At this year's official Opening Ceremony for Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day which opens Monday evening at the Warsaw Guetto Square at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem, Holocaust survivors will light six torches as short videos of their individual testimonies will be shown on screen.
The central theme selected for this year's ceremony is Children of the Holocaust, according to a Yad Vashem statement, and the survivors lighting the torches Monday evening were all young children when World War II began.
The ceremony, which will feature speeches by President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, memorial services by Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yonah Metzger and a 2-hour symposium entitled Through the Tears - Childhood and Youth During the Shoah - will be broadcast live on television.
These are the six survivors in the order they will appear at the traditional memorial ceremony.
Lea Paz, nÃ©e Weitzner, was born in 1930 in Lwow. Her father Herman, a civil judge, passed away when Lea was five, and Lea and her mother Gusta moved to the village of Kochawina to live on her grandfather's large farm.
In September 1942, Lea, Gusta and her grandmother were deported to Belzec. With rumors about the camp circulating on the train, Gusta pushed Lea out through a narrow opening in the side of the train car. Lea eventually found her way back to her grandfather and an uncle, Mundek, who had escaped the deportation. Mundek, who had lived in Mandatory Palestine but had come back to introduce his fiancÃ©e to his family and got caught in the war, was determined to save the young girl. He bought Lea false papers, and taught her Christian prayers and customs, all the while encouraging her to eventually emigrate to the Land of Israel.
Lea first lived with the Plauszewski family, and then with a relative of theirs, Stefania Gos, whose husband was a commander in the Polish underground. Her rescuers were later recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.
Just before liberation, Lea's grandfather and Mundek were turned in by one of their neighbors. After Mundek's death, the family who had hidden him, the Wohanskis (later also recognized as Righteous Among the Nations), gave Lea his two picture albums filled with photographs of Mandatory Palestine.
Lea emigrated to Palestine on an illegal immigrant ship but was arrested by the British and interned in Cyprus. During a demonstration organized by the internees in Cyprus, Lea was wounded by British police gunfire. The story was published in the Jewish press in Mandatory Palestine, thus allowing her relatives on Kibbutz Merhavia to discover that she had survived. Lea was reunited with them after she was finally allowed to immigrate into Eretz Israel. She married Ephraim, and they have two children and six grandchildren.
Mirjam Schuster was born in 1935 in Zarojani, Moldova, to an observant Jewish family of six children. In 1941, the family was deported by Romanian soldiers and forcibly marched, together with all the Jews in the area, towards Transnistria. After more than two months of walking day and night, Mirjam and her family arrived at Balki, near the city of Bar, where thousands of Jewish prisoners were crammed into horse stables without windows or doors. The stables were terribly crowded, and rife with hunger and disease. Mirjam and her family slept on the exposed concrete floor. Her mother saw to Mirjam's needs and those of the other children, while her older sisters smuggled in food from the adjacent village.
Mirjam remembers a Jewish child named Mendele, who was smuggled into the camp by his parents. Mirjam took Mendele under her wing and protected him from other children who were bullying him. One day, the Germans found Mendele and murdered him. His horrific death left Miriam deeply scarred.
In 1944, the Soviets liberated Balki. Out of more than 10,000 inmates, only a few hundred had survived. Following liberation, the Jewish Agency placed Mirjam in a children's home. After a few months, she boarded an illegal immigrant ship, which was intercepted by the British and sent to Cyprus. Just before the establishment of the State, Mirjiam finally reached Israel's shores.
Mirjam married Moshe and has three children and eight grandchildren. After her children had grown, she began volunteering with new immigrants, helping ease their adjustment to living in Israel. Today, Mirjam is the volunteer director of the "Help for Holocaust Survivors" organization.
Solomon (Sjema) Feigerson was born in 1930 in Liepaja, Latvia, the middle of three sons. His older brother Hanoch was killed in June 1941, in defense of the town against the Germans. His father, Yaakov, was murdered in July 1941, and his mother and younger brother Josef were murdered at the Skede execution grounds in February 1942. Solomon escaped that and another murder operation in April by running away, despite being shot by Latvian guards.
In July 1942, the Jews of Liepaja were herded into a ghetto. Solomon lived in one room with 20 other orphaned boys. On Yom Kippur (October) 1943, the ghetto was liquidated and Solomon was deported to the Kaiserwald labor camp. There he met and bonded with Lina Goldblatt, a prisoner from Hamburg, and her daughter, Rosa. "She was like a mother to me," he recalls, "she even sewed me a shirt and a pair of pants."
In August 1944 Solomon was transferred to the Stutthof concentration camp, and in April 1945 he was put on one of four ships carrying 500 inmates, sent into the Baltic Sea to die. Solomon's ship eventually sailed into Neustadt on 3 May 1945. German sailors on the shore shot at the survivors. A British soldier found him, exhausted and ill, clutching a loaf of bread.
After the war, Solomon went to Riga. He studied engineering and started a family. While in Riga, he campaigned with Holocaust survivors and others to emigrate to Israel. He arrived in Israel in 1971 where he worked as an engineer and volunteered with a number of organizations commemorating the Holocaust and assisting survivors. He also published a book about the destruction of the Jewish community of Liepaja.
