Following are the personal stories of the six Holocaust survivors chosen as this year’s honored torchlighters at the Opening Ceremony for Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day, 27 Nissan (23 April 2017).
- First Torch – Moshe Ha-Elion
- Second Torch – Moshe Jakubowitz
- Third Torch – Jeannine Sebbane-Bouhanna
- Fourth Torch – Moshe Porat
- Fifth Torch –Max Privler
- Sixth Torch – Elka Abramovitz
During the ceremony, short videos about each of the torchlighters will be shown. They were produced and directed by Levi Zini.
The central theme for this year’s ceremony is “Restoring Their Identities: The Fate of the Individual During the Holocaust.”
The official Opening Ceremony for Holocaust Martyrs’ & Heroes’ Remembrance Day will take place on Sunday, 23 April 2017 at 20:00, in Warsaw Ghetto Square, Yad Vashem, Mount of Remembrance, Jerusalem.
At the ceremony, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will both deliver remarks. Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev will kindle the Memorial Torch. Esther Miron will speak on behalf of the survivors. The ceremony will also include the traditional memorial service – Perakim of Tehillim: Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Dovid Lau Shlita; Kaddish: Rishon L’Tzion Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef Shlita; Keil Maleh Rachamim: Cantor Lipa Glantz.
Participants in the ceremony will include singers Roni Dalumi and the IDF Paratroopers’ Honor Guard.
The ceremony will be broadcast live on television on Channels 1, 2, 10 and 33, on Channel 9 in Russian, and on the news websites Ynet and Walla as well as on radio on Kol Israel and Galei Tzahal. It will last approximately 75 minutes.
For the first time, Yad Vashem will broadcast the official ceremony marking the start of Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day. The live feed will be accessible via Facebook and Yad Vashem’s YouTube Channel or through the Yad Vashem mini-site dedicated to Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day.
See below for Survivors’ Address and Torchlighter stories:
Giving the Survivors’ Address
Esther Miron was born to Sara and Alfred-Abraham Eliezer Lȍwinger in Janoshaza in western Hungary. She was the eldest of four children in a religious family.
When the Germans invaded Hungary in March 1944, Esther was in Oradea. She was arrested for not wearing the yellow star and transferred to a jail in Budapest. In May 1944, she was taken to Kistarcsa, and from there to the Children’s Block in Auschwitz. “I lost my mother and sister in Auschwitz,” she recalls. “I underwent 17 selections by Mengele. He took my sister away from me during the ninth one.”
In the fall of 1944, Esther was transferred to Birkenau. In November 1944, she was sent to Lenzing, a sub-camp of Mauthausen in Austria, where she worked in a plastics factory. From March-April 1945, she fell ill from malnutrition and was hospitalized at the camp infirmary. Her bed consisted of sheets of paper on the ground.
When the US Army arrived on 8 May 1945, Esther was carried to a Red Cross hospital. After recuperation and a stay at DP camps in Germany, she set sail for Eretz Israel, reaching its shores in April 1948. She studied the History of the Jewish People at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, worked in the Central Zionist Archives, and researched the history of the leadership of the Zionist movement and Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel.
In the 1990s, Esther traveled to Hungary to conduct archival work for the Jewish Museum and the University of Budapest. She collected and edited Holocaust-era documents and photographs of the Jews of Hungary for display at the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. She also published articles and lectured about the Holocaust, as well as the history of Zionism.
Esther has been the Chair of the Association of Hungarian Immigrants in Israel since 1996. To date, she has helped over 1,000 Holocaust survivors file claims for compensation and pension funds from the governments of Hungary and Germany. She is a member of an Israeli parliamentary organization to commemorate the Holocaust, the Hungarian committee of the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel, and the Association of Israeli Archivists.
Esther and David z”l, a member of the Jewish Brigade who passed away 45 years ago, have two daughters, six grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
Moshe Ha-Elion was born in Thessaloniki, Greece in 1925 to Rachel and Eliyahu.
A few days after the start of the German occupation in April 1941, Eliyahu passed away. Moshe, Rachel and his sister Esther-Nina were deported to Auschwitz in cattle cars. While he performed various forms of labor and survived several selections, Moshe’s entire family was murdered in the death camp.
