Hundreds of Arab representatives attended a Zoom event held by the organization Sharaqa (“partnership” in Arabic) for the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In the spirit of the Abraham Accords, the peace agreements between Israeli, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, the participants came to hear the testimony of Vera Kriegel from Israel, one of the "Mengele Twins.” According to Sharaqa, this is the first initiative to commemorate the Holocaust throughout the Arab world.
This virtual event was attended by more than 200 people from around the Arab world, including Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Syria, as well as from Israel, the United States and Europe. Some of the participants had visited the Yad Vashem museum about two months previously on a tour sponsored by the organization.
President Reuven Rivlin greeted the participants with the following statement: "We bring together Holocaust survivors and young people from Israel, Gulf leaders, Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze to say 'never again'. The virus of anti-Semitism and extremist hatred must be defeated, and there must be zero tolerance for all forms of anti-Semitism, racism and extremism.”
Kriegel told a shocking story of how she and her twin sisters became subjects of Doctor Mengele, also known as the “Angel of Death,” a physician at Auschwitz who performed deadly experiments on prisoners in the name of eugenics.
"The Slovaks were in full cooperation with the Nazis," Kriegel tells Davar. "They were terrible, no less than the Nazis themselves. On the eve of Passover 1942, after my sister and I had already gone to bed, the parents were still celebrating the holiday. They were very religious. Suddenly the door broke. I remember feeling hands lift me from my bed.”
“I looked at who was picking me up. I see a young man in a green uniform and I shout. I started kicking him, a 4 year old girl. I fought as hard as I could and I shouted – 'Where are you taking me, let me stay in bed, leave me alone'. Nothing helped. We were all taken out to the street in the middle of the night. "
About the deportation of the family to Auschwitz, she says: "My father was murdered in Auschwitz. I was told he went 'through the chimney', and at that moment I could not understand what was meant.”
“My mother said she had twins. We are not identical twins, we barely looked like sisters,” Kriegel continued. “Mengele said he needed us for experiments, along with our mother. He wanted to replace our dark eyes with blue eyes. We underwent barbaric and criminal experiments in his laboratory near Crematorium 2 in Birkenau.”
Kriegel was overwhelmed by the interest of the Arab participants in her story
"I have not yet come down from this excitement," says Kriegel. "How people from the Emirates are so interested in knowing about the past of the Jewish people – it's amazing. Talking for just 30 minutes about my story is like running a marathon.”
“Until now I have been crying with excitement,” she went on. “It moves me so much that the gates to this niche have been opened, that it is precisely these people who so want to know about the Jews. "
Kriegel told Davar that they asked many questions about Auschwitz and how she survived there, and also asked about how the story of the Holocaust could be more incorporated into the education system.
"Of course the second question is beyond my power to answer alone, but I want it to happen, also in Israel, in the Arab sector,” she said. “I did what I could. I have accompanied youth to Auschwitz many times. I arranged a delegation of Israeli Arabs to Poland.”
After the Holocaust, Kriegel and her sister lived and studied in Ireland for a period of rehabilitation, where she acquired command of the English language.
"We were 100 girls and 30 boys who were sent there by the Beit Yaakov organization,” she said. “My mother immigrated to Israel. I came to Israel at the age of 15, in 1953 with my sister Olga."
Amjad Taha, one of the founders of Sharaqa, told Vera that she has "a new home in Bahrain and in the heart of every peace-seeker." He stressed that countries in the Arab world and the Gulf should include content on the persecution of Jews by the Nazis in their educational curricula.
"From a young age until graduation, they need to learn about the Holocaust and ways to resist anti-Semitism," he said.
"Many of these activists have learned only two or three sentences about the Holocaust, as part of World War II studies at the school," said Amit Deri, the organization's founder. "The Holocaust is the untold story in the Middle East. This is the opportunity that the Abraham Accords gave us."
The organization is planning a delegation of young leaders from Arab countries to the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, as part of the events of the next Holocaust Day.