Holocaust survivor (illustration)
Holocaust survivor (illustration) Flash 90

It has become known as "Survivors' Street" - a small road in Haifa where about 100 Holocaust survivors are living out their last days side-by-side, keeping alive memories and testimony of the Nazi genocide.

The quiet and shady street was initially only the home of a social center that supplied meals to the elderly in this northern Israeli port city, where many Jewish immigrants settled down after returning home to Israel after nearly 2,000 years of exile, many of them having fled Europe by boat.

But in recent years it has been transformed, after the group running the center, Yad Ezer L'haver ("A Helping Hand to a Friend"), noticed how many of those it was serving were Holocaust survivors.

"When they would pick up their trays you would see more and more of them with a number tattooed on their forearms," Tami Sinar, the group's coordinator, told AFP.

In 2007, Yad Ezer L'haver began buying or renting all the buildings on the street to provide subsidized housing for elderly Holocaust survivors. 

About 180,000 Jews who survived the Holocaust are currently living in the Jewish state, according to the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Survivors in Israel. Many of them are struggling, with nearly a quarter living below the poverty line.

With the help of donations and grants, Yad Ezer L'haver installed lifts in every building and created communal spaces where residents can relax and play bridge, as well as pick up their medications. They also built a restaurant which ensures they get two proper meals a day.

Scars of the Holocaust

At a recent lunchtime, there was a rush for the elevators and the corridors came alive with a procession of tapping canes and shuffling walkers, as old men in caps and elderly ladies, their hair dyed in every hue, headed for the dining room, reports AFP.

Shoshana Colmer, 95, amused visitors with the story of how in 2013 she was elected "Miss Holocaust Survivor" during a beauty contest laid on to entertain the residents.

But the emotional scars of her time at the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz - which was liberated by the Red Army 70 years ago on Tuesday - have never left Colmer.

To this day she routinely takes a piece of bread wrapped in a napkin to her bedroom after lunch.

"For a whole year, I weighed just 23 kilos (50 pounds)," she said. "When I was liberated from Auschwitz, I returned to Czechoslovakia and there also we had nothing to eat. I also went hungry in Israel, but I'm here now and we eat well. The food is delicious."

As Colmer talked, her neighbour Hava, five years her junior, tidied her room and spoke of how the survivors continued to comfort each other.

"We live the Holocaust all the time, we talk about it, we dream about it, at night we wake up to the cries of others, or even from our own cries," Hava said. "When I hear Shoshana crying at night I get up and go to see her and say a kind word...that's how we helped each other when we were in the camps."

A dying generation

When these elderly survivors first arrived in the renascent Jewish State in the 1940s and 1950s, the focus was on building something new rather than looking to the past. But the horrors of the Holocaust have taken a central place in Israel's collective memory.

Numerous ceremonies are held for survivors every year and classes about the genocide are compulsory in schools. Older students are likely to make at least one class trip to the former twin death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau created by Nazi Germany in Oswiecim, southern Poland.

Still, Judith Hershkowitz - another resident of "Survivors' Street" - worried that memories of the Holocaust may fade when Israeli families no
longer have survivors among them.

Seventy years on, it was clear that awareness of the Holocaust was not what it once was, she said, explaining that even with her own great-grandchildren it was only after studying it at school that they approached her about it.

"I don't really know what they make of it," she said.

But Sinar of Yad Ezer L'haver had little doubt that even after all the residents of "Survivors' Street" are gone, their memories will live on, saying "I am sure that we, the second generation, will never let these things be forgotten."

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