In October 1943, Thessaloniki native Jacob “Jakito” Maestro, who worked in the SS employment service, helped Moshe enroll as a trainee in the camp’s school for construction workers. In mid-1944, Binio Mijan, another friend from Thessaloniki, helped rescue him from penal labor after he was caught with a letter to a female prisoner. In January 1945, Moshe and Binio trudged together on the death march, helping each other until they reached Mauthausen. Moshe was later transferred to Melk and Ebensee.
On 6 May 1945, “Makeshift flags of the different countries of origin of the camp’s prisoners began to appear. There were more than 100 of us from Greece, Jews and Christians. Suddenly people burst into song, singing the Greek anthem,” recalls Moshe. “Then I ran into a prisoner who was shouting in Yiddish, ‘Jews, Jews!’ He pointed to a group of prisoners, which began slowly and devotedly to sing ‘Hatikvah.’ I sang with them. There was no flag there. The lyrics were sung with Sephardic and Ashkenazic pronunciation, and not everyone sang, but the tune was almost uniform.”
Moshe set off for Greece, but while he was in Italy he decided to immigrate to Eretz Israel. In June 1946, he arrived aboard the Josiah Wedgwood. He was wounded during the War of Independence, and then served as a career soldier for 20 years before moving on to work in the security service. Moshe has dedicated his life to supporting needy Holocaust survivors, commemorating Greek Jewry and fighting Holocaust denial. For 15 years, he was Chairman of the Association of Survivors of Concentration Camps of Greek Origin Living in Israel. He was a member of the International Auschwitz Committee, the Yad Vashem Directorate, and the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel. He is currently the acting Chair of the Centre of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel.
Moshe wrote his autobiography and three books of poetry. He also set one of them, written in memory of his younger sister Nina, to music. Moshe shares his testimony in Hebrew, Greek, Ladino, French and English, and joins military and school delegations on their visits to Poland.
Moshe and Hana z”l have a son and daughter, six grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
Moshe Jakubowitz was born in Warsaw in 1929 to a Hasidic family, the eldest of three brothers. His father, Jacov-Arie (Leib), worked in agriculture and marketing crops, and his mother Chava ran a grocery store across from the family home. Moshe went to the Tarbut school, where he learned general and Jewish studies.
After the Germans established the Warsaw ghetto, Moshe continued his studies privately, and celebrated his Bar Mitzvah in the ghetto on Simchas Torah. On the eve of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in April 1943, the adults prepared hiding places in the basement. “During the Pesach seder, we heard gunfire. We went down to the bunker and stayed there for seven days, until the Germans started burning down the ghetto,” said Moshe. “We had no choice. We came out with our hands up. They led us to the Umschlagplatz. On that day, 24 April 1943, my father was murdered.”
Moshe was sent to Majdanek with his mother, two brothers and grandfather. “My mother heard that they were looking for workers, and she urged me to go with my grandfather. I never saw her or my brothers again.” Moshe and his grandfather were sent to a labor camp not far from Lublin, where they chopped trees and built houses. One day, Moshe’s grandfather was taken by truck to the forest along with other workers and shot to death.
In late 1943, Moshe was transferred to the Mielec concentration camp and put to work in a factory that manufactured cargo planes. The letters “KL”—the German acronym for concentration camp—were tattooed on his arm. He was transferred from Mielec to work in the salt mines of Wieliczka and then to Flossenbürg, Germany, where he worked in an aircraft factory.
During a death march towards Dachau, Moshe managed to slip away and link up with American liberators. Although he received papers allowing him to immigrate to the US, in 1946 David Ben-Gurion came to Frankfurt. “It was close to our camp and I went to hear him. He spoke in Yiddish. I decided to move to Eretz Israel.”
After detention in Cyprus by the British, Moshe finally reached Eretz Israel in April 1948. He fought as part of the Irgun, and later in the IDF during the War of Independence. In civilian life, Moshe became a construction manager.
Moshe and Zipora z”l have three children, eight grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.
Jeannine Sebbane-Bouhanna was born in 1929 in Nemours (now Ghazaouet), Algeria, to Jacob and Rahma. She was the fourth of six children. Jacob, who had fought in the French Army in WWI, was a carpenter by profession.
