President Reuven Rivlin has issued a call for Holocaust survivors to be able to live in dignity with sufficient funds for all their needs and goes a step further calling it a “moral obligation”. He believes, as do many others, that this is a responsibility on the part of the government and society of Israel.

Rivlin was speaking at his residence at a Hanukka candle lighting ceremony on Monday night in the presence of close to 150 first and second generation Holocaust survivors including several from Auschwitz who will be part of a delegation travelling to the notorious death camp in January to mark the 70th anniversary of its liberation. In seven decades, the numbers tattooed on their arms by the Nazis when they entered Auschwitz have not faded, nor have the memories of the atrocities they witnessed and those that they suffered themselves.

The event was organized by the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, whose chairperson child Holocaust survivor, former diplomat and former MK Colette Avital said that usually when one speaks of the Holocaust one speaks of victims, but on Hanukka which marks the heroism of the Maccabees, it is equally appropriate to talk of the heroes of the Holocaust who fought in the ghettoes and as partisans in the forests and succeeded in many instances in thwarting the plans of the Nazis. Citing uprisings in the Warsaw, Bialystok and Vilna ghettoes as well as in others, Avital said that the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising had become a symbol for the Jewish people taking charge of their own destiny. Initiated by the combined Zionist youth groups under the leadership of 23 year old Mordechai Anielewicz, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprsign took place after 260,000 Jews had been sent to their deaths in Treblinka. The 60,000 who were left in the ghetto joined the young people in a battle which they knew they could not win, but which they fought in order to uphold Jewish honor and dignity and to determine for themselves how they would die.

The words of Abba Kovner one of the leaders of the partisans in the Kovno Ghetto ‘do not go like lambs to the slaughter’ still resonate today, said Avital.

Many of the Partisans and survivors of the camps, when they came to Israel, fought in the War of Independence said Avital, noting that some 20 per cent of the fallen in that war had been Holocaust survivors. Some remained in the Israel Defense Forces for several years rising through the ranks to become officers.

There had also been uprisings in the Sobibor, Treblinka and Auschwitz death camps, and some of those survivors also fought in the War of independence and subsequent wars in which Israel was engaged. After leaving the army said Avital, they contributed through every walk of life to the upbuilding of Israel.

Rivlin quoted Janusz Korczak, the Polish Jewish educator who voluntarily accompanied the orphans in his care to Treblinka where they were all murdered. Korczak had written: ‘The one concerned with days plants wheat. The one concerned with years plants trees; and the one concerned with generations educates people.”

Looking out from the dais at the Holocaust survivors Rivlin said: ‘Your generation produced a dynasty, planted seeds, and educated as you carried the torch…” Indeed the second generation representatives scattered throughout the hall, including Karnit Flug, the Governor of the Bank of Israel Avi Dichter, former head of Israel’s Security Agency, former government minister and currently chairman of the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel and Ophir Pines-Paz, former government minister and currently chairman of Beit Lohamei HaGhetaot, the Ghetto Fighters Museum were living proof that despite the enormity of their atrocities, the Nazis had failed in their goal to eradicate the Jewish people.

During the candle lighting Rivlin who lit the first candle was followed by several Holocaust survivors now in their eighties and nineties who are still active and vibrant and whose spirit remains unbroken. They included: Yaakov Zylbersztajn, who was born in Lublin and is believed to be the oldest survivor who spent all six years of the war in camps including Buchenwald and Auschwitz; Zeev Factor who was born in Lodz and is an Auschwitz and death march survivor; Gideon Eckhaus who was born in Vienna, who witnessed Kristalnacht and whose father was murdered in Auschwitz; Moshe HaElyon who was born in Salonike, and survived Auschwitz, Mathausen and two death marches; Uri Hanoch who was transferred from the Kovno Ghetto to Dachau; Yona Laks, born in Lodz, who survived the experiments on twins by Josef Mengele the physician of Auschwitz; and Polish born Shmuel Atzmon who spent part of the war under Nazi occupation, and part in Siberia and Eastern Asia. Atzmon is the founder of Yidishpiel, the Yiddish Theater whose audiences still include a large percentage of Holocaust survivors.