The Holocaust survivors and Righteous Among the Nations that greeted the Pope during the ceremony:
Avraham Ashkenazi was born in Thessaloniki, Greece, in 1939 to a traditional, affluent family. Avraham’s family owned a tannery, and his maternal grandfather owned a wholesale store. In April 1941, with the German invasion of Greece, the city came under attack, and the family hid in the basement of a relative’s store in the center of town. After the Germans occupied the city, the family returned to their house and tried to continue their daily routine, but in the beginning of 1943 they were forced to flee after they found out about the upcoming deportation. Avraham’s father remembered how, in July 1942, together with some 9,000 other Jewish men aged 18-45, he was humiliated by the Germans in the town square, in what later became known as “Black Saturday.” Seeing the writing on the wall, he gathered his family together and declared: “We will not sign up for deportation to Poland, we are escaping!” “That was his greatness, and because of that I admire him until today,” relates Avraham.
The family – Avraham and his father, mother, grandfather and uncle – obtained false identity papers from Greek Christian friends. With the papers, the family masqueraded as Christians, and managed to move to the Italian-occupied zone of Greece. They arrived in Larissa and then moved to Athens, where they worked in a tannery set up by Avraham’s father. While in Athens, the family was subject to threats of denouncement and informers, and was thus forced to move from one sanctuary to the next, and to bribe Greek officers. On Sundays they even went to church, and Avraham remembers how as a boy he would remind his parents to take him every week.
With the help of the Greek underground, the family eventually escaped Greece by fishing boat, with some 40 other refugees, a few of them Jewish. After a voyage through the islands in the rickety boat, the family reached Turkey. Turkish soldiers caught them in the evening, starving and thirsty, cross-examined them, gave them bread and let them sleep in a school hall. From Turkey the family crossed to Syria, where they met members of the Haganah, and decided to immigrate to Israel. In 1944, the family boarded a train, reaching Israel via Lebanon.
Avraham settled in Tel Aviv. On reaching adulthood, he worked as a marketing and sales director, and today is the administrator of a marketing services company.
Avraham is married to Yaffa, and they have two children and five grandchildren.
Ruth Bondy was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1923. After the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939, she was forced to work in agricultural labor. Later she was interned in the Terezin ghetto, and in 1943 she was transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she looked after young children who were later sent to their deaths. In July 1944 she was transferred to a number of different labor camps in the Hamburg district. With her liberation in the spring of 1945 at Bergen-Belsen, Ruth weighed just 35 kilograms (77 pounds), and was sick with typhus. He parents had died during the Shoah.
After liberation, Ruth returned to Prague. With the establishment of the State of Israel, she joined “Gahal” (Recruitment in the Diaspora) and immigrated to Israel. “On 31 December 1948, in the afternoon, a low mountain range came in to view on the horizon, behind which I expected to see the Carmel Mountains. Only when we entered Haifa port did I realize that it was Mount Carmel itself, and that the State of Israel would actually be very different from the Land of Israel I envisioned in the Diaspora…. On the way to the Sarafand Base the driver stopped, after hearing our cries of amazement, next to the orchard, and allowed us to gather the fruits that had been left behind: golden oranges rolling on the ground and nobody had bothered to pick them up! All of us, future IDF soldiers, filled our pockets with oranges, and on the bus we peeled them, inhaled their scent and ate them very slowly: they had the taste of the yearned-for Land of Israel, as I had imagined it during the years of darkness” (Shvarim Shlemim – “Whole Fractures”, p.89).
Israela Hargil (Harnik) was born in Brody, Poland, in 1938. Her parents were teachers and musicians: her mother played the piano, and her father played the violin and taught in an elementary school. Brody was occupied by the Germans on 1 July 1941. On 15 July, some 250 Jewish scholars, including Israela’s mother, were summoned by the Gestapo to the town square. There they were tortured for two days, and then murdered. Their bodies were thrown into pits next to the Jewish cemetery.
On 1 January 1943, the 6,000 Jews of Brody were concentrated in a ghetto. Israela fled the ghetto and hid in the home of a family friend, Jacenty Miklaszewski, his wife Maria and their daughter, Wladyslawa. They changed her name to Eva Miklaszewska. “I called them ‘Uncle’ and ‘Aunt,’” relates Israela. “I had a cover story: I was a family member who had come to them after my parents were killed in the bombings.”
On the eve of her journey to Krakow with the Miklaszewskis Israela visited her father, who was hiding in a bunker in a nearby village. When she parted from him, she was forbidden from telling him that they were leaving Brody. In Krakow, she lived with the Miklaszewskis. She was sent to a nursery school run by nuns, and walked about using the false identity of a Christian girl. On 19 January 1945 Krakow was liberated by the Red Army.
Israela’s father fled the bunker and joined the Red Army. Following the war, some four years after they were separated, he found his daughter.
