Mordechai Becker was five years old when his father was conscripted into the Red Army. With no training, his father was sent to the front along with the other Jewish men from their town to fight Hitler’s forces. He was never seen again. At first with his mother and grandmother, and then just his mother, and finally, alone, Mordechai spent the next few years traversing the tumultuous landscape of Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe, making his way on foot, train, and boat. He hid in the homes of kind strangers. He rented basements from starving old women. He found refuge in understaffed and underfunded orphanages. And eventually, he arrived in British-occupied Palestine.
An only child, now orphaned, Mordechai learned to find family both in relations he had not known as a child, and in the people with whom he shared a homeland. With no prior education, Mordechai studied both Jewish and secular studies, becoming a bar mitzvah in Jerusalem, and attending a specialized high school for mechanics.
When the War for Independence broke out, Mordechai Becker did not hesitate to join in the defense of his people and home. Mordechai’s is a story of tribulation and hardship, but also of persistence and triumph.
When he was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, Mordechai made it his last mission to write his life story. “I promised him, before he died. I promised I would publish his book,” says Sophia Becker, Mordechai’s 86 year old widow. “But not only to publish it. To make sure it gets read.”
And so she did.
“He used to tell me I was his everything,” she remembers with tears in her eyes. Like her husband, Sophia is a Holocaust survivor. They met and married in Israel, after Sophia and her family made aliyah in 1962. And while her story is different from his, she understands the imperative of her task. For the last eight years, Sophia has been working tirelessly to translate, edit, and publish her husband’s memoirs. Never doubting her purpose, always sure she would fulfill her promise to her dying husband, she now says there is only one part left before she can rest: people must read the book.
“There is a whole generation of people who don’t know about the Holocaust, who don’t understand the consequences the Holocaust has on the world still today. We must educate people, and people must read real, true accounts,” Sophia says.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitic incidents reached an all-time high in 2021, with a recorded amount of more than 2,700, a steadily increasing number in the last decade. When you consider that these are only recorded incidents, the number is indeed staggering. In 2021, a study on the state of antisemitism in America, conducted by the American Jewish Committee, found that one in every four American Jews (24%) was a victim of antisemitism. And yet, according to the same study, over 20% of the general American public does not believe antisemitism is a serious problem.
And it’s no wonder. According to a 2020 survey commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (also known as the Claims Conference), nearly one quarter (23%) of American adults ages 18-39 said they believed the Holocaust was either a myth or had been exaggerated, or they weren’t sure.
So, Sophia’s mission continues. “I want every high school student in the United States to read Mordechai’s book,” Martin’s Story: An Orphan’s Triumphant Journey, she says, unwavered by this seemingly insurmountable task.
As the youngest generation of survivors are now dying, Sophia’s mission is a holy one. According to the United State Holocaust Memorial Museum, there were approximately 9.5 million Jews living in Europe in 1933, the year Hitler came to power. By 1945, two out of every three European Jews had been killed, leaving 3.5 million survivors. As of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, in 2020, just 400,000 Holocaust survivors remained still alive. The need to hear the stories of survivors has only become more imperative as the rise in antisemitism and ignorance meets the decline of living survivors.
“Every story is different,” Sophia says. “Every story must be heard. But,” she adds, “Mordechai’s story is not just one of hardship. It is also of redemption. It is a story of hope.”
Martin’s Story: An Orphan’s Triumphant Journey can be purchased on Amazon.