Photos from the conference

Saint Peter’s Church, Chateau d’Oex hosted a conference with six of the last survivors of the Holocaust.

The conference took take place on Saturday, 28 April from 14h00 to 16h00.

The speakers were from Switzerland, Israel, Germany and The Netherlands.  The conference began and ended with music and the four survivors recounted their story and shared the reasons why we should never forget.The biographies of the survivors are given below.

Further reading:

Lilian Glazer (Israel)

 Lilian Glazer is the president of the organization “Zikaron LeShoah” in Jerusalem, Israel (Hebrew: in memory of the Holocaust).

 Lilian Glazer was a prisoner in the Zhabokrich Ghetto in Ukraine with her father, mother and brother. She only survived with her mother and in the 1970’s moved to Jerusalem, Israel where she continues to practice medicine as a gynecologist to this day. She has 2 sons and 6 grandchildren, all of whom also live in Israel.

Alexander Vishnevetsky (Israel)

 Alexander Vishnevetsky is the vice president of the organization “Zikaron LeShoah” in Jerusalem, Israel (Hebrew: in memory of the Holocaust).

Alexander was born on May 17th, 1938 in the region of Vinnitsa, Ukraine. During WWII, his family was sent to the ghetto in a Romanian town called Chechelnik Shtetl until their liberation by Soviet troops.

In December 2004, Alexander moved together with his wife, son and daughter to Jerusalem, Israel. He has a Ph.D. in physic-mathematical sciences and is a journalist for a Russian speaking newspaper. He published over 100 articles about the Holocaust and the fate of Jewish settlements and towns during the World War II in the former Soviet Union.

 

Elena Dolgova (Israel)

 Elena Dolgova is a member of the organization “Zikaron LeShoah” in Jerusalem, Israel (Hebrew: in memory of the Holocaust) and was rescued by a Christian family.

 The Orthodox priest Vladimir Imshennik and his wife Galina were residing in the village of Nosilowo, Molodeczno District, Wilno County, Poland (nowadays the region is a part of Belarus). From 1940 to 1950 Vladimir served as rector at the village Church of Transfiguration.

 At the end of June 1941, the area was occupied by the Germans, and in October the same year a ghetto was established in the nearby town of Lebiedziew. Among its inmates was one of Vladimir’s acquaintances, a Jewish doctor by the name of Abraham Zodziszski. Dr. Yodziszski was permitted to leave the ghetto to attend to his non-Jewish patients, and used this opportunity to smuggle out Jewish children and passing them to his patients for care and saving. In December 1941, he asked the Imshenniks whether they would agree to save his own two-year-old daughter, Yelena.

 Although Vladimir and Galina had a six-year-old son, and shared the house with Galina’s elderly parents, and despite the great danger, they were unable to turn a blind eye to the doctor’s plight, and decided to take his child. On 5 December 1941 Dr. Zodziszski brought his little daughter to her future rescuers. At the beginning the Imshenniks kept her completely out of sight, but eventually she learned Russian and got used to her new family. With time memory of her prewar life faded away and she began calling her hosts “mommy” and “daddy”. On their side, the priest and his wife got very attached to the little girl.

 On June 24, 1942, the Germans liquidated the ghetto in Lebiedziew; its inhabitants, more than 600 people, were rounded up and taken to a large cowshed near Markow and murdered: the Germans set fire to the cowshed. Sixty-four members of Yelena’s family perished that day, among them her father, maternal grandparents, aunt and uncles with their offspring.

 Sometime after the murder of the Jews, the Gestapo in Molodeczno received an anonymous note that the priest from Nosilowo was keeping a Jewish child. Vladimir and Galina were summoned for interrogation; even little Yelena was questioned. Luckily for all of them, the little girl no longer remembered her biological parents and the interrogators did not find evidence to her Jewish origin.

 Yelena continued living with the Imshenninks, enjoying their loving care. After liberation in July 1944 nobody came to claim her, and the rescuers concluded that her entire family had perished. Yet, after nearly one year, Yelena’s mother, Maria, appeared; she has survived in the forests with a Soviet partisan unit. Yelena’s older brother Grigory survived hidden and saved by a Russian family from Wilno.

 Parting from the child they had cared for and had come to consider their own was extremely difficult for the rescuers, and the return to her family was probably very hard for the child. Yelena, her mother and brother settled in Leningrad (today St. Petersburg), but kept in touch with the Imshenniks, exchanging letters and visiting them.

 In the mid 1950’s Vladimir and Galina moved to Lvov, Ukraine, with their son. After her husband’s death in 1978, Galina began visiting Yelena in Leningrad more frequently and would stay with her for longer periods. In 1991, when Yelena and her husband, Yury Dolgov, decided to immigrate to Israel, to join their daughter Natasha, they took Galina with them. For nearly 20 years she lived in Jerusalem with Yelena, the girl she had rescued. She passed away on February 28, 2011, at the age of 98.

 

Alexey Heistver (Germany)

 Alexey was born in the Kaunas Ghetto in Lithuania. He never knew his father or mother or even the date of his birth. Alexey is one of 120 children who survived the ghetto which held 40,000 people, most of whom were either sent to concentration and extermination camps, or were shot.

 “For more than fifty years, my parents were unknown to me. Where and how my mother and father were killed, I only heard about it when I myself was a grandfather already.”

Shortly after the Germans attack on the Soviet Union and their capture of the Lithuanian city of Kaunas in the summer of 1941, the Jewish population of the city (around 40,000) was forced into a ghetto. Almost simultaneously, the mass exterminations began. In the month of June to early August 1941 10,000 Jews were killed including Alexey’s parents.