In 1938, the family immigrated to Paris and settled at 43 rue Vieille du Temple in Le Marais (fourth district). They lived among relatives, and maintained a traditional Jewish lifestyle. Jeannine and her family were full French citizens and spoke the language accent-free, in stark contrast to their Eastern European immigrant neighbors.
In May 1940, the Germans occupied France, and Jeannine’s father and older brother passed away a year later. Her mother smuggled her older sister and brother, Odette and Maurice, into the free zone of southern France, while Jeannine stayed in Paris and helped provide for the family. She took trains around the city while wearing the yellow star, standing in long lines at the bakeries and grocery stores while Rahma watched her three younger siblings at home.
On 16 July 1942 (the date of La Rafle du Vel d’Hiv, the roundup of the Jews of Paris), French gendarmes raided the arrondissement. Jeannine and her family avoided arrest that day because they had French citizenship, but their close friends and neighbors were taken away. They went to the police station with food for their neighbors, and witnessed their detention and deportation to concentration camps.
Two of the neighbors’ daughters hid in Jeannine’s home. Jeannine and Rahma brought the two girls food and drink every night for over a week, despite the risk that the building’s concierge would find out and turn them in. Rahma then helped smuggle them to the unoccupied zone in southern France, and they survived.
Jeannine’s family received letters from their neighbors who had been detained in concentration camps in France before being deported to their deaths. They tried to aid the detainees with food packages, and for decades they kept the deportees’ letters, which documented the detention camps and the deportations to the east – rare Holocaust-era testimony.
When Jeannine’s brother Maurice returned to Paris to help the family, he was captured, deported to Sobibor and murdered. Jeannine and her three younger siblings were hidden by farmers in a village outside Paris, and in 1944 they fled to southern France, where they survived in a small village with the help of her older sister Odette’s husband.
After the war, Jeannine married Lucien Bouhanna in Algeria. They returned to France, and followed their children to Israel in 1992.
Jeannine and Lucien have five children, 12 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.
Moshe Porat (né Frisch) was born in 1931 in Hajdúnánás in southeastern Hungary to Jozsef Levy and Gizella-Naomi – an observant Hasidic family of seven.
In March 1944, the Germans occupied Hungary. Jozsef was taken away for forced labor on the first day of Passover that year. On 19 May 1944, while he was home on leave, he took a pair of scissors and silently cut the peyos off all four of his sons. “He wanted to do it himself rather than let the Germans do it,” Moshe recalls. A few days later, Jozsef reported back to the Hungarian Army, never to return.
By the end of May, a ghetto was established in the city. The men were sent to forced labor, and the community was left with only women, children and the elderly. On 17 June, the ghetto’s inhabitants were deported in cattle cars to Debrecen, where they were concentrated in a brick factory.
Moshe observed his Bar Mitzvah on 21 June 1944. “I took my new set of tefillin, which my father had bought me during his last leave, out of my backpack. I concealed them in my shirt and my uncle led me to a hidden nook. Other mispallalim were congregating in the nook, and I read from the Torah.”
Days later, the Frisch family was forced onto a train for deportation. The train was bombed by the Allies and stopped on the tracks for many days. Many of the deportees died of suffocation, hunger and thirst, including Moshe’s great-grandmother. When the train finally reached Vienna, they were transferred to a labor camp. Moshe’s older brother, Shevah, was sent to a different camp and murdered.
As the Red Army drew near, the prisoners were sent on a death march. Moshe’s mother and older sister Pnina took turns carrying Dani, his frail eight-year-old brother, on their shoulders. After three weeks, the survivors reached Mauthausen, where Moshe and his brothers Asher and Dani were separated from Gizelle and Pnina and sent to forced labor. On 5 May 1945, they were liberated by the US Army. Gizelle died two weeks later.
After first returning home, Moshe made his way to Austria and Italy, and in the summer of 1948, he reached Israel. He helped found a garin (core group of settlers) in Kibbutz Shluchot and wrote his autobiography. Today he lectures and gives testimony about his experiences during the Holocaust and accompanies youth delegations to Poland.
