NEW YORK, Next month, 50 Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) supporters from across the U.S. will embark on an unprecedented mission to Poland and Israel with Holocaust survivors, G.I. liberators, and Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers.
Led by FIDF National President Peter Weintraub and FIDF National Director and CEO Maj. Gen. (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir, the eight-day “From Holocaust to Independence” mission will span Jewish history, from the darkest moments to the most inspiring. The American and Israeli soldiers and survivors will accompany the FIDF supporters on a trip across Poland, beginning at Tarnow, once home to thousands of Jews, and tracing their steps, from Krakow’s Jewish ghetto to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camps. The delegation will then fly on an Israeli Air Force (IAF) transport jet from Poland to Israel, where they will commemorate Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror, and celebrate Israel’s 68th Independence Day.
“This one-of-a-kind delegation will span the modern history of the Jewish people by uniting Holocaust survivors, American liberators of concentration camps, and IDF officers,” said Gen. Klifi-Amir. “It will tell the story of our near-extinction in Europe, the creation of a Jewish homeland, and the new generation of a Jewish army that watches over our legacy today, making sure that ‘never again’ and ‘never forget’ are not just phrases, but rather promises. Marching with our brave IDF soldiers into the Auschwitz-Birkenau dreadful camps sends a message to the world that we remember, and that the Holocaust cannot, and will not, ever happen again.”
Joining the delegation will be Holocaust survivors from Israel Martha Weiss, who was interned at Auschwitz shortly after her tenth birthday, and Giselle Cycowicz, who survived five months in Birkenau. Alongside them will be three former American soldiers who liberated concentration camps during WWII – Sid Shafner, 94, of Colorado, who was one of the first U.S. soldiers to enter Dachau with the 42nd Infantry Division and was awarded two bronze stars for heroism; Cranston Rogers, 91, of Massachusetts, who liberated Dachau with the 45th Infantry Division on April 29, 1945 and retired as a colonel; and William Bryant Phelps, 90, of Texas, who liberated Mauthausen-Gusen with the 11th Armored Division.
Shafner and Dachau survivor Marcel Levy, who now lives in Israel, will be reunited at an Israeli Air Force base. After Levy escaped Dachau, he travelled with Shafner’s unit, working as a cook. Shafner and Levy became good friends and have stayed in touch since 1945, and last saw each other 21 years ago at Shafner’s granddaughter’s bat mitzvah in Jerusalem.
Also joining the delegation will be former Ambassador of Israel to the U.S. and current Member of the Knesset Michael Oren.
“This mission is one of the last opportunities for survivors and liberators to share their stories together,” said Weintraub. “It promises an incomparable emotional experience for everyone involved – I can’t imagine a more bittersweet moment than walking through the gates of Poland’s most notorious death camp surrounded by those who suffered within its walls, those who helped set them free, and those who must make sure they are not forgotten.”