Holocaust Remembrance Day: Two survivors' tales of survival and hope

These two survivors whose fascinating stories serve as a reminder of the horrors of the past and the hope for the future.

The main gate to Auschwitz with slogan 'Arbeit Macht Frei' (photo credit: PIKREPO)
The main gate to Auschwitz with slogan 'Arbeit Macht Frei'
(photo credit: PIKREPO)
Israel and Jews throughout the world commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day on Thursday, and as the Holocaust grows ever more distant in time, it is more important than ever to keep the memories of those who experienced it, and those who survived, alive.
The Jerusalem Post
spoke with two survivors, whose stories serve as a reminder of the horrors of the past and hope for the future.
Gavi Gonen. (Photo credit: Peer Levin Communications)Gavi Gonen. (Photo credit: Peer Levin Communications)
From Auschwitz to a kibbutz
Gavi Gonen (Gross) was born in 1929 to Emilia and Ludwig Gross, in Kosice, then part of Czechoslovakia.
When the Nazis invaded the area in 1944, which was up until then under Hungarian control, the fate of Kosice’s 12,000 Jews was inevitable. Gavi was transferred with his parents and sister and the rest of Kosice’s Jews to the Kosice Ghetto, and from there, in the summer of 1944, they were sent in a crowded cattle car to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
“It was a drive of four days and four nights, with 80 or 90 people in a cattle car, without water. No room to sit, so we were standing the whole time. And then we arrived at Auschwitz.”
“I was with my parents, my grandmother, my sister and other close family. I was selected with my sister, and veteran prisoners asked me if I could speak Slovak or Hungarian and I was snuck into the line to work, the first time my life was saved.
“From May to August 1944 the crematoriums dealt with around 300,000 Jews who arrived from Hungary and Theresienstadt. You know what is going on there. You see it. You hear it. You live there,” Gavi told the Post.
“The sense of smell, the smell of burning bodies. The sense of sound, people shouting, the screams you heard. The sense of sight, the things you saw. All the senses. You smelled. You heard. You saw.”
In January 1945, as Soviet forces were closing in on Auschwitz, Gavi was sent on a death march to Buchenwald, where he remained until April 1945. Gavi was again put on a train to Theresienstadt, where he remained until the end of the war.
“I returned home even though I knew nobody would be there. No parents, no sister, no grandparents.”
After the war, Gavi joined a pioneering training program with Hashomer Hatzair youth movement and immigrated to Israel illegally, via Belgium.
His ship was captured by the British, and he was placed in detention in the Atlit detention camp. In September 1946, Gavi finally joined his youth group at Kibbutz Nir David.
During the War of Independence, he fought in the Palmah, and after the war joined friends he had known from Slovakia and together they moved to Kibbutz Bar’am, near the Lebanese border.
Gavi is philosophical about the two distinct periods of his life. “Our lives begin in 1949. We came here, a group of Czechs, Romanians, Israelis, and we decided we can all live together here. We never asked for anything because of what we went through. We did it all ourselves.”
Today, Gavi is a happy 92-year-old with three daughters, six grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.
“I live on a kibbutz that I chose, that I founded, that I built. I have family, I have children, I have my life here. I know that I chose right to be here.”
Dalia Gavish. (Photo credit: Peer Levin Communications)Dalia Gavish. (Photo credit: Peer Levin Communications)
The Sabra stuck in Nazi Europe
Dalia Gavish’s story is maybe one of the more unusual Holocaust stories. Unlike most survivors, Dalia was not from Central or Eastern Europe, but was actually born in Haifa in 1937. Her parents were originally from Tarnow in Poland, and her grandparents and extended family remained there.
In the early summer of 1939 she traveled with her mother to family in Poland so that her mother could receive medical treatment. Her father remained in Haifa, yet three months later war broke out and the two were stuck in Eastern Europe as the Nazis invaded.
“The plan was that during the hospitalization I – a two-year-old toddler – would be with my grandparents. In May 1939 we arrived in Poland, innocent and unaware of the impending horror,” Dalia told the Post. “We were only supposed to be there for three months, and then war broke out in September.”
All contact with Dalia’s father was lost, and for six years he was unaware of what had happened to his wife and daughter.
They were interned in the Tarnow Ghetto with about 40,000 other people, during which time they suffered severe starvation and survived several selections by the Nazis.
“Every day my mother had to go to work, and since she did not trust anyone – she took me with her,” Dalia told the Post. “An acquaintance of my mother’s would wrap me in his coat so that I would not be discovered, and we would leave the ghetto and walk to the Aryan side. I was ushered into a large hall that was actually a factory for making German uniforms, and there they would cover me.
“Mother sat not far from me and sewed – and only in retrospect, when I became a mother myself, did I understand her feelings. The fear that the four-year-old girl would sneeze, and an inspector would come and take her child to her death.”
One vivid image that sticks out in Dalia’s mind is that of the Germans’ uniforms which she saw every day. “Although I was a girl and did not understand everything, to this day I remember the fear I felt every time I saw the uniform. Mostly the black uniforms, the ones with the skulls on them.
“I also remember the first time I felt hungry. I was very hungry.”
After the liquidation of the Tarnow Ghetto in September 1943, Dalia and her mother were moved around from camp to camp and spent time in Bergen-Belsen. They were released in May 1945 and attempted to make their way back to Israel.
“We boarded a ship, and in September 1945, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, we arrived at the port of Haifa,” Dalia said. “My father was waiting for us at the port... and I started living again – free.”
Dalia now has a son and two daughters, 10 grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren, and she is one of many survivors whose testimony is on record at the Ghetto Fighters’ House museum in the Western Galilee.
Like Gavi, her survival has ensured the existence of future generations of Israelis and Jews, and that, as she says, is the ultimate victory: to have survived, and witnessed the future.
Both Gavish and Gonen will be honored with lighting the torch at the closing ceremony on Thursday at the Ghetto Fighters’ House museum.