• Rita Schweibes shares her story with a group of a working trip | Photo: C4I
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Simply encourage and comfort

Koen Carlier - 27 January 2020

Last Tuesday, January 21, 2020, Sergey, Alina, Carmen, Ira and I gathered for a meeting. The coming weeks we will be faced with a lot of things. The Holocaust commemoration, handing out food parcels, working visits to two Jewish orphanages and two Jewish schools and then there is a large group of emigrants too, leaving next week. That’s when it’s time to coordinate on who does what and who will inform who, because as the old saying goes “solid preparations make all the difference”!

The first item on the agenda was: are we going to focus on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz? Are we going to commemorate this in Ukraine and if so, how? I thought that I came up with a really good proposal when I suggested to invite a group of Holocaust survivors for a social get-together with tea and cake and then let a group of youngsters read a poem, invite a couple of violinists for a duet…

Sergey, Alina, Carmen, Ira and Koen during the team meeting

But the stare I got from Ira and Alina told me: that is not a good plan! Ten, five years ago, yes, but now: no! Most Holocaust survivors are bedridden, can’t walk very well anymore and rather stay in their home environment. Even if it is not really cold and there is very little snow, most of them are not willing to go outside and prefer to ‘hibernate’ in their little soviet apartments!

House visits
But, said Alina and Ira, why aren’t we just going to visit the Holocaust survivors at home in the coming period? Surely you cannot do that, visiting them with 10 to 12 persons? Of course not, we split up in groups of two or three at the most and in that way we can visit more people, even in the different towns and villages and everybody we visit we give a small gift. Fresh fruit and not forgetting tea plus a greeting and a photograph of the Ukrainian fieldworkers from Christians for Israel. Alina promised to call about one hundred Holocaust survivors asking them whether or not we could come and Ira would take care of the gifts!

No reminding
But the next day we got a message from Alina: two people refused to receive visits. Also, most of them didn’t want to talk about or didn’t wanted to be reminded of the Holocaust, but all of them did appreciate us to come round for a short visit to, yes, talk about the future, how we are doing, the latest news (there is always latest news). In short, our visits would be appreciated but they didn’t want to be reminded of their hardships or about how they saw their mother, grandfather and grandmother being shot dead and dumped into a mass grave. Those memories, indelibly printed in their minds, they definitely do not wish to remember anymore by talking about them with us on and around the 27th of January! So, it just has to be a pleasant visit.

Rita Schweibes
Of course we will visit Rita Schweibes, she already called us. She is one of the few ones who always wants to share her story and memories, at any time. She promised this to the Almighty when she was a five-year-old girl – if she would survive, she would keep the memory alive. A promise she kept until this day!

The ditch that was supposed to be a mass grave, was ready for Rita and a little over 300 Jewish children who would be buried alive in a forest near the former stettl Pechora. But then the soldiers of the Soviet Army came on horses and they were liberated! Little Rita grew up an orphan, went to school and became a midwife. She is responsible of the little Jewish community in Tulchin. Rita shared her memories with hundreds, perhaps thousands of people. She told them about 23 of her family members who were killed at one of the mass graves.

The coming days will be filled with visits, listening, comforting and hugging. If there are openings, we want to read a Psalm with some people, for instance Psalm 121.


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