“In February 1945 I left the Miklaszewskis. I parted from my local Catholic priest in Krakow. He did not know I was Jewish, and drew me a sketch in pencil in my journal of the head of Jesus with a crown of thorns and drops of blood. As a dedication he wrote: ‘To my outstanding pupil, Ewunia (Ewa), with affection.’ When he parted from me he said: ‘You can always turn to Jesus. He will always help you.’ At that time, I was already a member of the Zionist youth movement, ‘Gordonia’…”
After spending a short time in a Hebrew school and the Gordonia youth movement, Israela and her father immigrated to Israel in November 1948. Her father, Kalman, died some four years later. After spending a short time in Tel Aviv, Israela moved to Kibbutz Ramat Yochanan. She spent her entire life immersed in art, and her creations have been displayed in many exhibitions. Some of her artworks are in the archives of Yad Vashem’s Museum of Holocaust Art.
Yad Vashem recognized Israela’s rescuers, Jacenty, Maria and Wladyslawa Miklaszewski, as Righteous Among the Nations. Israela kept in contact with them and today, after their deaths, she is still in touch with Wladyslawa’s two children.
Israela is married to Dori and they have 3 daughters and 5 grandchildren.
Gita Kalderon (née Shami) was born in Monastir, Yugoslavia (today Bitola, in Macedonia), in 1926. In April 1942, Macedonia was annexed to Bulgaria. On 10 March 1943, Gita fled with eight of her friends from the area, led by Shimon (Simo) Kalderon. The following day the Bulgarians arrested most of the city’s Jews, including all of Gita’s family except her brother Shabtai, and after a number of days transported them to the Treblinka death camp, where they perished.
Gita and her friends fled to Kastoria, in the Italian-occupied area of Greece, where Shabtai and Simo joined the partisans. Gita worked in the fields, and in parallel was involved in providing propaganda to the women of the region, as part of the anti-fascist enterprise. In September 1943, the Germans took control of Italy and the regions under its control. In March 1944, the Germans arrested all the Jews in Kastoria, Gita among them, and sent them to Auschwitz. With the approach of the Red Army, Gita was taken to Bergen-Belsen, and from there marched to the Weinsberg camp, where she worked removing dead bodies and caught typhus. “The woman in charge told me: ‘If you make it through the next 48 hours – you’ll live’. After 48 hours of hallucinating fever, I woke up,” relates Gita.
The Red Army continued to approach, and Gita was sent west again by train. “We passed through Czechoslovakia; we were thirsty and tired, without food or water. The guards emptied vats of water before our eyes, and did not let us drink. These were older soldiers, not SS men. The residents of Prague heard that prisoners were passing through, and gathered together bread for us.” Gita reached Mauthausen at the end of her strength. “I felt that my soul was leaving me. I ate grass from the side of the road.” Soldiers saw the weak women and began to throw them crumbs of bread, so they could watch the women fight. “I told myself: ‘I am about to die, but until my last breath I will not relinquish my honor and I will not bend over.’ I did not bend over for the crumbs.”
After liberation Gita returned to Yugoslavia, the only surviving member of her family. There she met up with and later married Simo. In December 1948 they immigrated to Israel with their oldest daughter. Gita devoted her time to caring for her family, and after her children had grown, she went to study and began to work in administration. Today she volunteers at the Schneider Children’s Hospital in Petach Tikva.
Gita has 3 children, 10 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren.
Dan Landsberg was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1939, and lived with his parents in nearby Otwock. In December 1940, the Otwock ghetto was established, and Dan was interned there with his parents. In 1942, just before the ghetto’s liquidation, Dan was transferred to the orphanage in the Saint Elizabeth convent in Otwock, where he was hidden under a false identity for a number of months.
Dan was moved from the convent to a village in the Lublin district in Eastern Poland, where he continued to live under a false identity with one of the local families. Dan’s mother had promised the family that hid him a large amount of money in return for his refuge. In 1944, a reconnaissance unit of the Red Army arrived in the area, and clashed with a unit of the German army. A German soldier trained his pistol on Dan, but one of the Soviet soldiers saved his life at the last second. After the clash in the village, the reconnaissance unit withdrew, and only after another month was the area liberated by the Red Army. After liberation, Dan met his Soviet rescuer again, who promised him: “You are coming with me to Berlin.” But the family that had given him refuge demanded the money promised them for saving him, and only after a number of months they returned him to his mother, who had survived the Shoah. Dan’s father had been a member of the Polish National Underground (AK) and was murdered by one of his Polish counterparts.
After the war, Dan stayed in Poland where he met Dorota, who became his wife. He learned electronics, and in 1965 immigrated to Israel. There he worked in the engineering unit of the Ministry of Communications, as well as taking charge of the projects laboratory at the Electrical Engineering Faculty at the Technion.
