A Message from a Holocaust Survivor

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Alice Lahaman and Professor Pinchas Bar-Efrat are both Netherland-born Jews. They were both teenagers during the Second World War. Today, they shared their stories with students at Hebrew University, in Jerusalem, Israel.

Alice Ferera lived in Hague in 1942. When she turned 18, she had to separate from her first love in order to find shelter from the Nazis. They promised each other to write diaries and try to pass them to each other if they were doomed to die. If they were to survive the war, they agreed to meet up in the city square where they shared their first kiss. Running from shelter to shelter amid the horrors of Auschwitz, in starvation, cold and harsh conditions, Alice continued writing a diary to her love; and so did he. A close look at both diaries showed their love standing strong, often expressing the same feelings at the same dates, sometimes escaping on the same route.

At the end of the war Alice returned to the square, where they were to meet. She waited on the bench for many days, but to no avail. She knew he wanted to immigrate with her to Israel, to get married and start a big family. She decided to take these words from him and made his dream come true. Alice found a new love in a Jewish Brigade soldier from Israel [the Jewish Brigade consisted of Israeli citizens who volunteered for the British army during the Second World War). She immigrated with him to Israel and they decided to marry.

On their wedding day, as she set her veil over her hair, a package arrived. It was addressed to her. Puzzled, she opened it thinking it might be a wedding gift from someone who couldn’t make it, but was astounded to find that it was the diary of her old love, Bernie. Going rapidly through the pages with his hand writing she became startled and suddenly felt terrible, as though she was caught cheating; but the arrival of the package meant he was not among the living.

She continued hiding the diary in her attic for over 60 years, until her husband died. Her family’s curiosity drove her to open it, read and mourn. With her daughters assistance she translated the book into Hebrew and it was published in English and Italian as well. Alice then went on a fascinating journey to the Netherlands, which was documented in a film, trying to follow Bernie’s footsteps and discover what happened to him.

Finding him would not be possible without Pinchas Bar-Efrat, whom like Alice, survived the Holocaust. Bar-Efrat researched  the relationship between the Dutch people and the Jews during the Holocaust.

After recounting their stories, showing the film to students and various sources, which included the diaries, Red Cross documents and pictures, one student asked: “After having your experience during the Holocaust and living long after, what is the message you wish to pass on to the next generations?”

Alice replied: “I can only say I learned to never give [someone a hard time] or be evil to someone, even someone I don’t like.”

Dr. Pinchas said: “Most people don’t care what’s going on in other people’s lives. For me, what we can take is to think of our surroundings, that you can help someone – poor, disabled, someone who has a particular difficulty – you can reach out and try to help. To help even in the little things; we can’t change the world – but the little we do adds up to something great.”

Alice’s daughter adds: “I couldn’t agree more,” and added that in one of the books her mother mentioned she read during the Holocaust by Rita Von Suchner [the first woman to be awarded the Nobel prize for peace]  the following: “after the verb to love, to help is the prettiest verb in the world.”

Image: Roni Zedek

By: Roni Zedek

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Author: admin