Survivors who lived to see the 9th of May knew that their lives were like leaves driven by the wind. Surviving meant living one more minute or one more night without becoming a target for the soldiers’ dogs, meant dodging the shots of a Nazi’s rifle, or deportation to the gas chambers.
To survive meant to resign yourself to the demeaning conditions in the camps, to get through another day of forced labor, fear and starvation. To survive meant not to freeze to death in the snowy European winters, die on the death marches or perish from disease.
Until the liberation, the survivors did not permit themselves to think beyond the following day. Noah Klieger describes the endless journey in the cattle cars – days upon days in stifling crowded conditions, without food, when suddenly one of the prisoners turned to the others and said in Yiddish that he’s prepared to share his last pieces of bread with them, if they will join him in saying the Kaddish prayer for his dead father. When the others asked him when his father had passed away, the young man answered that his father had just died, and was lying sprawled under their feet in the cattle car.
The moment the survivors were free to leave the camps – a moment they had so longed for – many of them realized that they had noone to go back to and nowhere to go.
Many lost the desire to live. Although the Nazi foe was no more, they had nothing left except the ability to breath without fear. Some survivors returned home – only to find that strangers had taken over their houses.
Most survivors returned to life, but had to contend with the harsh reality of loneliness and a life without parents, without brothers and sisters, without children and without a home. Gisella Simons managed to return to her home in Yugoslavia, and every day for months, she would go to the train station, to see if perhaps a member of her family would appear there.
As refugees, the survivors were hungry and exhausted, plagued by terrible memories and haunted by nightmares. For many of them, the day of liberation was also the first day of their collapse, and a new existential struggle – they lived without trust and faith, without expectation; they plunged beyond the depths, and suffered from nightmares, insomnia, illness and untold misery.
After the liberation, many were shunted from DP camp to DP camp throughout Europe. Others made their way alone to Eretz Israel, but the gates of this country were locked to them, and they were evicted and sent back to sea. There were those who drowned or were drowned, and others who found themselves once again behind barbed wire.
Others still managed to reach these shores, but then had to fight against the Arab armies in the War of Independence. Many who were the sole survivors of their families went on to fall in battle for a land they had only dreamed about, but where they never got the chance to build their homes.
Dear Holocaust survivors, we are so glad that you survived and lived to see the liberation. It is so important for you to tell the story of the Holocaust and to pass on its legacy to the younger generations.
We are so glad that you succeeded in coming to Eretz Israel, and that you built your new homes here. Despite the terrible memories, the Jewish people and Jewish history thank you for your contribution to the building of the State, its security, economy and culture. You who survived the inferno have taught humanity a lesson, and you are a symbol of the determination, strength of spirit, and the willpower of the Jewish people.
If only the day of liberation had come sooner, the world would look different today, and certainly the
Jewish people would be greater in its strength, spirit and culture.
Holocaust survivors, you are a source of inspiration for humanity. The Jewish people, amongst them Holocaust survivors realized the dream of countless generations to establish a national homeland for the Jewish people in Eretz Israel.
The meeting between the survivors and Jewish soldiers who served in the Allied forces, including soldiers in the Jewish Brigade, was very moving. Many survivors joined the activities of the Bricha and the Haapala (illegal immigration to Palestine), and even taught Hebrew. A few tried to hunt down Nazi war criminals.
In the Summer of 1944, Meir Kots saw his mother for the last time, when he was left standing alone on the railway tracks in the Lodz ghetto. She still managed to throw him a piece of bread and to tell him “Don’t worry, we’ll see each other soon”.
Meir survived 5 selections during the war, was sent on 4 transports, and lost his parents and 5 sisters in the death camps.
He worked in forced labor camps and was imprisoned in Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was sure that he was the last Jew left in the world, after he watched everyone around him perish in the death camps or from starvation. On liberation, Red Cross representatives were sure he was dying, and that there was no point trying to revive the living dead. They left him to his fate. A non-Jewish Greek prisoner carried him on his back and begged the Red Cross to take care of him. Meir Kots was cared for and recovered. He immigrated to Eretz Israel and fought in the War of Independence. He was wounded in 1970 in the War of Attrition, in the Suez Canal. Amongst the founders of Timna, he raised a beautiful family, had children and grandchildren.
My dear Holocaust survivors: we salute you, for returning to life, for daring to feel a sense of belonging again, for having the courage to build families again, for consenting to believe once again in people and in the human race, for agreeing to pass on the terrible memories of your experiences to the future generations, for not allowing yourselves to sink into the depths of forgetfulness.
I regret that we did not tell you often enough, how heroic you are. You who stood face to face with death.
Those who froze in the snow and died of starvation, those who lay cramped on wooden bunks in the death camps, those who parted from their parents on the railway track, those who went through the Holocaust – they are the heroes of the Shoah.
Many mistakenly wanted you to return to life too quickly, didn’t want you to relive the horrific past. The shadow of the Holocaust accompanies the State of Israel and the Jewish people, and it will do so forever more. We feel the oppressive sadness at all times. We bear the oppressive feeling in our hearts. Sometimes we shudder, we shed a tear at the terrible images, and once again we are shocked at the survivors’ descriptions, and the awful pictures.
The Holocaust is not an unusual distortion of the rules of history. It is a threatening and saddening fact of human nature. Humanity must stand sober, realistic, watchful and ready to prevent another Shoah.
There are no guarantees that the values of democracy, morality and justice are always immune to evil and totalitarianism. Human innocence weakens in the face of evil and demagoguery. Evil impulses are stronger than purity, faith and human values.
The Jewish people have learned the historic lesson of the Holocaust. But has humanity learned the lessons? It is our obligation to ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust are passed on to every generation.
May the memory of the victims be blessed.