Hostage families and Holocaust survivors vow ‘Never again’ while marking Yom Hashoah

‘Pain is pain, it doesn’t matter if I experienced it in Poland or now, on Oct. 7,’ Holocaust survivor Hannah Gofrit tells teary-eyed crowd of thousands at Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square

  • Crowd of thousands gathers in Tel Aviv's Hostages Square to hear testimonies from Holocaust survivors and hostage families on May 5, 2024, the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)
    Crowd of thousands gathers in Tel Aviv's Hostages Square to hear testimonies from Holocaust survivors and hostage families on May 5, 2024, the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)
  • Hostage family members Tzipi Ohel and Omri Shtivi in conversation with Rabbi Benny Lau, who emceed the Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration event in Hostages Square on May 5, 2024. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)
    Hostage family members Tzipi Ohel and Omri Shtivi in conversation with Rabbi Benny Lau, who emceed the Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration event in Hostages Square on May 5, 2024. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)
  • Hannah Gofrit, an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor speaks to a crowd of people in Tel Aviv's Hostages Square at Holocaust Remembrance Day event on evening of May 5, 2024. (Courtesy of Hostages and Missing Families Forum/Paulina Patimer)
    Hannah Gofrit, an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor speaks to a crowd of people in Tel Aviv's Hostages Square at Holocaust Remembrance Day event on evening of May 5, 2024. (Courtesy of Hostages and Missing Families Forum/Paulina Patimer)

Some 2,000 people convened in Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square for a Zikaron Basalon (memory in the living room) gathering on Sunday night to hear hostage family members and Holocaust survivors share their stories on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Though the tradition of Zikaron Basalon typically consists of small, intimate gatherings in which Israelis listen to survivors give their testimonies in private homes, the Hostages and Missing Families Forum turned out a massive crowd to the outdoor plaza on Sunday night.

“Pain is pain, it doesn’t matter if I experienced it in Poland or now, on October 7,” said Hannah Gofrit, a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to Israel in 1949.

Gofrit began her testimony on an upbeat note, telling the crowd that she rejects the “survivor” label and opts instead to call herself a victor.

“I was privileged to immigrate to the State of Israel, to build my life, to revive my life, to set up a home in Israel, and I am the victor,” she said. The 88-year-old nurse began sharing her story with young survivors of October 7 following the Hamas massacre.

Organizers played a video on the screen above the panelists, depicting Gofrit with young children evacuated from Kibbutz Mefalsim, one of the communities devastated on October 7, promising them that “there is a life after this.”

Gofrit, who wrote a memoir about her childhood titled “I Wanted to Fly Like a Butterfly,” sang to the crowd the lyrics to a song based on the children’s book, composed by musical artists Eliana Tidhar and Lee Biran.

Hannah Gofrit, an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor, speaks to a crowd of people in Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square at a Holocaust Remembrance Day event on the evening of May 5, 2024. (Courtesy of Hostages and Missing Families Forum/Paulina Patimer)

Omri Shtivi, the brother of Idan Shtivi who was kidnapped by Hamas during the Supernova rave massacre, said that the Holocaust survivors on both sides of his family would be proud to see him there now, but were also surely “rolling in their graves at the difficult situation that we are going through.”

He described his and his family’s life as a “constant nightmare” ever since Hamas kidnapped his brother into the Gaza Strip, comparing the situation to the stories his grandmother used to tell him about her childhood under the Nazis’ murderous reign.

“She said that one day, [Nazi] soldiers came to their house and tried to kidnap her brother, but her father confronted them and prevented it. But no one was there on October 7 to save Idan,” Shtivi lamented.

Crowd of thousands gathers in Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square to hear testimonies from Holocaust survivors and hostage families on May 5, 2024, the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)

Although not the focus of the event, panelists spoke in veiled language about the need to strike a deal with Hamas to secure the hostages’ release, with Shtivi asserting that the hostages’ plight was not a political or even humanitarian issue, but a moral one.

The elder brother added that “in order to win, we have to give up on the just [military] action in favor of the moral action,” and that a “real leader” must opt to do the moral thing — work to bring the remaining hostages home.

Tzipi Ohel, the grandmother of 22-year-old Alon Ohel, who was also kidnapped from the Supernova rave festival, concurred with Shtivi when questioned by Rabbi Benny Lau, who emceed the event, about the words “Never again” written on the screen above the panelists’ heads.

“I was born in Berlin, and in 1949, I boarded the ‘Independence’ ship with my family to Israel,” said Ohel, whose parents survived the Holocaust. “All along, my parents would tell me, and now I have told my children, ‘Never again’ — that’s how I raised them.”

Hostage family members Tzipi Ohel and Omri Shtivi in conversation with Rabbi Benny Lau, who emceed the Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration event in Hostages Square on May 5, 2024. (Charlie Summers/Times of Israel)

“For seven months now I’ve been thinking that a miracle would happen, but the miracle didn’t happen,” Ohel continued.

Near the end of the event, organizers showed the audience a video put out by the Families Forum, featuring Holocaust survivors in a message to the hostages who remain captive in the Gaza Strip.

“It’s on you to keep being people, human beings,” said Batya Rapaport, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, in the video, one of many survivors who gave filmed statements that brought many audience members to tears during the emotional event.

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