The United Nations General Assembly has designated Jan. 27, 2015-which is also the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau-as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this annual day of commemoration, the UN urges every member state to honor the victims of the Nazi era and to develop educational programs to help prevent future genocides.
In the reflections that follow, Nitza Gilad pays tribute to her late brave mother, a Holocaust survivor, who passed away in September at age 89.
My mother Shulamit (Shula) and Aunt Tova, two sisters and two brothers, Mendi and Simcha, a happy family, were born and lived in the city of Mukacheve, a city located today in southwestern Ukraine.
From 1920, Muncatz (as it was called in Hungarian) was part of Czechoslovakia and from 1938 part of Hungary. Muncatz was then the only town in Hungary with a Jewish majority until 1944, when all the Jews were deported to Auschwitz. The Hungarian Jewish community was the last Jewish community in Europe to be sent to the concentration camps.
Shula studied at the Hebrew high school in town, where she learned Hebrew. Shula was a great at sports-a great runner.
In 1944, her life changed. Her parents vanished with the finger of Mengele, her brothers disappeared; Shula and Tova left (luckily) together, two blond, blue-eyed, beautiful girls.
Shula and Tova were liberated from Bergen-Belsen and returned to Muncatz to find their brothers and found a note at the Jewish Community Center: “Mendi and Simcha looking for Shula and Tova, our sisters.” You can’t imagine how joyous their reunion was.
After liberation, they spent one year in a camp in Austria with their brothers; followed by a year in Cyprus waiting for the British to allow them to enter pre-state Israel.
In 1947, they moved to Kibbutz Alumot, then in 1948 to Tel Aviv where she met and married my late father, Arie. Their friends used to say that Arie married a survivor and Shula married someone with a car.
Arie was lucky in that he emigrated from Russia to Israel at the age of 5, and settled in Tel Aviv next to the beach. But he also joined the Haganah and became an officer in the Israeli army.
In 1957, my sister Gilat was born, followed by me.
My father worked in his father’s metal factory. Shula never worked but devoted herself to the family and was an
Arie became “Israeli”: dark from the sun, always wearing shorts and sandals, and loved the beaches of Tel Aviv.
Shula was fair skinned, and stayed “European”-she couldn’t stand the heat and humidity. She hated the beach because ‘it’s dirty” as she used to say.
Arie loved animals but Shula, for obvious reasons, hated dogs.
Shula didn’t say a word about her Holocaust time. It was a black hole.
She and her sister Tova used to whisper; it was not to be talked about in front of the kids.
When Tova, who was more talkative, used to tell some stories about home in Europe, mom was angry with her and switched to the Hungarian language and say, ‘Why do they need it? Shhh!’
Everything I know today-I know from Tova, her sisters, and my dear husband. Roey (Roey Gilad is the Consul General of Israel to the Midwest) was more successful at interviewing her than me.
Shula came back from the “black hole” of the Holocaust weak and fragile, and wanted to be an overprotective mother, shielding her children from hearing about what she went through.
I only had to say “I have a headache” and the next minute I was at the doctor’s.
Holocaust Day? The TV was turned off. For her there should be no such a day to remember.
When I said I want to visit Auschwitz, she said why do you need it? Waste
My visit to Auschwitz was strange. I was a passive observer as if there was no connection to me. I was wrong of course.
Shula never really got used to Israel, but also never left after she moved to Israel in 1947.
Shula passed away Sept. 5, 2014 and was buried in Tel Aviv. I miss her so much. May she sleep in peace.
Nitza Gilad-the wife of Roey Gilad, Consul General of Israel to the Midwest-works in the Programs department at the Consulate General of Israel to the Midwest.
In Conversation with…Survivors of Auschwitz
In recognition of the International Day of Holocaust Remembrance and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center-in partnership with the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum-will host a discussion with Holocaust survivors of Auschwitz moderated by Prof. Benjamin Frommer, of the Northwestern University Department of History. Sunday, January 25, 2015, 1:30 – 3:00 p.m., 9603 Woods Drive, Skokie.
For more information, visit www.ilholocaustmuseum.org.