Some 60 Holocaust survivors, mainly from Israel and a few from Canada, have been stuck in Germany since Monday due to a volcanic ash cloud which led to the cancellation of many European flights.
The survivors arrived in Germany with 40 escorts and relatives for a ceremony marking the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. They were forced to remain in the city of Hannover due to the cancellation of their Lufthansa flight.
Many caught a virus causing fever and nausea and some were admitted to the local hospital. The Lower Sachsony government, which hosted the delegation and organized the event, has been looking after the Holocaust survivors. The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem has been informed of the predicament.
Muli Dor, the son of one of the survivors told Ynet, "Most of the delegation members are over the age of 80 and in need of medication on a regular basis." Among the delegation members is former Israel Men's Walk champion Professor Shaul Ladani, a Holocaust survivor and survivor of the Munich 1972 massacre.
Volcanic ash cloud covering Europe (Photo: Reuters)
One of the survivors, Pinchas Dreilinger, said that he and his friends remain optimistic. "We already started using black humor and telling jokes about (Josef) Mengele coming to tell us who goes right and who goes left. We're taking it in stride, it's not the end of the world, and people have waited here under much worse conditions in the past."
Dreilinger noted that some of the survivors are stressed over the situation, but added that local authorities are providing them with hotel accommodation and refilling their drug prescriptions.
"Of course we all had plans to celebrate Independence Day in Israel and were disappointed that they were cancelled, but at least the Jewish community here let us use the synagogue and we celebrated by dancing and waving the Israeli flag on Independence Day eve. Overall, people are stressed but we're being well looked after."
The delegation members might be able to catch the morning Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt back to Tel Aviv.
Stuck in the airport on Martinique Island (Photo: AFP)
Some Israelis tried reaching Israel by traveling via train or car to southern European destinations from which flights are still available. One Israeli told Ynet about his long journey from London to Israel by way of Italy.
After learning his Thursday flight to Tel Aviv had been canceled, he started searching for way to get back home. "On Sunday, after consulting my boss I decided to return to Israel any way I can. I checked and found there was a flight to Tel Aviv from Rome on Monday night, rented a vehicle and hit the road together with a work colleague. We left London on Sunday at 3 pm with me driving and him navigating.
"We eventually arrived in the Da Vinci Airport in Rome on Monday at 4:45 pm, after 24 hours of driving. In total it cost us 1,100 pounds." He was lucky to make it just in time to celebrate Independence Day with his family and friends.
Nevertheless, he claimed the government could have done more to help Israelis return from Europe and suggested paid buses from European capitals to open airports in the southern part of the continent.
The Israel Metrological Service is slated to provide the Transportation Ministry with a final answer on whether there is a real chance of the volcanic ash cloud reaching Israel.
Airport Authority data indicate that since Thursday afternoon some 350 flights of more than 50,000 passengers on the Israel-Europe route have been canceled.
El Al, however, is pleased with the success of its campaign to bring back Israelis from Europe in time for Independence Day, having added flights from open airports in larger aircrafts. The airline continues to try and resume regular operations on its European destinations.
Initial information was received via Red Mail