When Rivka was fourteen years old, the Nazis took her father.
She remained in the Hungarian village of Poton with her mother and seven siblings, and no means of support. Rivka, the young entrepreneur, traveled to the nearby city of Dunaszerdahely and bought fabrics to sell from home. She made ends meet, but not for long. The Germans returned and loaded them onto a cattle train for Auschwitz.
They arrived at the death camp early in the morning. SS men sorted the new arrivals: Rivka’s two older sisters to the left, their mother and the younger children to the right. A long line led to the showers. As the sun rose, two-year-old Hilonika cried for food, and Rivka’s mother asked Rivka to run back for the bread in the bag they had left on the train.
Without hesitation, without saying goodbye, Rivka ran back to the train. She grabbed the bag and hurried to return to her mother and the younger children. On her way, however, an SS officer stopped her. He asked her age.
“From now on you are eighteen years old,” he told her. He forbade her to rejoin her family.
Rivka never saw her mother or younger siblings again. They were killed that day in the gas chambers. Only Rivka and her two older sisters survived the Holocaust in the labor camps.
After the war, Rikva moved to Israel and married Baruch Wessely, a fellow Hungarian survivor. The Germans had taken her childhood and any hope for a formal education. She loved music and always regretted not learning to play.
Always the businesswoman, she started her own catering company. Her hard work and keen business sense soon paid off and Wessely Catering thrived. She cooked traditional Hungarian delicacies for the wedding celebrations of Jerusalem’s well-to-do, but also gave freely to those in need.
Her husband, Baruch, who had fought in the War of Independence and endured months in a Jordanian prisoner of war camp, found employment as the driver of Dr. Yosef Burg, the renowned minister in the Israeli government. The families grew close and the Burgs too enjoyed Rivka’s tasty food.
Rivka and Baruch lived in Katamon in a very modest and small apartment, but they always had room for guests. Rivka sorely missed her mother and siblings, especially her little baby sister. She never forgot her mother’s final request and, although she had not been able to bring the bag of bread to her mother on that fateful morning in Auschwitz, she raised generations of family and friends on her legendary cooking and kindness.
She passed away last year aged eighty six, leaving her husband, children, grandchildren — my wife is one of them — and great-grandchildren.
Tonight on Yom HaShoah, Israel’s official Holocaust Remembrance Day, we remember our savta Rivka and her legacy of kindness.