newsHolocaust & Holocaust Survivors

Meta reels connect young to testimonies of Shoah survivors

Company continues annual Holocaust remembrance project documenting meetings between youngsters and survivors.

Hamas terrorists destroyed this home at Kibbutz Be'eri on Oct. 7. Photo by Moshe Shai.
Hamas terrorists destroyed this home at Kibbutz Be'eri on Oct. 7. Photo by Moshe Shai.

Remembering and commemorating the Holocaust is increasingly important in the face of a rapidly disappearing generation of survivors.

“Sharing Memories” is Meta’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Day project in Israel, and its main goal is to connect the younger generation to the testimonies of Holocaust survivors and raise awareness of their financial situation.

Every year, about 20 celebrities and content creators, with hundreds of thousands of followers, participate in the project, meeting with survivors and recording their testimonies. The videos of these meetings are then shared as reels on Instagram, helping creators connect their young audiences to the stories of the survivors.

In the project, which the Latet organization also takes part in, several celebrities have participated, including dancer Anna Aronov, singer/songwriter Odeya Azulay, actress/singer Ania Bukstein, dancer/actress Dana Frieder, actress/singer Meshi Kleinstein, American actor and comedian Michael Rapaport, pastry chef Or Shpitz and actor/comedian Orel Tsabari.

‘These two holocausts are totally different since I know everyone in Be’eri’

Haim Ra’anan, 89

It took them 20 hours, beginning at 6:30 a.m. on that terrible Shabbat, to be evacuated from the kibbutz. Haim Ra’anan, an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor, hid in the shelter in his house in Kibbutz Be’eri with his caregiver, son and grandson.

They could not leave the shelter or utter a sound, as the rumors that reached them via WhatsApp were horrifying: Terrorists had raided the kibbutz, invaded homes, murdered and kidnapped their friends.

It also took a long time for the evacuation to take place. “The soldiers put me in a wheelchair and started taking me out,” he says. “Walking 300 or 400 meters to the kibbutz gate took us an hour and a half.

“As we evacuated, we heard the shooting and saw the explosions and burning apartments, but you didn’t even think about it because you were still in survival mode. We crossed the street where my grandchildren live.

“When I passed the homes of my grandchildren, I asked the soldiers if they had already evacuated these homes and what had happened to them. Actually, it was only when I got onto the bus that I realized they were fine. I can’t express how fortunate I am. Next door to my granddaughter’s apartment, a father and his baby were murdered by gunfire,” Ra’anan says.

“My home wasn’t invaded by terrorists, but terrorists attempted and even succeeded in invading the houses of all my grandchildren. Fortunately, they are all safe. The house of one of my granddaughters was set on fire, but they escaped through a window to another neighbor’s apartment. It was a miracle.”

Wallenberg—then and now

Ra’anan was born in Hungary in 1935, and when WWII began, his father was in Israel making preparations for his family’s aliyah. “For the entire period of my childhood, the one I actually never had, I grew up without my father,” he says.

Since he was a child during those dark war days, he does not remember much of them. “The only picture I have from that time is of my mother and me in the Jewish ghetto, with a yellow badge on our clothes.”\

He only remembers how they were saved with the help of certificates issued for them by Raoul Wallenberg, the Righteous Among the Nations. “They helped us get out of the ghetto and move to another area of Budapest. Thanks to them, we survived.”

Ra’anan is currently living in a sheltered housing complex located on Raoul Wallenberg Street in Tel Aviv.

Today, he has 19 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. During the Holocaust, he was the same age as one of his grandchildren with whom he locked himself in the shelter on Oct. 7. In spite the many parallels, Ra’anan sees a clear distinction between the experiences:

“These two holocausts are entirely different stories for me. The six million feel differently than my kibbutz’s 200 residents who were murdered, kidnapped or injured. I knew everyone in Be’eri.”

“My real holocaust was when my grandson was kidnapped”

Tzili Wenkert, 83

“When Hamas kidnapped Omer, my grandson, all of my pain suddenly burst open. He is such a gorgeous boy, so cute and so kind. I feel as if someone has smashed me with a big hammer. This is the real holocaust,” says Tzili Wenkert, 83, a Shoah survivor.

“My adorable, kindhearted grandson is a hard worker and a student – what has he done?”, she continues in deep sorrow. “He is not in good health, he suffers from colitis, a condition that requires medication. There is no way of knowing whether the medication that was sent reached him. No one knows anything.”

When Wenkert was six weeks old, in August 1941, she was taken to a small room in the ghetto with her parents, where they lived for three and a half years with her grandfather, grandmother and two aunts.

