Yad Vashem mourns the passing of Holocaust survivor, journalist, author and diplomat Naphtali Lau-Lavie yesterday at the age of 88. Naphtali was the older brother of Yad Vashem Council Chairman and former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau.
The two brothers, who were born in Piotrków Trybunalski, Poland, survived the Holocaust together, after their parents and other siblings were murdered. Sixteen-year-old Naphtali was entrusted with the care of his five-year-old sibling, and looked after him through the Czestochowa slave labor camp and then in Buchenwald, where they were liberated by American forces in 1945.
"For three years, I served as father and mother, guardian and protector to my younger brother Israel Meir, or 'Lulek,' as we called him," wrote Naphtali in his autobiography, Balaam's Prophecy. "I often felt despair attacking me, flinging me helplessly to my destruction. I think it was the mission my father gave me, to bring my younger brother to safety and to ensure the continuation of our family’s rabbinic dynasty, that kept me alive and gave me the will to continue fighting for our lives, rather than succumb to the horrible fate that befell the rest of our family."
After arriving in the Land of Israel, Naphtali joined the Haganah and spent the rest of his life in service to the State of Israel and the Jewish people. He worked as a newspaper military correspondent; a spokesman for Moshe Dayan, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir; Israel's consul- general in New York; and Vice Chairman of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, investigating Jewish properties that had been confiscated by the Nazis as well as the Soviet regime. He was also deeply committed to Holocaust commemoration: he was a member of the Yad Vashem Council and gave extensive accounts of his wartime experiences. Segments of his testimony are featured in Yad Vashem's Holocaust History Museum on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Israel Meir Lau described his older brother Naphtali as his "real hero," in his memoirs, Do Not Raise Your Hand Against the Boy:
"Naphtali had a mission, and he could not allow himself to fail. This mission helped him to stay alive. He suffered weeks of sleeplessness, cold, hunger, and disease, which brought him to lose all interest in life. But he knew he could not sink. He could not give up."
Yad Vashem extends its deepest condolences to Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Naphtali's wife Joan, and his children and grandchildren.