It was an ordinary shoebox that changed Eitan Neishlos’s life forever.
The 44-year-old Israeli-born and South African-raised entrepreneur was at his parent’s home in Syndey, Australia, three years ago, prepping for a speech he was to give to the Jewish community about the Holocaust. He asked his mother for some information about his own family.
“I always knew there was a story but we never dealt with it,” Neishlos recounted in an interview with JNS in Tel Aviv. “I knew about it on the surface [but] wanted to understand about my family.”
His mother left the room and came back with a shoebox and a bunch of documents with the handwritten notes that his grandmother Tamara Ziserman had kept.
They detailed how she was saved from Nazis as a girl of 11 in Belarus in the summer of 1941. As the Germans rounded up all the Jews in Lahoysk, her parents told her to stay in bed. The family was on vacation, not far from Minsk where the girl was born.
Ziserman was then hidden by a Christian family who were themselves later caught and, along with their six-month-old child, murdered by the Nazis for being active in the resistance.
Later, she ended up in a labor camp but managed to escape, while two more people who helped save her lost their lives.
Her whole family was wiped out by the Nazis as well.
Ziserman kept the story of her escape and liberation to herself for most of her life, except for a brief testimony she gave to the USC Shoah Foundation.
“I was looking for a change, and this [story] was a major trigger,” Neishlos said.
Neishlos, president and founder of the investment house Neishlos Capital, which works with the Fintech and financial industries, decided then and there that everything he would do going forward would be connected with a social conscience.
(He had previously led a B’nai B’rith program that has educated more than 200,000 young Australians about the dangers of prejudice.)
Next, he established the Neishlos Foundation, which works in Australia and Israel. It advocates for Israel, combats antisemitism and provides Holocaust education, specializing in global campaigns involving the third generation.
But his biggest move was yet to come.
Relocation to the UAE
With the 2020 Abraham Accords between Israel and four Arab nations showing increasing progress, Neishlos decided to think big and branch out, relocating from Australia to Dubai to focus on Holocaust education in the Arab world.
“We know Abraham had two children [who left their mark], Isaac and Ishmael, and these two children did not get along. With the Abraham Accords we are correcting that history,” he said. “The fight against antisemitism and all forms of discrimination has to be from the Middle East outward.”
After arriving in Dubai last year, Neishlos sprang to action on Holocaust education.
He took his mother’s shoebox to a Holocaust torch-lighting ceremony at the House of Lords in London, which took place jointly with a Holocaust survivor, Eve Kugler; a descendant of the Righteous Among the Nations; and a descendant of Nazis.
Then, in a historic first, he lit a torch at Auschwitz last year, during the annual International March of the Living, together with a Muslim, Ahmed Obaid Al Mansoori, founder of the first Holocaust memorial gallery in the Arab world, in Dubai.
The photo of the two men walking together and offering a prayer at the Nazi death camp quickly went viral on social media and became an iconic image.
Appointed ambassador of the March of the Living in the Gulf states, Neishlos, in cooperation with Al Mansoori and the International March of the Living, organized the first commemoration in the United Arab Emirates of Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogroms throughout Germany in 1938, with survivors and dignitaries.
After that, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan visited Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and introduced Holocaust education to the UAE’s curriculum.
The International March of the Living was most recently involved in the funding of the restoration this year of 8,000 children’s shoes at the Auschwitz Memorial Museum.
For Neishlos, working out of the UAE to foster Holocaust education is clearly a fulfillment of his grandmother’s legacy.
“As a nucleus of Jewish-Muslim and Arab-Israeli kinship, the UAE is the right place to be due to this unbreakable bond which needs to be expanded,” he said.
He urged global Jewish philanthropists to band together out of their own local circles in combating antisemitism and standing with Israel, noting that the two were interlinked at a time when antisemitism is increasingly masked by anti-Israel sentiments.
His dream is to blend Holocaust education with Israel education.
“The past and the future—the Holocaust and the Start-Up Nation—have to come together so the young generation can look up to Israel,” he said.
Meantime, the next Holocaust education project in the Arab world is right around the corner, he promised.