The compassion of a torch bearer of remembrance

Israel’s Catholic dentist, Dr. Maher Haddad, understands the responsibility of trying to make amends for the suffering of holocaust survivors as they fade away.

Mother Theresa once said, “The world is full of good people. If you can’t find one, be one.” This is exactly what Israeli Catholic dentist, Dr. Maher Haddad, is doing.

Six years ago, Dr. Haddad, who had studied dentistry in Romania, responded to a newspaper ad in Israel for a volunteer dentist at the Haifa Home for Holocaust Survivors. Since then, three times each week, he unfailingly makes a two-hour round trip from his home to provide free dental care for the needy residents at the Haifa Home.

Dr. Haddad’s commitment to his volunteering extends well beyond sacrificing time he could have spent developing his own private practice. Many residents of the Haifa Home suffer from appalling dental problems that stem from subpar dental hygiene they practiced during the holocaust era. As Dr. Haddad investigates individual cases with his own mobile dental equipment, his complex diagnoses include treatment options like dental implants. He said, “Working with the survivors is sometimes heartbreaking. After what they have gone through, these people should not have gotten to an economic situation where they need someone like me to help them.”

Nevertheless, the Haifa Home for Holocaust Survivors, located in Haifa, the third-largest city in Israel, after Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, a collaboration between the Israeli charitable organization Yad Ezer Le’Haver and the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ), is indisputably a blessing for the senior Holocaust survivors living there, who otherwise would be homeless in the sunset years of their lives.

The residents of the Haifa Home belong to the 3.5 million Jews who survived the holocaust, with tragic and horrifying stories to tell, living with overpowering memories of terror and fear.

Trust has grown with the bonding between Dr. Haddad and the residents, and they share their experiences with him. The horror and fear seem tangible despite the passage of time. Dr. Haddad says, “I just sit and take the time to listen to them. That’s the only thing I can do. Listen to them.”

He is, in fact, horrified, remembering the six million Jews murdered in atrocities during World War II. But his faith is intact, and he remembers the compassionate Catholics who engaged tirelessly to save Jews from their horrible fate. After the war, most of the survivors left Eastern Europe for other countries. Many immigrated to Israel, America, Canada, and Australia.  About 180,000 survivors live in Israel, and about a third of them live in poverty. With World War II ending in 1945, most of the holocaust survivors are now over 80 years of age.

The survivors who arrived in Israel tried to regain some semblance of normality in their lives and raised families. The children they had are known as second generation.” More than 500 studies have been done on this second generation of holocaust survivors, and they all reveal that the overwhelming psychological impact of the holocaust can even affect survivors’ children. While many survivors suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), they also actively participated in Israel’s wars, helping to create a fighting ethos in Israel. What is more, in the 1980s, Israel had two Prime Ministers, Menachem Begin and Yitzchak Shamir, who had lost almost all of their biological families in the holocaust. Meanwhile, a recent study shows that the third generation, the grandchildren of the survivors, are more emotionally stressed than the general population.

Dr. Haddad’s experience is echoed by other dentists, for example, Dr. Igal Elyassi DDS from the Dental Implant Center of Los Angeles who has similarly treated Holocaust survivors. “Treating Holocaust survivors has been a very emotional experience for my entire team. They survived one of the darkest chapters in human history and we owe them the most we can.”

Furthermore, Shimon Sabag, founder and director of Yad Ezer L’Haver, whose own Greek mother had survived the horrors of the Auschwitz concentration camp, believes that with today’s political realities in Israel, the volunteer work Dr. Haddad does as a Catholic Arab citizen of Israel is not to be taken lightly.

He said, “There can be many reasons for Dr. Haddad not to help (the Holocaust survivors), but he chooses specifically to help them. That is not something to take for granted. He is a righteous man.”

Dr. Haddad’s perspective is truly noble. He says, “I connect myself to the person, not because I have family who survived the Holocaust. I do this because I want to help; a person’s religion or ethnicity is not important. Now I want to help even more after I have seen their conditions.”

Having experienced the most brutal of traumas, these survivors are indelibly scarred in body and mind. Rising above the agony is the feeling of guilt, that they survived while countless others died. They saw their families murdered before their eyes, but they managed to escape death, and many of them rebuilt their lives, even rising to success and wealth.

Nevertheless, with the last survivors dying, Haddad feels the weight of responsibility to record their stories, as the last witnesses to their memories. In fact, being non-Jewish, Dr. Haddad’s records will hold greater credibility.

As he says, “When someone tries to deny the Holocaust happened, I stop them right away. Those people can’t lie to me. I’ve seen the survivors. I’ve seen them crying as they tell their stories.”

Dan Gillerman, Israel’s 13th Permanent Representative to the United Nations, once said, “As the generation of Holocaust survivors and liberators dwindles, the torch of remembrance, of bearing witness, and of education, must continue.”

Dr. Haddad is committed to being a torchbearer of remembrance.

About the Author
Scientist turned techie. Founder at Neliti & Reputio. Interested in sharing lessons learnt from Tel Aviv's bustling technology ecosystem.
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