In Israel, one in five pandemic-related deaths involves a survivor of Nazi persecution. For Fr Nahra, vicar for Hebrew-speaking Catholics in Jerusalem, survivors’ “big problem is loneliness”; they remind us that during the pandemic no one should be left behind.
Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – After surviving the horror of Nazi extermination, more than 900 Holocaust survivors died from COVID-19, out of a total 4,500 pandemic-related deaths in Israel, the Holocaust Survivors' Rights Authority[*] announced on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The virus struck survivors of Nazi persecutions already enfeebled by advanced age. COVID-19 is responsible for 17 per cent of deaths among Holocaust survivors in the past year.
The first victim of the coronavirus, Aryeh Even, died in Jerusalem on 21 March (pictured). From Hungary, he and his mother survived by hiding in a basement until they emigrated to Israel in 1949; his father died in the Mauthausen camp.
“The death from the virus of 900 people who survived the Holocaust is really something,” said Fr Rafic Nahra, head of the Vicariate of St James in Jerusalem for Hebrew-speaking Jews.
“The founding fathers of our community were also people who came to Israel after experiencing the tragedy in Europe. Some of them are still among us and fortunately they are not among the dead.”
Father Nahra, an Arab of Lebanese origins, discovered his vocation to engage with the Jewish world in the 1980s in Paris, where he became a priest at a time when Card Jean-Marie Lustiger headed the local Archdiocese.
“Israel helps Holocaust survivors financially but their big problem is loneliness, because they are often the only ones left in their family,” Fr Rafic explained. “This is also why dying from COVID-19 in isolation must have been even more painful for them ".
“On this Remembrance Day, these additional deaths remind us how dependent we are on each other,” added the vicar for Hebrew-speaking Catholics.
“We cannot save ourselves on our own. We see this with respect to the vaccines against COVID-19 which continue to arrive here in Israel, but become useless if others remain behind. The Holocaust must teach us precisely this: to look after one's neighbour and not abandon them at times of difficulty.”
[*] The Holocaust Survivors' Rights Authority is main government entity responsible for Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Israel.