Holocaust survivor brings hope to October 7's youngest victims

Hanna Gofrit, 88, sits with children from Gaza border region, sharing her insights and advice on meaning of resilience and endurance in face of horror; despite the gloom, she assures, 'the sun will shine on us again'

Ofir Hauzman|
"When I first heard that children in kibbutzim along the Gaza border had to hide in closets to avoid being killed by the terrorists who infiltrated their homes on October 7, I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. It was unfathomable to me that 75 years after I hid in a closet in Warsaw to escape the Nazis, history would repeat itself, and Jewish children would once again find themselves hiding in closets, but this time in their own country, our country. I cannot express how deeply this news pained me."
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These are the words of Hanna Gofrit, a Holocaust survivor and grandmother to four grandchildren and great-grandmother of two, as she described the emotions that compelled her to take action on behalf of those surviving children and their parents.
A part of the encounter
She said, "After I managed to overcome the initial shock that engulfed me, I immediately realized that my contribution to these children is to meet them and share my own experience as a child who also had to hide to survive. Above all, I want to show them that despite the current pain, sadness and the dark clouds hanging overhead, we must not lose hope. The sun will rise again."
Several weeks ago, within the framework of the "Memory in the Living Room" initiative (a social project that organizes gatherings in private homes around Holocaust Remembrance Day), which aims to foster connections between Holocaust survivors and children from kibbutzim bordering Gaza, Gofrit had a meeting with the children from Kibbutz Mefalsim who had been evacuated from their homes on October 7 and are currently residing in a hotel in Herzliya.
The actress and singer, Eliana Tidhar, was also present at this heartfelt gathering, as she and Gofrit had formed a deep bond following Tidhar's previous visit to Gofrit's home as part of the project three years ago.
"It is of great significance for me to demonstrate to these children that despite the challenging experiences I endured during my childhood, I am a happy woman. I started a family, had grandchildren and great-grandchildren, pursued education, and worked in a profession I truly cherished. My life is fulfilling. I conveyed to them that although hiding in a closet is tremendously frightening, it ultimately saved me, and now I can stand before them and share my story," said Gofrit.

An imaginary butterfly

She was born 88 years ago in a small town in Poland, not far from Warsaw. She was an only child in a family that enjoyed a high socio-economic status. Until the outbreak of the war, she lacked nothing, and life, as she remembers it, smiled at her and her extended family. Shortly after celebrating her fourth birthday, her life, as she knew it until then, changed abruptly and beyond recognition. She and her parents became refugees in their own land.
"My world turned upside down in a single day - the home I grew up in, the games, the books, and my extended family - everything vanished. From comfortable and peaceful lives free of deprivation, suddenly we had nothing," she recalls.
3 View gallery
המפגש בין חנה גרנות לילדי קיבוץ מפלסים. "חשוב לי לנטוע בהם תקווה שיום אחד החיים יחזרו להיות יפים"
המפגש בין חנה גרנות לילדי קיבוץ מפלסים. "חשוב לי לנטוע בהם תקווה שיום אחד החיים יחזרו להיות יפים"
Hanna meets the children
(Photo: Memories in the living room)
"When the Nazis arrived in town, my father and I managed to escape and hide in a pit in the ground for several days. Later, my mother and I fled to Warsaw, and my father joined the partisans but was captured by the Nazis and perished. In Warsaw, my mother and I hid with a Polish family, righteous among the nations. Every time strangers visited their home, we would enter the closet and hide there in complete darkness, without uttering a sound. For two years, I 'spent' a considerable amount of time inside that dark and claustrophobic closet."
In the early days, when Gofrit was just six years old, a sense of dread consumed her whenever she and her mother had to seek refuge in the closet. There were times when they had to remain hidden for hours, all the while hearing the sounds of laughter and merriment from the guests, completely oblivious to the atrocities unfolding in their homeland. Yet, amid the fear and hardship, she came to realize the importance of holding onto hope to survive.
"In those moments inside the closet, I discovered that it was easiest for me to succumb to helplessness, fear and anger. It was truly terrifying, particularly the thought of being discovered and subjected to harm. However, I also learned that I could tap into my imagination and momentarily escape from reality.
"Every time I hid in the closet, I pictured myself as a butterfly gracefully soaring back to my childhood town. Inside that confined space, I was a liberated and happy butterfly, and through this, hope was reignited within me, assuring me that one day life would regain its goodness. When I shared this revelation with the children, they gazed at me with wide-eyed understanding, and I felt that they too grasped the power of imagination in cultivating renewed hope, which may have waned after that horrible Saturday."
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המפגש בין חנה גרנות לילדי קיבוץ מפלסים. "חשוב לי לנטוע בהם תקווה שיום אחד החיים יחזרו להיות יפים"
המפגש בין חנה גרנות לילדי קיבוץ מפלסים. "חשוב לי לנטוע בהם תקווה שיום אחד החיים יחזרו להיות יפים"
Sharing stories of resilience
(Photo: Memories in the living room)
Did the kids share their feelings with you? "Definitely. One of the girls, 8.5 years old, said she wasn't afraid because her mom and dad were with her, protecting her, and she trusted them to keep her safe. Another child mentioned that she sat quietly throughout the entire time the terrorists were in her house, constantly thinking about the moment when it would all be over and she could leave the hiding place with her family and immediately share what had happened with her friends. The parents also took part in the meeting, and after it ended, some of them approached me and asked me to come again, this time to provide them with additional support. It deeply touched me, and words cannot fully describe how much."
Do you feel empowered after meeting them? "Most certainly, I find great joy in being able to provide support to both children and adults who have endured such challenging circumstances, where they have experienced the loss of loved ones and the hardships of survival. There is a profound sense of shared destiny that binds us together, as we have all weathered the storm and persevered. It is very important to me to offer them strength and to nurture a sense of hope, even amid the immense pain we currently face. I firmly believe that one day, the oppressive darkness looming over us will dissipate, and the sun will shine down on us again."

A children's book translated into 17 languages

The Butterfly, a children's book published nearly 30 years ago, recounts Gofrit's extraordinary survival story. Inspired by an imaginary butterfly that brought solace during her prolonged hiding during the Holocaust, the book has been translated into 17 languages and serves as an educational resource worldwide. Gofrit selflessly donated all proceeds to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.
"30 years ago, no one talked about children in the Holocaust. It was known but silenced. I'm proud to share my story as the only survivor among a thousand Jewish children in my Polish town. If I don't tell it, who will?"
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המפגש בין חנה גרנות לילדי קיבוץ מפלסים. "חשוב לי לנטוע בהם תקווה שיום אחד החיים יחזרו להיות יפים"
המפגש בין חנה גרנות לילדי קיבוץ מפלסים. "חשוב לי לנטוע בהם תקווה שיום אחד החיים יחזרו להיות יפים"
Children listening to the stories
(Photo: Memories in the living room)
"The project, initially conceived as a commemoration of the Holocaust, took on a new significance in light of the ongoing war. In these challenging times, where both children and adults are confronted with unimaginable horrors that we believed would never resurface, we quickly realized that the true source of encouragement and strength lies in Holocaust survivors. These people, with their unwavering resilience, optimism and hope, serve as beacons of inspiration," explains Moran Tzipper Goldenberg, the chairperson of the project.
"Engaging in meaningful conversations and forging connections with the children not only provided them solace and inspiration through the heroic story of Hanna Gofrit and the enlightening discussions with Eliana Tidhar, but it also created a warm and authentic platform for them to feel embraced and supported."
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