By: Yudit Setz

On 27 January, the world marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day – held each year on the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp in 1945. One of the best ways to honour the six million victims of the Nazi genocide against the Jewish people is to care for those who survived, which is what the ICEJ does at our Home of Holocaust survivors in Haifa. 
The ICEJ has a team of dedicated Christian volunteers serving the elderly residents living in our Haifa Home for Holocaust survivors. This time of the coronavirus pandemic has been especially difficult for our aging residents. As Israel has experienced three long lockdown periods, the isolation and lack of freedom to meet with family, friends and each other has been the most difficult aspect over the past year. This has impacted many both mentally and physically. But renewed hope rolled in as 2021 began! 

New Hope

Israelis are slowly coming out of another lockdown, and there are glimmers of hope for protecting those in high-risk groups like the elderly, thanks to a fast-paced vaccination drive now underway. For residents in the Haifa Home, the idea of life returning to normal is certainly a comforting thought. Most of our residents have received both of their vaccination shots. And during February, we are hoping to open the community dining hall again, so the survivors can eat together, socialize, and feel alive again!

Celebrating the many years

Meanwhile, birthdays do not go unobserved!  
Yaakov, originally from Poland, has been living at the Home since 2012 and just celebrated his 97th birthday! Although his birthday party was in the ‘corona lockdown’ style, there was good reason to celebrate. In the past three years, Yaakov has had a live-in caregiver, who takes great care of him. He still walks every day and is grateful for the life he has at our assisted-living facility. He once said: “It was a good idea to make Aliyah and come to Israel in 1948, but it was the best decision to move to the Haifa Home. It’s like a family here!” 

Snippet of a conversation

That feeling of being among ‘family’ is shared by many other residents. One ICEJ volunteer, Kerstin, cleans their apartments, accompanies residents on their visits to the doctor and dentist, and helps wherever she is needed. She recently recalled a conversation with Judith on their recent trip to the doctor. Judith is a 92-year-old survivor from Auschwitz and here is a snippet of their conversation: 
Kerstin: “Judith, you are looking so beautiful again today. I especially like your scarf.” 
Judith: “Really, do you know how old that scarf already is? For sure 20 or 30 years!” 
Kerstin: “Wow, Judith, then is that scarf even older than I am?” 
Judith: “It was given as a present from my friend. We were the same age, but she passed away already. All my friends have died. I am the only one remaining, but I am not alone. I have you and you are always there whenever I need you.”

 Mania’s poem

Photo by Joe Luciane

So many of these tender interactions are experienced daily at the Haifa Home. Mania is an 87 year-old survivor from Bessarabia who became an artist and writer. Although this time of corona has been extremely difficult for her, she tries to keep herself busy by being creative. “We need to create and keep our minds occupied and not sit passively behind a TV, which only depresses us”, she tells the others. An avid painter, she has now taught herself to paint on the computer. Every day, she draws a new picture and writes a poem with it. She was excited to share her latest poem: 

The school opposite my home 
Watching children play outside my window. 
Whose only worries are 
To play, do homework and study 
At my old age 
I long again for those days… (Translated from Hebrew)

We Remember

Shalom S. (96) and Judith H. (92), both survivors of Auschwitz, lit the memorial flame. Photo by Joe Luciane

On the 27th of January, it was 76 years ago since Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp, was liberated by the Russian Red Army. Like every year on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we conducted a ceremony at the memorial flame of the Home. Usually, hundreds of people are filling the street and many dignitaries come to address the people. However, due to the strict lockdown rules this year, it was a very small ceremony. With only a few survivors, photographers and media, the ceremony was opened as Shalom S. (96) and Judith H. (92), both survivors of Auschwitz, lit the memorial flame. After the prayers sang by a rabbi, ICEJ staff member Yudit Setz told the gathering: 
“Unfortunately, we cannot say that 76 years after the liberation of Auschwitz Birkenau, antisemitism has disappeared. Therefore, these ceremonies to remember are important, but the eloquent words being spoken are useless if they do not go together with action… Together with Yad Ezer l’Haver we are working shoulder to shoulder to care for Holocaust survivors in the last stages of their life. Jews and Christians together. This Home itself is a symbol of hope 76 years later.” 

Indeed, it is a great privilege for the Christian Embassy to care for these precious people, for as long as they are still with us. Your support goes a long way in helping us do so. Please consider making a difference in the life of a Holocaust survivor today, while there is still time.

Donate today at:

By the Numbers: 
179,600 living Holocaust survivors in Israel. 
5,300 were infected with coronavirus and 900 have died. 
17,000 Holocaust survivors in all died in 2020 (10%). 
83% are between 75 and 89 years old. 
17% are older than 90 years. 
850 are more than 100 years old. 
[Source: Israel Central Bureau of Statistics – December 2020]