Every Holocaust survivor’s story is different and each experience unique. The testimonies remain powerful and relevant, as they bring history alive beyond books.
Etta O., a client of the Alpert JFS Holocaust Survivors Assistance program, recently shared her Holocaust experience with students at Independence Middle School. The child of a Russian Army officer, she lived in Odessa with her parents and an older sibling. A neighbor alerted the family that the Germans were coming, and they soon found themselves in the Jewish ghetto. In a year’s time, they were sent to a work camp for two years.
Etta remembers her mother as the one constant during her time in captivity; she helped her while she worked in the kitchen. Memories of the Holocaust have come to mind at random times throughout her life: the scar she bears on her stomach came from the lit cigarette of an angry soldier who found her asleep; a potato skin appetizer ordered at a family dinner decades after the war triggered the memory of a fight between her mother and another parent over spoiled potato peels when food was scarce, and the two women fought for the survival of themselves and their children.
Etta returned to her home city, her lost documentation replaced, but the family’s home was never returned to them. There was nobody who could help them; people lived fear for their lives if they were found to be providing assistance.to Jews, who remained in danger.
After Etta married and had children, the family moved to America as refuseniks (people in the former Soviet Union who were refused permission to emigrate, in particular, a Jewish person forbidden to emigrate to Israel). They knew no English, yet within mere weeks, she and her husband were working. She had been a midwife in Russia; upon coming to the U.S. Etta became a nurse’s aide, then an LPN, and, ultimately, a physical/massage therapist.
She rebuilt her life, weaving a story of survival and strength. Her deeply personal and moving story, like those of other survivors, transcend the years since the war. We are grateful for their voices, which are preserving memories for future generations. The resilience she and other survivors of the Shoah exhibit are a life lesson for everyone!
“I would like young people to remember who they are, what happened in the Holocaust, be good to each other and respect each other,” said Etta. “Always smile, no matter what is going on, and life will be much better.”
Our Holocaust Survivors Assistance program clients are supported by a team of professionals who have their best interests at heart. These men and women are instrumental in helping survivors share their stories in such a way that they feel safe and secure, and their narration is part of their healing process.
Etta’s care manager, Chan Le, said, “Watching Etta share her story with the students over zoom was an inspiring experience. Though her memories are painful, Etta remains joyful when connecting with young people, to whom she conveys hope. Their interest and attentiveness provide her with meaningful validation.”
Chan is one of seven full-time employees working to preserve the dignity of Holocaust survivors, identifying and addressing their distinct social welfare, health care, and emotional needs with the utmost sensitivity.
“You are helping me a lot five days a week, with driving and assisting around the house,” said Etta. “I just do not know how to thank you! My children and I are so glad and thankful. I do not have enough words to thank you; I never have had so much help in my entire life. I am very happy.”
More than 200,000 hours of in-home care have been provided to Holocaust survivors through the funding we receive from the Claims Conference. Additional help provided to the survivors of our program includes assistance navigating the Reparations Benefit process, care management and care coordination, counseling and support groups, companionship, and social activities. Please visit www.AlpertJFS.org/for-seniors-holocaust-survivors-assistance to learn more about our Holocaust Survivors Assistance program.