"For our land, we dedicate our lives"
Story by Sagi Ben Yitzhak
Photo by Sagi Ben Yitzhak
I have known Tibi for many years as we are both from Kibbutz Afikim. For me, he was the neighbor who does sports and goes to the military all the time. I didn't really know him very well. As a photographer on "The Autographers" project, I saw his name and knew I want to reach out to him.
He was born in the winter of 1930 in the town of Munk'cs in Czechoslovakia. In 1938, during the Munich Conference Agreements, the town was annexed to Hungary. His father, who was a Czech reserve soldier, refused to fight the Hungarians and even got his entire unit to rebel with him. As a result, he was arrested by the Czech authorities, but was released after several months and even gained special status in the public opinion thanks to the revolt he organized.
"Before the Germans entered, I had a happy childhood," Tibi recalls. In March of 1944, the German army invaded Hungary and conquered the town. "All Jewish residents were concentrated in the Ghetto except for our family because of our special status," Tibi recalls. One day, five S.S soldiers broke into their home, tore up their certificates, and sent them by train to Auschwitz. "They separated my mother from the rest of the family, and I was sent with my father and older brother to a labor camp in Silesia," he says. In the labor camp, they survived for almost a year until the Russians approached the camp. After that, the Germans decided to retreat and led the Jews in the death marches towards the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Unfortunately, his brother and father failed to survive the march and died within a matter of hours of liberation. He was able to locate his mother in the concentration camp, but after a brief and moving reunion she suddenly disappeared, and he has never found out what happened to her since.
For decades he tried to find out what was the cause of her death, until one day he heard from Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, who had visited Bergen-Belsen, about a memorial for women who had survived the camp but had died after liberation. Tibi began questioning other survivors, and finally discovered a picture of his mother in one of the memorial books at Yad Vashem: "The picture showed five women, four young women and one older one. The older one was my mother".
Tibi immigrated to Israel in April 1948. He arrived at Afikim through the "Youth Aliyah" (Youth Immigration Movement) and shortly after, before his 18th birthday, he joined the Israeli Army.
Tibi took part in establishing the kibbutz, "it was the most beautiful time of my life," he says. Tibi fought in all Israel wars and in 2002 received the rank of lieutenant colonel. After the Second Lebanon War, at the age of 76, when the army wanted to release him, he asked to remain in service. The IDF has accepted his request and forwarded it to the Education Corps, and since then he has been giving numerous lectures at "Yad Vashem" on the Holocaust, to inform military units as well as youth mission trips to Poland.
"My most powerful memory of the Holocaust is the death march," Tibi recalls, adding that they walked tens of miles for over three weeks in the Sudeten Mountains. "Despite the grueling journey, when we reached the top of the mountain, a great image was revealed: a valley filled with typical German villages. I was so amazed by the beauty and thought only of what a story I would have to tell my people back at home. I saw it as my trip home. I have always maintained that optimism", he says.
He seeks to convey a message of hope to the younger generation, in a sentence his father taught him: "For our land, we sacrifice our lives". But he immediately points out his true belief " For our land, we dedicate our lives ".