The six chosen to light torches this year are Simcha Applebaum, Avraham Aviel, Dina Buchler-Chen, Andrei Calarasu, Yona (Janek) Fuchs, and Chava Pressburger.
Applebaum was born in 1927 in the village of Malcz, Pruzhany (today in Belarussia). At an early age he escaped the Pruzhany ghetto and joined the Jewish partisans in the nearby forests.
In 1943 Applebaum and his family were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp, where his relatives were killed. The 16-year old Simcha saved himself from a similar fate by pretending to be older, and subsequently being sent to perform forced labor.
After two years at the camp, he was sent in 1945 on a death march to Gleiwitz, where he boarded a train. But he jumped the train and fled in Czechoslovakia, where he hid for five weeks with the help of local farmers.
Simcha was caught by the Gestapo, however, tortured and sent to Buchenwald, and then Sachsenhausen. Later, he was sent on another death march towards the Baltic Sea. He vowed that if he ever reached Israel, he would found a town in memory of his family.
On May 3 the first step towards the vow was taken with the liberation of the marchers by US troops. In 1946, 18-year old Simcha immigrated to Israel on the Tel Hai ship. Then, in 1948, he and 16 of his friends laid the cornerstone for Kibbutz Netzer Sereni, in memory of his family.
Simcha fought in all of Israel's wars until Yom Kippur War, and reached the rank of colonel. He also serves as a witness at youth trips to Poland, and tells his story in schools and to soldiers in the IDF.
Saved by Red Cross rep
Andrei Calarasu was born under the name Bernard Grupper in 1922 in Botosani, Romania. In 1941, with the Nazi invasion of Russia, his father and his brother, Paul, were taken to the local police courtyard where he watched as thousands of Jews were killed. They were placed in a closed train car with 120 others and taken on an eight-day journey.
The harsh conditions cost his brother and father their lives, but Andrei was saved by Viorica Agarici, the Red Cross representative in Romania, who insisted that the carriages be opened to remove the bodies, air out the cars and give the prisoners water. Agarici was later recognized as Righteous Among the Nations.
After arriving in Călăraşi Bernard became sick, and lay down on the floor of the local synagogue, while Romanian soldiers continued to shoot many of the Jews. Altogether, some 14,000 Jews were murdered. A few months later, Călăraşu was sent to hard labor. He was liberated with the arrival of the Red Army in the summer of 1944.
Andrei went on to study at the Academy for Theater Arts in Jassy and in Bucharest, and changed his name while living under Communist rule. In 1965 he immigrated to Israel and began to work in the Haohel Theater and the Beit Zvi School for the Performing Arts, where he established the Film and Television track.
Andrei also worked at Israel Army Radio, and was a member of the founding team of Israel Television. He worked at the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA), in television and in radio, for some 30 years, directing hundreds of programs.
Andrei served as the IBA’s representative in Romania, and prepared documentaries on the life of the Jewish community in the country, as well as on the visits of Jewish Romanian artists in Israel that were shown in many countries around the world.
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