Following Passover there are three relatively modern Spring holidays seriously observed in Israel – Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikkaron (Memorial Day) and Yom HaAztmaut (Independence Day). For Yom HaShoah (last week) ceremonies were held throughout the country, remembering the millions of Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust. Many of the early settlers in modern Israel either were fleeing the Holocaust or came here from the displaced persons’ camps in Europe following World War II. Our kibbutz holds a ceremony every year. We’ve attended most of them.
The ceremonies began the evening before (Jewish day begins in the evening). Following a few musical pieces and short statements of memory, the remainder of the ceremony focused on a woman from the kibbutz who had recently died. Her life was presented through a video. Of course, everything was in Hebrew, so it was challenging to follow, but through my limited Hebrew and an abundance of photos, I got the gist of the story. The woman, Merav, grew up in France to a relatively wealthy family. In 1940 the Nazis conquered France, and most Jews were transported to extermination camps in Poland. Somehow, as a child, she avoided that development and apparently was hidden in the home of a Christian family. In 1947, now a teenager, she boarded one of the ships to Israel and grew up in our kibbutz. The presentation showed her meeting her husband, having children, and building a new life in the land. She was interviewed on the film, probably by then in her 60’s or 70’s. I didn’t really understand much, but different photos showed her with her husband, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Several years ago a historian tracked her down and organized a trip of other people who had lived in the French home during the war. There was a reunion a few years ago at the French home where the children had been saved. Apparently, at her late age she was unable to go, but one of her children went and met the children of other survivors of the war that had been sheltered in this home. It was very compelling. At the reunion they traveled to one of the war cemeteries where either one of Merav’s brothers or one of those from the home was buried, having been a soldier for the Allies. Another sibling was taken to Auschwitz and didn’t survive the war. At the end of the ceremony, one of her grandchildren gave a short speech about her. All in all, it was very moving, despite having a limited understanding of what was going on.
I’ve seen numerous documentaries and movies and have read many books on the Holocaust. While intellectually I understand how and why it happened, seeing the photos of Jews being rounded up and herded onto trains to death still shocks me, and to this day, it still confounds me. Nevertheless, this woman’s story captured the essence of the resurrection of the Jewish people and the establishment of the modern state of Israel. Seeing the photos of her and her descendants all together proved Hitler wrong and God right, when He said that He would gather back His people from the four corners of the earth and place them once again in their own land.