Holocaust survivors ‘feel deep connection’ with hostages held by Hamas

'I understand what it is to be in a hole,' Holocaust survivor Miriam Freedman said.


"I understand what it is to be in a hole,” Holocaust survivor Miriam Freedman told the JC. “I know what it is to be restricted, unable to move, not allowed to talk and too frightened to cough.” 

Eighty years after Miriam and seven members of her family hid from the Nazis “like sardines” in a six foot by eight-foot cavity in the basement of a block of flats in Czechoslovakia, she can sympathise with the hostages still thought to be held captive inside tunnels by Hamas. 

Miriam, who posed for photographer Blake Ezra holding a poster of one of the hostages, said: “I was very moved when I looked at the face of the hostage on my poster. I felt so deep a connection that I was speechless. I was visualising where she was, a terrible and insecure place, and how she was taken away, everything left behind.”

She added: “I do know what it is to suffer and to be stashed away. I have been horrified by what is happening in Gaza, and to me, it feels like a second Holocaust. The only difference this time is that Israel exists. I feel I’m protected and have complete trust that Israel is going to win.” 

Rachel Levy BEM, also born in Czechoslovakia, and whose parents, grandparents, three siblings, great-grandfather and both sets of aunts and uncles were all killed in the Holocaust, could not speak of the traumatic experience for more than 50 years.  

She now sees the wellbeing of Israeli hostages and their safe return as “the most important thing [to me]”.

She said: “As a Holocaust survivor, I never thought I’d see this kind of inhumanity again. The inhumanity we have seen from Hamas is almost unbelievable in this day and age. The hostages should be released as soon as possible, and we are sending a message of support to their families.” 

The powerful photographs, reflections and expressions of solidarity came as Israel’s ambassador, Tzipi Hotovely, met with Holocaust survivors at Jewish Care’s Holocaust Survivors’ Centre at the Maurice & Vivienne Wohl Campus in Golders Green. The visit was made shortly before the announcement of a deal to release 50 women and children. Nearly 200 will remain trapped in Gaza.

The ambassador spoke to around 30 survivors about the war in Israel and rising antisemitism across the world. She met with HSC members, including Rachel and Miriam, Harry Olmer MBE, Robert Slager, Rene Inow BEM and Jacques Weisser BEM. 

Also in the room was an empty chair, there to represent the men, women and children still held hostage by Hamas terrorists. 

Hotovely said: “We are living through one of the darkest chapters in Israel’s history. It is an incredibly painful period for our entire people. Visiting the Holocaust Survivors’ Centre has been a light amid such darkness.

“It was a privilege to meet the survivors, to hear their inspirational stories and to see their love for our shared history and culture.” 

She added that the “outpouring of love and support” from the British Jewish community had been felt by Israelis both at home and abroad, providing “immense strength in the most trying of times”.

The only centre of its kind in the UK, Jewish Care’s Holocaust Survivors’ Centre supports more than 250 Holocaust survivors, refugees and their spouses through a social, therapeutic and outreach programme. 

Centre co-coordinator, Sarah-Jane Burstein said HSC had “never been busier” since the war due to members sharing a “real desire to be together”.  

She said: “Being together is supportive as well as uplifting, as we have tailored the programme over the last weeks, ensuring we give members the space to feel and grieve.

“We have also handpicked appropriate speakers, so they leave feeling stronger than when they arrived.” 

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