Memories in a Living Room – How Yitzhak survived the Holocaust without losing faith

Comfort, oh comfort My people, Says your God.




(the israel bible)

April 20, 2023

4 min read

On Tuesday, Israel celebrated Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. For one day each year, the entire country focuses its attention on the six million Jews who were brutally murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators in the Holocaust. Today, there are just under 150,000 Holocaust survivors still among us and as their numbers dwindle with their advanced age, there is a growing feeling that we must hear their stories before it is too late.

Each year, on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, there is an official national ceremony at Yad VaShem, broadcast live on all Israeli channels. At the same time, there are local ceremonies in every community, town and city. A memorial candle is lit, prayers are said, and filmed interviews with survivors are broadcast. We are able to see these amazing people who survived the horror and hear their stories, told to us in their own words.   

A few years ago, an Israeli couple initiated an amazing project – inviting a Holocaust survivor into their home and inviting friends to listen to the survivor’s testimony. This small personal initiative grew into a national project and all over Israel this week, people opened their homes to Holocaust survivors to tell their stories in the comfort and intimacy of a family setting.  Unfortunately, there are few Holocaust survivors alive today and even fewer with the physical and mental capacity to tell their story. So some of the home meetings this week hosted children of Holocaust survivors who told their parents’ stories.

I was privileged to be able to open my home to my neighbors and host a Holocaust survivor who lives down the road from me.  His name is Yitzchak Eisner and he is 97 years old. He lives with his son and daughter-in-law surrounded by generations of descendants. He is a strong man, walks upright and proud. He has a terrific sense of humor. He sits next to my husband in synagogue and he is always so friendly when we meet up in the street. But last night for the first time I heard his story.

He was born and raised in a small village in Czechoslovakia in a border area that sometimes put their village in Hungary. Theirs was a tight-knit Jewish community with their own synagogues and Jewish schools. Yitzchak’s father was in forestry and employed many of the Jews and non-Jews in the village. Relations between Jews and non-Jews were good before the war. Or as Yitzchak put it: “I thought we had good relations – in the end it didn’t seem that way.”

Yitzchak’s father was taken first and later on, he was taken with his mother and two siblings – a younger brother and baby sister. When they arrived in Auschwitz, his mother was holding his baby sister in her arms and was immediately sent to the gas chambers.  At the time, Yitzchak did not know where she was going and what would happen to her.  He could not have imagined a reality that included mass gassing and cremation of Jews just because they were Jews. The next day, a more senior inmate pointed out the never-ending smoke coming from the chimneys and woke him up to what became a terribly harsh reality – his mother and siblings were now smoke. 

He was shocked.  He felt paralyzed. And later that night he decided to have a conversation with God. And this is how he related that conversation to us last night:  “The Almighty, I am Yitzchak. And I don’t understand what you are doing. The Nazis are murdering our children. And if all the Jewish children are murdered, who will worship you? You are going to go bankrupt. How are you allowing the children to be murdered?”  And then he made a deal with God:  “If you allow me to survive this horror, I pledge that I will devote myself to educating the Children of Israel, about You, about the Bible.  I will teach them what it is to be a Jew.”

Yitzchak survived as did his father. He went to Israel and later moved to Canada where he taught Jewish children for 51 years. He taught them Bible and he taught them what it meant to be a Jew. Later on, he began to accompany Jewish youth to Poland to bear witness to the stories of the Jewish people on the soil of Poland and Eastern Europe. He accompanied a younger generation of Jews who had grown up in relative prosperity and stood with them on the largest Jewish gravesite of Jews in the world, in Auschwitz. 

On one such occasion, he looked at the young people surrounding him, having just told him his story and the experiences he had had in that very place. And he then turned to God and said: “The Almighty, this is Yitzchak. Do you remember me?  I will make peace with you now.”

Yitzchak never lost his faith. As a young man, he suffered terrible trauma and loss, and when he was liberated, he was emaciated and barely alive. When the first American soldiers arrived in Dachau, Yitzchak’s final destination during the war, it was the holiday of Shavuot. Suddenly, Yitzchak heard the Hallel prayer being recited somewhere in the camp. The traditional psalms of praise and thanksgiving that accompany every Jewish holiday (Psalms 113-118) were being sung by American Jewish soldiers. It was a miracle. He was alive and there were still Jews in the world. He was going to survive and rebuild his life.

Yitzchak married another Holocaust survivor and had three children. Today, he has grandchildren and great-grandchildren. This is his victory over Hitler.

He finished his story and we were overwhelmed. He handed us his story so that we would continue to tell it.  This is a story that must be told, forever. Am Yisrael Chai. The Jewish People Live!

Sondra Oster Baras is the founder and director of CFOIC Heartland, an organization that connects Christians all over the world to the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, Israel’s Biblical Heartland.  To learn more about her work and to support the people of Judea and Samaria, visit

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