Moshe and Tova-Gita z”l have four daughters, 15 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
Max Privler was born in 1931 in the village of Mikulichin in Poland (now Ukraine) to David and Malka. He was the second of four children. The family owned land, factories, shops, and even a school and a synagogue.
In June 1941, the Germans occupied the region and the family’s property was confiscated. In March 1942, Gestapo men and Ukrainian police broke into Max’s family’s home and took Max and David to the police station. Malka and her younger children were sent to the Stanislawow ghetto. The next day, Max and David were brought to the forest with a group of Jews. A second before they were shot, David pushed Max into the killing pit, and was shot on top of him. One bullet lodged itself into Max’s shoulder and remained there for over 25 years. Max managed to climb out of the pit at night and fled to the home of the Boyuk-Nimchuk family, Ukrainian friends, who hid him.
One day, Max snuck into the ghetto with some food for his family and saw Malka fighting a Gestapo man, who was pulling her baby from her arms. He witnessed his mother being hanged and his baby brother murdered by the Germans.
On another occasion, Max was caught and sent to work in the family factory. After six months, the child laborers, including Max, were trucked to the forest to be executed. Max managed to flee to the adjacent forest, where he joined a group of partisans.
When Max suffered from frostbite, a passing doctor sent him with a partisan commander who was headed to Moscow for treatment. After he had recuperated, Max enlisted in the Red Army and was sent to a school training children to perform military operations. His mastery of five languages—Polish, Czech, German, Ukrainian and Russian—was an asset.
Max commanded a platoon that conducted intelligence and sabotage, and helped liberate Kraków and Auschwitz. However, he sustained serious injuries in the battles to liberate Prague. He was buried under the rubble of a building that had collapsed, with an iron rod lodged in his head. He was pulled out and hospitalized, but remained unconscious for months until he recovered.
After the war, Max lived in Ukraine. He immigrated to Israel in 1990. He remains active in the Association of Disabled Veterans of the War against Nazism as well as the commemoration of children who served in the Red Army during WWII, and is the author of several books on the subject.
Max and Muza z”l have two children, five grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.
Elka Reines-Abramovitz was born in 1932 in Novoselitsa, northern Bessarabia, Romania (now Ukraine) to Shimon, a leatherworker, and Frida. Her parents gave their three children a Jewish and Zionist education.
On 7 July 1941, the Romanian Army entered Novoselitsa. “They shot people and burned houses. My father was beaten with a rod,” Elka recalled. “For the first time in my life I saw dead people, masses of bodies lying by the road. The images are seared into my mind.”
On 27 July, the Romanians ordered the town’s Jewish inhabitants to leave for Transnistria. Elka and her family went on foot. “We walked endlessly,” said Elka. “We drank water from puddles. If we found corn or sugar beets, it was a godsend. But the family was together. The bigger ones carried the smaller ones on their backs.”
Romanian soldiers standing on the bridge over the Dniester River threw numerous deportees into the river and shot them. The remainder was sent to the Edineți ghetto, where many died of hunger and disease. The survivors continued onwards to Yampol, and from there to Kosharintsy in Transnistria. “They crammed us into three stables. It was a very cold winter,” said Elka. “They gave us no food or water. People died every day.”
Shimon worked in the fields for the local farmers, but Frida soon fell ill and died, along with Elka’s grandfather, grandmother and two cousins. Within a year, only 70 out of 480 people remained.
Shimon’s expertise was recognized by the locals and the family moved to a house in one of their gardens. “That saved our lives,” said Elka. “My father carried me there on his back because I could no longer walk. After ten months, I started walking again.”
In March 1944, the Red Army reached Transnistria and Shimon was conscripted. After his discharge in September 1945, he and the children returned to Romania. Elka was sent to a Jewish orphanage in Cluj.
Elka and her sister Ester joined the Habonim Dror youth movement and sailed for Eretz Israel (Mandatory Palestine) aboard the Pan York in December 1947. After detention by the British in Cyprus, they reached Eretz Israel in March 1948.
Elka remains active in a Holocaust remembrance organization, and assists the families of fallen IDF soldiers.
Elka and Arie z”l , a native of Tel Aviv, have three children, ten grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.
(YWN – Israel Desk, Jerusalem)