The stories of six survivors who have rebuilt their lives in Israel

Yad Vashem chose six Holocaust survivors to light a torch at the state ceremony on Wednesday night.

torch lighters 2008 (photo credit: Courtesy)
torch lighters 2008
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Yad Vashem chose six Holocaust survivors to light a torch at the state ceremony on Wednesday night: Menachem Katz was born in 1925 in Berezhany, Poland, to a religious Zionist family. In 1941, the Germans occupied Berezhany, and Ukrainians and Germans murdered many Jews. In October 1942, the town's ghetto was established, and on Yom Kippur of 1942, hundreds of Jews were deported. Together with 30 other people, Katz's family hid in a secret room in the ghetto and thus escaped deportation. In the spring of 1943, the Nazis established a labor camp near the ghetto, where Katz and his stepfather Eliyahu were taken to work. Two weeks later, the ghetto was liquidated. Eliyahu committed suicide. Katz hid with his mother and younger sister at the home of a Polish farmer, Pyotr Kameitz. Kameitz, his wife Henka and their two daughters were later recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. In the spring of 1944, the family fled into the forest, where they remained until the liberation of Berezhany in July 1944. In October 1946, Katz, his mother and his sister Rina sailed for Israel. Katz studied architecture at the Technion in Haifa. He won many prizes in his field, published a book on architecture and designed the museum at Kibbutz Baram in memory of the Jews of Berezhany. He is currently working on restoring the Berezhany synagogue. Menachem and his wife Chanah have two sons and six grandchildren. Noemi Shadmi, nee Spitz, was born in 1931 in Debrecen, Hungary. When she was three years old, her affluent family moved to Budapest. In 1944, Shadmi's father and older brother were taken to a forced labor camp and murdered. Shadmi, her mother and younger brother, Joschka, were moved to the poor part of town, together with all the Jews in Budapest. Their severely overcrowded apartments were marked with yellow stars. One morning in 1944, troopers from the SS and Arrow Cross (the Hungarian fascist party) broke into their apartment, and Shadmi's mother was taken away at gunpoint. Looking helplessly at the children, she told her daughter, "Take good care of your little brother, I trust you." Two weeks later, the children were moved to the Budapest ghetto. When the Red Army liberated the city, Shadmi and her brother returned to their home, only to find it occupied by strangers who threw them out. After discovering that her parents and older brother had died in the Holocaust, she and Joschka headed to Israel. In October 1947, she finally arrived, settling in Kibbutz Kfar Giladi, where she helped found Kibbutz Gaon and assisted new immigrants. In 1948, Shadmi enlisted in the IDF, serving as a combat officer and receiving an award for bravery. Shadmi served in the Israel Police for 20 years, retiring with the rank of commander. Today, she gives testimony for Yad Vashem, lecturing widely around the country. Noemi and her husband Asher have two children and four grandchildren. Zvi Unger was born in 1929 in Sosnowiec, Poland to a large, well-educated Orthodox family. On September 1, 1939, the family fled, seeking safety in another district in Poland. Unger and two of his brothers were sent in 1941 to stay with relatives. In August 1943, their ghetto was liquidated. They tried to hide in an attic, but were discovered a few days later. In September 1943, Unger was sent to Birkenau. When he got off the train, an inmate whispered to him that he should say he was 18. Thus he survived the selection, and later many others by hiding under benches in the work camp. In January 1945, Unger was sent on a death march to Germany. After 10 days, the inmates were put on a train for Buchenwald. In April 1945, he was liberated,the lone survivor of his family. Unger was moved to a children's home near Paris. In 1947, he joined the Zionist Poalei Tzion movement in the South of France to prepare for his immigration to Israel in 1948. He joined the youth group at Kibbutz Ramat Hakovesh and fought with them in the War of Independence. In 1949, he was among the founders of Kibbutz Malkiya on the Lebanese border, where he still makes his home. Over the years, Unger has worked in bookkeeping and served as the coordinator of his kibbutz. Unger's wife Naomi passed away in 2007. He has four children and 16 grandchildren. Ester Samuel-Cahn was born in 1933 in Oslo, Norway to Rabbi Yitzhak Julius Samuel, the rabbi of Norwegian Jewry, and his wife Henriette, both born in Germany. After the Germans conquered Norway in April 1940, life continued more or less normally, though food was scarce and they were educated in private