Maurice Goldberg was born in 1925 in the Belgian city of Charleroi. In 1940, when he was 15, he heard the sound of explosions in the city while working in his family’s small shoe factory. The German army had just occupied Belgium.
The Jews were forced to write, in red letters, the word “Jew” over their storefronts and factories and stitch a yellow star on their clothes. Maurice’s father was sent to forced labor in France. He himself was arrested as he tried to join the resistance and was sent to work on the construction of a German airport in France. Conditions were harsh. Maurice hid his Jewish identity. One day, he jumped from the train that was carrying him to work and returned home to his city and family. Shortly afterward, he was sent to work in Germany. His Jewish identity having been discovered, Maurice fled with his eldest sister to their aunt’s house, but, fearing for her life, the aunt refused to help them. The two returned home. Their mother urged the eldest sister, who was then 18, to enter into a sham marriage with an elderly Belgian in order to save her life. The girl married the man, but she was still sent to her death in the Dachau concentration camp. Maurice’s father was murdered in an extermination camp. Subsequently, Maurice’s mother was also caught and sent to her death. Maurice joined the resistance and took part in actions against the Germans. He took care of his younger sister, who also survived, and found her a home with a friendly family. Toward the end of the war, in the course of an operation, Maurice was wounded in the leg.
When the war ended, he returned to Charleroi and married Tova. The couple moved to Brussels, where they had five children.
Maurice’s younger sister, who also survived the war, married and moved to Australia.
In 1970, Maurice and Tova Goldberg made aliyah together with their five children and became members of the Ghetto Fighters’ Kibbutz.
Leonid Braunstein was born in Ukraine in 1921. His father passed away when Leonid was six years old. His mother remarried, and the family moved to Kiev. Leonid went to a Jewish school for four years, and afterward attended a Ukrainian school. After completing his high school studies, he entered the Military Infantry School where he became a commissioned officer. He was posted to the border with Poland and was appointed deputy staff commander of a rifle battalion. In June 1941, when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, Leonid took part in the heavy fighting. He was wounded in the leg and found himself in German-occupied territory. He worked at a railway junction under a fictitious name and organized and led a group of underground fighters, which sabotaged railways. In the autumn of 1942, Leonid and his comrades escaped to the forests and joined a battalion of partisans. Here he was appointed commander of a sabotage unit. Subsequently, he joined another battalion of partisans and became its commander. His battalion fought in Ukraine, Poland, and Slovakia. Leonid was awarded numerous medals of honor. He was also given honorary citizenship in two Polish and two Slovakian cities.
Jack Waxel was born in 1924, in a small Polish town, to an Orthodox family of six. He was 15 when the war broke out. The Jews were sent to a labor camp. When his father was taken out of the work group, Jack understood that the Nazis intended to kill him, so he took his place. He was bundled onto a truck, taken to a forest, and made to stand at the edge of a canal filled with the bodies of Jews who had been shot. He was told to kneel, at which point he decided to flee. He grabbed one of the guards and, using him as a human shield, jumped into the canal while still holding him. In the chaos that ensued, he succeeded in reaching the other side of the canal and fled into the forest.
Jack found refuge with a Polish farmer and, after a month, set out to find his family. He was told that his father had been murdered the day after he escaped and that the Jews from his village had been taken to a ghetto and then to the Majdanek extermination camp. Leonid succeeded in finding his brother, and the two were sent to work in an arms factory. Fearing that they would be sent to Auschwitz, Jack, his brother, and a group of workers fled to the forests.
Jack and his brother survived the war. After the liberation, he was conscripted into the Russian police force, where he helped hunt down Nazis and their collaborators. At the end of the war, he discovered that the rest of his family had all been murdered. He met Sabina, his neighbors’ daughter, who had survived Auschwitz and like him had returned home to look for her family. Jack and Sabina married, moved to Paris and emigrated to the U.S. in 1950.
Jack became a successful businessman and was active in the Jewish community of Dayton, Ohio.
Jack is 90 today and traveled from the U.S. specifically to take part in this ceremony and light a torch.
David was born in 1927 Greece, in the city of Thessaloniki, known as the “Jerusalem of the Balkans.” He was born into a family of five, of of which he is the sole survivor — all his family perished in the Holocaust. At the age of 14, David was taken to the ghetto and put to work as a forced laborer. He survived, and at 15 was sent to Auschwitz. He passed the selection of Dr. Mengele and was separated from his family. His mother and father were sent to the crematoria. His brother was murdered in Birkenau. David was later sent from Auschwitz to the Warsaw Ghetto to do forced labor. He fell ill with typhus but was saved by a Dutch kapo, who enjoyed hearing him sing.
