(photo credit: Courtesy)
As Holocaust Remembrance Day began, Esther Roseman sat down and recounted how she escaped the Nazis. She spoke rapidly and loudly, trying to be heard over the singing and chatting of her friends, fellow Holocaust survivors who had also come to the Caf Europe on Tel Aviv's Rehov Rashi, just as they have been doing for the last six years.
There was almost a holiday atmosphere for the dozens of "club" members.
Tzvi insisted on singing old Yiddish songs he learned from his father.
Nadia asked Gidi Sivan to accompany her on the organ as she sang the song "Mother," whose lyrics, "Why does God keep silent?" sent spines shivering.
"This is the only place where they feel equal," Sivan said. "They usually don't want to talk about the Holocaust here. They are here to be happy."
Thirty members of Sivan's family were murdered in the Holocaust. He is a musician, and sees his work with survivors across the country as a mission.
For six years, the cafe has served them as the home they never had. They come every Sunday, sit in the same spot, drink coffee like they did the week before, and speak to the same people.
"This is the only day in the year that everyone speaks about them, their stories, their history," said Mirta Cohen, a social worker who works with the group. "They get attention from the media, the politicians and the people. Today it's all about them."
"Some of them can't talk about their experiences and some of them can't stop talking about it," she said.
The group of survivors felt comfortable in a place where they didn't have to constantly explain themselves, she added.
Cohen said she and her colleagues had to learn some "basic truths" about Holocaust survivors.
"Food is very significant to them," she said. "It plays a crucial role here, and you can feel it and the importance it has. Their regular seats are also meaningful. It means they have a place no one can take away from them."
Cohen cited a minor crisis she had just dealt with when one of the members learned there was no room for her in a taxi with some of her friends.
"It doesn't seem like such a big deal for you, but for her it might seem as if she was left alone all over again. It can be traumatic," she said.
"In time, each table became an alternative family," Cohen said. "If one misses a meeting, they call him to find out what happened. And if they are sick, they visit and make each other soup.
"Beyond the different language that members of each table speak, we have noticed that these alternative families were created to fill the gaps in their age group and their families caused by the Holocaust," she said.
Cohen said she is a mother figure for the members, despite being much younger.
None of them would say life is good, not now and not then. But they tell their stories proudly, choke on a tear and end conversations with a dramatic sentence, like Roseman, who said, "I was jealous of a mouse and of any other creature that could hide in the ground. It was hard then, and it's not easy now."