Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day will be observed this year, commencing this Monday evening through Tuesday.
The official State Opening Ceremony for Holocaust Remembrance Day will take place on Monday at 8:00 PM, in Warsaw Ghetto Square, Yad Vashem, on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem. President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will both deliver remarks at the Opening Ceremony. Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan will kindle the Memorial Torch. Shoshana Weis will speak on behalf of the survivors. Holocaust survivor Efraim Mol will recite the El Maleh Rahamim prayer for the souls of the martyrs.
During the ceremony, Holocaust survivors will light six torches.
The following are the six Holocaust survivors who will be lighting the memorial torches and their stories:
Tova (Gitela) Gutstein was born in Warsaw in 1933 to Zanvel and Malka-Mania Alba, the middle of three children in a Yiddish-speaking family. The family lived at 9 Niska Street, on the border of the area that would later become part of the Warsaw ghetto, near the deportation square (Umschlagplatz).
With the establishment of the ghetto in October 1940, Tova's father was sent to forced labor. From the window of her house, Tova saw German soldiers shooting young men and women every day. Her mother had a neighbor hang a sheet over the window so that Tova wouldn't witness the horrors.
Tova's mother was too weak to nurse her baby brother, so she would feed him bread dissolved in water. Tova began to take care of the family's livelihood. She would go out of the ghetto through the sewers and beg for food from local Poles, even though they threatened to hand her over to the Germans. Sometimes, the young girl collected produce from the fields. She would tie a rope around her waist, fill her clothes with food and return to the ghetto via the sewers. Sometimes Germans stood on the manhole cover, and she couldn't get out. When she grew, and her shoes became too small, she wrapped her feet in rags.
When the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising broke out, Tova was outside the ghetto in search of food. Suddenly, she saw the sky turn red; the ghetto was burning. She ran towards her home. The bombing started, and she saw people falling and houses collapsing. When she reached her house, it was already destroyed, and her family was gone. She turned and ran away from the ghetto. On the way, she saw many corpses lying in the streets.
Tova managed to reach the forest and was taken in by partisans. They fed and dressed her in the coat and boots of German soldiers, as well as in clothes they tore from clotheslines. Tova lived with them in the forest for about a year and a half and learned Russian and Polish from them. When the partisans went on missions, she would climb into a ditch, and the partisans would cover the ditch with branches. One day, the partisans did not return; they were apparently killed in action against the Germans. Tova was left alone in the forest.
At the end of the war, Tova emerged from the forest. She remembered her mother saying that at the end of the war, she would go to Lublin, so she began to journey toward the city, still concealing her Jewish identity. At the end of 1944, she arrived in Lublin, which had already been liberated by the Red Army. She waited for her mother at the train station every day for a month. When she was attacked by antisemitic Poles, the station manager put her in a train car, and she was taken to the city of Wałbrzych, where young Jews took her to an orphanage. After eighteen months, she arrived in Germany, where she found her mother, sister, and brother in a DP camp in the city of Ulm.
Tova immigrated to Israel in 1948 and became a hospital nurse. Today she is active in helping Holocaust survivors.
Tova and Binyamin, z"l, a Holocaust survivor from Buczacz, have three children, eight grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren.
Ben-Zion Raisch was born in 1932 in Chernivtsi, Romania (now Ukraine). His parents, Max and Sara, owned a grocery store in the city, and Ben-Zion studied at the local Jewish school "Safa Ivriya." His brother Poldy (Peretz) was born in 1938. That year, due to antisemitic incidents, his father immigrated to Eretz Israel (Mandatory Palestine). In 1940, the Soviet Union occupied Chernivtsi. Russians took over a large part of the family home, and the connection with Max was severed.
