A voice of hope

“I really don’t know why it is that I survived,” she said in her 1998 speech in Yad Vashem, in tears. Klein never lost hope that her husband would return, but he never did.

Dr. Viola Torek Klein (photo credit: LIOR AIZENBERG)
Dr. Viola Torek Klein
(photo credit: LIOR AIZENBERG)
When the September 17 election results were announced, I initially felt a sense of despair. Despite all the time and money spent on the campaign and the election itself, neither the victors, Blue and White, led by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, nor the second-place Likud, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, appeared to have enough support to form a government, a similar situation to the April 9 election.
President Reuven Rivlin vowed to do all he could to avoid a third election this year, and there were multiple calls for national unity after a particularly polarizing election. My mood really improved, though, when I saw a Facebook post by a friend, Lior Aizenberg.
It showed Dr. Viola Torek Klein, a 103-year-old Holocaust survivor, voting in Tuesday’s election. “This is my victory for my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” she said.
Born in Levoča, Czechoslovakia, her medical studies were halted by a “numerus clausus” edict against Jewish students. Together with her husband, Dr. Aladar Neuwirth, she was deported to Auschwitz and later to a labor camp in Slezsko, where she worked as a doctor.
Klein returned home after the Holocaust and discovered that most of her family – including her parents and five siblings – had been murdered. After not hearing from her husband for some time, she completed her medical studies in Bratislava and married an orthopedist named Dr. Gavriel Torek, with whom she made aliyah.
They moved to Be’er Yaakov, where she ran a clinic for Holocaust survivors, and then in 1959 to Beersheba, where she worked as a doctor and directed the Health Ministry’s regional office for 22 years concentrating on the treatment of the Negev’s Bedouin, and was among the founders of Ben-Gurion University’s Medical School.
Following Klein’s retirement in 1988, she was honored with a Worthy Citizen of Beersheba Award, and was chosen to light a torch on Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem a decade later. She has two children – Dr. Yarom Torek, a lecturer in dentistry, and a daughter, Prof. Hanna Yablonka, a professor of Holocaust studies – six grandchildren and multiple great-grandchildren.
“I really don’t know why it is that I survived,” she said in her 1998 speech in Yad Vashem, in tears. Klein never lost hope that her husband would return, but he never did. “An older friend took a piece of paper and drew a line and said, ‘You have a choice. Either you cross the line and start again, or hang yourself.’ I didn’t hang myself, and here I am.”
The person who changed her outlook on life was her second husband. “He taught me to love the Negev. I learned to know it, each and every rock. I don’t like to sit at a desk. I spent a lot of time in my car, from Eilat to Sderot, opening new family clinics. Another major revolution in the Negev was the opening of the Faculty of Medicine in 1973, and we were both very active in this, both my husband and I. This contributed to my sense of satisfaction.”
When I telephoned her at her Beersheba home, she said, “I feel like a young girl, and I have not lost hope. I believe we will have a good future.”  When I asked who she voted for, she just laughed.
After her husband died, she decided to stay in Beersheba despite her children’s wishes that she move to the center of the country.
“This is where I feel at home,” she said. “Come visit!”
Talking to her made me happy. Because no matter whom Israelis voted for, Israel will survive. This is our home, and that’s what should unite, rather than divide, Israelis.