Holocaust survivors demand Israel help refugees

Jerusalem (CNN)—The images of refugee-loaded trains running in Europe are a traumatic reminder of a nightmare childhood for Collete Avital.

Avital was born in Romania in 1940, as World War II engulfed Europe. She was only a little girl, but she remembers being forced from her home by Nazi soldiers and spending years hiding, afraid for her life.

And she said she will never forget wearing the yellow star that designated her as a Jew.

“I remember running from one place to the other and basically being a refugee myself,” Avital said, “so my sympathy really goes with refugees, and I do not wish to confine that sympathy to my people alone.”

Amid a growing debate in Israel about whether to take in refugees, Avital is one of a number of Holocaust survivors calling on the country to shelter refugees because of the history of Jewish people and the parallels between Jewish refugees 70 years ago and Middle Eastern refugees today.

“The vast majority of Holocaust survivors feel a very deep feeling of sympathy and of empathy with this wave of refugees and they hope that Europe has learned a lesson,” Avital said.

“We’ve been refugees ourselves, because we in the ’30s and ’40s found all the gates closed in front of us,” she said. “When you see the scene of what has happened at the train station in Budapest, you can’t forget the trains that led the Jews to their deaths, and I think that if there is one thing that we have to learn — or that many of us have learned from the Holocaust — is the sanctity of human life.”

Politicians from different political parties, including Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog and Meretz’s Zehava Galon, have called on Israel to take in refugees. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the call, warning that it would threaten Israel’s security. Israel shares a tense border with Syria.

“Israel is a small country, a very small country, that lacks demographic and geographic depth; therefore, we must control our borders, against both illegal migrants and terrorism,” Netanyahu said at his weekly cabinet meeting.

That answer has not sufficed for Holocaust survivors, who see themselves in the thousands of families fleeing war.

Leslie Baruch Brent, a Holocaust survivor now living in Britain, told the Jerusalem Post, “They’re just desperate people and when you have people like that, you have to help them.”

“I think most of (the Holocaust survivors) have been traumatized by the kind of pictures they have seen. By the name of people on the road with babies. Certainly the picture of the baby who was dead on the beach is something which has been a wake up call to many,” said Avital.

When Jews speak of the Holocaust, they often use the phrase: “Never again.” It means that Jews will never allow the Holocaust, or anything like it, to happen again. But Avital said for “Never again” to mean something, it has to apply to everyone.


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