In July 1941, the Romanians and the Germans occupied Chernivtsi. The Jews were forced to wear the Yellow Star and were confined in a ghetto. After a few weeks, Ben-Zion, his mother, and his little brother were put on a cattle car and taken to the Mărculești concentration camp, from where they were marched to the Yampil, Kryzhopil, and Tsybulivka ghettos. Many of the prisoners died of cold, hunger, and disease. Some were shot by the guards.
The family eventually arrived at the Zhabokrych ghetto, where they entered a house with no door. All the occupants of the house were lying on the floor. Three-year-old Poldy was weak with hunger. The next day, he asked for soup. Those were his last words. He died in his mother's arms.
Sara tried to sneak out of the ghetto to get food, but a guard beat her badly. Ben-Zion dragged her back into the house. He began to crawl under the ghetto fences and collect sugar beets that would fall from freight wagons. Despite being whipped by coachmen, he continued to do so in order to survive. In the summer, he worked with Ukrainian villagers. Young Ukrainians beat him and set dogs on him. In the winter, he learned to knit with the help of knitting needles he made from a barbed-wire fence. He and his mother knitted socks, gloves, and sweaters for the villagers in exchange for potatoes.
In mid-March 1944, the Red Army occupied the area, and Ben-Zion and his mother returned to Romania. Sara reestablished contact with Max, and in January 1946 Ben-Zion arrived in Eretz Israel, with his mother. After eight years of separation, the 14-year-old barely knew his father.
Ben-Zion became a wireless technician in the IDF, and after his military service, he studied electronic engineering at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. He worked at the Rafael defense technology company for many years, where he was involved in the development of electronic warfare. During the Yom Kippur War, his team deciphered the operation of a Soviet anti-aircraft missile and developed a system that misdirected the missiles, saving the lives of many pilots. Ben-Zion and the team received two Israel Security Awards for developing military technology.
Ben-Zion and his wife Charna have three sons and a daughter, 30 grandchildren, and over 70 great-grandchildren.
Judith Sohlberg was born in Amsterdam in 1935 to Rosette and Joseph van Dijk. Joseph was a lawyer and active in the Jewish community. After the occupation of the Netherlands by Germany in 1940, Judith was forced to wear the Yellow Star. Her father, who spoke German, tried to free arrested Jews.
In 1943, three Germans rang the doorbell and told the family: "Be ready in five minutes." Rosette dressed Judith and her elder sister Elisabeth in several layers of clothes, and the family was taken to the theater in Amsterdam, where the Jews were gathered. Members of the Underground would smuggle children out of the theater, but Judith and Elisabeth refused to leave so as not to distance themselves from their parents.
In September 1943, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, Judith and her family were deported to the Westerbork transit camp. Men and women were separated from each other and sent to sleep in large halls. Every Tuesday, deportations left Westerbork to the east. Before each deportation, an atmosphere of deathly fear prevailed in the camp. In one of the deportations, Judith's grandfather was taken to Auschwitz and murdered.
Judith and the rest of her family were sent to Bergen-Belsen. As she got off the train, she heard shouts of "Raus!" and saw Germans with whips and dogs. For hours, Judith and her family members stood in formation, day after day, in the snow and the bitter cold. Due to the conditions, Judith's grandmother and grandfather, Rabbi Simon de Vries, died in Bergen-Belsen.
Rosette knew German and was therefore taken to work in the German offices. She would steal burnt crusts of bread and secretly bring them to her daughters. Adults covertly kept the children busy. Judith studied arithmetic and embroidery. She and Elisabeth embroidered a challah cover for Shabbat, decorated it with an inscription in Hebrew, and kept dried bread in it. On Passover, the prisoners baked a matza-like pastry. One of the uncles wrote a Haggadah from memory, and family members read from it.
In the camp, the Germans separated men and women. When the family members were allowed to meet, Judith would go to her father's shack, and there, at his request, she would walk among the sick who were lying in bed, smile at them and encourage them to stand because her father told her that whoever did not get up, wouldn't stay alive.
