Ahead of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Survivors Share Stories of Surviving the Pandemic
As Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day began on Wednesday night, four survivors told Israeli news site N12 about their experiences facing the COVID-19 pandemic — telling stories of hardship, suffering, optimism, and resilience.
Peretz Lev, 93, originally from Poland, said the coronavirus lockdowns and other restrictions “affected me greatly.”
“After 60 years of marriage, my wife passed away last year, which intensified the experience of loneliness,” he said. “But I maintain optimism and smile.”
“The biggest difficulty is that for a whole year I did not see my grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” Lev recounted. “After being vaccinated with two doses of the vaccine, I was recently able to meet with the older grandchildren.”
“But nothing will break me,” he said. “Difficulty is difficulty and needs to be overcome.”
Lev added that though he is not religious, he observes the holidays, and was forced to spend them alone over the course of the last year.
“But as a Holocaust survivor who went through the Lodz Ghetto and a death march … as long as I am in the state of the Jewish people, I will deal with whatever happens,” he asserted. “After all the atrocities I went through in life, of course I can handle any situation.”
According to a January report by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, about 5,300 Holocaust survivors were infected with the coronavirus in 2020, including 900 who passed away.
Rachel Eitan, 89, who was born in Slovakia, told N12 that her health had been very adversely affected by the pandemic. She has difficultly walking and “for a whole year I felt like a prisoner in my house,” causing a decline in her medical condition.
“When I saw the street empty of people” during the lockdown, she said, “I fell and injured both legs. They took me for treatment at the hospital and since then I started to deteriorate.”
She described the time of the pandemic as “saturated with loneliness,” making her unable to take part in senior citizen activities as she usually did.
“Today, I am a different person,” Eitan said. “I lost my independence, as someone who was used to doing yoga, tai chi, and gymnastics and suddenly there is no [athletic] club, no activity, nothing. Social isolation was very difficult and as a Holocaust survivor I got depressed and difficult memories returned.”
Eitan was a prisoner in three separate concentration camps during the Holocaust, including Auschwitz, and along with her twin sister was subjected to sadistic medical experiments at the age of 11.
“We both have very difficult scars that we face all our lives, and yet we managed to survive, start families, and maintain optimism,” she said.
Eva Yaakov, 77, who was born in Hungary, sounded a more defiant note, saying the pandemic “has not been easy for me, but I’m used to it. My life has taught me it’s ok to be quiet and not do anything.”
Her two daughters, she noted, are “constantly calling me” to make sure she is alright.
“I am no longer afraid of anything,” said Yaakov. “After the war and the communist regime nothing scares me, certainly not corona.”
“I was a little girl when the Nazis came to our city and I also lived under the communists,” she continued. “For many months we had nothing to eat, we could not work, and it was very difficult.”
As of the end of 2020, there were some 180,000 Holocaust survivors living in Israel, according to the statistics bureau.
Yaakov Peckman, 88, who was born in Poland, told N12 that he too found the isolation of lockdown difficult — particularly as it made it impossible for him to take part in the Holocaust survivors association of which he is a member. Instead, all of his social activities have taken place via Zoom.
“The pandemic led to a deterioration in my condition,” he said. “Until the pandemic I was driving and since it broke out, I’ve stopped driving.”
“My mood was very poor and suddenly my sleep patterns changed,” Peckman said. “I found myself staying up late and waking up several times during the night.”
However, he noted, “today’s technological capabilities greatly helped my wife and I deal with the lack of activity.”
He has recently returned to his survivors’ association and said, “I’m happy to return after a whole year when everything was far away.”