As we commemorate the memory of the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, we make certain to share to the stories of our survivors. Here are the stories of three courageous survivors who are now the proud grandparents of IDF (Zahal) soldiers.
Betty Gelernter – The Invisible Girl
Betty recounted her vibrant story alternating between laughter at amusing memories and uncontrollable tears at the mention of her most painful moments. For her, the memories are still clear.
“I always knew that my grandmother was a holocaust survivor,” said Nadav Nalishkevitch, Betty’s grandson. “No one sat me down and told me. I just knew that she hid in order to escape the Nazis.”
“I think my grandmother’s story gave me the understanding of how important this country is. I always believed wholeheartedly in what we do in this country, and that’s why I wanted to enlist as a combat soldier,” explained Nadav, who serves aboard a Dvora, an Israeli battleship. “Being a soldier means doing what I believe in.”
Betty was born in Paris in 1937. Her parents had already left Austria where they had witnessed the horrors of Nazism, and decided to move again, leaving Paris for the Creuse.
By 1941, Betty and her brother Roger were living in hiding. They had assumed new identities and were separated from their parents, as they were transported from place to place. During the first years of the war, they were placed in foster homes.
In a hoarse voice, Betty described her very first memory. “One day at the home, we were all taken out to the courtyard. The French police arrived to choose Jews. They took away two young boys. Their names are fixed in my memory: Gaston and Rutegnem. When I arrived at Israel’s Holocaust museum several years later, the first thing I did was register their names.” Betty paused for a few seconds and as tears brim in her eyes. “I still remember. They were taken and I was shocked and scared. I was so scared. ”
In 1942, Roger and Betty’s father fled Beaune-La-Rolande after hearing that Jews were being deported to death camps. At that the time, the children were in Montauban, a base of the Austrian Socialist Party, with their mother. Betty was placed in a convent for several years until deportations of children began.
“I do not know how long I stayed exactly in each place because I was so little. The places changed so much – I know chickens slept with us in some places. It was so dirty. You can not imagine the filth we lived in. ”
Betty says she does not remember much about her parents. She does not remember her father at all, she knows she saw him a few times when she was four years old but has no memory of him during the difficult periods. She remembers a little more about her mother, who worked as an assistant housekeeper under a false identity, and kept in touch with her children throughout the war.
A few years ago, Roger, Betty and her family took a trip retracing their past.
In 1945 at the end of the war, the family returned to Paris. Their apartment had been requisitioned, and they had to wait until 1947 before it was returned. The Holocaust was a taboo subject that the family avoided.
Betty began school at the age of 8. For months she did not utter a word. “I grew up with the habit of not being noticed. When I arrived at school I did not speak at all. One day a classmate came to me asking me if I was Jewish. For the first time, I could say yes. She told me that she too was Jewish and she asked me if I wanted to play with her.”
Today, Betty lives in Paris but is often in Israel with her daughter. Years after the unspeakable nightmare that was World War II, her grandson stands proudly in uniform and protects the Jewish state.
Golda Cosher Finklstein – Against All Odds
“My grandmother was born in Lodz in 1926,” began Chaim Alfper, a combat soldier in the IDF (Zahal)’s Combat Engineering Corps of the 7th Brigade. His grandmother, Golda, is very sick and under constant care, but Chaim knows her story well. “By 1940, it was the Lodz Ghetto.”
Golda was born into a religious family, and was the third of seven siblings. After living in the ghetto for over a year, she was deported to Auschwitz, where she was sent to work along with her sister, Rela. “I remember her telling me that she remembered standing in front of Josef Mengale and waiting for him to point – right or left,” described Golda. “The rest of her family members, except for Rela, were murdered.”
After a while in the camp, she became sick. One day, she had a very high fever, and she was sure that she wasn’t going to survive. She was forced to work in the snow, wearing barely anything. “She said that working in the snow that day saved her, because it cooled her body,” said Chaim.
Golda, having been in Auschwitz for a long time, was eventually sent to the gas chambers. She survived thanks to a malfunction, and later, she was sent on a death march, a forced movement of prisoners. After surviving the death march, she was sent with her sister and a few other girls to work in a factory in Czechoslovakia, and while she was there the war ended.
After the war ended, Golda and Rela returned to their home in Lodz, but while they were gone a different family had moved into the house and refused to leave. The sisters were forced to live in an abandoned building.
In 1946, after being deported to Cyprus, Golda arrived in Israel. She got married and gave birth to three children. Her oldest son, Shimon, is named after her brother. Furthermore, her youngest daughter Esther, Chaim’s mother, is named after one of her sisters.
“Seven years ago, when her first great-grandson was born, I remember my grandmother saying that her family was her victory against the Nazis,” said Chaim. “I may not always think about the Holocaust, but I always feel proud wearing my uniform. It’s her victory. She was always really proud of me for becoming an officer in the IDF (Zahal).”
Naum Plotnizki – The Escape From Sobibor
My family was never willing to talk about the holocaust,” said Miki Burdenik, a Warrant Officer in the IAF. “I hardly know anything about what my mother and grandmother went through. I know they were in a ghetto and that my grandfather went to fight the war and never came back. But that’s all.”
Miki Burdenik was born to a zionist family in the Soviet Union. His grandmother spoke only yiddish, and when he was a boy, his family decided to make an Aliya. “My grandmother, even before we came to Israel, always reminded me that we were Jewish. My parents were too afraid to talk about it,” he recounts. “Even though I don’t know my family’s story, I know my wife’s grandfather’s story. His name is Naum Plotnizki.”
Naum Plotniski took an active part in the escape from Sobibor extermination camp. He was one of the people who led the operation. When the prisoners decided they wanted to resist, they would sit together at every opportunity they had and planned their escape.
On the day they decided to act, a German soldier came for a shoe fitting. As he bent down, Naum, being young and relatively strong, killed him with an axe, and the escape began.
The prisoners ran into the forest as the Nazi soldiers shot at them and chased after them. While Naum was running in the forest, two German soldiers caught him, but he managed to escape. Most of the prisoners were killed, and only about 50 of 400 people survived.
“It’s hard, I get emotional every time I hear his story,” said Miki’s wife, Miri. “But I think it’s important to talk about it. My family exists thanks to his courage.”
“My son is also a soldier. Last week he received his battalion’s award of excellence,” said Miki proudly. Miki himself recently received the Chief of Staff Award of Excellence.
“When I was in Polandwith the ‘Witnesses in Uniform’ program it was very difficult for me, seeing everything,” said Miki. “The piles of shoes and dolls. Ashes. But it proves the importance of this country, and the importance of having a military. I’m very proud to be the son of a holocaust survivor and an IDF (Zahal) soldier.”