In April 1945, the family members were put on a train that traveled without a destination between the adjacent western and eastern fronts. Many of the prisoners died on the train. At one of the stops, Judith and her sister jumped over the dead at the door of the car, took a sack of potatoes, and brought it inside. "Those potatoes saved many people on the train," says Judith.
Two weeks later, the Red Army released the prisoners from the train near the town of Tröbitz.
Judith arrived in Switzerland, where she met Saul, a classmate of hers who had been hidden with Christian farmers in the Netherlands. Later the two got married and immigrated to Israel in 1959.
Judith and Saul have four children, 24 grandchildren, and 33 great-grandchildren.
Robert (Reuven) Bonfil was born in 1937 in Karditsa, in the Thessaly region of Greece, the only son of David and Efthymia Allegra (Simcha).
In 1941, Italy occupied Thessaly. Robert fell ill, so his parents took him to Athens under a false identity in order to undergo surgery. At the time, Athens was under German occupation. On the way back to Karditsa, at the train station in Domokos, the Bonfil family saw Jewish forced laborers under the guard of German soldiers. One of the Jewish workers asked them for bread. Robert's father threw him a loaf of bread from the train window, but a German soldier beat the Jew to death with a rifle butt. A German officer then got into the wagon and asked: "Who threw the bread?" Robert was frozen with fear, and his mother turned pale, but David replied in broken German: "No one threw bread from this wagon." The officer left.
At the end of 1943, the Germans arrived in Karditsa. Robert and his mother hid in a coal
bunker under the house. His father was at the home of the town's bishop, Ezekiel, whom he taught French. When German soldiers arrived at the bishop's house, the bishop took off his cross pendant, hung it around David's neck, and introduced him to the Germans as his beadle.
Robert and his parents escaped in a donkey cart in torrential rain and crossed raging streams before arriving at the mountain village of Dafnospilia (today Velessi). When the Germans approached the village, members of the communist underground smuggled the family to Apidea.
In Apidea, the Greek Orthodox Goulas family took the family in, settling them in a room in their house and sharing their food with them. David taught the children of the village arithmetic, and his mother taught them to read and write in Greek.
When German planes bombed Apidea and German troops approached the village, Konstantinos and Vassiliki Goulas led Robert and his parents to the thicket of the forest up the mountain and hid them in a cabin. They stayed there with a goat and survived only with the help of the Goulas family. They gathered berries under the snow and drank the goat's milk.
When the Germans retreated, Robert and his parents returned to Karditsa, where they discovered that members of Efthymia's family had been deported to Auschwitz and murdered.
Robert married Eva, a Holocaust survivor from Germany, and immigrated with his family to Israel in 1968. He is a Professor Emeritus of Medieval and Renaissance Jewish History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Robert and Eva have three children, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Konstantinos and Vassiliki Goulas were posthumously recognized in 2018 as Righteous Among the Nations. Their children received the medals and certificates on their behalf at a ceremony in Karditsa, with the participation of Robert's extended family.
Efim Gimelshtein was born in 1935 in Minsk in the Soviet Union (Belarus) to Mikhail and Rachel Yudovich, traditional Jews who spoke Yiddish at home. His grandparents lived with them.
In June 1941, the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. Efim's father was recruited into the Red Army and was killed in battle.
About a month after the German occupation, the Minsk ghetto was established, and Efim and his family were imprisoned there. He witnessed the murder of Jews in the courtyard and the blood of the murdered flowing on the ground. He observed Jews hanged in the square and soldiers and policemen with weapons and dogs forcing convoys of Jews out of the city. He saw Jews being put into a vehicle, where they were apparently gassed to death. He and his mother survived several Aktionen carried out by the Germans among the Jews of Minsk.
Pinchas Dobin, Rachel's brother-in-law, was a stove builder. In 1943, Pinchas and his sons dug a hiding place under the house next to the Jewish cemetery in the ghetto. The entrance to the hideout, intended for seven people, was through a heating and cooking stove. Pinchas placed food and water in the bunker.
