More than 900 Holocaust survivors living in Israel have died of COVID-19 – and one of them, sadly, is Mark Jacoby, 95, who died today in Tel Aviv just after the conclusion of International Holocaust Memorial Day. Mark, whose Hebrew name was Mordechai, was married for 65 years to Arlene, whose Hebrew name is Esther, and they had five children.
“I was heartbroken to hear that Mr. Jacoby passed away today,” said Rabbi Tuly Weisz of Israel365. “He was one of the Survivors I got to know and had the honor to present a copy of The Israel Bible when I heard how much he loved studying Torah in his advanced age.”
Jacoby was born in Legenye, Czechoslovakia, in 1925. When he was only 18, he and his family were rounded up by the Nazis and transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Among the dead were his parents, sisters and brothers, who had died in the Auschwitz gas chambers the previous spring. The camp’s liberation came too late for my Mark, as 10 days earlier, he had been sent on a forced march to the west, ending up at the Ebensee concentration camp in Austria. Not until May 1945 did the US Army’s 80th Infantry Division reach Ebensee. By then, when he was 19, he was almost dead; US soldiers arrived just in time to save his life; but some, given sweets, died being their stomachs were not able to digest rich food.
Mark was the only member of his family to survive, possessing nothing of his own except the blue-green tattoo on his left arm: A-10502.
Mark’s son Jeff Jacoby, a syndicated newspaper columnist who has worked at The Boston Globe since 1994 wrote about his father earlier this week to commemorate International Holocaust Memorial Day.
For much of his life, Jeff recalled, Mark didn’t think of himself as a ‘Holocaust survivor.’ The term itself only came into use in the late 1970s, and in any case he, like most survivors, spent the decades after the war engaged in the business of living – finding work, joining communities, getting married and raising a family.” Not until he was nearly in his 50s would Mark have identified himself as a “Holocaust survivor,” let alone one with a unique moral and historical resonance.
In 1948, after Czechoslovakia was absorbed into the Communist bloc, Mark was fortunate to immigrate to the US and made his home in Cleveland, Ohio. He eventually went into the furniture business and was deeply involved in Jewish life in the city, especially as a board member and gabbai (warden) of the Young Israel synagogue and a member of the Jewish burial society. In addition, he regularly read the Torah and was an unflagging participant in Torah study groups.
Almost three decades ago, Mark and Arlene settled in Israel, building a new home in Beit Shemesh, where they were among those who established the Netzach Menashe synagogue on Reuven Street.
As an orphan still in his teens, Mark told Jeff that when he – the first child – was born, he prayed to God asking that he live long enough for his baby and any children who followed to have the chance to know him. God granted his prayer, giving him the gift of 95 years, during which his children got to know their father very well, and he was close to his sons and daughters-in-law, grandchildren and even some of his great-grandchildren.
Jeff wrote in his newspaper that since teenage, he has been a “libertarian-leaning conservative, an outlook molded by my knowledge that the horrors of the Holocaust were engineered by government – by a totalitarian regime empowered to act with impunity and supported by a vast, intrusive bureaucracy.”
Above and beyond politics, however, “my lifelong awareness of the Holocaust has made it impossible for me not to know that human goodness is fragile,” Jeff wrote. “It doesn’t come naturally but must be honed and practiced, etched into our nature one good deed at a time. Civility and civilization are only veneers, stretched like a bandage over an ugly wound. More easily than we like to think, that bandage can be pulled off, exposing the putrescence beneath. It was pulled off in Europe in the middle of the 20th century, and the consequences were diabolical — for the world, for the Jews, for my father and his family. Those consequences are never far from my mind. They shape my thinking to this day.”
Jeff reminisced that his father – who served as such a positive role model and was steeped in positive Jewish values – was one of the richest blessings of his life. “My father’s formal education ended when he was just 13,” Jeff recalled, “but no man ever taught me more, and no man’s death will ever leave me more bereaved.”
Like so many elderly Holocaust survivors, Mark suffered from memory loss in his later years. The Israel365 Charity Fund provided therapy services in Mark’s home along with Melabev. To learn more about the work of the Israel365 Charity Fund, click here.