The aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks in Kibbutz Be'eri on Oct. 25, 2023. Photo by Edi Israel/Flash90.
The aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks in Kibbutz Be'eri on Oct. 25, 2023. Photo by Edi Israel/Flash90.
featureOctober 7

‘I never imagined I would be hiding in fear for my life again—in the kibbutz I founded’

Ruth Haran and Haim Ra'anan from Kibbutz Be'eri lived through two of the greatest atrocities committed against Jews in recent history.

Holocaust survivor Ruth Haran, from Kibbutz Be’eri, can barely sleep at night. Sometimes she dreams she is running, not knowing from whom or why. That is, until a week ago, when for the first time she dreamed of her firstborn son, Avshalom, who was murdered by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7.

“My son told me he is not in the coffin we buried him in, and I still can’t understand the dream,” said Haran, her voice breaking. “When I woke up, I didn’t eat or drink all day. The terrorists murdered Avshalom and desecrated his body. I miss him so much, I miss him asking, ‘Mom, how’s it going?’ I carry his picture with me and speak to him all the time.”

Haran’s fellow kibbutz member Haim Ra’anan, also a Holocaust survivor, went through what he describes as a second Holocaust on Oct. 7. 

“Never in my life did I imagine that as a Holocaust survivor, I would be hiding in fear for my life again. The massacre wiped out about 10% of Be’eri’s 1,000 residents. Over 100 were murdered or abducted to the Gaza Strip that day,” he said.

However, he continued, “For me, there was one huge difference between Oct. 7 and the Holocaust. During the Shoah, I did not personally know the six million who perished, but in the Be’eri massacre, I knew almost every single person who was killed.”

Israeli counter-terror forces patrol in Kibbutz Be’eri, near the Israeli-Gaza border in southern Israel. Oct. 22, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.

The lives of Haran and Ra’anan are intertwined in tragedy. They are two of about 865 Israelis from the south who experienced firsthand two of the most horrific atrocities ever committed against Jews. According to data from the Welfare and Social Affairs Ministry, about 2,000 Holocaust survivors from across Israel were evacuated from their homes in the aftermath of the Hamas onslaught.

Haran, who barely escaped the Nazi horror in Romania, immigrated to Israel and settled in the south. At no point did she imagine that at age 88, while living in the Promised Land, she would yet again face a horrific massacre, which she too says felt like a second Holocaust. Hamas terrorists not only murdered her son, but also took hostage seven of her family members, including her daughter, daughter-in-law, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A few months ago, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Haran led the Israeli Public Diplomacy Directorate’s international campaign. Gigantic billboards featuring her pain-filled face with the word “SURVIVOR” below were hung in front of the United Nations headquarters and in Times Square in New York. 

In a chilling video, she spoke about the horrifying similarity between the acts of the Nazis and Hamas.

“When babies are murdered in their cots, when women are raped, thrown to the ground and murdered, viciously, satanically, innocents—that’s a Holocaust!” she says in the video. 

Hamas Terrorists in Kibbutz Be'eri
A Hamas terrorist and Palestinian civilian accomplices enter Kibbutz Be’eri to murder, rape and torture Jews, on Oct. 7, 2023. Source: Kibbutz Be’eri security camera.

“I’m always asked about the similarities between the Holocaust and Oct. 7, and I answer that in both cases there was a deliberate, systematic, evil and completely satanic destruction. The Holocaust is the darkest stain on the history of the 20th century. A trauma for all of humanity, which caused the devaluation of human life.

“As time goes by, the memory of the Holocaust becomes more difficult and raises questions of ‘why?’ How could such a thing happen? It’s a monstrous puzzle that makes it difficult to understand the fabric of human experience. The Nazis tattooed numbers on the arms of Jews in the death camps with one goal: to break their Jewish identity.

“This is exactly what the terrorists did on Oct. 7. When IDF soldiers came to evacuate me from the house—after I had been besieged for about 24 hours—I saw sights I will never forget. The body of a neighbor was lying in the yard and babies and children were strewn on the lawns. I also saw a bloody crib. The terrorists turned our paradise into hell.”

Kibbutz Be'eri
A home in Kibbutz Be’eri after Hamas terrorists attacked civilians of all ages, Oct. 25, 2023. Photo by Edi Israel/Flash90,

“A quiet place, until tragedy struck”

Since Oct. 7, Haran has taken on another title in addition to that of Holocaust survivor. She is now also an evacuee. While her fellow Be’eri residents have been staying at a Dead Sea Hotel and are preparing to move to Kibbutz Hatzerim, she has spent the last few months in a nursing home in Beersheba. 