homes because the Nazis had co-opted the school buildings for military purposes. In the summer of 1942, Samuel-Cahn's father was arrested. A day before the arrest, a German officer had hinted to him that it might be best if he fled, but because of his responsibility toward his community, he refused to leave. In late November, a member of the Norwegian underground and friend of the family, Ingebjorg Sletten-Fosstvedt, warned Henriette of the impending arrest of the Jews. Sletten-Fosstvedt and another member of the underground moved her and her aunt's families to Christian neighbors. For their action in rescuing Jews, Yad Vashem later recognized the two as Righteous Among the Nations. On December 3, Samuel-Cahn's family and 30 other Jews were hidden on two trucks bound for safety in Sweden. After a dangerous and difficult border crossing, they arrived at a refugee camp, and from there Samuel-Cahn and her family moved to Stockholm. In the summer of 1945 the family discovered that her father had been murdered in Auschwitz. Her mother would later testify at the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. In 1946, Samuel-Cahn, her mother and two brothers immigrated to Israel, where she graduated from the Hebrew University in Mathematics, Physics and Statistics. She went on to head the university's Department of Statistics, became chair of the Israel Statistical Association, and was elected to membership in the Norwegian Academy of Sciences. In 2004, Prof. Ester Samuel-Cahn was awarded the Israel Prize in Statistics. Samuel-Cahn and her husband Aaron have four children and 15 grandchildren. Michael Maor was born in 1933 in Halberstadt, Germany, an only child. After the Nazis' rise to power, his parents fled to Spain, and from there to Yugoslavia. When the war broke out, Maor and his parents were deported to the town of Derventa. By 1941, the Jews were forced to wear the yellow star. They fled to Italian-held territory, but were imprisoned by the Italians in a concentration camp. After the Italian surrender to the Allies in September 1943, Maor's family fled to an area controlled by partisans, and then again to the city of Topusko. In 1944, the Germans attacked Topusko. Maor fled once more into the forest but, on his return, discovered his parents had been killed. After suffering harassment and abuse in an orphanage for being the only Jew, he lived with various foster families. After the war, Maor found his way to a Zionist training camp near Rome. In June 1945, he arrived in Israel and was sent to the Atlit internment camp. He eventually arrived at Kibbutz Mizra, where he was adopted. Following military service as a paratrooper and officer, Maor studied photography in Germany while working for the Mossad. Among other professional achievements, he attained documents from the offices of the general prosecutor of Baden Essen proving Eichmann's involvement in the extermination of the Jews during the Holocaust. After another stint in the IDF, he established the intelligence branch of the Border Police, serving as their national intelligence officer for 15 years. Today, he volunteers as chair of the Israel Desk of the International Policemen's Association for German-speaking countries. Maor and his wife Sarah have three children and four grandchildren. Meir Brand was born in 1936 in Bochnia, Poland, the younger of two sons in an affluent religious family. In August 1943, sensing the end of the ghetto where they had lived for two years, his parents decided to smuggle him out. Brand's father gave his son a tag with a note inside requesting that he be raised as a Jew. The parents paid a Pole to take Brand and his cousins to safety. Arriving alone in Budapest, he joined the refugees and orphans who slept under bridges by night; by day, they collected fruit and vegetable scraps from the markets and plundered bombed-out homes to survive. In April 1944, he was taken in by Bertha Rubenstein, a member of the Zionist underground. In June, she and Brand left Budapest on the Kastner train, arriving at Bergen Belsen, where they remained for the next eight months. They were liberated in April 1945 and went to Switzerland. In August 1945, he emigrated to Israel. In September, a Belgian uncle contacted him after discovering his name on a list of survivors. The uncle told Brand that his parents and older brother Shimon had been deported to Auschwitz and murdered there. Brand settled on Kibbutz Neveh Eitan with a relative, and in 1954 enlisted in the IDF. He participated in all of Israel's wars, from the Sinai Campaign to the first Lebanon War. Brand studied Agricultural Economics and later managed the meat division of the Tnuva cooperative. After his retirement, he joined an office of economic consultants. Meir and his wife Hanna have three children and eight grandchildren.