In October 1943, when the Germans began to liquidate the Minsk ghetto, 26 people entered the bunker, including Efim, who was the youngest child there. They sat in almost complete darkness, distinguishing between day and night only by the faint light that entered through a small airhole. Rats tried to gnaw their fingers and toes. After the food and water ran out, Efim's mother would leave the bunker and approach Russian acquaintances for food. Those in hiding began to die of thirst, hunger, weakness, and disease, including Efim's grandmother. The others buried them in the floor of the bunker. The soil removed from the graves was sprinkled in the bunker, and thus the floor rose, the ceiling became lower, and the bunker space kept shrinking.
During one burial, water suddenly burst into the bunker. Fortunately for those in hiding, the rising water stopped.
They stayed in the bunker for nine months.
On July 3, 1944, Minsk was liberated, and the group was discovered by Soviet soldiers. Only 13 of the 26 who entered the bunker survived. They did not have the strength to walk, and their vision was impaired due to being in the dark for so many months. Soldiers carried them on stretchers to a hospital. Efim was hospitalized for three months. After the war, his mother married Yakov Gimelshtein, a partisan whose entire family was murdered in the Holocaust. Yakov treated Efim like a son.
In 1992, Efim and his wife Rivka immigrated to Israel. He volunteers at Yad Vashem and tells his story to groups of Russian-speaking students.
Efim and Rivka have two sons and five grandchildren.
Malka Rendel was born in 1927 in the town of Nagyecsed in Hungary, the youngest in an Orthodox family of eight. Malka's father, David-Aaron Freundlich, was killed in an accident before her birth, and her mother, Sara, ran the family's fabric store after his death. Her two older siblings immigrated to Eretz, Israel (Mandatory Palestine), before WWII.
Upon entering the town in 1944, the Germans closed Jewish-owned shops, forbade the Jews to trade, and ordered them to wear the Yellow Star. Malka was assigned the humiliating task of cleaning the street in front of her Hungarian friends.
In May 1944, the Jews of the city were deported to the Mátészalka ghetto. The entire extended family lived in one apartment.
Three weeks later, Malka and her family were deported to Auschwitz in a cattle car – a journey of about six days. On arrival, Malka tried to grab hold of her mother and one of her sisters, but most of the family was sent to one side, and Malka and her sisters, Miriam and Rachel, were sent to the other. Her mother gave her two cookies and told her sisters: "Take care of Malka." Of all the family members, only Malka, Miriam, and Rachel survived the selection.
After three months, Malka and her sisters were sent to the Płaszów concentration camp, where they labored in a quarry carrying stones with their bare hands in the freezing cold. People around them were constantly killed by rock explosions. The three were returned to Auschwitz, and from there, they were sent to Neustadt, to a factory for weaving parachutes.
On Hanukkah, the women stole oil and threads to light makeshift candles. "It made it feel like home that they didn't take everything from us," says Malka.
As the Red Army approached, Malka and her sisters were forced on a death march to the Gross-Rosen concentration camp. Prisoners who could not continue walking were shot. At night, they slept in each other's arms to keep warm. In order to survive, Malka imagined her mother, her home, and the foods she used to eat.
Malka and her sisters were transferred to Bergen-Belsen, where Miriam and Rachel died. They were thrown through the window onto a pile of corpses. "That memory still haunts me," Malka cries. "Mother told them to look after me, and they gave me their bread. If I hadn't eaten it, maybe they would have survived.
"Sometimes I can't believe I went through all this. Then I roll up my sleeve and look at the number on my arm, which proves to me that it did happen".
After liberation, Malka was transferred to Sweden, where she was hospitalized. She took Zionism and Hebrew classes from emissaries who came from Eretz Israel in a school established for the survivors.
Malka boarded a refugee ship to Eretz Israel, but was caught and imprisoned in the British detention camps in Cyprus, where she continued to study Hebrew until her eventual immigration. She became a teacher, and after she retired, she taught Hebrew to new immigrants.
