we asked Tswi why his grandmother lied him, he couldn’t answer. He said I had enough on my hands to analyze myself, I couldn’t analyze her also.

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Tswi talking questions from Cohort V- and Dr. Yael Granot-Bein

Tswi also talked about the lack of family. All of his family on his mother’s side and father’s side vanished, “my entire family… and they were good Dutch citizens.” In his coming of age Tswi had no one to rely on. No one to celebrate holidays with, no one to ask for a loan, no one to consult on how to be a parent. These are the lasting traumas of a child survivor.

We asked Tswi if he had a community with the other child survivors. He said “in principle we don’t talk about these things.” At a conference for child survivors, another survivor of a concentration camp told him that he wasn’t a survivor. She said Tswi had it easy at home, and that she was truly a survivor. It was very hard to be told even by the community that you belong to, let alone the world, that you were not a survivor.

A normal Holocaust presentation has a life before the war, life during the war, and life after the war. Tswi’s story is very different. It doesn’t necessarily have a happy ending, but that makes it more realistic and more useful. Tswi said,  “The Shoah did not stop in May 1945…”

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Tswi talking about his two daughters and grandchildren.

He often goes to high schools  in Germany and tells his story. At the end of his presentation one of the students generally asks him, “do you hate us?” He says, “how on earth can I hate you for something your grandparents did?” As he parted ways with us, he said what he also says to students in Germany: “Learn your history so that you know your future.”

You can read more about Tswi Herschel’s story here: http://www.jpost.com/Features/Magazine-Features/Gathering-clouds-308661


 

Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website

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Current Events, Current Students, Genocide Studies, Guest Lecturers, Holocaust Survivor, Program News

Survivor, Shaya Harsit, Visits Cohort V in Research Forum

A few years ago, From Rebirth to the Skies was created to commemorate 138 Holocaust Survivors who became pilots and formed the pillars of the Israeli Air Force. A representative from this organzization, Shaya Harsit, came to share his story with the students of Cohort V.

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His story begins in the 18th Century. Shaya’s family was Italian, but moved to Poland in the 1790’s because King Stanisław August Poniatowski allowed Jews to own land. In 1934, Shaya was born in Poland to wealthy, traditional Jewish family. In 1938 Shaya’s father had a foreboding sense about the horrors that would befall Jews in Poland, so he fled to Russia with Shaya’s brothers. A year later, the Germans invaded Poland. On September 29, 1939 the Germans bombed Warsaw. For the first time, at the age of five years, Shaya saw a dead man; many dead men and dead horses crowded the streets of Warsaw. Soon after, his father sent a professional smuggler to rescue the rest of the Harsit family. The smuggler told them to gather what they could, in 24 hours they would leave for Russia. Shaya said he remembers the house being swarmed with tailors and shoemakers to hide valuables in their clothing and shoes. He never saw this as serious but a game, as any five year old would. His brother had studied medicine in Genoa, and in Russia he mobilized in the Russian Army as a Doctor, along with his wife, a nurse.

About a year later, in March, the KGB knocked on their door, very early in the morning.  They told the whole family to take only what they could carry, a cattle car would be leaving shortly to take them to a camp for political prisoners. He never saw his brother and sister again, who stayed in the Russian Army.

There was nothing in the train car but a bucket for a toilet. They were in the train for days, occasionally the soldiers would throw in bread, “really a brick,” and some soup. “Something I never want my friends to experience is lice, hunger and cold.” His mother could not make herself use the bucket as a toilet, so once when the train stopped she ran outside to urinate there, but with more privacy. The train left her, but Shaya’s brother and his friends jumped out of the train car to save her. They picked her up and threw her in the train before they jumped in.

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They arrived at the camp and there were small huts with no heat. Two to three families were supposed to live in these huts. At the camp, Shaya went to a kindergarten. At the school they practiced indoctrination, teaching the children that their new father was Stalin and their mother was Russia. The lived at this camp for more than one year. His father employed himself as a “fixer” and his mother worked in the kitchen. She would hide food in her clothing when she came home, and this is how they survived.

On the twenty-second of January, 1941 Operation Barbarossa started, the nazi invasion of Soviet Russia. Two to three days after the invasion the Harsit family woke up to no guards, no guns, and the gates to the camp were open. They walked through wilderness, when they came to railroad tracks they followed them. Different families jumped on different trains. First, they went first to Uzbekistan, then to Kazakhstan. In Kazakhstan they lived in a small town that was a crossroads for many different railways. He was then seven years old, and weighed only ten kilos because he had nothing to eat. He was hungry all the time.

