> Current Issues > Society

A Holocaust Survivor in Quarantine

March 26, 2020 | by Arye Gad Berenbaum and Rakel Berenbaum

During WWII I hid in order to save my life. The quarantine rules are also meant to save lives.

I was born in Ostend, Belgium in 1930, which means I wasn't born yesterday. I was a regular Jewish boy who liked to run around and get into mischief. I had a normal childhood until age 9 – that's when the war started. "Normal" included being chased by non-Jewish boys when I left school, shouting "dirty Jew" with hate in their eyes. They would throw my cap on the ground, grab my book bag and kick and punch me. Three kids once attacked me, one with a knife in hand. Luckily, I had learned how to fight from my older brother so I was able to defend myself.

During the war I was hidden in numerous places in order to survive. It started off with an attic of a cafe in Antwerp, across the street from Gestapo headquarters. They used the Belgian police to help them round up Jews: babies, children my age, adults and even the elderly. I was hidden there with my parents and siblings. All day long I had to remain quiet. I couldn't look out the window. I couldn't play. Just sit in the dark, bored and scared.

Eventually my brother found a better hiding place for me on a farm. The farmer took me in because he only had daughters and wanted someone else who could help work on the farm.

Arye Gad Berenbaum on the farm where he hid with the daughters of the farmer

While so many other people perished, including most of my relatives, I was fortunate to have been reunited with my parents after the war. We returned to Antwerp and Brussels and went on with our lives. I met my wife, also a survivor. We married, raised a family and worked together for 50 years in a family business. We always wanted to come to Israel but continued working. Finally, in 1994, my wife came to live in Israel with my 90+ year old mother and I commuted until I finally retired and joined them, our dream come true.

Until recently, I was fully independent; I even drove my own car, a jeep in which I loved taking my children and grandchildren for trips "off the road". But lately I've been feeling my age. I don't see or hear as well, and I can't move as fast as I used to, so I stopped driving. But as a survivor, I didn't let that stop me. I began walking more and doing my shopping closer to home. I love the Machene Yehuda market, the shuk; it reminds me of the many markets where I sold socks.

I get so much joy from my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and love when they visit. It's amazing how my Hebrew has improved even at my age by speaking with them. They are my "Jewish revenge"; the Nazis wanted to kill me but God blessed us with generations living in Israel.

I also like going to shul. After prayers I share a few words with the other gentleman. They constantly seem to be getting younger and younger and I seem to be getting older and older. I believe I'm one of the oldest in the minyan now.

And now, because of the coronavirus, all these simple pleasures must be curtailed. It is dangerous for me to go to shul. My grandchildren and great grandchildren can no longer visit. Machane Yehuda has been shut down because of the pandemic. I must adapt to these changes as well.

When I think about all the current quarantine rules I can't help but compare them to what I had to live through in hiding during the war. I was hiding in order to save my life. The quarantine rules are also meant to save lives. These rules may seem extreme now. It is a big change for many people, a loss of freedom, but they are nothing compared to what we endured when we went into hiding during WWII.

My current quarantine is paradise compared to what I lived through during the war.

The fear of being found out, or ratted on. The utter boredom because we couldn't move or talk all day. One day, two days. One week, two weeks. One month, two months…I always wondered to myself, when will I be able to go outside and get a bit of fresh air without fear of being caught by the Gestapo?

My current quarantine is paradise compared to what I lived through during the war. I can walk around my house which is located in Jerusalem. In those days I never dreamed that I would survive, let alone be living in the holy city of Jerusalem. I have food to eat with my wife and sunlight entering our windows. I have learned how to use WhatsApp and was even able to watch as my granddaughter did her cooking for Shabbat. I prefer to count my blessings rather than complain.

What worries me is that people don't take the rules of the health ministry seriously enough. Some people ignore them. They don't realize that these are life and death matters. The disease is spreading. We don't want the situation here to be like in other countries around the world.

The first person who died here in Israel from the virus was an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor. Let us honor his memory by heeding the rules of the ministry of health. I beg you. This is the least we can do to save lives. We are living in unusual times and we are all in this together. A bit of inconvenience now will save lives and stop this situation quicker.

I have given up spending time with my grandchildren and great-grandchildren in order to comply with health regulations. I wish everyone would follow those rules. Please don't hang out with friends at the beach. Don't go to the mall. Don't invite all your friends over for a party. Just stay at home and enjoy your immediate family. And don't forget to call your grandparents! Doing all those things might just save their life. AM YISRAEL CHAI!


Leave a Reply

🤯 ⇐ That's you after reading our weekly email.

Our weekly email is chock full of interesting and relevant insights into Jewish history, food, philosophy, current events, holidays and more.
Sign up now. Impress your friends with how much you know.
We will never share your email address and you can unsubscribe in a single click.
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram