Born in Auschwitz, Now an Israeli ArabApr 20, 2012 at 06:06:15 AM
With each passing year, as the number of Holocaust survivors dwindles, the idea of a "new" Holocaust story becomes almost unimaginable.
Now, as reported by AFP, a woman who lives in an Arab town in northern Israel ― matriarch to a large clan of children and grandchildren ― has come clean.
In 1941, the Brashatsky family ― mother, father and two young boys ― was deported from Yugoslavia to the Auschwitz death camp. The parents were assigned as housekeepers for a Christian doctor at Auschwitz. To spare them, he hid the entire family under the floor of his house inside the camp.
A few months later, Mrs. Brashatsky gave birth to a baby girl, Helen.
The Auschwitz doctor hid the baby, too.
She was given a Hebrew name, Leah.
Three years later, the war ended. Auschwitz was liberated, and the Brashatsky family was free.
They moved to Israel in 1948, a few months prior to the declaration of statehood.
The family settled in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv. When Helen was 17, she met an Arab man named Ahmed Jabarin. They married and she ran off to make a life in the northern Arab town of Umm al-Fahm.
Although Helen's husband and children knew she was Jewish, she never revealed any details of her past. Over the decades, she became known as Umm Raja, Arabic for "Raja's mother," after her first-born son. She adopted the traditional Muslim dress code of hijab and long robes.
Helen's true heritage got buried deeper when her oldest son became 18 and ― as the child of a Jewish Israeli ― was summoned into the Israeli Army. In order to avoid the draft, Helen "converted" to Islam.
"I hid my pain for 52 years and the truth about my past from my children and grandchildren," Helen told AFP. "I was just waiting for the right moment to tell them."
This week, as Holocaust Memorial Day came around once again, Helen finally told them.
The memories poured out: Of wearing striped pajamas. Of eating dry bread soaked in water. Of witnessing horrific beatings in the camp. Of gas chambers, crematoria and death all around.
"Mom used to cry on Holocaust Memorial Day watching all the ceremonies on Israeli television," her son Nader told AFP. "We never understood why. We all used to get out of the way and leave her alone in the house… We understand her a bit more now."
Maybe now "Umm Raja―Helen―Leah" will feel a bit more comfortable speaking not only Arabic and Hebrew, but some of the Yiddish she still remembers as a child.