My Son's Friend
Avraham and Golan
I live on a lovely kibbutz in the Upper Galilee. This kibbutz was established 78 years ago. Its members have seen it evolve from a small optimistic fishing village on the shore of Lake Hula to the brink of devastating economic collapse to its rebirth as a pleasant privatized community.
As a new immigrant to Israel I found my new kibbutz culture challenging and often remote. As I didn’t grow up in a Jewish community in the United States, I didn’t have much knowledge of Holocaust survivors who are such a pervasive part of the Israeli consciousness.
One morning sitting in the kibbutz health clinic an elderly man came in sat next to me. I glanced over and saw a tattoo on his forearm. It read “76518”. I felt panicked and horrified and very sad. I am ashamed to say that for a long time I avoided this man as his presence made me uneasy.
That is until I had my son, Golan. On a warm spring Shabbat morning I was out for a walk with my husband, my then 3 1/2 year old son and my 1 1/2 year old son. My older son was riding his new bike. It was purple, his favorite color, with training wheels and a bell. At this time Golan was very much into “fixing” things and so we had stopped at the top of a hill while he “fixed” his bike.
Along came a mobility scooter putting up the hill, carrying this man from the clinic I had been avoiding. He stopped and spoke to my son, “That is a very nice bike,” he complimented Golan. Golan replied, “Thanks, its new.” And then this elderly man said, “I had a very nice bike like that when I as a boy.
Before the Holocaust.”
My husband and I looked at each other, maybe he wouldn’t ask. However, Golan did ask, “What is the Holocaust?”We held our breaths, not knowing what to say, but Avraham did. He said, “The Holocaust was a very, very sad time for the Jewish people.” Golan looked at him thoughtfully and said, “Ohhhh…. But you’re happy now, right?” Avraham smiled and replied, “Yes, yes I have had a good life on the kibbutz.”
What a fool I was to have avoided this kind man. From this day on my son, Golan, and Avraham became great friends, always happy to see each other. They formed a bond of friendship, this innocent little boy and elderly Holocaust survivor, that I could see they both valued greatly. Through Golan I learned Avraham's story.
Avraham was born in Rypin, Poland in 1925, his father was tailor as was his grandfather. When he was 12 years old his father died of tuberculosis leaving him to help his mother provide for his two younger brothers and a younger sister.
In 1939 the Nazis invaded the town deporting or murdering the Jewish inhabitants. Avraham escaped with his family hiding and wandering until they reached the town of Międzyrzecze, Poland attempting to find a way to cross the Russian border. Here they were caught and sent to the Mlawa Ghetto.
In the Ghetto Avraham was assigned to care for the horses and dig graves. His mother grew ill and died and so he cared for his family the best he could.
In 1942 Avraham, his grandfather and his siblings, Shayna, Hersh and Natan were deported to Auschwitz. His grandfather, Shayna and Hersh were separated from them, Avraham does not know what became of them. However, Avraham and Natan were together during selection at the concentration camp.
The number 76518 was tattooed on his arm and 76519 was tattooed on Natan’s. Here the brothers were separated; Natan was sent to Birkenau and Avraham remained in Auschwitz. Assigned on Block Number 5 he was designated for hard labor.
Later Avraham was transferred to work in “Camp Canada”; he credits this transfer to his survival. Camp Canada was the place possessions were taken from new inmates as they arrived in the cattle cars. The items were sorted through by the inmate workers and things of value were sent to Germany, although much was stolen by SS guards. As inmates looked through the possessions they often found food. Here Avraham was able to find enough food to survive. Camp Canada was the name given to this area by the inmates because they thought Canada was a place with great riches.
After more than two years in Auschwitz, as the Soviet Army approached and the Nazis were frantically trying to empty the death camp, Avraham was sent to Austria by train then on forced march ending up in Ebensee Concentration Camp. On May 6th, 1945 three American tanks entered the camp liberating it from the Nazis.
Following release from the camp, Avraham didn’t know where to go. He managed to find a Displaced Persons camp run by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, commonly called “The Joint.” He was sent to a camp in Italy where outrageously the Polish Army arrived and attempted to press Avraham and other Polish survivors into service.
Seeing that his life was still not his own, Avraham decided it was time to make his own decisions. He joined the Jewish Brigade who prepared him for illegal immigration to British Mandatory Palestine and life on a kibbutz. Six months later he and 76 other refugees set sail for Palestine aboard the Dov Hoz. They arrived safely and luckily were not caught by the British. They made their way to Kibbutz Shefayim and soon were sent onwards to Kibbutz Giva'at HaShlosha.
Once Avraham was healthier and stronger he and a friend decided they would explore the country. They began walking north in search of Kibbutz Manara in the Upper Galilee. They lost their way and found themselves in Kibbutz Hulata on the shore of Lake Hula. His friend chose to move on, but Avraham liked Hulata and there he remained for the rest of his life.
He fought in the Haganah, a Jewish paramilitary organization fighting the subjugation of the British. After the United Nations resolution to create a Jewish state, he fought in Israel’s War of Independence serving in the Oded Division taking part in many battles.
When the war concluded Avraham began the search for family members through “The Joint.” He learned that his brother Natan also survived the Holocaust, although he was the only one. Natan arrived in Palestine in 1948 after being imprisoned by the British on Cyprus. Sadly, the brothers only met one time before Natan was killed in the War of Independence.
Avraham went on with his life on Hulata. He married, had two daughters and three grandchildren. He was a fisherman for 18 years, worked in the kibbutz orchards for another 18 and then in the storerooms until his retirement. He spent his retirement years educating younger generations about the Holocaust.
Avraham passed away in 2012 at the age of 87. I truly do hope that Avraham found his light and had a happy, good life on our kibbutz.
I am glad to be able to tell his story to all of you so he lives on and we “never forget.” Even though my son is still small I will continue to remind him of his great friend, Avraham. We are proud to have known him.