“We lived in very poor conditions. Due to the cold winter and the lack of electricity, the family had to sell its belongings to buy food and wood. I remember the Nazis bombarding the ghetto and many people dying from the attacks, hunger, diseases and the freezing temperatures.”

Even with poverty, hunger and constant worry, her family tried to hold Shabbat dinners and even sometimes bought an emaciated chicken for everyone. Wenkert’s mother knew how to sew. She made her children’s clothes from her grandfather’s shirt, and boots out of his hat.

As a child, Wenkert became ill with dysentery, but there were no medicines and no physicians in the ghetto. “My grandmother did things that grandmothers do, and she saved me. I was unable to walk, but I survived and recovered.”

Torn to pieces

After the war, Wenkert and her family returned to her father’s hometown. In addition to the hardships and poverty of that time, she remembers getting a little sister while being three and a half years old. “We rented a small apartment with no electricity and applied to make aliyah to Israel.”

However, the communist regime in Romania prevented her family from moving to Israel, and it was only after she got married that she made aliyah in 1965, together with her husband, who was a Holocaust survivor as well. “I wanted to come home to the State of Israel. It was not an easy transition for me; my husband passed away at a young age and I was left alone with the children.”

She has been filled with worry and fear since Oct. 7. “I was a baby during the Holocaust in Europe, and I had a family. But now, who will protect me? Everyone is in distress. There is pain in my heart for Omer, but there is also pain in my heart for my sons—Omer’s father and Omer’s uncle, who barely speaks. He has no children of his own, so his brother’s children are in fact his children as well.

“I wish us better days. Almost every morning, I hope that maybe there was a miracle last night and I missed it. In my heart, I am torn to pieces. I have always thought it could have been worse. Long ago, I decided there was nothing to cry about, and I still don’t cry to this day. I just feel like my nose is a little wet.”

Wenkert wishes to convey a message to her grandson: “Please come home, Omer, stay safe, and do whatever you want. When you visit Grandma, take her abroad. It is now your turn to take her. Did you hear that, my baby?”

‘Back then, we were scattered all over the world, but now we are in a country with our own army

Pnina Ben Yosef, 84

“I remember every detail of that terrible day,” says Holocaust survivor Pnina Ben Yosef, 84, a resident of Kfar Maimon in the “Gaza Envelope.” As she woke up to the explosions of missiles, she thought they were heavier than usual.

“With a broken leg, I sat with a cup of coffee in front of the window and wondered why people don’t attend the synagogue. It was Simchat Torah. At that moment, my daughter and grandson, who was already wearing a military uniform, broke into my home, informed me that a war had broken out, and took me to the [bomb] shelter.”

She stayed at the shelter for many hours, unaware of what was happening outside. A group of terrorists approached the moshav fence and managed to shoot down a helicopter, but soldiers killed them.

Ben Yosef considers this a miracle: “If this had not happened, there would most likely have been a massacre here as well. In the afternoon, we received a WhatsApp message calling all gun owners to the armory. I wondered if I should ride my scooter out with my personal gun, but I was afraid.”

She remained at the shelter until Tuesday afternoon when the chairman of the local emergency team came to tell her she had to leave. She refused. After he bluntly explained that she would be a burden if she stayed, Ben Yosef left Kfar Maimon, for the first time in her life feeling that her time had passed and that she could no longer contribute.

For the Israeli public, Kfar Maimon will be remembered as the place where tens of thousands of protesters opposing the disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005 did not march as planned to Gush Katif after the Yesha Council prevented the police from breaching the perimeter.

“Had the demonstration continued and they had been successful in stopping the deportation, Oct. 7 would not have taken place. The difficult circumstances began after the deportation. We received strong fences, electric gates and shelters, but maybe now we will get tunnels and bunkers as well,” she concludes.

Amid the events of the past year, Ben Yosef realized how much these days differed from her childhood in Europe.

“I was born after the German invasion of Poland, a year after my uncle was murdered. As a locomotive driver, my father carried supplies to the front and brought back wounded people. One day, he stopped in our town, told the family what he saw and what was happening to Jews, and told them to leave everything and run away. As they have lived there for hundreds of years and have experienced many pogroms, they believed that it would also pass eventually.

“He managed to rescue only my mother and me; the rest stayed behind and perished. We escaped to Russia. After the war, we were deported back to Poland, and it turned out that nobody was left in the family. We ended up in a refugee camp in Austria, in which we stayed until 1948, and in April we arrived in Israel.”

According to Ben Yosef, the Holocaust of European Jews is a completely distinct event from the Oct. 7 massacre.

“We were scattered all over the world during the Holocaust, we were powerless to do anything to stop the slaughter, but now we are here in our country with our own army. We were shocked and terrified, and our losses were huge, but we managed to pull ourselves together and raise our heads.”

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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