Lighting a memorial flame
Lighting a memorial flame Israel news photo: file

Video courtesy of Channel 1

Six Shoah (Holocaust) survivors who have shown dedication to ensuring that the Shoah is not forgotten were chosen to light memorial flames Sunday night at the official Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony at the Yad Vashem memorial project in Jerusalem. These are their stories:

Eliezer Ayalon

Eliezer was born in 1928 in southern Poland, to a traditionally religious, Zionist family. His parents attempted to make aliyah to Israel in the 1930s, but were denied permits.

In 1941, Eliezer, his parents, and his three siblings were imprisoned in the Radom ghetto. In 1942 the ghetto was liquidated, and the Jews were sent to death camps. Eliezer, who had lied about his age in order to obtain a work permit, was the only one not sent to Treblinka. His parents and siblings were all murdered in the camp.

Eliezer was moved between work camps. In 1945 he managed to survive a death march despite having broken one leg. In May 1945, he and other prisoners were freed by American soldiers. They were finally permitted to make Aliyah. “I remember the joy, the songs and the dancing when we were told we could go to Israel,” he recalled.

After decades in Israel in which he learned agriculture, fought in the War of Independence, married and had children and grandchildren, Eliezer decided he must tell his story. “I understood that I was obligated to talk about it... I was a witness.” Since then, he has spoken in schools and on army bases, and has visited the ruins of Treblinka with an Israeli delegation.

Hana Gofrit

Hana was born in Poland in 1935. In 1941, when local Jews were rounded up and forced to live in a ghetto, she and her parents managed to hide with a Polish family. The three hid in a pit used to store potatoes.

In 1942, Hana's father was caught by Nazis and taken to Treblinka. She and her mother hid with a Polish family in Warsaw, who later received the status of "Righteous among the Nations" from Yad Vashem. They promised that if Nazi soldiers were to come to search the home, they would climb to the fifth story of the building and jump to their deaths. At one point German soldiers did come to the home. As Hana and her mother climbed to the fifth story, a daughter of the family hiding them quickly helped them hide in the attic, saving their lives.

After Warsaw was bombed, Hana and her mother disguised themselves as Polish women, and were taken to a work camp. When the war ended they returned to their village, only to discover that none of their relatives had survived.

In 1949 Hana came to Israel. She studied to be a nurse, and practiced her trade in the Ajami neighborhood of Yafo. She won the Namir prize for her dedication to her work.

Sarah Yisraeli

Sarah was born in Pestszenterzsebet, now a suburb of Budapest, in 1937. In May 1944 a ghetto was built in the city, and she and her family were forced to live there along with the rest of the city's Jewish population. However, unlike most of the city's Jews, she and her family were not sent to Auschwitz, but rather, were returned to Budapest. Sarah later learned that they were meant to have been passengers on a train carrying a select group of Jews to freedom in Switzerland, similar to the Kastner train from Hungary, but the plan fell through.

While Sarah and her family lived in the ghetto in Budapest, the family's former nanny, Gizla Benkovich, risked her life to bring them food and medicine. She then offered to save Sarah, her brother, and her cousin by smuggling them into a children's home. The three children survived the war. Gizla was later named Righteous among the Nations.

Sarah's mother was sent to a concentration camp, but was freed by the Soviet army. The family was reunited after the war. In 1949, they escaped Hungary illegally and came to Israel.

Sarah grew up on kibbutzim (cooperative communities) in Israel. She is a member of kibbutz Kiryat Anavim, and runs the guest house. For years she volunteered to translate Holocaust survivors' testimonies from Hungarian to Hebrew; she now volunteers in an American-Jewish organization that preserves genealogical documents.

Leo Luster

Leo was born in Vienna in 1927. On Kristallnacht, he witnessed the community's synagogue burning, and his family's apartment was taken over by a neighbor. From that day, the family lived in a small room in the basement of the building.

In 1940, his sister Chaya managed to escape to Israel, entering the British Mandatory area illegally.

In 1942 the family was sent to the ghetto, and in 1944 Leo and his father were taken to Aushwitz. His father was sent to the gas chambers; Leo was tattooed with a number and sent to work.

In 1945 he survived a death march to another camp, Blechhammer. There, the Nazis set fire to the barracks and fired on those who attempted to escape. Leo and his friends found soda bottles in their barracks, which they used to extinguish the fire. They waited for the guards to leave. Leo left the barracks to find food, only to encounter a Nazi guard who had stayed behind. He survived by hiding quickly among the bodies of the dead.

After the war Leo wandered through Poland and Germany, until he heard that some Jews from his hometown had survived. He returned and found his mother still alive. In 1949 the two came to Israel and were reunited with Haya. Leo worked for the Austrian embassy, and volunteered on behalf of Israelis of Austrian origin. He fought for survivors' rights, and worked to commemorate the Jews of Austria who perished in the Shoa.

Baruch Shub

Baruch was born in Vilna in 1924, the second of four children. In 1939 the Soviet army conquered the city. Jews were allowed to learn in the universities, and Baruch began to learn mechanical engineering.

In 1941 the German army conquered the city and began slaughtering its Jewish residents. Baruch and his sister Tzippora managed to escape to a nearby town. However, in 1942 the Nazi army arrived and murdered 840 Jews in that town, including Tzippora. Baruch hid and was saved.

He was sent to a nearby ghetto, where he assisted in organizing the escape of young men to join the partisan resistance. He heard his mother was alive and managed to obtain permission to return to Vilna, where he lived in the ghetto with his mother, worked in a factory, and continued his resistance activity. In September 1943 he and a group of friends escaped into a nearby forest to fight the Nazis as partisans. Two weeks later, the ghetto was liquidated.

Baruch continued to fight the Nazis, eventually joining a Russian unit. In 1944 the Russian army conquered Vilna. There, he learned that his entire family had been killed. He continued to fight until the end of the war.

In 1945 Baruch made aliyah. During the War of Independence he served as a technician. Afterward, he worked with El Al. He volunteered with Yad Vashem and other groups dedicated to commemorating the Jews slain in the Holocaust, and lectures on anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

Yaakov Tzim

Yaakov was born in Poland in 1920. He and his siblings were members of a Zionist youth group.

When the German army seized control of Poland, Yaakov was sent to work thanks to his skills as an artist. He, his two siblings, and 120 other young men and women were temporarily spared as they worked in a factory for artisans.

In 1943 he and his family were sent to the ghetto. In August of the same year the ghetto was liquidated, and its residents sent to Auschwitz. Yaakov managed to escape transfer to Auschwitz by joining a group that was intended for forced labor. At a work camp he drew a picture. For this he was punished by being whipped and then sent to the Blechhammer death camp, and from there to Auschwitz.

In Auschwitz, Yaakov encountered his brother Natan. The two survived a death march to Buchenwald together. There they were freed, and later came to Israel with the “Children of Buchenwald.”

In Israel, Yaakov achieved his dream of becoming an artist. He won many prizes for his work, both in Israel and internationally, and designed some of Israel's symbols, including coins and bills.

His works include depictions of his life experiences. “I learned to live with the dark, and to create with the light,” he says of his work.