Torch lighters at remembrance ceremony in Jerusalem

Torch lighters at remembrance ceremony in Jerusalem
Credit: Private photo

A Dutch Holocaust survivor was one of the six torch lighters at the Holocaust Remembrance Day in Jerusalem on Thursday.

Zehava Gealel, born in The Hague, told The Brussels Times that her message on the Remembrance Day was what her mother always used to say to her: Never give up!

The central ceremony at the Remembrance Day takes place at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, where six torches, representing the murdered six million Jews, are lit by Holocaust survivors. Their individual experiences are portrayed in short films screened during the ceremony.

The films and individual stories can be accessed (by country or year of ceremony) on Yad Vashem’s website. This year, the torch lighters were survivors and former partisans from Ukraine, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Greece and the Netherlands.

When Dutch and German police arrived to take Zehava and her family for internment, her father saved the lives of the rest of the family by pretending that they suffered from ‘roodvonk’ (scarlet fever). He was deported to Auschwitz, where he was murdered.

In 1942, Zehava was taken with her mother and two brothers into camps in the Netherlands. First, they were imprisoned in the Westerbork transit camp. From there they were sent to the Amersfoort concentration camp. In April 1944 they were transferred to the Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany.

"Mothers and children were required to stand in line three times a day, in the cold of winter, wearing thin clothes, without uttering a word, as if it were obvious that this was the way to behave," recounts Zehava.

In the winter of 1944-1945, the family was placed on a train, without food or water. The train got stuck on a bombed-out railroad track, and the prisoners were taken off and marched to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

"There was almost nothing to eat," Zehava says. "Mother and I worked collecting and stacking corpses to earn another slice of bread for the family. My brother and I searched the camp for burnt pieces of wood, and gave them to people suffering from diarrhoea." Zehava and her family remained in the camp, suffering from sickness and famine, until liberation in April 1945.

At the age of 17, Zehava immigrated to Israel, where she studied to become a nurse.  She has been the private nurse of Israel’s second president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, and is proud to have worked ‘until the first of April’, her 86th birthday. She is happy to have been vaccinated against COVID-19, like most of the population in Israel.

Her dedication to her work and the sick are seen by her as a victory over the evil and human suffering she experienced as a child, and as a source of comfort in her own bereavement, after having lost two of her children in adult age. A daughter is still alive, and she is surrounded by grandchildren and great-grandchildren, a posthumous victory over Nazi-Germany which denied her the right to life.

EU statement

The European delegation and the embassies of the EU member states in Israel issued a statement on the occasion of the Holocaust Remembrance Day which was commemorated in Israel on Thursday.

The central theme of this year’s Remembrance Day is “Until the Very Last Jew: Eighty Years Since the Onset of Mass Annihilation.”

80 years ago, in June 1941, Nazi Germany launched “Operation Barbarossa,” which marked the beginning of an official policy of systematic mass murder of Jews, first in the Soviet Union and the areas annexed by it, and concentration and extermination camps across the continent.

In the statement, EU remembers “with a sense of deep responsibility the six million Jews brutally killed on European soil in the Holocaust, together with other victims of Nazism during the darkest hours of humankind…It is our collective duty to make sure that the horrors of the Holocaust are never forgotten.”

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EU also pledges to do everything in its power to fight attempts to deny, trivialise or distort the Holocaust.

“We stand against traditional and contemporary forms of antisemitism, including recent conspiracy theories falsely blaming Jews for COVID-19. We will strenuously counter such lies wherever and whenever we encounter them and continue to fight anti-Semitism and other hate crimes.”

The European Commission, together with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the United Nations and UNESCO, launched in January 2021 a digital campaign entitled #ProtectTheFacts, to raise awareness, develop knowledge and critical reasoning about Holocaust distortion.

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