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89-year-old Holocaust survivor witnesses Hamas attack: “As I live out the last phase of my life…I find myself right back where I was as a child.”

In Israel, Saturday is Shabbat – a day of rest. We slept soundly in our beds that morning when, suddenly, blaring sirens echoed through the air. As usual, my wife and I ran into the safe room and locked it. We waited and waited, but the sirens never stopped.

  • 7 months ago
  • October 28, 2023
8 min read
89-year-old Zvi Solow pictured in Nirim, the Kibbutz where he lived with his wife and where they witnessed the murder and kidnapping of neighbors when Hamas attacked Israel. 89-year-old Zvi Solow pictured in Nirim, the Kibbutz where he lived with his wife and where they witnessed the murder and kidnapping of neighbors when Hamas attacked Israel. | Photo courtesy of Zvi Solow
Interview Subject
Zvi Solow, 89, was born in Germany. He was five years old when WWII broke out. He and his family fled and became refugees four times moving to Italy, Greece, Palestine, and finally settling in Australia. In his 20s, Zvi moved back to Israel where he remained for the rest of his life. He and his second wife moved into the Nirim Kibbutz when he retired, a community in southern Israel near the Gaza border. He survived the attacks by Hamas on Israel on October 7, 2023, hiding in the safe room in his house. He and his wife Osnat Raber remained there for 12 hours until help arrived. They watched as neighbors were kidnapped and killed. They are now displaced from their home but Zvi intends to return to the Kibbutz when it is safe.
Background Information
The Kibbutz known as Nirim is a small village located near the Gaza border in the south of Israel. The Kibbutz houses about 1,500 people of all ages. Nirim was one of the Kibbutz attacked by the Hamas terrorists on October 7, 2023. They killed many civilians and took hostages to Gaza. Nirim is still a red zone as of the writing of this story, and the survivors from the village are currently displaced. The attack by Hamas has led to a retaliatory strike by Israel on Gaza which is ongoing.

NIRIM, Israel ꟷ When World War II first erupted, I was five years old. As a Jewish child born in Germany, my parents knew the only way to keep me alive was to flee from the Nazis. We became refugees, living in shelter homes in Italy. Just as a sense of peace returned, Italy joined the war. We moved to Greece, but the situation repeated itself. Finally, at nine years old, we moved to Palestine with the help of the British Army.

Year by year, my understanding grew: Jews were being killed everywhere. I turned to my mother and innocently asked, “Mom, why are we Jews? Let’s not be Jews.” Despite my naivety, I soon understood the depth of pride in that heritage, but sadly, what started 75 years ago never stopped. The experiences I had as a little boy fleeing from country to country and becoming a refugee continues now. As rockets and missiles soar through the sky toward Israel, once again, Jews became a target.

Read more stories out of the conflict in Israel and Gaza at Orato World Media.

After a lifetime of terror, holocaust survivor settles in the Kibbutz

During World War II, we lost touch with our entire extended family. It seemed that all Jewish refugees were searching for someone. After months of looking, we found my mother’s sister living in Singapore through a lost family forum.  A sense of relief washed over us, but it wouldn’t last long.

In 1947, the British turned the question of Palestine over to the United Nations, which partitioned the land into two nations, one for Jews and one for Arabs. Soon, my parents and I were embroiled in another battle, this time between the Jews and the Palestinians. When war broke out, we became refugees for the fourth time, fleeing to Australia, where my parents lived the remainder of their lives.

I, however, continued to visit Israel. At 25 years old, I moved there to study, and I never left. As a Jewish person, Israel felt like home. After finishing college, I became a professor at the university in Tel Aviv, married my first wife, and had two wonderful children. When my wife and I amicably separated, she and my children moved to Australia, but I stayed behind in my homeland.

Life in Israel was beautiful. My first wife and I celebrated, danced, and traveled. Eventually, when I remarried, I retired and settled with my second wife in the Kibbutz Nirim. The quiet solitude of our community – located near the Gaza border – filled me with peace and happiness. Still, the threat of annihilation frequently showed its face through incoming rockets from Gaza.

