Holocaust Remembrance torchlighters shine light on defiance

This year’s Remembrance Day ceremony to focus on heroic survival stories

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

A Holocaust survivor lays a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. September 20, 2012. (photo credit: Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)
A Holocaust survivor lays a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. September 20, 2012. (photo credit: Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Flash90)

On Sunday evening, Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum will host the annual ceremony, and six Holocaust survivors will light beacons, in memory of the six million Jews who were killed by the Nazis.

The theme for this year’s ceremony is Defiance and Rebellion during the Holocaust, 70 Years Since the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. One of the six, Peretz Hochman — one of the last of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising heroes — died March 31, two weeks shy of his 86th birthday. His wife will light the torch in his stead.

These are the stories of survival of the six men and women lighting the torches this year.

Baruch Kopold

Baruch Kopold was born in 1923 in Iwje, Belarus, the second of five children.

The Germans occupied Iwje in June 1941, and Baruch was put to manual labor. By May 1942, most of the town’s Jews had been rounded up and murdered. After being forced to cover the mass graves, Baruch was deported along with his family to the Lida ghetto. With his father’s encouragement, Baruch and seven of his friends cut the fences of the ghetto, swam across the half-frozen river and escaped to the forests. Later on, they were accepted to Tuvia Bielski’s partisan brigade where they underwent training and were issued arms.

Baruch Kopold (photo credit: courtesy of Yad Vashem)
Baruch Kopold (photo credit: Courtesy of Yad Vashem)

“We would organize ourselves into groups and plunder trains and villages for food and provisions,” Baruch recalls. “We were constantly on the move.” The fighters acquired guns from attacks on SS soldiers, or by smuggling weapons out of a factory close to Lida, where many Jews from the ghetto worked. When the Germans placed a siege on the forest, the partisans dug underground bunkers, camouflaged with leaves and branches. At night they sung partisan songs, as well as songs in Yiddish and Hebrew about the Land of Israel. Baruch still sings those songs today.

In June 1944, eight of the fighters in the brigade were killed in battle with an SS unit. Bielski then instructed his people to cross the swamps and swim to a different part of the forest. “We all helped each other make it through that exhausting trek,” remembers Baruch, “and thus most of the brigade was saved.”

When the area was liberated by the Red Army, Baruch returned to Iwje but discovered that his parents, his brother and his three sisters had all been murdered in the Majdanek death camp.

Baruch returned to Poland after escaping a Soviet work camp, and joined a group set on immigrating to Palestine. He led the group on foot through Czechoslovakia, Austria, and across the Alps to Italy. In May 1946, Baruch arrived in Palestine.

During the Israeli War of Independence, Baruch was drafted into the Haganah and met his future wife Lea, an Auschwitz survivor.

Baruch and Lea have three daughters, eight grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

Otto Dov Pressburger

Otto Dov Pressburger was born in 1923 in Trnava, Czechoslovakia and had four siblings.

In April 1942, Otto, his father and his older brother Yulios were deported to Auschwitz. His brother Latzi was murdered at Majdanek. His mother and grandmother were also killed.

Otto and his family were among the first Jews to arrive at Auschwitz. His prisoner number, 29045, was tattooed onto his chest. Otto’s father was murdered three weeks later.

Otto and Yulios witnessed the Germans’ first gassing experiments. Next to the experiment shed was a pit, which Otto helped dig, into which the victims of the experiments were thrown — dead or alive. After a while, Otto and the other prisoners were ordered to burn the bodies.

A few weeks later, Otto saw his brother Yulios at one of the selections. He waved goodbye, never to see him again. Otto was then transferred to Birkenau, where he was force to build the prisoner barracks and the crematorium.

Otto Dov Pressburger (photo credit: courtesy of Yad Vashem)
Otto Dov Pressburger (photo credit: Courtesy of Yad Vashem)

In July 1942, Otto’s brother, Aladar, arrived on a transport from Czechoslovakia with his wife and daughter. Aladar did not recognize the gaunt Otto, who sang a family childhood song in order to convince Aladar it was really him. A few days later, Aladar and his family were murdered.

Helped by a Slovakian Jewish friend, Otto got a job as a carter, which provided him access to food and supplies. He smuggled provisions from warehouses and from outside Auschwitz into the camp, and helped other prisoners in his block obtain food.

On 18 January, 1945, as Auschwitz was evacuated, Otto was loaded onto a train heading for Austria together with Polish prisoners. He jumped from the speeding train on Czech territory, and played dead. Otto then found refuge at the home of Czech farmers, with whom he stayed until the end of the war. In time, he found out that the farmer who saved his life was among the senior members of the Czech underground. When the camp was liberated, Otto weighed less than 30 kilograms.