In 1960 Dan met one of his rescuers, Gertruda Marciniak, the Mother Superior of the convent in Otwock where he had been hidden. She told him on her deathbed about one day when the Germans had come on a surprise visit to the monastery to look for Jewish children. Since she had no time to hide Dan, Marciniak concealed him under her long habit, which reached the floor. She was a tall woman, and Dan was just three years old. “She told the Germans that the monastery was not hiding any children, and in complete silence she walked around the kitchen, with me under her dress, held by her legs so I wouldn’t fall. This act required nerves of steel, but we stood up to the test and got out of it alive,” he relates. In 2007, Yad Vashem posthumously recognized Gertruda Marciniak as Righteous Among the Nations.
Dan and Dorota have four children and seven grandchildren.
Ed Mosberg was born in Krakow, Poland, in 1926. He and his family were interned in the Krakow ghetto on its establishment in March 1941. On 13 March 1943, Ed was sent to the Plaszow concentration camp. There he was put to work in the office of the camp commandant, which overlooked the camp complex and enabled him to witness the murder of many prisoners, including members of his own family.
Ed was transferred from Plaszow to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, where he was almost beaten to death by one of the guards. “You considered yourself lucky if you had work. I was a strong young man, not afraid to try anything,” related Ed. “In Mauthausen I worked in a stone quarry. I had to climb 186 steps up and down while carrying rocks. If you stopped for a moment, they would shoot you or throw you off the cliff to your death.” When the American forces approached, the German guards from Mauthausen gathered the prisoners in a cave and tried to detonate it. The prisoners, Ed among them, were saved when the explosive failed to ignite. “Those that survived owe their luck to that,” Ed said.
On 5 May 1945 Ed was liberated, the only surviving member of his family. Due to his weak physical state, he was forced to spend some time in Italy before returning to Krakow, the city of his birth. There he met Cecile, a fellow survivor from his hometown, who had also lost her entire family in the Shoah, except for her father. Ed and Cecile moved to Belgium, where they wed.
In 1951, Ed and Cecile arrived in the US, where he became a successful businessman. The couple had three daughters, and devoted their time to the Jewish community, as well as to recovering, restoring and preserving many Jewish cultural artifacts lost during the Shoah. Among these treasures are Torah Scrolls saved from destruction during the Holocaust that today are preserved and used in many synagogues across the US and Israel. Ed also supports research into topics connected to the Holocaust. “I feel it is my duty to tell… lately I began to give testimony about my experiences during the Shoah because our numbers, the numbers of the survivors, are dwindling.”
Ed and Cecile Mosberg, members of the American Society for Yad Vashem, are recipients of the “Yad Vashem Prize for Commemoration,” presented to them for their dedication in preserving Holocaust Remembrance.
Righteous Among the Nations
Ivan (Ivica) Vranetic was born in Vrbas, Yugoslavia, in 1927.
In September 1943, after the German occupation of Italy and the territories under its control, the Yugoslav partisans arrived at the Island of Rab in the Adriatic Sea. They released the Jews interned on the island’s camp, and helped them reach the area in southern Yugoslavia that was under their control. Some of the Jews joined the ranks of the partisans, while the women, children and infirm among them stayed in the villages, principally in the village of Topusko in southern Croatia. Many of the village’s residents were connected to the Ustaša, the Croatian ruling party responsible for the murder of most of the Jews in Croatia. These residents ignored the distress of the Jews, and those that did help them only did so for fear of the partisans.
Seventeen-year-old Ivan (Ivica) Vranetic aided the Jews from the moment they reached Topusko. Vranetic befriended a number of Jewish refugees and found them places to live. He carried children and elderly people on his back over and over to their places of refuge. Among the refugees was Arna Montilio, whose husband had been killed in the Jasenovac camp, as well as her small daughter and elderly mother. Vranetic found them a hiding place.
At the end of 1943, a German army unit came to the region, and battles between them and the Yugoslav partisans began. The Jewish refugees were forced to flee the areas in which the battles were taking place, and to make their way from one place of refuge to the next. Vranetic used to warn the Jews of upcoming battles, find them new places to hide and even escort them to these places and take care of all their needs there. In one case, when a rumor broke out that the Germans were approaching, a number of Jews fled in error towards the Ustaša forces. Vranetic worried about them and after two hours found them and directed them towards safety.
In hiding the Jews and his actions taken on their behalf, Vranetic risked his life over and over again. After the war, he kept in contact with many of the Jews he saved, among them Arna Montilio. Montilio immigrated to Israel, but kept in constant written contact with her rescuer. Some 20 years later, Vranetic came to Israel and married Arna.
In 1970 Yad Vashem honored Ivan (Ivica) Vranetic as Righteous Among the Nations. He was awarded honorary citizenship of the State of Israel, and in 1986 was elected chairman of the Organization of Righteous Among the Nations in Israel.