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A spiritual aliyah for one Holocaust survivor

CM 21/04/2021

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During the month of December 2019, Eva Nisencwajg Bergstein lived in Jerusalem. She embarked on a pilgrimage, a spiritual exploration of personal meaning and memories. It was a journey of a longtime yearning to experience life in Israel.
Her deep connection to the Land of Israel was formed when in 1946 her uncle placed her in a Jewish orphanage near Krakow organized by The Jewish Brigade and Bricha (the underground movement that helped Holocaust survivors escape Europe). From there the journey took her and other survivors to France for a year where they were reintroduced to being Jewish. They were taught Jewish observances, rituals, Zionism, the Hebrew language, the meaning of survival – all in preparation for their eventual life in Israel.
 “We were waiting for the announcement of the creation of the State of Israel, our new home,” Eva remembers.
Yet anyone who was claimed by relatives had to join their relatives and when papers arrived that she was to go to Canada, she had no choice. Times were uncertain, food was scarce, illness was widespread.
Although circumstances did not allow Eva to live in Israel, the very existence of the country has sustained her from its inception, from that moment three months after arriving in Canada in 1947, as a young 11-year-old girl, she heard the news that the UN had voted for the establishment of the State of Israel.
“Aliyah was not to be my destiny,” says Eva. But the yearning remained an intrinsic part of her.

Her destiny was elsewhere. In 1984 her son Joey, then a 10th-grade student, told her, “Mom, today we studied the Holocaust for 10 minutes.” This prompted Eva to take action, contact her friend and together attend a seminar for teachers on how to approach Holocaust education.
“And so began my journey as a Holocaust educator for the next 20 years,” Eva recounts. “I have spoken to thousands of students, junior and senior high schools and universities, and arranged yearly seminars and Yom Hashoah programs. Next to raising my family, this has been my most important and fulfilling mission in life.”
THIS YEAR Eva addressed the young women in Mechinat Tzahali pre-army academy on Yom Hashoah and told her story. With her words she unites past, present and future:
“My name is Eva Bergstein. I was born in 1936 in Staszow, Poland. I survived the Shoah in Poland while still a young child.
In 1942, at age five, I was separated from my loving family – my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. My father managed to smuggle me out of the ghetto and placed me with Christian acquaintances Wiktoria and Stanislaw Szumielewicz. On this last journey together he tried to make me understand that he was not abandoning me but trying to save my life because he could no longer protect me, and that I must never reveal to anyone that I am Jewish. 
I didn’t know what Jewish means but I did understand that we were in grave danger – after all I did spend time in the ghetto and saw the violence in the streets – scenes that have never left me to this day.
Thus began my journey in a world that turned upside down – where a small child becomes a fugitive literally on the run for her life only because she is Jewish, a world where families are separated in their desperate struggle to survive, a world where parents are forced to entrust their children to strangers in their desperate struggle to save them.
Wiktoria and Stanislaw risked their lives to save me so in my story they are the heroes – not I. Wiktoria and I quickly formed a strong bond and although I missed my family, I did feel safe and loved with her.
Unfortunately we were betrayed by suspicious neighbors and had to flee in the middle of the night in order to find another safe place.
My next hiding place was a Catholic convent orphanage – a very different hiding experience for me, as here no one knew that I was Jewish. I lived here for about three years, always in fear of being discovered.
In early 1945 the orphanage was bombed and somehow Wiktoria, who lived close by, heard about the bombing and came looking for me. She found me in the midst of rubble and took me back to her place.
We moved many more times before we were liberated by the Russians in May 1945.
Liberation was bittersweet as I waited for news of my family. Many months passed and no one came for me. Finally Wiktoria gave me the tragic news: my family was all dead and she wanted me to remain with her and her husband as their daughter. I grew to love Wiktoria but I remembered my life before I was separated from my family.
During those years in the convent, it was the hope of being reunited with my parents that gave me strength to live in silence while guarding my secret.
Overcome with the pain of grief, I became physically ill for some time. About a year later, in the spring of 1946, my uncle Henryk, my father’s brother, showed up at our door. He survived Auschwitz and spent a year looking for me. He was determined not to leave Poland until he found the Szumielewicz family to see if I’m still alive and living with them.
It was Uncle Henryk who facilitated my return to the Jewish world and eventually to Canada.
While waiting for the journey to Canada, I was placed in yet another orphanage, this time a Jewish one, with other orphaned children. We were learning how to be Jews again – most us having survived in convents or in hiding where we learned how to be Christians.
We learned that only 11% of all Jewish children under German occupation survived the war. As I contemplated my survival, I wondered, “Why me?” It was then that I set my goal in life – to rebuild my Jewish life and to recreate my Jewish family. This became my reason for survival.
And so I’m happy to say today that my life’s goal has been fulfilled.
I married when I was almost 20 and together with my husband Sid raised three wonderful children; they married Jewish spouses and have blessed us with six beautiful grandchildren. And so I feel that I have continued the essential link to future generations and thus fulfilling the reason for my survival.
For all the children who did not survive I would like to read a poem by Yaffa Eliach, also a child survivor:
We Were Children Just Like You
A million and a half young innocents
Among the six million souls
Martyred during the Holocaust
We were children just like you
The pride and promise of
Flourishing Jewish communities
Throughout Europe and North Africa
Our parents’ joy, our people’s future
A gift to mankind
We were children just like you
The children of wealth and the children of poverty
We laughed, we played
We went to school and summer camp, we sang
And danced and dreamed,
But we never grew up.
Our world was suddenly engulfed in flames
Of hatred so vicious that it demanded our deaths –
Only because we were Jews.
Just like you, we wanted to live.
We clung to life and faith and we fought body and spirit for physical survival and Jewish identity, with partisans and resistance groups,
In ghettos and camp uprisings, participating in clandestine schools and prayers.
We were smugglers and couriers and many of us died at the sides of our adult comrades.
We suffered the hunger and misery of the ghettos, the fear of betrayal in our hiding places and false identities, the barbarism and the horror of concentration camps, dying alone or in the trembling arms of our mothers, in gas chambers and mass graves.
We were children of smoke and ash and flame.
Some of us were fortunate.
We young survivors, brands plucked from consuming fire, are links in the chain of Jewish continuity.
We built new lives, in Israel, America, Canada and many other countries.
We overcame the burden of our experiences to enrich the world with our talents and achievements
We are the children of yesterday.
But one and a half million of us live only in the images of memory – forever children – a million-and-a-half promises never to be fulfilled.
I would like to leave you with these thoughts:
You can only imagine what it means to me, a survivor of the Shoah – a person who as a young child had to hide her Jewish identity for fear of death, to share this day with young Jewish women on the brink of joining the Israeli Defense Forces – to share in your pride and mine of who we are and in the pride and miracle that is Israel for all Jews of the world.
I wish only that I could be with you in person to see your beautiful and shining faces because you are our future! Am Yisrael Chai!” 

Source: Jerusalem Post

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The host of Coffee Mouth Scare Crow Show and CEO of 452 Impact, Inc. Here is food for thought. Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." John 3:16 "For God so love ed the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall be saved."

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