This week, soldiers across the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) took part in a special project to visit Holocaust survivors across the country. "Flower to the Survivor" was born three years ago in 2005 as an initiative of the IDF Education Corp and the Museum of the Ghetto Fighters and promised that 1,000 Holocaust survivors across the country would recieve a visit from soldiers and officers of the Israeli Army. Three years on, the number has risen to 4,500 and in 2007 involved some 7,000 soldiers including the Chief of Staff.
Miriam, held up a tired photograph brimming with smiling young faces. The three
Now living in suburban Tel Aviv, at 79 years old, Miriam Shwarz is the only remaining member of her original family. The low-set table in her unassuming third floor flat was laid with home made apple strudel cut finely into strips and a bowl of freshly warmed popcorn that perched appetizingly on the corner. As if talking to her own grandchildren, Miriam eased back the pages of history to May 1944 when the Nazis came for her entire family along with the other Jews of Hungary. "On the same day, my parents, grandparents, and everyone I knew was taken to
The soldiers connected to Miriam’s character and charm, a warm rapour even volunteered itself for interruptions; the soldiers asking questions about her family, friends and her eventual arrival in
Israel is home to its fair share of trauma but despite the difficulty to relate to the scale of the Holocaust, hearing of such times from the individual; from the survivor hit home. Druze Officer Jaber Habed from the Galilee broke the silence in the car leaving Miriam’s appartment, "It’s important to learn about the nation you live with. Many Druze know about the Shoah, but many don’t, I have a duty to relay what I’ve heard today."
This year more than 4,500 survivors opened their doors, their hearts and painful memories to some 7,000 soldiers taking part in the project. In a high profile meeting just a few minutes away in another Tel Aviv apartment block, Alexander and Aviva Bartel were paid a visit by Israel Air Force Commander, General Eliezer Shakady and three of his most senior officers.
Alexander Bartlel was born in
In a room filled with the air of importance, Alexander told of the Lodz Ghetto and its liquidation. He described the bitter journey that stole his parents and sister and took him to Birkenau in August 1944. He told of the sheer determination and chance that led him to be alive when the Americans liberated Matthausen on May 5th 1944.
Days after that liberation, exhausted and confused, Alexander explained how he had spotted a group of troops he was later informed were the Jewish Brigades; volunteers who joined the British Army in
It was from this episode at Matthausen not knowing what to do or where to go that Alexander proceeded to share a particularly powerful memory: "I had only ever known the yellow star as being a symbol of embarrassment, a sign to be ashamed of." Pausing to swallow the emotion bottle necking in his throat, he composed himself and continued: "Now Jewish soldiers had chosen this very symbol to fight with against the Nazis." At 18 years old, he approached those Jewish brigades and asked to join them, three years later he fought in
Before the visit in Tel Aviv came to a close, General Shakady presented Alexander and Aviva with a large framed picture of an IDF jets flying over Aushwitz Birkenau, a handwritten inscription addressed to the couple in the top right corner read, "We’re with you with all our hearts and our love. ‘
Crowning the pile of documents on the dining room table in front of him, sat Alexander’s own air force wings. On arriving in
Besides the effect of such visits on survivors, the soldiers who visited also had much to gain. "A nation must know their history" said Project Coordinator Sergeant Tamar Kobiler. "This is project that gives both to the soldier and to the survivor…we’ve been inundated with positive feedback." Soldiers gain pride, meaning and a sense of importance for their own responsibilities from interacting with survivors and the stories of their lives.
For a young nation such as Israel find its way and continuing to fuse its identity in an increasingly complex world, this project ties society together through dialogue and understanding and in doing so fosters profound strength and depth.