When he was in the concentration camp, his arm was tattooed with the number 109512, which totals 18 in numerical value, the same as the Hebrew word “chai” (life). David was sent on a death march to Dachau, Germany. As the war was drawing to a close, he was put on a truck with other young men and sent to Tyrol, Austria, where the Nazis planned to murder the prisoners and bury them in a mass grave.
Fortunately, the truck was stopped by an American soldier, and David and his comrades were liberated.
David made Aliyah and settled in Kibbutz Ein Harod. He fought in Israel’s wars as a Golani company commander. He later moved with his family to Ashdod and opened an earthworks company.
David is married and has three daughters and nine grandchildren.
Mindi is the daughter of the late Haika and Baruch Speigel. Haika Balchitoska-Spiegel was born in 1920, Baruch in 1919. The two were active in the Bund movement and joined the Jewish Fighting Organization during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. According to one source, it was Baruch who, from his forward position in the ghetto, gave the signal with his hand for the uprising to start.
In an interview, he described the odds and balance of power thus: “It was like fighting the tanks of the German army with firecrackers.”
When the Warsaw Ghetto was overrun by the Germans, Baruch managed to flee via the sewers together with a small group of fighters. One of them was Haika, who had proven herself to be a courageous fighter.
The two joined the partisans and survived many dangerous situations. In one such situation, Haika managed to escape from a railway car that was taking her to the Treblinka extermination camp. Haika and Baruch survived the Holocaust, moved to Sweden, and got married. In 1948, they settled in Montreal, Canada.
Baruch Spiegel opened a factory for purses and leather goods, continuing in the footsteps of his father.
Haika passed away in 2002, and Baruch in 2014.
Baruch received a special award from the Polish government for his part in the fight against the Nazis.
The couple had two children, Julius and Mindy, and six grandchildren.
Moshe Kravitz was born in 1931 in Kovno, Lithuania to a family of four. He and his family were forced to move to the Kovno Ghetto. When the ghetto was destroyed and its residents deported, his brother stayed behind, hiding in a bunker together with seven members of the Irgun Brit Zion youth movement.
Moshe wanted to stay behind with his brother, but his mother did not let him, as he was too young. The family was separated. First, Moshe was separated from his mother and later from his father. Together with 130 Jewish children, he was sent to the Landsberg camp and a week later to Birkenau. On Rosh Hashanah 5705, September 1944, following a selection 60 of the youngest children from the group were sent to the gas chambers. During another selection held on Yom Kippur 5705-1944, another 31 children, all those who were shorter than 1.35 m (4’5”) were sent to their death.
After four months in Birkenau, Moshe was sent to Bude, an agricultural farm that served as a Birkenau sub-camp. Moshe was sent on a death march whose destination was Buchenwald. After three months in Buchenwald, with the war drawing to a close, Moshe fell ill, and his condition deteriorated drastically. When he saw that the Nazis were preparing to evacuate the camp, he hid in a sewer pipe for he knew that he would not survive another death march. American soldiers found Moshe hovering between life and death and placed him in a hut for the dead, but someone noticed that he was still alive, and when Moshe opened his eyes, he found himself in a U.S. Army hospital.
Moshe’s father did not survive the holocaust; his brother also perished in the bunker of the Kovno Ghetto. But his mother survived, and in 1955, he managed to bring her to Israel.
In Israel, Moshe worked in various positions at the Ministry of Agriculture. Today he volunteers in the archives of the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum and translates from Yiddish into Hebrew.
Moshe has five grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
Righteous Among the Nations — Orna Shurani from Czechoslovakia
Orna Shurani was born in 1928 in Czechoslovakia. Together with her mother and two of her sisters, she helped save dozens of Jews from a work camp situated close to her home. The Csizmadia family home served as a secret point of contact between the Jews who were prisoners of the work camp and the outside world. Orna smuggled letters out and hid Jews, who had escaped from the camp, in hiding places that she found for them beforehand with her sisters, in fields and adjacent villages. She thus saved them from being caught by the Germans and sent to an extermination camp. She brought them food and regularly switched their hiding places to avoid detection by the Germans. After the war, Orna married a Jewish man whom she had rescued, as did her eldest sister. Orna made Aliyah and, subsequently, helped her mother and sisters to also make aliyah.
Orna has two daughters, six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.