Holocaust survivor Erbenová: I’ve lost my sense of safety in Israel

Eva Erbenová

Among those receiving an award at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday for promoting the good name of Czechia will be Holocaust survivor and writer Eva Erbenová. Aged 92, she arrived in the country last week on a government plane carrying Czechs from Israel, her home since 1949.

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský during the Gratias agit award ceremony in 2022 | Photo: Martin Vaniš,  Radio Prague International

On Thursday Eva Erbenová will receive the Czech Foreign Ministry’s Gratias agit award for promoting the good name of Czechia around the world.

Born into a Jewish family in Bohemia in 1929, Erbenová survived Auschwitz as a teenager. After the war she lived for a time in France before settling in Israel, the country she has called home for seven and a half decades.

The author, who turns 93 next week, recently made headlines as the oldest Czech national brought to her native country on a government repatriation plane, days after Hamas attacked Israel.

Eva Erbenová | Photo: Alexis Rosenzweig,  Radio Prague International

On Monday Eva Erbenová spoke at an event commemorating the first Nazi transport of Jews from Prague in 1941 – and described her feeling when boarding a plane bound for Czechia.

“Terrible, terrible. I didn’t take it like I ‘must’ leave. But I was invited to make use of the planes twice, because of the award, and being at home alone in your apartment when they are constantly firing at you – 600 rockets a day – and sirens going off all the time, is no way to live. Here I can say something, for Israel.”

Erbenová is the author of several books recounting her experiences in the Holocaust and gives talks to young people. She says she had a sense of safety in Israel for many decades – but not anymore.

“The rockets are unpleasant. I don’t have a shelter of any kind. I felt very secure in Israel. Our army, our intelligence service – I was never afraid. But now they’ve taken that away from me. I am afraid. Not for myself – at my age I can afford to die – but for my children.”

The nonagenarian says she has been frustrated by what she sees as an inadequate response to Hamas’s brutal assault on Israel, and would like to hear more from faith groups in particular.

Eva Erbenová with her father in Prague  (1937-38) | Photo: archive of Eva Erbenová/Memory of the Nation

“I’d like to call on the Pope, for instance. I’d like to speak to all spiritual leaders and ask, How do you see this? You were silent during the Shoah, you were silent when they shoved us into the gas chambers. Now these people are silent once again. The people doing the killing are religious, but chopping off children’s heads and rape are not in the Koran. They’re murderers. So why don’t they speak up? It’s a betrayal of humanity.”

Finally, Eva Erbenová also spoke about her connection to the country of her birth.

“My roots are deep in the Czech soil and blossomed in Israel. From time to time I take my roots to the Czech Republic to water them.”