Illuminating the memory of the six million who perished

holocaust torchers 298 (photo credit: Courtesy)
holocaust torchers 298
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Holocaust survivors Zanne Farbstein, Manya Brodeski-Titelman, Mordechai (Motke) Wiesel, Yaacov (Jacki) Handeli, David Gur and Ya'akov Janek Holladner have been chosen to light torches in memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust - here are their stories.
Holocaust Remembrance Day 5767
Zanne Farbstein Zanne Farbstein was born in 1926 in Bardejov, Slovakia. Her first memory of the war was the sudden entry of German soldiers into her family's home on Shabbat eve, after which there remained a solid German presence in the town. Her father's business was confiscated, and her two older brothers were sent to a military labor camp. In March 1942, all females under 25 were ordered to gather in a school. Farbstein and her two sisters, Edith and Sarah, were escorted by their father, who tearfully gave each of them a corona coin as a good-luck amulet. They joined a thousand other girls on the first transport to Auschwitz, where they were ordered to leave their possessions on the train, including the treasured coins. After a few months, they were sent to the newly built Birkenau camp, where they endured hard labor, acute hunger and disease. Farbstein survived the selektions because of her Aryan looks, and managed to obtain the "desirable" jobs of sorting confiscated clothes and other personal possessions. One day, she found her father's prayer shawl, and understood that he had been murdered. The three sisters stayed together, looking after one other and sharing their food. One day, Edith, sick and exhausted, suggested exchanging her good shoes for Farbstein's threadbare ones. The meaning was clear: Farbstein and Sarah never saw Edith again. On January 18, 1945, the women were sent on a death march to Germany. Through the snow and rain, Farbstein had to support her ailing sister. After the German guards abandoned the prisoners in a small town, the sisters continued on to the American Zone, where they met soldiers from the Jewish Brigade. They then travelled to Prague and Bratislava, where they learned that two of their brothers had survived. They returned to their birthplace, where the four were reunited. The fates of Farbstein's grandfather, grandmother and younger brother remain unknown. In 1949, the extended family immigrated to Israel with the help of the Joint Distribution Committee. Zanne Farbstein and her husband, Moshe, have two children and five grandchildren. Manya Brodeski-Titelman Manya Brodeski-Titelman was an only child, born in 1932 in Zhabokrich, Ukraine. In July 1941, the German army entered the town, followed by the Romanian army. The Jews were ordered to gather in five cellars, where the Romanian soldiers proceeded to shoot them. Manya Brodeski-Titelman lost consciousness. When she awoke, she saw that her mother had been killed. Her father had survived. Manya and her father hid in the cellar until nightfall. They then escaped to a forest but after a week, starving and cold, they returned. A few days later, they were herded into the town ghetto, where they lived under grueling conditions in an apartment with several other families. One day, the police ordered both adults and children back to the cellars to remove the corpses from the massacre. The bodies were in a terrible state of decomposition, and the horrified prisoners were forced to bury them in a mass grave. Manya identified her mother's body by the red boots she had been wearing. She and her father managed to bury her near their home. During this period, thousands of Jews from Bessarabia were being herded to the nearby River Bug, where they were murdered. Manya's father would throw boiled potatoes to them across the ghetto fence, and bring survivors to their home. Toward the end of the war, the Romanians gathered all the Jews in the main square of the town, planning to kill them. Suddenly, a group of German soldiers arrived and warned the Romanians that the Russian army had arrived. The Romanians fled. To the Jews' astonishment, the German soldiers turned out to be partisans in disguise. In 1980, Manya and her family immigrated to Israel. In 2003, she was among a group that erected a memorial tombstone on the site of her hometown's mass grave. In March 2007, Manya's husband, Boris, a Holocaust survivor and a veteran of the Red Army, passed away. She has two daughters, five grandchildren and a great-grandchild. Mordechai (Motke) Wiesel Mordechai (Motke) Wiesel was born in 1929 in Satmar, Transylvania, to a family of eight. When the Germans invaded Hungary in 1944, Motke's father sent his three sons to work on a farm. Meanwhile, the Jews were herded into the city's ghetto; after a few weeks, the boys were taken to the ghetto as well. Motke and his family were put on a transport. He and his twin brother, Meir, managed to find air to breathe from a small crack in the train car. They were herded off the train at Auschwitz on their 15th birthday, and beaten. At the first selektion, Motke and Meir were separated from their parents and siblings, whom they never saw again. As they drew towards the infamous camp gate, Meir naively asked: "How long do you think we will have to work here before we are freed?" After a week, the twins were sent to the Plaszow camp, near Krakow, where they worked in Oskar Schindler's pig farm and as apprentice builders. They were then taken to Gross-Rosen and from there to the Langenbielau Sportschule, near Reichenbach. The brothers always looked after each other, sharing stolen food or the remains reserved for the dogs. In one camp, Motke persuaded his brother to cut his hands in a "work accident" to avoid certain death on a machine he was being forced to operate. After liberation in May 1945, they went to live in empty houses in Reichenbach, where they regained their strength. Back in Satmar, they discovered that only their elder brother had survived. Nothing is known about the rest of the family. With the help of the bricha (escape) operation, the brothers were smuggled into Austria and from there to Italy. Motke