Holocaust survivors say they’ll harbor asylum seekers to stymie deportations

Those who had help to escape the Nazis say Israeli has a moral duty to save African migrants from the deadly dangers they face

African asylum seekers and human rights activists protest against deportation in front of the Rwandan Embassy in Herzliya, on January 22, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
African asylum seekers and human rights activists protest against deportation in front of the Rwandan Embassy in Herzliya, on January 22, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Several Holocaust survivors have spoken out against a government plan to deport tens of thousands African migrants from the country, with some saying they are prepared to hide the asylum seekers in their homes to help them avoid being sent to areas where their lives would be in danger.

Last month, the Knesset approved an amendment to the so-called Infiltrator’s Law, mandating the closure of a detention facility and the forced deportations of Eritreans and Sudanese starting in March.

The move prompted protests from social activists, among them Holocaust survivors, some of whom told the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth that the Jewish state has a moral duty to protect the migrants. In an article published Tuesday, some were quoted as saying they would take African migrants into their homes to hide them to prevent their deportation.

Veronika Cohen, 73, a survivor from Budapest, Hungary, vowed to do what she could against the deportations, including hiding migrants in her home.

“I always asked myself what I would have done if, during the Holocaust, I was on the other side — would I have been strong enough to do what the Righteous Among the Nations did? I don’t know if I would have been able to risk the lives of my children, but here they aren’t asking us to risk our lives. I feel that to do this is my humanitarian duty.”

African migrants take part at a protest in Tel Aviv on June 10, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

There are approximately 38,000 African migrants and asylum seekers in Israel, according to the Interior Ministry. About 72 percent are Eritrean and 20% are Sudanese, and the vast majority arrived between 2006 and 2012. Many live in south Tel Aviv, where some residents and activists have blamed them for rising crime rates and lobbied the government for deportation.

Hana Arnon, 77, who was born in the Netherlands, drew comparisons to Anne Frank, the Dutch girl who famously wrote a diary while hiding with her family in Amsterdam during the Holocaust. The Franks were eventually discovered by the Germans and murdered in concentration camps.

“Who were the heroes in addition to Anne Frank?” Arnon asked. “The people who tried to save her and her family. We need to learn from them.”

Ilana Drucker, 79, whose family survived by running from Germany to the Netherlands, where they were saved by non-Jews, said that although she would hide migrants in her home, she rejects the comparison to Anne Frank.

“I am angry that this is being compared to Anne Frank,” she told Yedioth. “If I take in a refugee to my home, they won’t kill me and it won’t endanger my family. My parents were friends with Anne Frank’s parents. The family that hid us risked their lives.”

Friends of Tesfe Kidane, an Eritrean asylum seeker deported to Rwanda two years ago, hold up his picture at a protest outside of the Rwandan embassy in Herzilya, on January 22, 2018. Kidane was murdered in Libya while trying to flee to Europe. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

Objection to the deportations has been gaining support, and on Monday, three El Al pilots published Facebook posts announcing their refusal to participate in the government program by not flying them to Rwanda or Uganda.

The act is mostly symbolic, as El Al does not fly directly to Rwanda or Uganda, and deported migrants usually fly on other airlines through Ethiopia or Jordan.

On Monday, more than 1,000 Eritrean asylum seekers gathered outside of the Rwandan embassy in Herzilya to protest the planned forced deportations.

They were joined by some 100 Israelis, including 10 students in a pre-army preparatory year in Jerusalem, who are organizing a demonstration against deportations in Jerusalem for February 1.

Meanwhile, dozens of asylum seekers protested outside President Reuven Rivlin’s residence in Jerusalem on Monday against planned forced deportations of African refugees to third-party countries said to be Uganda and Rwanda.

The demonstrators held signs reading “Don’t despair, we will stop the expulsion” and chanted “We are human beings!”

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