Holocaust Survivors Mark 65 Years Since Nazi Prisoner Swap


nazi-campsHolocaust survivors marked on Friday the 65th anniversary of the arrival in Israel of 282 Jews released by the Nazis in exchange for German Templars, who were held by British authorities in Mandate Palestine. The Jews numbered 222 from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany – 10 from the German town of Laufen, and 50 from the French town of Vittel. The camp itself had initially been constructed as a site for exchange between Germans and Jews.

The German authorities allowed some Jews to leave Europe on what was known as a “Palestine certificate,” in exchange for the Templars, many who were Nazi sympathizers. These exchanges were beneficial to the Germans, who wanted their citizens “Heim ins Reich”, or Home in the Empire.

“Being sent here significantly improved [their] survival chance,” said Chaya Brasz, a former director of the center for Research of Dutch Jewry at the Hebrew University and author of the book “Transport 222.”

Alice Offenbacher, one of the survivors, was saved along with her family after her sister who was already in Palestine applied for the necessary exit papers from the Jewish Agency for her family back home.

Meanwhile, Offenbacher and the remaining relatives in Holland turned to the Red Cross with the same request, receiving notification of their registration for exchange in July 1943.

Offenbacher said that upon the group’s arrival at Haifa, she did not celebrate.

“We had left so much behind, there was no reason for that,” she told Haaretz in an interview Friday. Offenbacher, who was part of the group from Bergen-Belsen, added that she considers their escape from the Nazi genocide as nothing less than a miracle.

“It was extraordinary,” she said.

According to Brasz, the British authorities stipulated that Jews eligible for such an exchange had to possess “Palestinian citizenship” or be the wives or children of Palestinians; a list of individuals meeting these requirements became known as “the Istanbul list.”

Of the 282 Jews planning to move to Israel, only the Jews from the French town of Vitel were eligible for exchange, according to the Irgoen Olei Holland.

But from 1942, according to Brasz’s book, most of the people on the list “were in Poland and of Polish background and had been killed or had disappeared. Hence the Germans looked for replacements.”

In February 1943, the Jewish Agency started registering people for exchange on “veteran lists”, who didn’t necessarily meet the preconditions set by the British.

Offenbacher was one of those on the latter list. On Friday, she said the anniversary remains a special day for her.

“Every year on the 10th of July, the remaining survivors, are in touch with each other, either by e-mail or phone,” Offenbacher said.

{Haaretz/Yair Alpert-Matzav.com Israel}