Among the six Holocaust survivors who greeted Pope Francis during his visit to Yad Vashem on Monday 26, 2014 was Chava (Eva) Shik, an Israeli Holocaust survivor from Novi Sad, Serbia, who shared some her thoughts from the historic visit.
As I write this article I still can't even believe it myself. The Pope and I? Come on, really? This is the story: About a week ago I received a phone call from Yad Vashem asking if I would be willing to shake the Pope's hand along with 5 other Holocaust survivors. As a child survivor who was hidden during the Holocaust in a Catholic monastery, all I could do at that second was to stand there with my mouth wide open, completely dumbfounded. What brought me back was the sound on the other end: "Hello, hello, hello..." I don't know how I even managed to speak, but I finally said yes.
On Monday, May 26, 2014 at 5:45 AM a waiting taxi drove me to Yad Vashem, where along with the five other survivors, I was taken to the VIP room and given sandwiches, pastries, coffee and of course water as we all had dry mouths from the excitement. At 8:00 AM we were all taken to the impressive Hall of Remembrance for a rehearsal (step forward, shake hands, take a step back, remain standing until the Pope returns to his place, etc.). All that we asked for were bottles of water. Only one small 90-year-old woman was sitting calmly and told me that she had gone through so many things in life that she had no reason to get excited. The Hall of Remembrance was filled with distinguished guests from the Vatican, Holocaust and survivor organizations, government ministers, all kinds of media, a large crowd, my daughter Na'ama and my grandson Uri who, with camera in hand, was told to take pictures of everything.
At 10:15 AM the gates opened; all of us in the Hall of Remembrance stood up and the Pope's entourage entered, first Pope Francis, followed by President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Pope was called on to light the Eternal Flame and then the Cantor sang "El Maleh Rahamim", a prayer for the dead as I felt the tears begin to flow. Afterwards the Pope was called on to shake the hands of the six Holocaust survivors (no one had prepared us that he was going to kiss our hands), the Pope came to me, I took a step forward and the man leaned over and kissed my hand just as my life's story during the Holocaust was being told in the background. And I, in a trembling voice, told him that this handshake was on behalf of the children that were rescued in Catholic convents during the Shoah. I don't know how, but I found myself looking in the eyes of the Pope and the two of us smiled. It was a moment that is hard to explain, hard to understand, a moment for which I have no words. Finally, Pope Francis delivered his moving speech beginning with: "'Adam, where are you?' Where are you, o man? What have you come to?"
I wanted to share how I felt in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem during the meeting with Pope Francis, who while in the eyes of the Catholic religion is the representative of God on earth, is first of all a human being.
Chava (Eva) Shik and her twin sister Miriam were born in Novi Sad, Serbia in 1939 to Dr. George and Vera Tibor. In 1942, Chava and her sister were taken to the edge of the Danube, where a mass murder of over a 1,000 Jews and Serbs was perpetrated by members of the Hungarian Gendarmes, yet both sisters managed to survive. Afterwards, the day before the deporation of the Jews of Novi Sad to Auschwitz, an Austrian officer by the name of Roman Erich Petsche took the two girls to Budapest and from there arranged shelter for them in a monastery in Pecs. The head of the monastery, Sister Renata sheltered Chava and her sister along with two other Jewish children. Both Sister Renata and Rosenspitz were later recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. After the war, having lost their family, the girls were adopted by their mother's cousin and in 1948 immigrated to Israel where they grew up on Kibbutz Ein HaHoresh. Following her army service, Chava moved to Lehavot-Haviva, a kibbutz founded by Holocaust survivors from Auschwitz, and married Zeev Shik, who had lost his entire family there, and with whom she has two children and three grandchildren.