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As long as a single Holocaust survivor walks the earth

We must not forget our obligations to those who experienced the unspeakable and who deserve to live out the rest of their lives in comfort and dignity
(iStock)
(iStock)

During the Holocaust, Nachum Horowitz was so hungry that he’d often suck on tree bark, and the splinters would bruise his gums. Eighty years later, he still has nightmares about the excruciating pain from the shards stuck in his teeth.

Mariah Krupievsky’s mother was pregnant with her when German troops murdered her father. Now in the ninth decade of her life, she is haunted by stories of her mother recovering his body and seeing that he had no teeth because the gold had been removed.

As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the enduring lessons and the obligations of the Shoah. Speaking out against antisemitism, supporting Israel, condemning Holocaust denial, and preserving memories were and are top priorities. Yet until I came to The Jewish Agency for Israel, I admit that I spent little time thinking about our obligations to the hundreds of thousands of survivors alive today – many of whom live in poverty.

At Amigour, a Jewish Agency senior living subsidiary, hundreds of Holocaust survivors live a life of dignity and respect in Israel. Each one of them, like Nachum and Mariah, is a living testament to the memory of the Holocaust.

Horowitz, who has lived in Amigour housing for 25 years and currently resides in Amigour’s Joseph Wilf Home for the Elderly in Tel Aviv, will celebrate his 90th birthday in May. The Russian poet made Aliyah in 1990 after experiencing many years of suffering before he could make his home in the Jewish state. Born in Tomashpol, Ukraine, he was 7 when the war broke out and spent time in a ghetto in Vinnitsa.

These days, his memory is perhaps not as good as it once was. Yet he will never forget the extreme hunger or suffering from typhus. Nevertheless, his smile could light up a room when speaking of his time at Amigour and his two sons who live in North America. On Yom Haatzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) in particular, he still loves spending time in Rabin Square and getting a thrill at seeing the flags of a Jewish state waving in the hands of both the younger and older generations — a Jewish state he could never have imagined as a boy.

Korofibski, who is from present-day Ukraine, had to live with her mother, her mother’s parents, and another family in a one-room apartment in a ghetto. She still suffers from injuries both psychological and physical from her hardships as a child.

And yet, she managed to create a new life after the war in Kyiv, where she had two children who made aliyah to Israel. She eventually followed and has been living in an Amigour residence for the past year. Every morning, she walks in Tel Aviv parks and is grateful that her life took such an unlikely positive trajectory.

These are, of course, just two of thousands of stories of survival – each one unique. There are many lessons to be gleaned from them.

Today, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, politicians will give speeches and issue statements about speaking out against antisemitism and bigotry. People will post “never again” on social media. It is of course fitting and appropriate that they do so.

But, as long as a single Holocaust survivor walks the earth, we should not forget our obligations to them as a society. Those obligations should include supporting organizations and initiatives that work to ensure survivors’ wellbeing. During history’s darkest hour, the world collectively turned its back on them and said that their survival was not a matter of concern. Today, in the year 2022, we must rededicate ourselves to assuring that our survivors are more than a political symbol. Rather, we must assure that their last years are spent in comfort and dignity.

About the Author
Dan Elbaum is head of North America at The Jewish Agency for Israel and the president and CEO of Jewish Agency International Development.
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