As he does every year, this week, Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, IAF Commander, took part in the “Flower for Survivor” Project in which IDF/IAF soldiers visit Holocaust Survivors all over Israel
There was pain, as a remembrance candle for the dark days Yegerman saw up close, but also laughter and happiness stemming from the recovery and renewed growth of the Jewish people in their country. It seemed as if the circle closed: A Holocaust survivor, who witnessed the darkest period in Jewish history, sitting across the Israeli Air Force Commander, who represents the military strength of the state of Israel – which will soon celebrate 68 years of independence. “First and foremost, we are here to say thank you”, said Maj. Gen. Eshel. “We salute you for who you are and what you have given to the country and are here to continue on this path”.
Yehudit Yegerman and Maj. Gen. Eshel | Photography: Mor Tzidon
And so, in the living room of her house in the city of Ramat-Gan, Yehudit Yegerman and Maj. Gen. Eshel sat and sailed through memories. For over an hour, Yehudit shared the story of her family and her personal story, from her childhood years in Carlsberg and Prague, through her years in the Theresienstadt ghetto and her deportation to Auschwitz death camp and to her immigrating and starting a family in Israel. “There are almost no one left to tell from my generation and soon there will be only historians left. I share my story so that the youth will be our ambassadors and tell about that time to the next generations”, said Yehudit Yegerman. “This is my life’s work. I stayed alive for this. This is my contribution to the Jewish people”.
Maj. Gen. Eshel shared the story of his family, about childhood in the shadow of the Holocaust, about hosting 10,000 Holocaust survivors in IAF AFBs two years ago and about the unforgettable flyover above Auschwitz he led. “13 years ago we flew above Auschwitz. While flying we said on the radio: ‘We, the Israeli Air Force Pilots in the skies of the horror camp, have risen from the ashes of millions of victims, carry their silent cry, salute their heroism and promise to be a shield for the Jewish people and its land, Israel’. It took us time, but we understood that surviving the hardships that you underwent is tremendous heroism”, said Maj. Gen. Eshel. “Today we need to remember that we are strong, but to also take watch ourselves. To make sure that things that happened to others do not happen to us. We need to be an example of morality. Have to draw the line between permitted and prohibited. We educate our soldiers that when there is a threat it needs to be removed, but we are not hangmen. If killing isn’t necessary, we don’t kill. This is our morality and it is part of the profession. There is no separation”.
Photography: Mor Tzidon
Afterwards, the two entered the private memory room Yegerman built in her house – whose walls are filled with photos, mementos and certificates of appreciation she accumulated over the years in which she gave weekly lectures about her memories as a child in the holocaust. The “Flower for Survivor” Certificate given to her by Maj. Gen. Eshel also found its place on one of the walls after a thorough search for room on the brimming wall. “You don’t stop working!” smiled Maj. Gen. Eshel. “Your mission is seen. We shall wish for you to continue and thank you for who you are”.
Photography: Mor Tzidon
Not Only Generals
The IAF Commander wasn’t the only one to take part in the special “Flower for Survivor” Project. The Air Force Bases, Directorate and Division Commanders also took part in the project and joined over 1,000 IAF soldiers who visited many houses around the country in the past few days in order to hear the personal stories of holocaust survivors.
“Even though the purpose of the ‘Flower for Survivor’ Project is to honor the Holocaust survivors, the soldiers who participate in the project receive more from the survivors than they give. In an hour long meeting, they hear stories of life-long heroism and draw a lot of strength from them”, shared Lt. Eden Fogel, an Education Officer from the Personnel Directorate who initiated the special visit. “It connects them to the meaning of the things we do today and how important it is for us to be here and protect our country”.