By: Yudit Setz 

The TV is full of images of women, children and the elderly in Ukraine fleeing their homes with only a small suitcase of belongings. This is making a huge impact on our residents at the ICEJ’s Haifa Home for Holocaust survivors. Many are reliving what they experienced as children in the Shoah during World War II. 

When asking Holocaust survivor Renate about her thoughts and feelings on the war in Ukraine, her first reaction was: “It is pure evil.” Having lived through the horrors of war and the Holocaust as a child, she said: “It makes me feel cold and numb emotionally.” 

Renate proceeded to explain that it felt as though something had died in her as a child during the war, and today she has difficulty connecting with her feelings. The images she sees of the war in Ukraine evoke childhood memories of her experience in the early years of the war in Germany. 

She recalled how at night when the bombs started falling, her father would gather her from her bed in the attic of their home, put her over his shoulder, and carry her to shelter in the basement. The nauseating feeling of fear overwhelmed her in the basement.

“The bombs exploded, and I remember inhaling the damp musty smell of the cellar, and the plaster and dust falling from the ceiling. I was scared,” explained Renate


At the beginning of the war, Renate and her parents remained in their home. She continued walking to school until one day her school was bombed.  She then went to another school farther away. She recalls how there were times walking home alone from school, the sirens wailed, and bombs exploded.

“I was alone and ran with other people on the street to any basement we could find.  There I was, a child of about six years old, alone with strangers and separated from my parents. Sirens, explosions, and fear are what I remember,” recalled Renate.

Renate is very concerned about the situation in the Ukraine, noting: “I feel resentment and cry often. Putin is such an evil man. It’s not right that men like him can change the fates of so many people to the worst in an instant. The war occupies me a lot and somehow, I can’t get away from it.”

Meanwhile, Haifa Home resident Boris was born in Ukraine but lived most of his life in Omsk, Siberia, Russia. When asked about the current war between Ukraine and Russia, he responded: “It is awful!”  “How can one man, Putin, be able to decide the fate of so many people.”

Boris was six years old when World War II started. His father worked in a factory that built military equipment. Stalin took the decision that his father’s factory, and others that were in the western part of the Soviet Union, would be relocated east of the Ural Mountains in Siberia.

Boris shared that just as the bombs are falling and exploding in Ukraine today, that was his experience as a child as he and his family relocated eastward to Siberia.

Boris recounted that he, his sister, his mother and father were all on a train heading to Moscow on their way to Siberia. Enroute, a German aircraft flew over the train and began shooting and dropping bombs on the train.

“My father grabbed me and my sister by our shirt collars as he ran with my mother to the train door,” Boris remembered. “My father threw me, then my sister and mother out of the moving train onto the ground, where we stayed until the airplanes left. And after a long and arduous journey, my family finally arrived in Omsk. 

Boris still has a cousin in Ukraine whom he speaks to. She shares with him about the planes flying overhead and dropping bombs, the explosions, and the difficulty of life in war. Clearly, Boris empathizes with his cousin, as he too has lived and experienced these same horrors of war as a child.

While the ICEJ is working with a rescue team in Ukraine to evacuate Holocaust survivors to safety, here in Haifa we are preparing rooms to take in several of these survivors. Our first Ukrainian Holocaust survivor arrived at our Haifa Home last week. Shela, now 85 years old, was born in Leningrad (St. Petersburg), Russia but had lived in Kharkov, Ukraine for the past 40 years.

Shela’s husband passed away in 2010 and many years before that they had lost their only daughter to leukemia. She was all alone in the world, save one niece who lives far away in the United States.

She was sure that she would die in this war. However, our rescue team managed to evacuate Shela from the constant shelling of Kharkov, near the Russian border. It was a very dangerous journey.

Although she always desired to immigrate to Israel, her husband had only seen difficulties with such a move, and therefore it had never happened.

But today, Shela is very happy to be living in the Haifa Home, where she is surrounded by a completely new, loving family. She was one of the Holocaust survivors who lit the memorial flame at the Haifa Home during their Yom HaShoah ceremonies last week.

In the following video clip, Shela can be seen at the Yom HaShoah ceremony in Haifa last week holding a bouquet of flowers. The scene is even more moving if you understand where this courageous lady came from and her deep desire of many years to come to Israel.

Despite the tragic circumstances, she is “home” and it is a great privilege for us to help care of her. In the coming days, several more Holocaust survivors from Ukraine are expected to arrive at the Haifa Home. With so few years remaining to extend comfort and care to Holocaust survivors like her, this is the time to show your love and concern for them by supporting the ICEJ’s Haifa Home for Holocaust survivors.