Solomon and his wife Ethel have a son and two grandchildren.
Iudit Barnea and Lia Huber
Identical twin sisters Iudit Barnea and Lia Huber (nÃ©es Tchengar) were born in 1937 in the town of Åžimleul Silvaniei (Szilagysomlyo), Transylvania. In 1940, Transylvania was annexed to Hungary, and in June 1942 their father Zvi was taken to a forced labor unit on the Russian front.
With the German conquest of Hungary in March 1944, the family's property and belongings were confiscated, and they were forced to wear a yellow star. In May 1944 Iudit, Lia and their mother, Miriam-Rachel, were interned in a ghetto, and the following month they were deported to Auschwitz, along with many other members of their family.
At Auschwitz, Iudit and Lia suffered the infamous medical experiments of Josef Mengele. The twins always stayed close together. Every night, their mother would sneak into their block and give them her meager portion of bread. She would also take them outside, in all weathers, to wash them and comb their hair, and thus preventing them from getting infested by lice and being doomed to the gas chambers. One day, as Mengele was experimenting on the girls, Miriam-Rachel burst into the shack and begged him to stop. In response, she was injected with a concoction that nearly killed her, and caused her permanent deafness.
In January 1945 the girls and their mother were liberated by the Red Army. They returned to Åžimleul Silvaniei, and in August 1945 they were reunited with their father, who had survived many camps. In 1960 the family immigrated to Israel. Both girls married: Lia and her husband Jean have two children and seven grandchildren; Iudit and Moshe have three children and five grandchildren.
Esther Debora Reiss-Mossel
Esther Debora Reiss-Mossel, the youngest child of Josef and Elsa, was born in 1938 in Heiloo, Holland to a well-known Zionist family. In 1942, her parents Josef and Elsa entrusted her to their nanny's family, but Esther refused to stay and returned home.
During the razzia (raid) of 26 May 1943 the family was sent to the Westerbork transit camp. After being hospitalized for many weeks with a number of childhood diseases, Esther went to the camp nursery, where she recalls learning Jewish and Zionist songs. On 19 January 1944 the family of five - including Esther's brother Benjamin (Ben) and sister Yetty (Yael) - was sent to Bergen-Belsen, which her father believed was a stop on the way to Eretz Israel. When her parents caught typhus, Esther was sent to an orphanage set up by Henny and Yehoshua Birnbaum. Esther remembers the eve of Passover 1945, as her father lay dying, when the Birnbaums baked matza in honor of the Festival of Freedom.
In April 1945, some 2,500 prisoners were forced onto what later became known as "the lost train." Elsa was left behind at Bergen-Belsen, where she died. For weeks, the train traveled back and forth in an attempt to reach Theresienstadt, caught in the crossfire between German and Red Army forces. Close to one quarter of the passengers died during the journey. Early in the morning of 23 April they heard a Russian soldier shout, "Comrades - freedom!" The train was finally liberated next to a destroyed bridge over the Elster River near Troebitz, some 20 km. from Leipzig. In Troebitz, Tzadok and Chana Mossel adopted Josef's children, and the enlarged family returned to Amsterdam in August. In the summer of 1950 Esther's parents' dream was realized when she immigrated with Chana and Tzadok to Israel. Today, Esther is active in commemorating Jews who saved others during the war, as well as saving the forests and hills of Judea.
Esther was married to the late architect Elimelech Reiss, who helped plan Yad Vashem's Children's Memorial. She has three daughters and five grandchildren.
Shimon (Sjema) Greenhouse was born in 1932 in Krasna, Belarus, to a traditional Jewish Zionist family. His older siblings, Henya and Mendel, were active in Zionist federations and planned to emigrate to Mandatory Palestine.
At the end of 1941, after the Germans invaded the USSR, Shimon and his family were interned in the Krasna ghetto. Shimon and his mother managed to sneak out of the ghetto and reach a Polish acquaintance who gave them food and convinced an SS officer not to kill them.
One day, after a German horse fell into a pit, the Germans gathered Jews in the ghetto's central square and shot them one by one. Shimon and his father, Yekutiel, stood there, their hands clasped. When Yekutiel was shot, he dragged his young son down with him. Shimon remained beneath his dead father, dazed and covered with blood, for a full day until family members pulled him out.
On Purim (March) 1943, the Germans liquidated the ghetto and murdered its residents, including Mendel and Henya. Shimon and his mother hid for five days with 20 other people. When they emerged, the ghetto was empty, and the air stank of incinerated bodies. As Shimon was recovering from typhus, his mother carried him on her back to the marshes, where the partisans were hiding. They survived the remainder of the war among the partisans, with minimal clothing and food.
After the war, Shimon and his mother returned to Krasna. In 1950, after Shimon completed his studies, they emigrated to Israel. Shimon married and had four children and three grandchildren. He served as an educator and high school principal in Petah Tikva, leaving his mark on generations of students.