|Inge Buhs with a Holocaust survivor at Ner Yaakov Photo: Courtesy, Ner Yaakov|
A warm home for Holocaust survivors
German Christian Inge Buhs has lived in Israel for 30 years, devoting her life to creating a loving environment for those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis.
On the surface, the Ner Ya'akov
organization seems just like the other charities and associations set up to help Israel's Holocaust survivors. But unlike the others dotted around Jerusalem, the organization was founded by a German Christian who has devoted her life to helping the aging survivors in the Jewish state.
Inge Buhs was born in 1960 in Bavaria, in an area one hour south of Munich. Although she was born into a Catholic family, she didn't know a lot about the religion as her family did not follow the faith closely.
She was 14 when her father died in ambiguous circumstances. “When my father died I lost my path”, she says, admitting that at this point she began drinking.
But when Buhs was 17, she travelled to America, where she encountered Christians who told her about Jesus. Back in Germany at the age of 22, she decided to be baptized. Since then she changed, she says, committing her life to Jesus.
In the same year, 1983, Buhs went to Israel, and there she stayed, working in a variety of jobs, working on a farm, helping old people and finally working for a German doctor. It was during her employment with the doctor that she met Bella Steiner.
Through Steiner, Buhs got to know many Holocaust survivors, and was confronted for the first time with the history of her native country, where she had never been told the story of her family.
Inge Buhs and a Holocaust survivor at the Ner Yaakov home (Photo: Courtesy, Ner Yaakov)
She recalls in particular one woman, a Russian-born survivor from Ravensbruk concentration camp in northern Germany, who she got to know during her work with survivors.
"She was endearing to the two Americans who accompanied me, but she was very reserved with me," Buhs says.
But Buhs didn't give up, increasing the number of visits to the woman, and singing Jewish songs with her, until one day she woman suddenly said: "Inge, I trust you." She was always a lady until the day she died, Inge recalls, affectionate, not bitter and without hatred, even after all she had suffered.
In 2000, Buhs founded Ner Ya'akov, with the purpose of caring for Holocaust survivors in any possible way.
The name comes from the grandfather of her very good friend, Bella Steiner, who survived Auschwitz.
Steiner told Buhs the story of her beloved grandfather, Yaakov Thalenberg, when they worked together almost 30 years ago. He was born in Poland, and Steiner told Buhs of his warm and welcoming home for anyone in need. Thalenberg was killed by the Nazis and his body thrown into a mass grave. Buhs's idea was to create a warm home for Holocaust survivors, just like Bella's grandfather had provided for people in need.
For the last living witnesses of the Holocaust, Ner Ya'akov offers practical help. Volunteers help about 10 families in whatever ways needed; they clean their homes, bathe them, do the shopping or nurse them in their sickbed.
The organization also has a center for survivors, a place to go to for holidays and to recover after illnesses. The center hosts reconciliation meetings, and welcomes groups from Israel and around the world to help connect them to the past.
Buhs says she doesn't help Holocaust survivors out of feelings of guilt, but views it as a privilege. Her work is immensely satisfying, she says.
"As a German, I became complete, even though I didn't know that it was what I needed."
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