When the alarms blared, we would run to the bomb shelter inside our house and wait for the return of silence. [Through Israel’s “Iron Dome,” most rockets out of Gaza were intercepted and destroyed for years.] We would emerge from our safety rooms and live life as if nothing happened. For this reason, when the morning of Saturday, October 7, 2023 arrived, we were unprepared. Our skies were dotted by the arrival of Hamas terrorists, and my lifelong nightmare began again.

Bullets sprayed everywhere and they killed and kidnapped our neighbors

In Israel, Saturday is Shabbat – a day of rest. We slept soundly in our beds that morning when, suddenly, blaring sirens echoed through the air. As usual, my wife and I ran into the safe room and locked it. We waited and waited, but the sirens never stopped.

We peaked through the window and saw what felt like a sea of men with guns, and they were not the Israeli Army. Some of them carried Kalashnikov-style rifles; they sprayed bullets everywhere. We stayed inside and hunkered down, trying not to make a single noise. Through the protective window, we could see them moving closer to our home.

They fired their bullets over and over at our house, but never came inside. I still have no idea why they passed us by. Perhaps it was pure luck or maybe I was meant to tell this horrific story. Soon after, I saw the Hamas terrorists enter my neighbor’s home. A dear friend of my wife, the woman who lived there was just 60 years old. She lived with her 40-year-old son. He often came over to help us with technology – setting up my television or tinkering with my computer or phone when they did not work.

The terrorists broke out the window and entered their house. We soon saw Hamas men dragging the woman and her son away – pushing them aggressively. Afraid for our own lives, we kept quiet. I have no idea where our neighbors are. They disappeared as gunshots sounded and bombardments fell from the sky. Our fear kept us firmly in place in the safe room.

Eighty years later, holocaust survivor once again becomes a refugee

For the next four hours, all we heard were gunshots and grenade blasts. We could see outside where Hamas brutally killed and kidnapped the people of our Kibbutz. Entering houses, they broke through windows and shot through doors. We knew they could break down the door to our safe room easily and our fear escalated.

While the main attack settled down after a few hours, we stayed put for a total of 12 hours in our hiding place. I messaged my children, but my phone battery deteriorated. “Who would I message anyway,” I thought. Help seemed far away.

When silence overtook the Kibbutz, my wife and I prayed and left our fate to destiny. Two times, I risked everything to sneak to the bathroom as terror swept through me. At 89 years old, I watched Hamas murder young people and stab children in front of my very eyes. When the military finally arrived, they escorted us out of the house and gave us water. All throughout our time in hiding, we never cried, but when the military came and we stepped outside, my wife and I broke down completely.

We held tight to one another and readied ourselves to face whatever came next. We soon encountered a large group of other survivors – probably about 700 of us. The tears streamed down our faces – grateful to be alive but deeply grieved for all those who were brutally killed. The army moved us to a big ballroom near Nirim where we stayed for one day. Volunteers came to help and provided food, water, and television.

With so many of us displaced, they packed us all together – young and old. After that, we moved to a hotel near the Dead Sea. My wife and I have a room and I can follow a daily routine now. I take walks, watch television, and read books – but I cannot go home. Through the age of nine I lived my life constantly on the run. Now, 80 years later, I am once again a refugee

I will never leave Israel – my Kibbutz is my home

Each Kibbutz in Israel is now a red zone. Places once filled with love and laughter sit vacant: we cannot go home. We take our cues from the Army, and they help as they can. Some of the soldiers have generously returned to my house to retrieve clothes and books for me.

Now, as I live out the last phase of my life on this earth, I find myself back where I was as a child, living as refugee. While this is not the Holocaust, it is no less of a tragedy. During the Holocaust we knew the enemy. We knew who to fight and what they wanted. Here, today in Israel, the attack came so suddenly, it took us all by surprise. None of us knew what was happening or what Hamas wanted – but we soon found out.

There is not a single family in Israel untouched by the October 7 attacks; each person has a story to tell of a loved one killed or taken. We no longer exchange happy stories about our lives. Instead, we speak of pain and grief. Still, like my early childhood experiences, I know that life must go on. When things become safe again, I vow to return to Nirim and to the home I built with love. I need no one’s permission for that.

Translation Disclaimer

Translations provided by Orato World Media are intended to result in the end translated document being understandable in the end language. Although every effort is made to ensure our translations are accurate we cannot guarantee the translation will be without errors.

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