A month ago, she asked to return for the first time to the decimated kibbutz. 

“I couldn’t stop crying at the destruction and ruin,” Haran said, her voice breaking again. “Parts of my house survived, but Avshalom’s house was completely burned down. Nothing was left of it. I moved to Be’eri three years ago, after living 40 years in Omer. I loved the kibbutz life, the orchards, the groves, the fields and the blossoms. It’s a community of good, hard-working and creative people.”

Holocaust survivor Ruth Haran, 87, from Kibbutz Be’eri, pleads for her seven family members including two great grandchildren being held captive by Hamas in Gaza, Nov. 7, 2023. Photo by Rina Castelnuovo.

The tragedies Haran has endured are reflected in her eyes. She looks younger than her 88 years and her mind is sharp. 

“My mother once said I was born unlucky because winds of war were blowing across Europe,” Haran recounted, describing her childhood in Bucharest. “I was the youngest of four children in a time when the Fascist Benito Mussolini ruled in Italy, the dictator Francisco Franco ruled in Spain, and in Romania the antisemitic Iron Guard movement persecuted Jews.”

Haran’s family suffered from relentless persecution by the Nazis.

“After the Germans flooded into half of Russia and all of Ukraine, we traveled by train for weeks to Uzbekistan,” she recalled. In 1945, at the end of World War II, Haran’s family moved to Kishinev, Moldova, which was under Soviet rule, and her father was appointed a medical inspector to eradicate typhus. 

“Unfortunately, my father contracted the disease and died. My mother searched for a week to find a Jewish cemetery until she found one in Bessarabia. After the burial, we returned to Bucharest with money an uncle sent us, but my mother had already decided we would immigrate to Israel. Judaism was part of us throughout the Holocaust. We always remembered our religion and celebrated all the holidays,” she said.

At age 18, while serving in the Israeli military, Haran met her husband, Haim. The two wed in 1958 and soon after, their firstborn, Avshalom, was born. 

“He was wonderful,” Haran said of her son, crying. “A special child and a special man. After him, my son Ronen was born, who lives in Australia, and my daughter Sharon Avigdori, who was abducted to Gaza and has since been released. I moved to Be’eri after undergoing surgery. I had cancer and I hope I’ve recovered.”

Hamas fires rockets towards Israel from the southern Gaza Strip, Oct. 7, 2023. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

Q: Weren’t you worried about the proximity to Gaza or the rockets?

A: I’ve lived in the Negev all my life. Be’eri was a comfortable, quiet place until tragedy struck. That morning [when the sirens first began] I almost didn’t go into the shelter [due to how often sirens are heard in communities bordering the Strip]. I heard knocks on the door, so I opened it. There were two Hamas terrorists there. I wasn’t afraid. I looked them in the eyes. Suddenly they turned around and left, because someone called them, and I ran inside.”

Q: Where did you find the courage?

A: Maybe because of my childhood and what I went through. My father was a pacifist and an idealist, and I’m like him. He gave me good tools to cope. When I think of Oct. 7 now, it angers me and pains me. 

Why was I lucky but not my son? Someone watched over me during the Holocaust and on that day too, but not over my son, whom everyone loved. He was killed after leaving the bomb shelter to warn people not to come to Be’eri. 

[On Oct. 7, which was the Simchat Torah holiday, Avshalom, 66, and his wife Shoshan, 67, hosted his sister Sharon and her daughter Noam, 12, as well as their daughter Adi, 38, and her husband Tal Shoham, 39, and their children Naveh, 8, and Yahel, 3. Except for Avshalom, everyone was taken hostage. Everyone except for Tal, was released in November as part of a temporary ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas. Tal remains captive in Gaza.] 

I didn’t sleep until they returned. I carried a prayer in my heart that they would return healthy and whole. In the past I was a family therapist, I established a center for the treatment of sexual abuse in Beersheba, and I hear that’s what happens to women in captivity. I was very worried for my female family members, all of whom are beautiful, and I’m glad that this did not happen to them.

Q: After all you’ve been through in nine decades, do you have any optimism left? 

A: I’m full of admiration for the people who run the nursing home I’m staying at and for those who live here, who are Holocaust survivors. There are so many good people here and it gives me strength. 

So does the younger generation. I see the girls fighting for their captive fathers, and the beautiful, strong and conscientious widows. Everyone has such high values and it’s touching. 

Perhaps from this, a better people will emerge, assuming we don’t let some ministers in the government ruin our lives.

“Terrorists entered the homes of all my children” 

For 20 hours, from 6 a.m. on that Saturday morning until they were evacuated at 2 a.m., 89-year-old Haim Ra’anan barricaded himself, along with his caregiver, son and grandson, in the shelter of his house in Kibbutz Be’eri. His wife was not home as she had traveled with her two brothers to Tel Aviv.

An IDF soldier at Kibbutz Be’eri, where Hamas terrorists killed 112 people, Oct. 13, 2023. Photo by Yossi Zeliger/TPS.

They couldn’t go out, or even make a sound, and the rumors reaching them on WhatsApp were horrifying: terrorists had invaded the kibbutz, entered homes, murdered and abducted friends. 

“When we were rescued, we heard the gunfire and saw the explosions and burning buildings,” said Ra’anan.

“The whole rescue operation took place under fire, amid combat. Someone living in my building was shot in the stomach and eventually died. Each time the soldiers looked around and said, ‘Wait here for a moment, we need to check the area and see if everything is okay.'”

Q: Were you in touch with your family that morning?

A: Yes, but in essence, I only knew everyone was okay when I got to the bus. I don’t know how to describe that luck. In the apartment next to one of my granddaughters, the father and baby were killed by gunfire. 

The terrorists didn’t enter my house but did succeed in entering the homes of all my grandchildren, without exception. Luckily, they all survived. For one granddaughter, they started burning the house, and she and her family escaped through the window and went to the shelter of other neighbors. A miracle.

From Hungary to Israel

Ra’anan was born in 1935 in Hungary. When World War II broke out, his father was already in pre-state Israel, paving the way for his family’s immigration.

“My entire childhood I was far from my father,” he related. “The only picture I have from that period is of me with my mother in the Jewish ghetto, wearing a yellow patch on our clothes. 

“As a child in Hungary, when the violence and hatred toward Jews increased, we were forced to wear a yellow patch and our family home was marked with a swastika to identify us as Jews. It was done to dehumanize, terrorize, and isolate us from the rest of society.

“Eight decades later, I was horrified to see the Star of David painted again on Jewish homes across Europe to mark and intimidate them in the wake of the devastating Oct. 7 massacre. It’s so similar to the antisemitic marking of homes that I experienced in my childhood, it’s chilling. I never imagined something like that could happen again in Europe.”

Graves of Kibbutz Be’eri residents who were murdered by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7, 2023. Photo: Chaim Goldberg/Flash90

Q: What do you remember from your childhood in Hungary?

A: Like I said, as a child living in the Jewish ghetto, I essentially had no childhood. It was robbed of it because of persecution and war. We were always looking for food, living in constant tension about how the day would unfold. 

Would we be deported? Would we have enough food to last another day? Would we survive the harassment, terror, and killings?

One day, my family heard that the militia was looking for us. We couldn’t escape the ghetto, so we just waited for them to come. It didn’t take long before we heard a knock on the door. When we opened it, we saw three militiamen at our doorstep. As they entered, one of them removed his hat, and, to our surprise, my grandfather recognized him.

He was a distant relative who had come to our home with official papers from the Swedish embassy that granted us a certain diplomatic protection. With those precious papers, we were able to move to the “international ghetto” in Budapest, which was designated for Jews and their families who held protective papers from a neutral country. 

We managed to survive there until the Soviets arrived, and we were among the lucky few because nearly 80% of Hungarian Jewry perished.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

The precious documents were issued by Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. Ra’anan now temporarily resides on Wallenberg Street in Tel Aviv. 

He has 19 grandchildren 14 great-grandchildren; his age during the Holocaust was the same as that of the grandchild with whom he sheltered on Oct. 7.

On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Ra’anan was invited to speak before ambassadors of the European Union in Israel. He shared with the ambassadors his experiences growing up in Hungary, how he survived the Holocaust against all odds and became one of the founding members of Kibbutz Be’eri. 

He called on the diplomats to make sure history does not repeat itself and urged them to fight against the spread of antisemitism and support Israel’s efforts in returning the hostages home.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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