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Hamas massacre haunts Holocaust survivors in ‘March of the Living’

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s Holocaust commemorations this year have searing significance for six elderly survivors now deeply scarred by the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks that sparked the ongoing Gaza war.

The wave of killings and kidnappings by Palestinian infiltrators on a Jewish holiday shook Israelis’ sense of security – not least those who had witnessed the state’s emergence as a safe haven after the Nazi genocide.

For Bellha Haim, 86, the turmoil is particularly profound.

Her grandson Yotam – like her, a resident of a village near the Gaza border – was taken hostage by Hamas and managed to escape, but was accidentally shot dead by Israeli soldiers.

The trauma prompted Haim to return to her native Poland, which she fled with her family as a child during World War II, and where she will take part in the “March of the Living” on Monday at the site of the Auschwitz death camp. .

The annual ceremony coincides with Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel.

“I never went back and I wasn’t convinced to go back,” she said during a meeting with other survivors before the trip.

“But this time, when they told me that they were making a connection between the Holocaust and what I call the ‘October 7 Holocaust’ – because we (Jews) were not a united people then in the Holocaust, we had no country, and suddenly this pride of mine that was broken, my pride in my people and my country that was shattered before my eyes, said: ‘This time I will break my oath and I will go out.’

As a teenager, Yotam had participated in the annual Auschwitz vigil, and Haim said she saw the event as an opportunity for fellowship with him and other victims of the Hamas attack.

“I will go out in the name of Yotam, who marched there when he was in high school, and I will go out there to shout the cry of the fallen, of the babies, of all my good friends that I will never meet again,” she said.

ARAB SCREAMING AND KONOM FIRE

Among those joining her will be 90-year-old Daniel Louz, whose hometown of Kibbutz Beeri lost a tenth of its residents to Palestinian attackers.

In some ways, he said, that ordeal was worse for him than the European war, when he escaped Nazi raids in his native France even though half his family died in Poland.

After waking up to the sound of Arab shouts and gunfire, “I was constantly trying to survive and figure out what to do,” Louz said. “In France I had all kinds of post-trauma as a child that I learned to deal with. But in Beeri it was the first time I felt the fear of death.”

A neighboring house was riddled with bullets. Louz’s remained untouched. He says he imagined that the souls of the six million Holocaust victims would distract Hamas from him. “They probably wanted me to be here to tell this story,” he said, crying.

Other Holocaust survivors participating in the March of the Living include Smil Bercu Sacagiu, 87, whose home was hit by a rocket from Gaza, and Jacqueline Gliksman, 81, whose home was set on fire by a Palestinian infiltrator.

“What was left, and luckily the terrorist didn’t see it, are my grandchildren,” she said, referring to gold statues on a chain she was wearing. “That’s all I have left.”

Before being captured, Haim’s grandson left a text message: “They are burning down my house. I smell gas. I’m scared.”

She said this reminded her of a Holocaust-era Yiddish song, evoking centuries of pogroms, with the refrain “fire, Jews, fire.” Haim, a veteran campaigner for peace with the Palestinians, said she would no longer pursue that activism.

“I can’t do that,” she said. “What interests me now are only my people.”

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Barbara Lewis)