'You're home? Your daughter is healthy? So it's not bad'

‘Nobody is hitting you. Be optimistic’: Holocaust survivors stoic amid the virus

Those on their own cite loneliness, but not fear; say there must be hope for the future and an end to blame and incitement over the pandemic

Holocaust survivor Naftali Pirset talks about the coronavirus in a broadcast on April 10, 2020 (Screen grab/Channel 12)
Holocaust survivor Naftali Pirset talks about the coronavirus in a broadcast on April 10, 2020 (Screen grab/Channel 12)

The elderly are the most vulnerable to the coronavirus, with social distancing rules meaning that many Holocaust survivors in Israel are facing prolonged periods of time on their own.

“I personally am not afraid, but everyone around me is afraid for me. I tell them: When I was a kid, it was dangerous to be a kid,” 87-year-old Naftali Pirset, who has a partner, told Channel 12 news. “I’m close to 90 now, so it’s also dangerous. So I was born at a bad time.”

“I’ll show you a photo from 1945 in Buchenwald, four days after liberation. I was in concentration camps for three years. To compare that miserable situation, with prisoners dying there, and the conditions of the day?” he said.

“You’re home? Do you have a blanket? Do you have anything to eat? Nobody is hitting you? Do you know that your daughter and grandchildren are healthy? So it’s not bad. Stop hating each other. Stop inciting each other,” he added.

Holocaust survivor Naftali Pirset holds up a picture of himself at the Buchenwald concentration camp in a broadcast on April 10, 2020 (Screen grab/Channel 12)

“We are all in the same place and meanwhile we are not hungry, we are not cold and we are not facing extinction. So be optimistic and everything will work out,” Pirset said.

Aliza Buntzel, 88, who is widowed, said she is sad that she is unable to embrace her grandchildren but felt lucky compared to other Holocaust survivors who don’t have close family.

“I really miss leaving the house,” she said. “Not seeing the family, not getting the granddaughters’ hugs. The experiences that I went through as a child, that really strengthen me today. I’m not letting myself get depressed. God forbid! I know of many Holocaust survivors who have no children or no close family who care about them, or they need a hug and the government doesn’t care enough,” she said.”

Holocaust survivor Aliza Buntzel talks about the coronavirus in a broadcast on April 10, 2020 (Screen grab/Channel 12)

“I am very optimistic that we will get out of this soon, and I hope that people really take it more seriously and follow the instructions, which is only for our benefit and for everyone’s benefit,” she added.

Pinchas Golan, 86, a widower, told the network of how hard it is for him to be alone, but that everyone must try and remain hopeful about the situation.

“The coronavirus that broke out, it depresses us Holocaust survivors as well, and of course it depresses everyone,” Golan said. “It’s a terrible depression. Loneliness. I am lonely. When I suffer from this loneliness I get a panic attack. I sit in the room with nobody to talk to. There was always someone to talk to, I have friends. But now, during the loneliness, it’s all over. Everyone sits inside their house and I am alone, constantly alone within the walls. It’s very hard for me, very hard for me. I say a simple thing: You have to hold on and not fall into self-pity, and just hope it will all be good in the end.”

Holocaust survivor Pinchas Golan talks about the coronavirus in a broadcast on April 10, 2020 (Screen grab/Channel 12)

Aryeh Nativ, 85, who is married, said that he isn’t scared of death and that social distancing is nothing compared to what people went through in the Holocaust.

“What I miss especially is hugging and kissing the grandchildren. Among other things I went through in the Holocaust, was being in a basement under the floor of a couple of Polish rescuers. And we were crowded there — 39 people for a year and a half without seeing the sunlight, without inhaling fresh air. Without going outside,” he said.

Holocaust survivor Aryeh Nativ talks about the coronavirus in a broadcast on April 10, 2020 (Screen grab/Channel 12)

“When I remember that situation and compare it to now during the coronavirus period, who are forced to sit at home and not travel far — there is no comparison at all. What proportion is there in this? The current situation is good overall! Personally, death doesn’t scare me. I have had experiences that are worse than death. I’m worried about the unity of the people. Very worrying. That concerns me more than the coronavirus,” Nativ said.

Channel 12 news reported that based on Thursday’s figures, nearly 30 percent of the virus deaths in Israel were at assisted living centers, many of which are home to Holocaust survivors.

Israel’s first fatality in the pandemic was 88-year-old Holocaust survivor Aryeh Even.

A man stands near the body of Holocaust survivor Aryeh Even, 88, and the first man to die in Israel from the coronavirus epidemic, at the Har HaMenuchot Cemetery in Jerusalem, March 22, 2020.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Police have reportedly opened an investigation into a senior living home in southern Israel for allegedly neglecting residents amid the coronavirus outbreak. As of Friday, 12 residents have died from COVID-19 at the Mishan facility in Beersheba, the assisted living center in Israel worst hit by the virus. At least one of those fatalities was a Holocaust survivor.

The coronavirus has been spreading quickly in nursing homes around the country, raising intense concern for the safety of elderly residents.

As of Saturday morning, there have been 10,505 diagnosed virus cases in Israel and 95 deaths.

Almost all of those who have died from COVID-19 in Israel have been elderly and suffered from preexisting conditions, according to hospital officials.

A government report in 2017 painted a shocking picture of government failure to extend help to Holocaust survivors. It described poor government coordination, a failure to use funds already budgeted, complex laws that are difficult to navigate for aging survivors — many of whom can neither use the internet nor are sufficiently proficient in Hebrew — and a complete lack of government support for survivors who arrived in Israel in the 1990s from the former Soviet Union, finding they were often living in extreme poverty.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed