ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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Conference at the Knesset marks Holocaust Day

Holocaust survivor plays last voicemail from hostage grandson killed in Gaza

‘Hi Savta,’ said Yotam Haim shortly before his kidnapping. ‘I’m a little worried, there are terrorists in the kibbutz, but I’m taking care of myself’

Bella Haim, the grandmother of Yotam Haim who was killed by Israeli soldiers after trying to escape from Hamas captivity in the Gaza Strip, speaks during a special conference to mark International Holocaust Day at the Knesset, on January 30, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Bella Haim, the grandmother of Yotam Haim who was killed by Israeli soldiers after trying to escape from Hamas captivity in the Gaza Strip, speaks during a special conference to mark International Holocaust Day at the Knesset, on January 30, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Bella Haim, a Holocaust survivor and the grandmother of Yotam Haim — who was held hostage and then killed in Gaza — told Knesset members and ministers on Thursday that she is experiencing the Holocaust for a second time amid the horrors of the Israel-Hamas war.

Haim shared her and her grandson’s stories at a special Knesset conference marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Yotam was among the 253 hostages taken by Hamas on October 7, when thousands of terrorists invaded Israel’s south and killed some 1,200 people.

He was killed on December 15 along with two other hostages in Shejaiya, northern Gaza. The three were trying to escape but were misidentified by IDF soldiers as terrorists and shot.

“I was born in 1938 in Poland,” Haim told the Knesset members and ministers in attendance. “I believed that the Holocaust would not return. I chose and I fought to live… Today, I have five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. I thought I had found peace and was happy.”

On the morning of October 7, Yotam sent his grandmother a voice message from his home in Kfar Aza saying, “I’m a little worried, there are terrorists in the kibbutz, but I’m taking care of myself and you should take care of yourself, too.” That message, which she played aloud at the meeting, was the last Haim heard from her grandson before he was kidnapped.

“I am a Holocaust survivor,” she said, “and I cannot believe that the Holocaust has returned to us again.”

Yotam Haim. (Courtesy)

Tuesday’s meeting, held by the Knesset Special Committee on the Treatment of Holocaust Survivors, was attended by several other survivors whose family members are in Hamas captivity, as well as survivors who live in the Gaza border area. They called for unity and the safe return of the hostages.

“This is my second Holocaust,” said survivor Tsili Wenkert, whose grandson Omer Wenkert was taken hostage by Hamas at the Supernova desert rave on October 7.  “How much can a human being endure? My Omer is in grave danger.”

Omer suffers from colitis and can have very dramatic attacks, his parents said in a video posted on the website that was put together about him.

“He needs medicine,” said Wenkert of her grandson. “They will not give him what he needs.”

Menachem Haberman, a 96-year-old Holocaust survivor, described his time in a Nazi death camp, in which he saw 8,000 people sent to their deaths in one day. “I saw people come in with a kippah and without a kippah, with a beard and without a beard. They were all murdered in the same way.”

“There is only one way to beat the murderers,” said Haberman, referring both to the Nazis and to Hamas. “It is to be united, united, united.”

Hadassah Lazar, sister of Hamas’s oldest hostage, Shlomo Mansour, who is nearly 86 and a survivor of Iraq’s Farhud riots, told the committee of the violence her brother endured at the hands of his Arab neighbors.

“Shlomo was born in Iraq and lived through the Farhud Holocaust. Arabs murdered, raped, abused babies, kidnapped, beheaded, looted, and burned shops that had been marked with red paint ahead of time,” she said. “It was the Kristallnacht of the Jews of Iraq. And the world was silent.”

Hadassah Lazar speaks during a special conference to mark International Holocaust Day at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on January 30, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

“Shlomo saw things that stayed with him all his life,” Lazar continued. “We did not imagine such things would return in our sovereign state… [Shlomo] is going through another Holocaust in his old age.”

MK Merav Cohen (Yesh Atid), who heads the committee, told the group: “It is precisely when I meet Holocaust survivors that I draw optimism… hope and love for the State of Israel.

“Those who came to Israel did not just want to survive physically, but to build a principled society… In these moments, we see how much solidarity and communal responsibility [is present in Israeli society] to return the hostages who are currently experiencing their own Holocaust.”

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