Malka and Yehoshua have three daughters, eleven grandchildren, 36 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandson.
Reciting the El Male Rahamim Prayer
Efraim Mol was born in 1938 in a suburb of Brussels, Belgium, the only son of Reuven Yoel (Youlek) and Bella, who immigrated from Poland to Belgium at the end of World War I. Reuven Yoel, who was a member of the Beitar movement, created handmade leather wallets in one of the rooms in the family home. In another, Bella fashioned women's hats.
In September 1942, the family fled to France intending to escape to Switzerland but were arrested by the Gestapo in the city of Besançon, near the Swiss border. Efraim and his parents were brought to the Gestapo headquarters in the city. On German orders, French policemen separated Efraim from his mother and father. Bella kissed him and put two photographs in his pocket: one of herself and one of his father. Efraim had no idea that he would never see either of them again. On 18 September 1942, Reuven Yoel and Bella Mol were deported from the Drancy concentration camp near Paris to Auschwitz, where they were murdered.
The police brought four-year-old Efraim to the convent in Besançon. The nuns there had volunteered to take in many Jewish children in Efraim's situation. After a few weeks, Efraim was sent to a Jewish orphanage in Paris, along with other boys and girls from the convent.
Efraim was adopted by the Weils, French Jews who had an 18-year-old daughter. The couple wanted a son and asked to adopt a Jewish boy from the orphanage. Efraim was chosen thanks to the good word of one of the nurses and also because he spoke French. His adoptive parents showered him with warmth and love.
Later that year, the Germans and the French followed Efraim's trail after finding evidence of his stay in the convent. Lucie Cartier, an acquaintance of his adoptive parents, hid them in her home and found Efraim refuge in an apartment in the suburbs of Paris, where she took care of all his needs. Lucie Cartier was later recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.
In the summer of 1944, the Allies liberated Paris.
Efraim's adoptive parents were assimilated Jews, but in 1957 Efraim visited Israel and decided to serve in the IDF. His adoptive parents objected; instead, he was drafted into the French army and fought in the Algerian war. After his release, Efraim immigrated to Israel and settled in a religious kibbutz. He was drafted into the IDF and became a sapper in combat reserve units.
While in the reserves, Efraim met a Lubavitch Hasid and was drawn to Hasidism. He joined the Chabad community and, after five years on the kibbutz, moved with his family to Jerusalem. He worked in a defense industries factory and continued to serve in the IDF combat reserves. He fought in all of Israel's wars until the First Lebanon War. After retiring, he became a scribe. Efraim shares his experiences in the Holocaust with various audiences and groups.
Efraim and Rachel have four children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Remarks on behalf of the survivors.
Shoshana Weis (née Schapira) was born in 1934 in Vatra Dornei, Romania. In 1941, Shoshana and her family were deported to Transnistria.
When her father Zvi-Herman, was sent to forced labor, seven-year-old Shoshana took on the burden of supporting her sick mother, Chana, and her younger sister Shulamit. After her sister was hospitalized, Shoshana would come to the hospital every day in order to keep an eye on her and raise her spirits.
One day, a nurse informed her that she could not enter the hospital because her sister had passed away. With the help of her aunt, the two came to recover Shulamit's body from the morgue, only to discover that she was still alive. Thus, Shoshana saved her sister from certain death.
At the war's end, when the family members returned home, Shoshana, who could not bear the lingering antisemitism, immigrated to Israel alone in 1948. Her mother and sister stayed behind in order to wage an eleven-year struggle for Zvi-Herman's release from prison, where he was sent because of his Zionist beliefs.
Shoshana completed her law studies and became an educator. Today, she volunteers at the Amcha Holocaust Survivor support organization and at ORT Leibovitz High School in Netanya, where she nurtures students with behavioral and other difficulties.