Mossad releases testimony of two Holocaust survivors who served in key positions

The two survivors, Chaim Victor Tayar and Silvia (whose full identity cannot be shared), served in the operational core of the Mossad.

Former Mossad operative 'Silvia,' whose full name and face are classified, gestures in a frame taken from a video in which shares his Holocaust testimony in the Mossad's Zikaron Basalon on 2022 Holocaust Remembrance Day. (photo credit: COURTESY OF THE MOSSAD)
Former Mossad operative 'Silvia,' whose full name and face are classified, gestures in a frame taken from a video in which shares his Holocaust testimony in the Mossad's Zikaron Basalon on 2022 Holocaust Remembrance Day.
(photo credit: COURTESY OF THE MOSSAD)

Israel’s Mossad has revealed the testimonies of two Holocaust survivors who served as agents in the famed organization without their families knowing.

The two survivors, Chaim Victor Tayar and Silvia (whose full identity cannot be shared), served in the operational core of the Mossad,  and “out of respect and in salute to their work,” the Mossad published their testimonies.

“I look down with great humility at your personal courage, at the story of your lives,” said Mossad Head Dedi Barnea. "The lessons of the Holocaust and the security challenges teach us that we must build our strength, and rely only on ourselves"

On the occasion of Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Mossad held a "Memory in the Living Room"  (known in Hebrew as Zikaron BaSalon) in 20 different centers belonging to the Mossad.

As part of the event, a special stage was given to Holocaust survivors who have worked over the years in the Mossad in core roles and led secret operations with courage, and without their fellow Mossad members knowing that they were Holocaust survivors.

Mossad operative Chaim Victor Tayar gestures in a frame taken from a video in which shares his Holocaust testimony in the Mossad's Zikaron Basalon on 2022's Holocaust Remembrance Day. (credit: COURTESY OF THE MOSSAD)Mossad operative Chaim Victor Tayar gestures in a frame taken from a video in which shares his Holocaust testimony in the Mossad's Zikaron Basalon on 2022's Holocaust Remembrance Day. (credit: COURTESY OF THE MOSSAD)

For years they kept their secret, and for years dedicated themselves to making significant contributions to the security of the State of Israel.

Silvia, a former senior operations commander, was born in Bialystok in 1940. She is a mother of three children and grandmother of six grandchildren.

She served in a variety of significant operational roles and courageously led impressive missions before reaching senior command positions.

“When the Russians entered Bialystok, my mother fled with me to Warsaw and we lived there in the ghetto,” she recounted.  “When I was two years old, my mother, realizing that there was no chance we would survive the atrocities, wanted to at least save me and spoke with a Polish guy she knew would be waiting on the other side of the ghetto wall. My mother wrapped me in rags and threw me over the ghetto wall. The same Pole handed me over to his parents.”

But, she said, she had “a bad time there” as the family sent her to beg on the street. So at a “very young age…I ran away. I ran like crazy.”

She ended up at an orphanage in Krakow and was later adopted by a childless couple who raised her as a Christian. Both of her parents were murdered in the Holocaust and after the war, her aunt, who survived the war, found her and they both immigrated to Israel in 1950.

Silvia shared her story as someone who experienced the Holocaust and then for many years worked in the Israeli Mossad.

"No one at the Mossad knew I was a Holocaust survivor. I wanted to be like everyone else. I loved the country. The operational activity at the Mossad is the fulfillment of a dream and a sense of true strength and resilience,” she said.

Chaim Victor Tayar was born in 1935, in Tripoli, Libya. He is married to Ziona and has two children and five grandchildren.

In June 1940, fascist Italy which at the time ruled Libya declared war on Britain and France. That led to massive bombing raids on Tripoli which forced Tayar’s family to flee to the city of Zawiya where his younger sister died of Typhus.

His family was later deported along with another 1,500 Jews from all over Libya, and other foreign citizens to a detention camp in Tunisia, of whom about 660 were sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany.

"In Tunisia, which was under the control of the Vichy administration and the Gestapo at the time, the men were sent to labor camps,” Tayar recounted. 

“After a few months, we were transferred to Algeria where our French citizenship was revoked, and we were sent to the Laghouat concentration camp in the Sahara desert where we lived in unbearable conditions with a lot of illness and severe hunger. Mom wanted us to stay around her, not letting us go. She was afraid of the cruel soldiers.”

In 1943, after the Allied and Free French invasion of Algeria as part of Operation Torch, an operation made possible by the activities of the 800-member Jewish underground, it acted as a bridge to the liberation of Europe and to the ultimate defeat of the Nazi regime.

“I lived with my family for a few more years in the concentration camp, where my grandmother and younger brother died until we returned to Tripoli and from there to Marseille and then to Israel in 1947,” Tayar said.

In Israel, he served in the Givati brigade as a liaison and enlisted in the Mossad where he served in a variety of key positions in the Operations technology division.

“As a child who was persecuted by the Holocaust and experienced firsthand the terrible atrocities, for me, serving in the Mossad and contributing to the security of the State of Israel is a huge personal achievement and it is with great pride to be part of the Mossad family,” Tayar said.

Barnea, speaking at the end of the testimonies, said that even after 80 years what survivors experienced is “still shocking, almost unbelievable, inconceivable.”

"Your heroism began then, but it continues to this day. It is difficult to describe the mental strength and courage required just to continue living. And you have done much more than that,” Barnea said. "The witnesses who spoke to us today are not young, but their eyes are shining and their energy is inspiring.”

Adding that he, as the head of the Mossad, looks down “with great humility” at their courage and life the stories, Barnea said that “it is important for us to hear from you. Your story is part of the broad historical context in which we operate. Thanks to you we learn to further appreciate the meaning and value of our life, in an independent and sovereign state.”