Survivors Garner Strength from Each Other and New Generation

July 12, 2011


Tzvi W. is haunted by visions from Dr. Joseph Mengele’s torture chambers, where he and his twin were sent at age 14. “From the minute I entered the camp and had a number tattooed on my arm until I finally made it out of there, I lost my humanity,” says Tzvi. There aren’t many people he can share this trauma with, and as he gets older and his coping mechanisms decline, the grief and pain of what he witnessed during his time in Auschwitz can be overwhelming.

That’s why Tzvi’s participation in Café Europa is so critical. He is one of over 2,200 elderly Holocaust survivors in Israel who find social and emotional support through this unique JDC program that also preserves their legacy for future generations.

The Café Europa activities in each location are driven by the participants themselves, reflecting their unique interests and sensibilities. For example, one group that meets regularly in Modi’in is comprised of Russian-born survivors who savor the intimate, social group environment at their sessions. As new immigrants to Israel, these Russian-speakers especially enjoy social activities in their native language, which include excursions with Russian-speaking guides, workshops on Jewish holidays and traditions, and a lecture series in Yiddish on Jewish and Israeli art. What’s universal is that Café Europa brings survivors warmth and community, and empowers them to create fulfilling experiences to share together. Together they form touring choirs; establish libraries with books in their native languages; organize lectures, workshops, and literary evenings; celebrate Kabbalat Shabbats, holidays, and birthdays; create musical performances; and plan field trips throughout Israel, giving Café Europa myriad forms throughout its 30-plus locations.

In each location, the program provides a critical forum for aging elderly survivors to share their experiences not only with each other but also with the youth in their communities. Local high school students join the seniors as volunteers and take part in joint activities like arts and crafts, hikes, and excursions. This next generation learns the survivors’ stories and together they forge an intergenerational community and contribute to the collective memory of this important historical era.

Tzipora, a 77-year-old Café Europa participant in Karmiel, has shared her recollections of walking through deep snow from Romania to Ukraine when she was seven, living for three years in near starvation in a labor camp, and overcoming Typhoid fever on a loaf of moldy bread. After the war her family moved to Israel and she worked for 25 years at a health clinic and raised three children. She is now a proud grandmother of five.

“The feeling of a common destiny unites me with the other survivors I’ve met here,” she says of Café Europa. “It allowed me to open up emotionally and to become socially active for the first time. I sincerely hope it will continue to provide a home and a social network for survivors.”

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