succeeded in reaching Eretz Israel in 1947, and made his way to Kibbutz Sde Nahum, where Meir awaited him. Meir was killed fighting in the War of Independence. Motke later fulfilled his dream of becoming an officer in the Jewish army. In 1952, Motke married Esther. They have two children and eight grandchildren. Yaacov (Jacki) Handeli Yaacov (Jacki) Handeli was born in 1928 in Salonika, Greece, to an affluent family of six whose roots in the city dated back to the 16th century. In 1941, the Germans entered Salonika. They implemented anti-Jewish laws, and turned the Baron Hirsch quarter into a ghetto. Handeli and his family were marched into the ghetto, in a humiliating parade. Two weeks later, the family was deported to Poland, with some 85 people crammed into each train car. After a week, the food and water ran out. Every time the train stopped, the Germans would remove the bodies of the dead and rob the others of their possessions. It was then that Handeli learnt his first sentence in German: "You won't need this any more." The train arrived at Auschwitz, and the prisoners were sent to the first selection. Handeli and his brothers Yehuda and Shmuel saw their parents and sisters for the last time, and were then taken to work in the camp. Like the other refugees from Salonika, they were unable to speak to the Germans or with other Jews in the camp because they did not know Polish, German or Yiddish. After his two brothers died, Salonika boxer Jaco Razon helped him survive the camp. In January 1945, the prisoners were sent on a death march. Handeli remembers the snow-covered road dotted with the blood of those who had been murdered, the march to the Gleiwitz camp, and then on to Dora-Mittelbau in open coal trucks, exposed to the cold and the rain, without food or water, until they reached Bergen-Belsen, where they remained until liberation by the British. In 1947, Handeli immigrated to Israel. He volunteered in Mahal and fought in the War of Independence. Handeli is the sole survivor of his family. He and his wife, Rachel, have two children. David Gur David Gur was born in 1926 in Okany, southeastern Hungary, to a family of four. In 1938, the Hungarian government began to implement anti-Jewish laws. Gur's father lost his business license and the family's economic situation worsened. A dedicated Zionist, Gur went to Budapest to learn a useful trade for life in Eretz Israel. While working as a construction apprentice for a Jewish contractor, he began to take part in the underground activities of Hashomer Hatza'ir, which included helping refugees arriving from neighboring countries. In March 1944, the Germans invaded Hungary, and the underground created a united defense committee that saved thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish lives. Gur joined a cell that forged documents. One day, he and his friends were caught by Hungarian detectives. Although they quickly swallowed the forged documents, the equipment in their suitcases gave them away. After a brutal investigation, during which one of them died, the rest of the group was taken to the military prison in Budapest Gur was among those scheduled for execution, but to their surprise, the prisoners were taken to the Swiss Consulate, where they were freed. A senior prison warden had been bribed by the underground. After the war, Gur learned his father had died in Auschwitz, but that his mother and sister had survived. He became a member of the Hashomer Hatza'ir leadership. He also took part in the underground activities of the Hagana. In 1949, when the Zionist movement was outlawed by the Communist regime, Gur commanded the last bricha (escape) operation, helping smuggle members of Zionist youth movements through Czechoslovakia and Austria to Eretz Israel. In 1949, he immigrated to Israel. He graduated from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and became a construction engineer. In 1985, Gur helped found the Association for Research into the Zionist Youth Movements of Hungary, where he remains active. He and his wife, Naomi, have three daughters and 10 grandchildren. Ya'akov Janek Holladner Janek Hollaender was born in 1929 in Krakow, Poland, to a family of five. In 1940, the Jews were exiled from the city, and Janek's family was forced to sell its property to survive. In 1942, they were taken to the Krakow ghetto, where Janek Hollaender and his parents were separated from his two brothers. With rumors of an imminent aktion, they hid themselves in a basement, where Janek's father had installed a special lock on the door so it could not be opened from the outside. Janek recalls their subsequent imprisonment in Plaszow because of the terror created by the camp's commander, Amon Goeth, who regularly shot randomly in all directions. Janek and his brother Benek were later sent to Starachowice, and then to Auschwitz, where they looked after each other as best they could. In the winter of 1944, the prisoners were marched to Mauthausen. Benek had difficulty walking because of a leg injury sustained while selling coal in Rideltau. Urged on by Janek, he managed to reach the camp, but then collapsed, and Janek never saw him again. In April 1945, the prisoners were taken on a death march to Gunskirchen. As news spread that the Germans had fled, Janek, weighing just 33 kilograms (70 pounds), managed to crawl out of the camp. He was taken to a Red Cross hospital, where he met soldiers from the Jewish Brigade. He decided to travel with them to Italy, joining a group of Jewish war orphans that was sent to a Youth Aliya camp in Selvino. There some 800 youngsters were trained for life in Israel. Meanwhile, Janek learned that his father had been murdered in Auschwitz, his mother had died in Plaszow, and his brother Dolek had been shot in Bergen-Belsen, three days before the war's end. In 1947, Janek arrived at Kibbutz Mishmar Hasharon. After serving in the Palmach's Harel Brigade, he helped found Kibbutz Tze'elim in the Negev, along with other former children from Selvino. Today, Ya'akov Janek is a wellknown composer, musical arranger and choir conductor. In 1955, he married Devorah. They have two children and a granddaughter.