Ahead of Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day, President & First Lady Rivlin Host Mrs. Miriam Eshel, 87, who survived Auschwitz to tell her story
(Communicated by the President’s Spokesperson)
“I am deeply moved,” said 87 year old Auschwitz survivor, Mrs. Miriam Eshel, to President Reuven and First Lady Nechama Rivlin, today (Thursday) at an event at the President’s Residence, of “Zikaron BaSalon” (Remembering in the Salon), a social initiative now running for 7 years, bringing together Holocaust survivors with younger generations in people’s homes to tell of their experiences. Mrs. Eshel said, “It is a great privilege, after such a catastrophe, the Holocaust, in which I lost all my family, to come here to the President’s Residence and receive such an honor. Sometimes, I truly can’t believe that I merited survival, and why none of my family did not. Now, in deep sorrow, I will share with you my sad tale. I was born in Czechoslovakia, and I was 13 and a half when the Hungarians and the Germans arrived in our area. One day alone passed until there was a thumping knock at the door, and a German officer told my mother “prepare your children with a kilogram of food, and we will come to take them” but told her, “not you as you have a baby”. Half an hour later, he came with a vehicle and took us all, my father and eight children.”
President Rivlin turned to Mrs. Eshel, and said, “The great privilege is for us to host you here at the President’s house”. He continued, “The Holocaust touched the entire people of Israel; it touched us as individuals and stands in our collective memory. Before the State of Israel was established, and in its early days, every child in Israel knew of the Holocaust, and would meet survivors with the numbers tattooed on their arms. This was an inescapable testimony of what had happened there. To the inconceivable events – from a human and national perspective. Our need today is one of telling and educating our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren what happened there. We are such a strong country, such a united people, and we are obligated by these things.” He stressed, “The inalienable duty is for all of us to remind the world what happened, and to say, Never Again. This is not just for us - we know how to watch over and safeguard ourselves and our security - it is for you, Never Again, we say to the world.”
The President concluded his words, “The President’s House is the people’s house, and this meeting, Zikaron BaSalon is a tradition in which we are participating. I want to thank you for coming today to tell your story, through this house, to the whole people. Thank you.”
Miriam told of her experience during the Holocaust, of her arrival with her family to the Auschwitz concentration camp, and of the moment she saw her mother for the last time. “We arrived at Auschwitz, to Mengele, and with the staff in his hand he decided it would be the last time I would see my mother and siblings. When I asked for her, people around me said to me, “Don’t worry, you need to be strong, your mother is no longer suffering, nor your brothers and sisters.” I know that they took them on trucks and buried alive in pits.”
She continued, “I was taken to the bunks in the camp, and then to work,” and then went on to tell of the time of her liberation after being forced into the Death March together with three of her friends, and of how with their last strength they kept each other going, to carry on and survive until they could go on no more and ran to hide in a barn by the side of the road. There they huddled together, and prayed ‘Shema Yisrael’ (the Jewish prayer of faith) in the hope they would not be found. Miriam told how, “We heard footsteps, and we were sure we were about to be shot, and we called out over and over, ‘Shema Yisrael’, and to our surprise a Russian soldier appeared before us. The first thing we asked from him was food. He told us to change our clothes into ones he gave us, and to run because the Germans were still in the area. That’s how we were saved.”
Miriam, nee Roth, was born in the Czechoslovakian city of Irshava in July 1930. She was the second of nine children – all of whom were murdered by the Nazis – but for one brother, Baruch. They met again by chance in Prague and immigrated to Israel together before the State. Baruch fell in battle during the War of Independence at the age of just 16. Miriam married Yaakov (Greenbaum) Eshel, and had two daughters, nine grandchildren, and 38 great-grandchildren.
The event at the President's Residence today was watched online, on news sites and on the President’s Facebook page by more than 150,000 viewers.