Capt. Ben is a fighter pilot in the IAF and the grandson of Rachel, a holocaust survivor. In a unique inter-generational meeting the two discussed the past and future

Hadas Levav

Grandmother and Grandson sit side by side, a quite ordinary occurrence, but this time, it was special: Grandma Rachel, a holocaust survivor, sat alongside Capt. Ben, an IAF fighter pilot, and told him her story.

Grandma’s Story

Photography: Celia Garion

Never Forget
Rachel was born in 1929 in a small village in Transylvania. “We were a happy family, with many children, my mother and father were known figures in the Jewish community and we were appreciated in the village”, she recalled. “The Nazis came in Passover of 1944, we were put in the synagogue and were asked to collect a few belongings”. There were 1,000 Jews in the village Rachel and her family lived in, only 25 survived the war. “We were taken to a ghetto and a month later were asked to come to a train station, I was glad because I had never traveled by train”.

Capt. Ben looked at his grandmother, and it was clear that he is closely familiar with her story. “Think about me as a young girl who was looking forward to traveling by train for the first time in her life, and was suddenly packed into a train car en-route to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp”, she turned to him. “On my fifteenth birthday we arrived”. In Dr. Mengale’s first selection Rachel’s family was torn apart: her father and brothers were taken to the male line and led to the gas chambers, her mother and one of her sisters were also sent to their death. Rachel and three of her sisters survived the selection and were sent to work in the camp. Rachel clearly recalls the unbearable time, the difficult conditions and the abuse they experienced. 

Later, Rachel and her sisters were moved to Bergen-Belsen and from there to a labor camp. The final destination in their journey was the Theresienstadt concentration camp which was located in German-occupied Czechoslovakia and was later liberated by the Red Army. In the aftermath of the war the sisters discovered that their oldest brother also survived and the four were re-united. Rachel immigrated to Israel, served in the Palmach, as a medic and later worked as a social worker. She lived in Kibbutz Mizra, where she met her husband, Shlomo. The pair has two sons, four grandsons and three great-grandchildren. 

Grandma’s Story

Photography: Celia Garion

What is Heroism?
To an outside observer, the meeting wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary, a conversation between a Grandmother and her Grandson, but when delving into its intricacies, one understands it uniqueness. “How do you grasp my story?” Rachel asked Capt. Ben. “Sometimes even I don’t know how to deal with it”.

“It’s a heroic story, you survived with no family and no food”, answered Capt. Ben. “This is called heroism?”, Rachel asked wondrously, while her grandson found it difficult to grasp why it wasn’t so. “We survived only by chance, everything is coincidental. My older sister would steal potato skins from trash cans. She didn’t let us steal because she feared we would get caught, she saved us. I didn’t think we deserved more than others, in fact, we didn’t think at all. One of the girls in the camp told me what the smoke rising from the camp’s chimneys was and we didn’t believe her. We thought the rising smoke was a result of laundering clothes; on the other hand, our clothes were never laundered during our stay”.

“I have no doubt that your story impacted my life in general, and my military service in particular”, Capt. Ben shared. “Holocaust remembrance, the thought of what happened and what could happen if we don’t have a strong military and if we don’t contribute, are very significant for me”. “You might be in the military, but you were my grandson before”, Rachel interrupted him.

A moment before the meeting ended, Rachel asked to convey an important message to the young generation: “Firstly, always look for the good in live. In addition, remember that there is no place for racism in society, it caused the extermination of six millions Jews. When racism doesn’t exist, hate doesn’t exist and there is room for giving, which is the most important thing – giving is receiving”.

Grandma’s Story

Photography: Celia Garion

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