Fifty years later, in the fall of 1991 a gray-haired woman contacted Alexey and said that he, as well as herself (as a 9-year-old girl) was with his mother the day they were separated. A German SS officer had ordered the ghetto guards to bring him four small children of the condemned Jews in order to bring them to another concentration camp for experiments. The girl took little Alexey from the arms of his mother, as they were both chosen of the four children who would be transferred. She went on tell Alexey that after that, both of their mothers were shot together along with many others that day.

In the concentration camp where he was transferred to while still nursing, Alexey came to the “orphan block”, where an SS doctor performed medical experiments on children. Alexey stresses, that because of his young age, he could not remember many of the details as other older survivors. He went on to share about the SS doctor and the dreaded leather case with the medical instruments… he recalls,

“He would come to us and always opened his bag, showing me what was in it. It was a sadistic action; one can say that because the children began to cry whenever they saw him and it was perhaps a matter of his satisfaction.”

Many experimental operations were performed on little Alexey including the removal of his uvula (the voice box). As a result, he could not speak for many years. Alexey, by God’s grace would be smuggled out of the camp in a laundry bag by Russian laborers. After the liberation, Alexey was adopted by a Jewish soldier of the Red Army, who helped Alexey learn to speak; after nearly three years he could finally talk.

 Only after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1986 it was possible for Alexey to investigate his background. From discovered documents, he found out the name of his biological father: Chaim Alexandrovich. In 1994, he learned at Yad Vashem, the SS deported his father in mid-July 1944 from Kaunas to Dachau, where he had been murdered. Dr. Alexey Heistver is a historian and also the president of the German Federal Association “‘Phoenix from the Ashes” – the survivors of the hell of the Holocaust, victims from the former Soviet Union.

Alexey still suffers mental anxiety from many of the horrors he endured as a child. Alexey is not angry with God neither does he blame Him for what happened. However, it is hard for him to accept that God truly loves him after having experienced so much pain in his life.

Mark Varshavsky (Switzerland)

 On October 7, 1941, our family was evacuated to Kazakhstan from Kharkov, Ukraine because of the Nazi invasion of the USSR.

As Jews, our parents knew well what fate awaited them and their children as a result of the National Socialist invasion. As small children (Mark Varshavsky born 1933, Ilya Varshavsky born 1937) we were evacuated with our parents (father Alexander Varshavsky, mother Rosalia Chajnovskaya).At the last moment, as a civil defense soldier, my father had to stay in Kharkov for a few more weeks, so that the passage to Kazakhstan took place under the supervision of our mother.

Only after some time could my father join us in Kazakhstan. In the face of the very rapid German attack and the immediate subsequent bombing of Kharkov by the German Air Force, we had to leave our apartment urgently.

We were allowed to take only a few clothes with us. In the freight car in which we were evacuated there were 60 other people besides us, including many children and old people.

The passage in the freight train was subordinate to the then military laws and took 25 days. During this time we were exposed several times to the bombing of the German Air Force. There was no timetable, several times we had to get out of the freight car and lay down on the ground.

According to the rules of the law of war, our train stopped and started again, almost without any warning, with only a short signal.

During such bombings, our mother stayed behind and tried to get boiled water for us as typhus was raging everywhere at that time. Only the next day, thanks to a coincidence, she was able to catch up with our train. As a result, the jewelry, the violin and other valuable objects that were among our belongings were lost.

In 1944 our father was called up for military service and soon afterwards he died on the German-Russian front.

Our mother had to raise us children alone and make a living, because the small war widow’s pension was not sufficient.

After returning to Kharkov in 1945, we found our apartment, in which, incidentally, a German unit was quartered, plundered empty-handed. With no assets left, my mother had to accept every job to keep the family from starving.

Micha Gelber (Netherlands)

 Micha Gelber was born in 1935 in the Netherlands. His memories began in 1940 at age five when the Germans invaded. He recalled the Nazi restrictions placed on him and his family, from not being permitted to leave their village, to having the family’s house confiscated and going in and out of hiding. Fortunately, Micha’s father was well-informed through the company he worked for and by local connections and was warned in advance when there would be waves of arrests. In 1943, however, when a Dutch policeman warned them of further arrests, Micha’s father, who had been given information that the family would be receiving Red Cross exchange certificates, decided not to go into hiding. As a result, the family was sent to Westerbork, but did receive confirmation that the Nazis intended to keep them alive to be exchanged for German nationals living in Palestine. That certificate was one of the reasons why the family was able to survive together throughout the rest of the war. 

Micha and his family spent five long months in Westerbork until 11 January 1944 when they were sent to Bergen-Belsen. At Bergen-Belsen they were kept in the Sternlager (Star Camp), which was comprised of other Jewish prisoners who were expected to be exchanged. Prisoners of the Sternlager did not have their heads shaved, kept their own clothing, and were not tattooed with a number. This is only because the Nazis benefited from the prisoners’ “wellbeing” for the purposes of the human exchange. At night, men and women were separated, but during the day, the families could spend time together and interact. As lucky as Micha and his family were to survive, they did not escape the traumas of Bergen-Belsen. Micha and his father suffered from typhus and it was impossible to avoid witnessing the inhumanities of such a camp. Micha recalled seeing people collapse and having their clothes stolen from them while they were still alive, as well as seeing dead bodies pile up around them. Micha also told our students how fortunate his family was to survive, stating that only 6 out of 1250 families in the Sternlager survived completely intact. Micha attributes this survival to luck, but also to strength and resistance. On 10 April 1945, just days before the British arrived at Bergen-Belsen, Micha and his family were deported east, either for extermination or to be used for trading with the Russians. While en route to whichever was to be their fate, they were liberated by the Red Army.