His father decided to take him to an orphanage, what he called a “children’s home” because he felt that he and his wife could not care for him as they should. At the orphanage his father left quickly, so they Shaya would not see him cry. The orphanage was not welcoming, on the first day Shaya decided he would run away. He started to hoard food and rags for his journey home. He left in the night two to three weeks later. He was only seven and half years old. Without any shoes, he traveled the twenty or more kilometers back to his parents. He remembered that there was a river on their left coming to the orphanage so he kept the river on his right on the way back. Then he saw the towers for the crossroads of the railroads, and he knew that they would lead him home. He fell asleep several times, sometimes he had to crawl on his knees, but he kept going through the night. When he arrived at home his mother looked to her husband and said “you never take my son from me again”

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His father and brother obtained jobs putting tar on roofs. But the family was still hungry. At the time in Soviet Russia, food spoiled a hundred kilometers from where you were, but you were still hungry. From the roofing job, his father spotted a chicken coop, and took eggs from there periodically. These eggs saved the family’s lives.

One of his father’s friends was the person in charge of distributing food from the United States to the surrounding area. One day she was very upset because she was just told that in a few weeks there would be an inspection of her office. She knew she would fail this inspection because people had been stealing from her. His father had been an accountant before the war, and he worked on the books for her, which saved her life. As a result, she gave him extra food and vodka every week afterward. Shaya said, “This is very important. The vodka was very important.”

In 1943, the Harsit family found out that Shaya’s brother and sister-in-law had died. The nazis bombed the hospital they had been working in. This changed the family forever. After the war, the family made their way back to Poland. The car they took was absolutely filled with vodka. All over there were obstacles but the vodka solved them. He bribed the officials at different checkpoints and over borders.  When they arrived in different towns, people said “Who said all the Jews were burned and gassed? This can’t be true. Here they are.”

When they arrived in Warsaw they decided to immigrate to Palestine. The Joint and Mossad LaAlyiah Bet helped them with these goals. First, they were smuggled to Munich. There they lived in a settlement for SS men and their families. “They we had luxury, even more than luxury, but there were a lot of Naxis,” Shaya said. His father started police organization for the community and ensured his family’s safety. Then one day he said “it’s coming, we are moving to Palestine.” They had heard of a ship for the elderly and children going to Palestine. They thought that the British would not stop them on this ship. Jewish American Soldiers helped them get to the port in the South of France. There they boarded a huge black ship made out of wood, called “Exodus.” The ship came to Haifa, but it was turned around and taken to Cyprus, then back to the shores of France. The French would not accept them either. They went to Gibraltar and finally disembarked in Hamburg. Altogether, they were on the ship for two to three months.

In Hamburg, they were taken to camps. These camps were not concentration camps, they had no gas chambers or crematoriums, but they had dogs, fences, towers, guards. A camp for displaced peoples. Shaya had his Bar Mitzvah in this camp. Then just like the camp in Russia they woke up one morning without guard or dogs. The Jewish British Brigade brought his family, again, to the south of France, and they made their way to Palestine. At first they lived on Mt. Carmel and in tents, among orange orchards; he ate his fill everyday.

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After the War of Independence and then they bought a house in Jaffa. For the first time Shaya went to a real school, a Jewish high school. He started school in the seventh grade, and had to compete with sabras, who had been in school all their lives. After school, he volunteered as a paratrooper. Subsequently he was invited to take exams for flight school. He did well in the exams and became an airman. He was in the Israeli Air Force for 24 years, and fought in the wars of ‘56, ‘67, ‘73 and ‘82. He became the Head of Planning and Organization of the Israeli Air Force. Upon retirement he had 4,200 flight hours.

When asked about his parents and how they handled this trauma he replied “They danced, they enjoyed life. But when you looked in their eyes you never saw a smile in their eyes.”

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To learn more about From Rebirth to the Skies visit:

www.Tkumatosky.org

Here you can find more stories about the other 137 pilots.

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/

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Current Events, Current Students, Guest Lecturers, Holocaust Survivor, Seminars

Yitzhak Livnat Shares His Story with Cohort V

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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/

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