In 1947, Otto immigrated to Palestine. After being detained at the British Atlit camp, he joined the Haganah and fought in the Israeli War of Independence. In Palestine, Otto was reunited with his brother, Alexander.

Otto and his wife Bracha have two children and five grandchildren.

Miriam Liptcher

Miriam Liptcher was born in 1922 in Krakow, Poland as Manya Wagman, and had seven siblings.

As the Germans conquered Poland, Miriam’s family moved to the town of Proszowice. Miriam and her brother Joseph disguised themselves as Aryans. Their father acquired food from farmers in the area and they traveled by train to Krakow in order to smuggle provisions into the ghetto.

One day, Miriam was reported to a German officer by a Polish acquaintance and was deported. From that day on, Miriam never saw her family again. On the train on her way to prison, Miriam pushed the informer out of the cart.

Mriam Liptcher (photo credit: courtesy of Yad Vashem)
Mriam Liptcher (photo credit: Courtesy of Yad Vashem)

In May 1942, Miriam was sent to Auschwitz. While at the camp, she made a commitment to try and help her fellow female prisoners as much as possible. When they were ordered to turn the earth over with their hands, she convinced them to eat roots for their nutritional value. When she was sent to bring water, she filled the jugs with clothing for the Yugoslavian prisoners. Miriam also sorted objects belonging to Jewish inmates and victims, and ripped her clothing so the Germans could not use it.

At nights, Miriam would sneak into another camp, where, in exchange for clothes, she purchased a little food. When she was caught in these smuggling attempts, she was sent to work, cutting plant overgrowth in a lake of frozen water.

At the end of 1943, many of Miriam’s friends from her youth group in Krakow arrived in Auschwitz. Many of the arriving inmates were sick with dysentery. Miriam obtained rice from the Yugoslavian prisoners, cooked it, and gave it to her friends. Some of them managed to recover. In the spring of 1944, she was transferred to the experiment shed of the infamous Josef Mengele. The experiments she endured there rendered her barren.

In January 1945, Miriam was put on a death march to Bergen-Belsen, where she was liberated in April 1945. She was her family’s only survivor. Later, she met Rudy Liptcher, also a Holocaust survivor, and they decided to immigrate to Palestine. After being detained at the Atlit camp, the couple set off to Kibbutz Afikim and then to Pardes Hanna. In 1963, they adopted a little girl. When the girl was four years old, Rudy passed away, leaving Miriam to raise her alone.

Throughout the war, Miriam managed to save a golden ring from her mother, bearing her initials “M.W.” Miriam still wears the ring. For many years, Miriam accompanied groups to Poland as a witness.

Miriam has a daughter and three grandchildren.

Dina Ostrover

Dina Ostrover was born in 1923 in Stryi, Ukraine as Donia Pickholz. She was the youngest of four children and was raised in a traditional Orthodox Jewish home.

In June 1941, the Nazis captured the area in which she had been living and the local Jews were concentrated in a ghetto. In September, nearly 1,000 Jews from the city were murdered in a nearby forest.

Donia managed to escape this fate and was sent to work in a leather processing factory. The factory manager allowed her to plant a vegetable garden behind the factory, and so Donia was able to sneak a few vegetables to her family.

Dina Ostrover (photo credit: courtesy of Yad Vashem)
Dina Ostrover (photo credit: Courtesy of Yad Vashem)

In September 1942, some 5,000 Jews were transported from the ghetto to the Belzec death camp. During the second Aktion in October 1942, the Germans discovered Donia and her family in hiding and loaded them onto cattle cars. While on the journey, Donia’s father encouraged her to jump and escape from the moving train. She took her father’s advice but lost consciousness as she hit the ground. Fortunately, she landed behind a bush that concealed her and was left undiscovered by Nazi troops who patrolled the area. Donia then returned to the ghetto, injured and psychologically broken.

Later, Donia’s uncle managed to procure a counterfeit Ukrainian birth certificate for her. She used her false identity to flee the ghetto and found work as a laborer at an inn which served German officers next to the town of Bolechow, not far from her own hometown.

In June 1943, the Germans announced another Aktion. Although only 17 years old, Donia suggested to a fellow worker at the inn, Marika, that the two of them hide a Jewish accountant, Shlomo Reinhartz, and his wife Miriam. Marika accepted and soon the Reinhartz couple were moved to the inn, taking shelter in an attic above a bathroom used by the German soldiers. For 13 months, Donia smuggled food to the couple and cleared out their waste. Shlomo and Miriam stayed in hiding until liberation in July 1944. It was only then that Donia and Marika revealed their Jewish origins to one another.

Back in Stryi, Donia was horrified to learn that she was the only survivor from her entire family. After living at a DP camp in Germany and then in Italy, she made her way to Israel. During eight months at a detention camp in Cyprus, she met and married Yosef Ostrover. Upon immigrating to Israel in 1949, Donia reverted to her Hebrew name, Dina.

