Exactly 65 years before Jakob Zim lit the sixth and final torch at Yad Vashem’s ceremony marking the start of Holocaust Remembrance Day on Sunday evening, the resident of Motza Illit, now 90, was liberated from the Buchenwald concentration camp.
“It was 65 years ago to the day,” Zim told The Jerusalem Post. “I know, because for me, this date is very much my second birthday. It was the day on which I was reborn.”
Originally born in 1920, in Sosnowiec, Poland, Zim was sent to work as a draftsman in the city’s police station at the onset of the German occupation in 1939.
In mid-1941, he was forced to leave that position, but a well-connected German who had heard about Zim’s skill as an artist asked him to set up an applied arts workshop. There Zim found temporary refuge, together with his two brothers and 120 other youths, most of them friends from the Zionist Youth Movement.
In the spring of 1943, the remaining Jews in Sosnowiec were moved into a small ghetto, including Zim, his father, mother and eldest brother. His younger brother, Nathan, had been sent to a forced labor camp, and their other relatives were deported to Auschwitz.
The liquidation of the ghetto began on August 1, 1943, nine days before Tisha Be’av. Zim was sent to the Annaberg forced labor camp in Silesia, where he reproduced from memory a painting by the artist Josef Budko called “No One Cries Like Me,” adapting it to his own situation.
Zim was caught after finishing the painting and sentenced to 25 lashes. He was then deported to the Blechhammer camp, which soon became an extension of Auschwitz. Several weeks later, Zim’s brother Nathan arrived at the camp as well, which Jakob interpreted as the hand of destiny.
As the Red Army approached, the prisoners were taken on a death march. Jakob and Nathan trudged over snow-covered fields, each brother supporting the other. Suddenly, in the distance, they saw roofs and a church tower glowing gold in the winter sun.
“It was so beautiful,” Zim recounted on Sunday. “I told my brother, ‘Natek,’ look at how beautiful it is. And I realized that even amidst all the suffering and horror around me, I was able to identify and take pleasure in the beauty of creation. This was a source of strength for me, and I knew at that moment that the coming spring would be mine.”
The brothers made it to Buchenwald, where they were liberated.
After immigrating to Israel, Zim continued his artistic studies at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, where he met his future wife, Ruth. He earned a name for himself as a graphic designer and artist, exhibited his work in Israel and abroad, and won many prizes, including an international competition to design a stamp to commemorate the Holocaust.
Zim’s memoirs, Shards and Light, describe his artistic creations, which express the events he experienced and his optimistic approach to life.
“The word ‘shards’ in the title represents those that I lost, my family members,” he said. “And the light is the hope that I had in my eyes, which gave me the ability to fight for my life.”
Zim and Ruth have four sons, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“This was another thing I merited to do,” he said. “After all of these trials I was able to build a family here, and a future. I planted a new family tree, with many branches, and that’s the victory – not only mine alone, but for all of the nation of Israel – over Nazism. That they did not succeed in exterminating us is the victory. Am Yisrael Chai, as they say – the Nation of Israel lives.”
Zim, who also designed the municipal symbol for the city of Netanya, a
number of medallions for the Knesset and other nationally syndicated
artistic creations, said his artwork had left him with yet another
merit – to leave behind his memories and experiences for future
generations to see.
“It’s the merit to leave something forever,” he said. “When I go to my
world, my creative offerings to the State of Israel will remain.”
Also lighting torches during Sunday night’s ceremony were Eliezer
Ayalon, Hannah Gofrit, Leo Luster, Sara Israeli and Baruch Shub – all
Holocaust survivors, each with incredible stories of their own, which
were portrayed in short videos before each lit his or her torch.