For many years after World War II, it was thought that the only Jews who were victims of the Holocaust were the Jews of Europe. This was partial because the war raged primarily in Europe, and the country with the largest number of victims – both Jewish and non-Jewish, as well as with the largest number of Righteous Among the Nations, was Poland.
The Nazis did not intend to limit their plan for the ‘Final Solution to the Jewish problem’ to Europe alone.
They intended to carry it to North Africa and beyond.
That intention was thwarted by eventual capitulation to the Allied forces.
Zikaron BaSalon held at President's Residence
In recent years, North African Holocaust survivors have been included in Zikaron BaSalon, (Memory in the Living Room), a project conceived by educator and social entrepreneur Adi Altschuler and Nadav Ambon in 2011.
It is basically an informal gathering in which Holocaust survivors relate their stories to a group of up to 50 people. The event sometimes includes songs and/or readings. An effective tool for ensuring that the memory of the Holocaust does not fade as the number of survivors dwindles, Zikaron BaSalon has gone forth from Zion to many parts of the diaspora.
It has become a tradition for the President of the State to host such events at some period during the week of Holocaust Remembrance Day, known in Hebrew as Yom HaShoah.
On Sunday, Zikaron BaSalon was held for the seventh time at the President’s Residence.
President Isaac Herzog has a special interest in the Holocaust in that his late father, Chaim, as an officer in the British army, helped to liberate Bergen-Belsen. Moreover, immediately after the war his grandfather Rabbi Isaac Halevy Herzog and his uncle Yaakov Herzog went to Europe to rescue Jewish children from the convents and monasteries in which they had been given shelter.
Since taking office in July 2021, Herzog has met on a one-on-one basis with more than a hundred Holocaust survivors from different countries of origin, social backgrounds and with diverse experiences.
For this year’s Zikaron BaSalon, Herzog and his wife Michal hosted a child Holocaust survivor couple from Tunisia – Alber and Giselle Hayoun.
In addition, they hosted several Israeli singers and musicians who, inspired by what they had heard at other gatherings of Zikaron BaSalon, had composed new Holocaust-related songs, 14 of which have been recorded on an album called The Third Soundtrack.
The album is not intended as a collection of songs that grew out of the Holocaust, but as songs that were inspired by survivors’ stories and written, composed and arranged by contemporary Israeli singers as a form of outreach and remembrance to the present and future generations of Israeli youth.
The project is one of several Holocaust Remembrance projects supported by the Sydney, Australia-based Neishlos Foundation whose founder and president Eitan Neishlos was present.
Neishlos, raised in South Africa, said that the Holocaust had left a scar on his heart, which causes him to stand up against antisemitism wherever he finds it, and to fund educational projects for this purpose.
“I grew up in the arms of a Holocaust survivor,” he said and spoke of his grandmother Tamara, whose family had been part of the Jewish community in a village in Belarus. The community had been marched to the forest by the Nazis who shot them. All of Tamara’s family was killed.
Tamara, then 11 years old, had been saved and hidden in a basement by the Khodosevich family. But the Nazis soon discovered her and marched the Khodoseviches to the very same place where they had shot the Jews, and killed them, including their six-month-old baby.
Neishlos persuaded Yad Vashem to give them posthumous recognition as Righteous among the Nations.
Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan was among those who came to hear the Hayouns share their memories at the President’s Residence. Also present were young men and women engaged in pre-military courses.
Tunisian Jews were somewhat better off than Jews in other parts of North Africa, and the German occupation was much shorter than anywhere in Europe.
Tunisian Jews endured six months of fear, terror and forced labor camps. French and Muslim officials were generally sympathetic to their plight, and the representative of the Vichy Government which was in collusion with the Germans was deliberately slow in implementing race laws and forcing Jews to wear the yellow star on their clothing.
The worst moment that 91-year-old Alber Hayoun remembered was when the skies of Tunis were darkened by German planes.
The German presence provoked so much fear, that people were reluctant to leave their homes.
Hayoun belonged to a Zionist youth group whose members all aspired to settle in Israel.
The German planes came over when he was 10 years old and playing with his friends in the street. They flew low, so that the giant swastika on the body of the plane was terrifyingly visible.
Hayoun’s father and brother were recruited into the army, and he and his mother remained at home alone.
Their concern and unease became so great that there at one stage neither of them was able to sleep. They went to bed fully clothed, with their shoes on, to be ready to flee if the need arose.
They lived in a cloud of uncertainty, and Hayoun’s mother, not knowing when her menfolk and other family members would return, could not stop herself from weeping.
Fortunately, the Italians there protected them and their belongings, and when Germans stopped passersby in the street and asked about Jews, the reply was almost always: “There are no Jews here.”
Giselle added to the story. She had two older brothers, one of whom was on a mission in France. He was betrayed to the Germans and sent to Germany. He managed to escape, was caught and escaped again. In the final analysis, he somehow returned to France and was aided by a French family who helped him to get back to Tunisia.
Among the singers who composed and performed songs, was Kobi Oz, for whom listening to the Hayouns was particularly moving because his Tunisian-born parents had been through similar experiences. He brought his mother with him.
Herzog said that it would be a difficult week for him with Holocaust memorial ceremonies at Yad Vashem, the Knesset and in Warsaw, but that nothing could be more symbolic of the triumph over Nazism than the fact that the presidents of Israel, Germany and Poland would be together in Warsaw, commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
Michal Herzog added that it would be an emotionally challenging week, but one that was extremely meaningful.
“It amazes me that every year we learn more and more stories and that we will never hear them all. But we try to listen to as many as we can.”