Holocaust survivors give Purim gifts to asylum seekers

Holocaust survivors handed out water and Purim gift baskets to hundreds of asylum seekers standing in line to renew their visas.

A group of 20 Holocaust survivors showed up March 17 at the Population and Immigration Authority Bureau in Tel Aviv to distribute the items to the surprised crowd.

Batya Rapaport, a 75-year-old Holocaust survivor, said the act was an initiative by survivors and workers at the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel “who every day see people waiting for hours in the rain, in the cold and in unbearable conditions. As a Holocaust survivor, it takes you back to a time in which you were constantly chased and your life was in danger.”

According to Rapaport, who as a child escaped the Warsaw Ghetto, the survivors seek to convey a message: “Beyond politics, we want to say that human beings cannot overlook the suffering of other people.”

In recent weeks, since a new immigration office opened in Tel Aviv, thousands of asylum seekers, including babies, children and pregnant women, have waited for hours on end, without any shelter or access to toilets.

Some 51,000 asylum seekers in Israel are required to renew their visas in the immigration offices over a period that ranges from one to three months. Since December, with the advent of the new Infiltration Prevention Law, the open hours of the Population and Immigration Authority offices have been reduced throughout the country.

According to the new law, asylum seekers carrying outdated visas may be sent to detention centers for up to 90 days.

“When I saw the people waiting here, my heart broke,” said Esther Miron, an 80-year-old Holocaust survivor. “When I see people who fled their homes and were left with nothing, I cannot stay silent. I was in that situation too, we too were refugees. Israeli society has a history, and that is why we cannot stay indifferent to human suffering; that should be our primary thought. We established a country here to set a moral example.”

Hungarian-born Miron was deported during World War II to Auschwitz, where many of her family members were murdered.

Some of the asylum seekers waiting in line, including women and young children, seemed embarrassed, though most were happy to receive the sweets and refreshments and thanked the survivors, even though they did not know who they were.