Christians assist in rescue of Holocaust survivors from final onslaught on their lives — Vivienne Myburgh

Shimon Sabag rescues a Holocaust survivor in Ukraine. See info at the bottom of this page if you would like to donate towards this rescue operation (Credit: Yad Ezer L’Haver)

Russian invasion of Ukraine triggers most urgent aliyah campaign on record

As the war rages on in the Ukraine, Christians worldwide are making it possible for Ukrainian and Russian Holocaust survivors to escape to Israel. 

This is “the most urgent, massive aliyah operation we’ve ever been involved in,” said David Parsons, vice president and senior spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ), which is helping to coordinate the efforts. 

The ICEJ, which was founded in 1980, has long partnered with the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and Yad Ezra L’Haver (Helping Hand to a Friend) to help Jews make aliyah (immigrate) to Israel.

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Much of ICEJ’s aliyah work takes place in the former Soviet Union where they have sponsored aliyah fairs and summer and winter camps for Jewish children. 

“We’ve sponsored dozens of aliyah flights, and we were very involved in the Soviet aliyah in the 1990s,” Parsons said. “Once they are here, we help them get integrated through programmes with the Jewish Agency.”

So when the war broke out in the region, ICEJ was well positioned to assist.

Shimon Sabag, founder and managing director of Yad Ezra L’Haver, runs a home for holocaust survivors in Haifa with approximately 70 residents. The ICEJ is very closely involved with the home through funding and also through volunteers, who work alongside the Israeli staff, primarily as nurses and physiotherapists. 

An elderly Holocaust survivor waits in Lviv after being rescued (PHOTO Yad Ezer L’Haver)

Sabag and a team are presently in Ukraine, locating and transporting weakened elderly Jewish survivors from their homes to safety and, eventually, to the airport, where they board flights to Israel. This aliyah is “abrupt, disruptive and disorienting.”

‘She did not want to leave her home’
Lists of names are painstakingly constructed and then Sabag and his team go from city to city, from one address to another, to locate individual survivors. Sometimes, the city is being barraged by active fire and getting to the survivor is dangerous. 

Once a survivor has been located, it is often a challenge to convince them to leave. David Parsons (ICEJ) told of one survivor from Kyiv, living near the monument that commemorates the September 1941 massacre at Babyn Yar, when close to 34 000 Jews were murdered over two days. 

“In the middle of [WWII], she was born in the home, and she was still living there 80 years later,” Parsons explained. “She did not really want to leave, but her children came with our team to convince her. 

“Once she decided to leave for Israel, it was very touching for her to talk about the things she saw as a child and the rebuilding of Ukraine [after WWII],” he said. 

Once a survivor has been identified, located and convinced to leave, there is still the challenge of transporting them to safety. For the most part, the survivors are elderly and often living reclusive lives. They rely on walkers or wheelchairs for mobility. Parsons explained that the rescue teams often need specially equipped ambulances or vans to move them.

An elderly survivor was picked up by the ICEJ/Yad Ezra L’Haver team in Kyiv and taken to the new Israeli field hospital in Lviv because she did not feel well. They discovered a heart failure or blood clots just in time and saved her life. She will need time to recover before coming to Israel.

When asked why he went into Ukraine exactly when most people were trying to escape, Sabag said: “The day before the actual outbreak of the war, I travelled over to Ukraine.  

“It was very dangerous at that time, but I felt I had a calling and a certainty that God would protect me.

“It is just incomprehensible to me that 80 years after the Holocaust that Jews are targeted again and so that is why I went over to rescue them.”

“Some of the first days were just horrible in terms of humanitarian aid,” Sabag continued. “It was just a horrible scene to see hundreds of thousands of people, refugees, running away. I just started buying rations and handing them out to people.”

Some of the cities his team visited have been levelled. 

“When we got to Mariupol there was no water, electricity or heating and it was -4 degrees. When we were able to extract the survivors, it was just an incredible feeling,” he said.

He goes on to explain that one day he asked two Ukrainians to help him get people out from a small Ukrainian town. About three hours afterwards there were Russian soldiers standing on the very bridge of the small town that they had just evacuated via.

“There was one lady we extracted, a Holocaust survivor. She showed us her number from Auschwitz, and she ended up in Krakow and as we extracted her, she was just so thankful.”

Some individuals were rescued via stretcher because they were too old to walk. And some were pulled out of their homes under fire.

“When we say that we are ‘extracting’ Holocaust survivors it is because these are people who live deep in Ukraine, and it is difficult to bring them out. We had to have military escorts at times. There is no peace until we take these refugees out of Ukraine into Poland, because it is so dangerous.” 

He said that he sees “God is protecting us” and believes like it says in the Torah “God will protect and keep safe someone who does a mitzvah.”

The ICEJ play a key role in these rescue missions through their funding

Sabag said: “And do not mistake: here in this situation, [with your help], we rescue these people from certain death. If the ICEJ was not around to help and support, we could have done none of this. We bought an ambulance with the money that the [Christian] donations provided, and we labelled it with ICEJ stickers because it is important that the world knows that the ICEJ and Christians are helping the Jews. We heard from a lot of people who believed that God … sent us.”

‘They should not have to face this again’
Parsons said that Christians are motivated to help elderly European Holocaust survivors to help make amends for the role they played as “willing accomplices” to Hitler and the Nazis during World War II. 

“We know there is a long, bad track record of antisemitism. Our ministry is motivated to try and heal those wounds,” Parsons said. “I do not think there is anyone more worthy of our help than Holocaust survivors today. We want to see them live out their lives in dignity and peace… The Ukrainian Jews who witnessed the Babyn Yar Massacre and other atrocities should not have to face this again.”

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“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”— Exodus 19:4

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  1. This is such a large answer to months of prayer for the above aurvivors we give glory to God our Awesome God Dulcie McLean

  2. Well done Viv! May your light shine brightly.