Twenty Holocaust survivors belatedly celebrated their coming-of-age Monday in a moving Bar Mitzvah ceremony at the Western Wall (Kotel). The men had all turned 13 during the genocide of Europe’s Jews and were hard-pressed to survive, let alone celebrate.
Dozens of students and soldiers accompanied the men as they publicly showed joy in their obligation in mitzvot (commandments).
Many of the elderly survivors were brought to tears by the event. They all agreed that they felt that the celebration was not for them alone, but also for the one and a half million Jewish children murdered by the Nazis.
The occasion saw joy mixed with sadness, “but the sense of hope was complete,” said Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, the rabbi of the Kotel. “This is concrete testimony to the eternal nature of the Jewish people.”
One survivor relayed that his coming of age had been marked in the Therensienstadt concentration camp. His mother managed to obtain a set of tefillin, and an elderly Jewish man spoke in Hebrew. “I was alone there,” he said. “Today, 80 years later, I have a bar mitzvah with my family.”
Hedva, the daughter of another survivor, said her father’s 13th birthday was marked by torture at the hands of the infamous Nazi doctor Mengele. “My father, who survived Auschwitz and Birkenau, who jumped from a train window and ran for his life, is now getting the celebration that was stolen from him,” she said with satisfaction.
What kept her father going during his terrible youth was his faith in G-d and his hope for a better future, she added. “Now he gets happiness from his grandchildren and greatgrandchildren. He has merited to pass the heritage forward, a heritage of faith and freedom.”