Israel’s Holocaust survivors struggle with Gaza war as trauma deepens

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ASHDOD, Israel – When night falls, Sarina Blumenfeld gets flashbacks from what she endured during the Holocaust and struggles to process the carnage that took place when Hamas Islamists entered Israel from Gaza and killed 1,400 people.

Blumenfeld, 89, is one of tens of thousands of elderly survivors of the Nazi Holocaust who live in Israel and are once again facing up to the reality of war, with more than 220 Israelis taken hostage in Gaza.

“This all reminds me of what we went through during the Holocaust and how much we suffered,” Blumenfeld told Reuters from her home in the coastal city of Ashdod, which is 40 km (25 miles) from Gaza and frequently a target of Hamas rocket fire.

The persecution of Jews in 20th century Europe is seared into the collective memory of Israel and since Hamas’ Oct. 7 assault, leaders both at home and abroad have been quick to evoke memories of the Holocaust, when the Nazis and their collaborators systematically murdered some six million Jews across German-occupied Europe.

“I would argue that it was the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust,” U.S. President Joe Biden said on Oct. 11, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that Hamas had killed children in the same way the Nazis used to.

Rivkah Har Arieh, who lives in Neot Mordechai, which is 3 km from the Lebanese border in the north of Israel, said she felt anxiety because of the loud exchanges of fire between the Israeli military and Hezbollah fighters.

“I went through the Holocaust and all the wars, but it is not like before, the noise is deafening. We will have to get used to even this,” the 92-year-old said.

“I feel uneasy, and for the people who were murdered and made homeless, and all the funerals in this land.”

Over 7,600 rockets have been fired towards Israel since Oct. 7 out of Gaza, according to Israeli government data, while there have been repeated clashes along the northern border as tensions rise around the region.


Israel has imposed a total blockade on Gaza and launched air strikes on the territory, killing 5,791 Palestinians so far, including 2,360 children, Gaza’s Health Ministry said on Tuesday.

Har Arieh, who spent part of World War Two under house arrest in Bulgaria as a young girl, with eight families forced to live in four rooms, said she was aware that Palestinians in Gaza were suffering.

“It is not good for any of this to happen. Nobody wants this, but this is the consequence of what they (Hamas) did.”

According to the latest study published in April by the government’s Holocaust Survivors’ Rights Authority, there were 147,199 survivors in Israel, with an average age of 85, including 462 who were over 100.

Many managed to weather the difficult conditions during the COVID pandemic, but the current war in Gaza has triggered new levels of stress and anxiety, said Shelly Feigenblat, a Tel Aviv-based social worker with the Foundation for the Welfare of Holocaust Victims, a non-profit organisation.

“Some of them don’t even want to go into a bomb shelter. They’re so depressed, they don’t care if they live or die,” she said, adding that everything that had happened was “definitely a trigger for PTSD” (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).

“To say that it’s worse than the Nazis, I think that’s the worst trigger for a Holocaust survivor.” REUTERS

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