Dina and Yosef, z”l, have two children and two grandchildren.

Eliezer Eizenschmidt

Eliezer Eizenschmidt was born in 1920 in Luna, Belarus, the eldest of three children.

In June 1941, the Germans occupied Luna, and in November, they established a ghetto in the city. In November 1942, the Germans began to transfer the Jews from the ghetto to the Kielbasin camp. In December, they were taken to a train station and deported to Auschwitz. All of Eliezer’s family members were selected for murder except him and his brother Abraham. Five weeks later, Abraham too was murdered.

In Kielbasin, Eliezer was assigned to a Sonderkommando group, removing corpses from the gas chambers and transferring them to cremation pits.

Eliezer Eizenschmidt (photo credit: courtesy of Yad Vashem)
Eliezer Eizenschmidt (photo credit: Courtesy of Yad Vashem)

One Passover, the men of the Sonderkommando held a hidden Seder. They managed to obtain a little white flour and, in secrecy, baked matzah on an oven. Everyone received a tiny piece of matzah.

In Eliezer’s room, the Sonderkommando men built hand grenades from cans of preserved meat into which they placed gunpowder in preparation for revolt. They also sharpened knives found among the belongings of newly arrived Hungarian Jews and turned them into weapons.

In October 1944, a group of Sonderkommando workers rebelled; all of its participants were killed. The Germans began a thorough investigation among all of the surviving Sonderkommando men, among them Eliezer. Despite having been at the very heart of the preparations, he revealed nothing. During the interrogations, Eliezer’s hair turned white overnight.

On 18 January 1945, Eliezer was sent on a death march heading for Germany. He escaped from the convoy before it even left Polish territory, but he was shot and injured. Covering up his bloody footprints with snow, he hid in the fields. When he was discovered by Ukrainians, he posed as a Belorussian and escaped. He eventually arrived at the house of Teodor and Franciszka Tendera, who hid him until liberation.

In September 1945, Eliezer married Judith, also a Holocaust survivor. In June 1946, the couple immigrated to Palestine. After detention at the Atlit camp, the couple settled in the south and then in Givatayim. Eliezer became a blacksmith, and continues to work at a factory to this day.

Eliezer accompanies missions to Poland as a witness, and performs in the “Testimony Theater” in Givatayim facilitating dialogue between Holocaust survivors and Israeli youth.

Eliezer and Judith, z”l, have two children, six grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

Peretz Hochman

Peretz Hochman, the sixth of the intended torchlighters, passed away on March 31. His wife Sima will light the torch in his place.

Peretz was born in 1927 in Warsaw as Pavel, the fourth of eight siblings. With the establishment of the Warsaw ghetto, his older brothers remained outside the walls, while his parents, Peretz, and his younger brother Zanek, stayed in. When the situation in the ghetto took a turn for the worse, Peretz and Zanek escaped to the Polish side, where they posed as Poles and sustained themselves by street singing and selling cigarettes, all the while smuggling food and clothing to their parents in the ghetto.

Peretz’s father, Benjamin, died of hunger in the ghetto and his mother, Miriam, was shot and killed in the summer of 1942. Peretz and Zanek continued to sell cigarettes and newspapers with other Jewish children in the city, hiding at night in stairwells. Most of their customers were Germans, among them SS officers.

When the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising broke out, Zanek was in the ghetto. He was caught and transferred to the Umschlagplatz (deportation plaza). As the Jews were being loaded onto the train, Zanek managed to escape to the Polish section of Warsaw, where he located his brother. Joseph Zhimian, a member of the Jewish underground, gave false identity papers to Peretz, Zanek, and a few of their friends, which provided relief for a short time.

Peretz Hochman (photo credit: courtesy of Yad Vashem)
Peretz Hochman (photo credit: Courtesy of Yad Vashem)

On the eve of the Polish rebellion in Warsaw, Peretz and Zanek joined the Polish underground. “Every time they needed someone to perform a complicated mission, I volunteered,” recalled Peretz. “All I wanted was to hurt Germans, to take revenge on them. In a sense, something within me was already dead, and therefore I was not afraid of death.” After the war, Peretz received numerous decorations for heroism, the highest in the Polish army.

After the rebellion was crushed, remnants of the fighters, among them Peretz and Zanek, were transferred to prison camps in Germany. Upon liberation, they returned to Warsaw, where they found their older brother, Leon.

Peretz and Zanek arrived in Palestine in 1946, and Peretz joined Kibbutz Sha’ar Hagolan. During the Israeli War of Independence, he served in the Palmach Brigade of the Negev and was injured. He later married Sima.

Hochman, one of the last of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising heroes, died March 31, two weeks shy of his 86th birthday.

Peretz and Sima had three sons and six grandchildren.

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