Rescued to Rescuer

Stand for Israel  |  July 5, 2023

Arieh Oz (born Harry Klausner) with Oepke Jitske Haitsma, in Israel.
Arieh Oz with his rescuers, on El Al flight he piloted. (Photo: Yad Vashem)

This is the story of Arieh Oz, born Harry Klausner, who is not only a Holocaust survivor but a hero of the Holy Land. Rosa Klausner was a young Jewish mother in Germany before the start of World War II. When the Nazis began persecuting the country’s Jews, Rosa took her two small children—ten-year-old Ruth and four-year-old Harry—to the Netherlands, with only the clothes on their backs and ten German marks in her pocket. For the first years of the war, the family found refuge in Utrecht, staying in the home of Rosa’s brother.

Rescued by a Righteous Gentile

But in 1942, Rosa became seriously ill and was hospitalized. In the hospital, Rosa met Nel van der Spek (later to be named a Righteous Gentile, herself), who was a member of the underground and a rescuer of Jewish children. The woman made a plan—if danger arrived, Nel would hide Ruth and Harry. But for the children’s own safety, their rescuer would not tell Rosa where they were being hidden.

Soon after, danger did arrive. And so, too, did Nel, coming to pick up the children late at night. She took the siblings to the home of Oepke and Jitske Haitsma, a poor Christian couple with three young children of their own. Despite their own poverty, the Haitsmas welcomed Ruth and Harry into their home and shared the little food they had with the Jewish children.

The Haitsma home was not always a safe spot, however. Nazis regularly conducted searches of the house, and when they did, Ruth and Harry were hidden in a wooden box beneath the floor of the Haitsma children’s bedroom.

Young Harry Klausner/Arieh Oz with his rescuer during the war
Young Harry Klausner with his rescuer during the war (Photo: Yad Vashem)

Ruth and Harry were not allowed to play outside or with other children, for fear that their secret would be revealed. But once a year, the two were dressed in disguises and taken to see their mother, who was now hiding in another Dutch city. They lived this way until the war ended.

From Holocaust to Holy Land

After the war, the Klausner family made aliyah (immigrated to Israel). Harry changed his name to Arieh Oz and enlisted in the Israeli Air Force, becoming a pilot. He fought in several of Israel’s wars, and would also conduct two famous operations. First, he flew one of the aircraft that carried IDF commandos to Entebbe during Operation Thunderbolt, rescuing more than a hundred hostages. Then in May of 1991, Arieh Oz flew one of the El Al planes that airlifted over 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel in only 36 hours during Operation Solomon.

Operation Solomon flight, of which Arieh Oz flew missions
Operation Solomon flight (Photo: Nathan Alpert/GPO)

Harry’s rescuers, Oepke and Jitske Haitsma, were named Righteous Among the Nations on May 30, 1976, just a month before the boy they rescued would fly his own daring rescue mission. Years later, Arieh Oz would say that he found his life’s calling while hiding in the Haitsmas’ attic during the Holocaust:

“I saw the sky, and as I watched the airplanes passing, I became attracted, and decided that I would become a pilot.”