Photo Credit: Courtesy (TPS)
Eliyahu Yokel (R) and his sister Klara.

Eliyahu has rarely spoken about his experience of a child during the Holocaust, but has decided to change this after witnessing the world’s fading memory of the atrocities committed by the Nazis against the Jews during World War II and after the advent of Holocaust denial.

His story of a child who survived several near-death experiences is shocking, and at times, almost unbelievable.

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Born in 1941 in Slovakia in a small village of Gymes, near the city of Nitra, Eliyahu Yokel’s earliest memories begin with the Nazis’ invasion.

His family, his father Arpad, mother Lilly and sister Tzippi (Klara), fled to the forests with him to hide when he was only two years old. They managed to remain in hiding for about a year until they were caught by the Germans. Arpad was separated from the rest of the family. That was the last time Eliyahu saw his father. He remembers sadness and crying.

Arpad did not survive the Holocaust and his whereabouts are unknown until this day.

After being captured, Eliyahu and his mother and sister were deported in cattle trains to the Terezin concentration camp. He remembers being pushed down by the crowd and almost suffocating until his mother saved him and picked him up. The packed car enabled him to stay above like that for three long days.

Upon arriving at Terezin, they were immediately taken to the gas chambers to be killed. He remembers a big room and a massive metal door at its entrance. When the door was slammed shut people began to cry and recite the Shema, thinking they were about to die. Several moments later, the door swung open and a German officer ordered everyone to pull the cords on the showers and bathe themselves.

A short while after, they were ordered to exit the showers and dress. Years later, when visiting the camp with his wife Suzie, he discovered that his group had been condemned to be gassed, but a Red Cross delegation had made a surprise visit to the camp, and the Nazis used them to demonstrate how the inmates were treated.

His strongest memory of his time in Terezin is that of persistent hunger. He recalls that at times he ate his mother’s daily ration.

His life was again saved towards the end of the war. He remembers boarding a train and taking a trip for a few days, and then returning to the concentration camp.

Years later he learned that the train had been on its way to a death camp, but a Russian bombing of the rails cut his trip short and saved his life.

Eliyahu survived the war together with his mother and sister, and after many trials made it to Israel in 1949. Serving as a combat medic, he fought in most of Israel’s wars of survival. Today, at the age of 77, he has five children and 26 grandchildren.

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Aryeh Savir is director of the International division of Tazpit News Agency.