Stories of Awful Tragedy and Supreme Heroism
Stand for Israel | May 1, 2019
As Israel prepared to observe Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), PM Netanyahu and his wife Sara met with the six elderly Holocaust survivors and listened as these precious men and women shared their stories:
Prime Minister Netanyahu:
“Your stories are stories of awful tragedy and supreme heroism. You met with cold, suffering and tribulations and you overcame them. You triumphed. We triumphed. I will never forget this. My wife’s family, her father’s entire family, was wiped out.
In recent years, I have been in Hungary, in Budapest, at the memorial in Paris and in Thessaloniki. When we go there, to all of these places, we go in your names and I will tell you how we know that we won; you know how they looked at us? As a mighty power. We were dust there – and we return, and they look at us as a major power. It starts with the spirit.”
“We want to wish all of you good health, many years, much tranquility, and joy from all your children and grandchildren. The stories of your heroism are inspiring.
When I listened to your stories, as a child, it took me back to my aunts and uncles who were children at your ages, and none of them survived. My father survived because he was here in Zion. He came here before the war, and he learned that he had nobody left. His younger sister was ten when she perished so when you told about a sister, a brother, mother, I heard this about my father who did not manage to see anyone; in effect, this is the heroism. We thank you.”
And our friends at Arutz Sheva share these stories of “awful tragedy and supreme heroism” as told by those who survived this dark chapter in the history of the Jewish people and the world:
Bela Eizenman was born in 1927 in Lodz, Poland, to Moshe and Hinda Federman. When the Germans occupied Poland in September 1939, the goods in her father’s shop were requisitioned. A year later, the family was imprisoned in the Lodz ghetto. Thirteen people were crowded into their ghetto home. In May 1942, Moshe was interrogated at the German police headquarters, across from their house. Bela could hear his screams. Moshe succumbed to his injuries a few days later, and was buried in a mass grave.
Bela was put to work sewing and crocheting — including uniforms for German soldiers — filling her mother’s quota as well so that they could get more ration cards. In March 1943, German troops broke into Bela’s home and beat her eldest brother Chaim, who was lying down and visibly starving. When Bela and Hinda came back from work, they found him dying. “Tomorrow is the first day of spring, but I won’t live to see it,” he said. He died the next day.
Despite their work sewing uniforms, in the summer of 1944, Bela and Hinda were deported to Auschwitz. While on the ramp, Hinda told Bela to wear her coat so that she would look older. Hinda was murdered in the gas chambers. Bela, the last surviving member of her family, became sick and was destined for the gas chambers too, but a train to Bergen-Belsen was missing a female prisoner and Bela was sent in her place.
After reaching Hanover, Bela was carried to Bergen-Belsen by several women. She worked in a factory in Rochlitz, and in March 1945, she was sent on a death march with other prisoners. The women survived on snow and frozen potatoes. One night, Bela and three of her friends hid in the hay in a barn. The Germans poked the hay with their bayonets, but did not discover them. When the column of the death march vanished, they fled to the forest, getting caught in a snowstorm. Bela ultimately reached a Czech village, where she was liberated by the US Army.
Bela joined a group of Jewish orphans who sought to immigrate to Eretz Israel with the help of the “Youth Aliya” movement – thus fulfilling her late brother’s dream. During Bela’s journey to Eretz Israel she stayed in refugee camps in Italy, where she learned Hebrew. She also met Zvi Eizenman, also a Holocaust survivor, and they later married.
In August 1946, Bela and Zvi boarded the illegal immigrant ship Katriel Yaffe. The British seized the ship and took its passengers into custody in Cyprus and Atlit for six months. In Israel, Bela completed her schooling, studied nursing, and later joined the IDF as a registered nurse. She served as head nurse in a hospital and later in the public health service.
Menachem Haberman was born in 1927 in the city of Orlová, Czechoslovakia, but grew up in Munkács. He was the second of eight children. His Hasidic parents Yehuda-Laib and Rachel Haberman owned a dairy factory, and during his childhood, he helped deliver products to their customers.
Towards the end of 1938, Yehuda-Laib was drafted into the Czechoslovakian army and Menachem dropped out of school to take his place in the factory. Following the Munich conference, Munkács and its environs were annexed to Hungary. In the spring of 1940, Menachem’s father was taken into the Hungarian army’s labor service, and sent to the eastern front. On the eve of Menachem’s bar mitzvah, Hungarian troops committed a pogrom near the synagogue, killing three worshippers.
In the spring of 1944, the Germans established a ghetto in Munkács. Twenty-one family members were cramped into a two-room apartment, where they experienced scarcity and hunger. Menachem and his friends were pressed into forced labor.
In May 1944, the Jews in the Munkács ghetto were deported to Auschwitz. During the selektion, Menachem was separated from his younger brother Benjamin, who was sent to the gas chambers with his mother and five of his siblings. His older sister later succumbed to illness, leaving Menachem as the last member of his family. He was put to work removing ashes from the crematoria, gathering excrement for fertilizer, and harvesting grains. Over time, he proved to be a skilled horse groomer, and he would carry equipment and horse feed around Auschwitz-Birkenau. Thanks to the food that he chanced upon along during his work, he managed to survive, although many times he was just a step away from death. He escaped the jaws of a dog that threatened to attack him; an SS officer nearly executed him after catching him with food in his bag; and he fell and nearly drowned in a pool of human ash from the crematoria.
In January 1945, Menachem was sent with the rest of the prisoners of Auschwitz on a death march, during which many of his friends died. The survivors were then put on open train cars and sent west. Airplanes bombed the convoy during the trip. Menachem was wounded and pulled a piece of shrapnel out of his own shoulder.
After a five-day journey, the train reached Buchenwald. Of the 150 prisoners who had been put in Menachem’s car, 20 were still alive. Menachem stayed in the children’s block in Buchenwald in dire conditions filled with disease and lice, overcrowding and hunger. When Buchenwald was evacuated early in April 1945, he hid in a sewage pipe. He was caught five days later and sent on a death march, but he ran away and returned to the camp. When the US Army liberated the camp the next day, Menachem weighed 34 kilograms (75 pounds).
After recuperating in Switzerland, Menachem founded a cooperative with his friends, buying equipment for a workshop for typewriters and adding machines. When he found out that his
father had survived and was living in the Soviet Union, Yehuda-Laib wrote him, “If you go to Eretz Israel, there is a chance that we will meet.” Menachem immigrated to Israel in 1950, bringing the equipment with him and opening a workshop in Jerusalem. Eventually, he managed to get his father out of the USSR to Israel.
Menachem married Rivka, a Holocaust survivor from the Netherlands. They have three children and five grandchildren…