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As a gap year student I spent a year on Kibbutz Lavi in the Galilee. The kibbutz was literally built by the hands of kinder, brought first to the UK on the Kindertransport and several years later to Israel, after spending time on a farm in Essex that prepared them for farming life on a Kibbutz. Lavi had a wonderful tradition of Kinder ‘adopting’ students and acting as surrogate ‘parents’. This was such a powerful act on their part. The irony was never lost on me. It gave us a first-hand opportunity to learn from their experience

It is now our responsibility to tell their individual stories, so that they don’t become consigned to the history books. I was adopted by a feisty, extremely kind-hearted woman, Edith Gold. She married one of the other kinder on the Kibbutz and had 2 sons. Edith adopted more young people than most over the years and always remained in contact throughout their lives. Because she had no daughters she always referred to me as Beti Ahuva Sheli’ (my beloved daughter).

Although it is impossible to compare her own history, a German child of the 1930s, with that of young adults coming for a year from a safe environment, and in constant contact with their parents, Edith was always sensitive to what it meant to be away from a familiar place without one’s parents constantly hovering and protecting in the background. As head of hospitality at the Kibbutz guest house, she also devoted much of her life to inviting and hosting Christian groups, particularly from Germany and with the passing of time she also travelled back to Germany, difficult and complex as that was for her, to attend reconciliation projects. In her latter years Edith rediscovered some of her early family history. She was invited as a guest of honour by the Mayor to her home town, Ansbach to commemorate the lost Jewish community, but in the end she was too sick to attend.

There is no doubt that the past haunted Edith. The picture of her parents, murdered by the Nazis, was prominent in her living room. But she understood that while one must never forget, one must not use the past as an excuse for not building a new life. For her, this was the only true response to the tragedy of her own childhood. When she passed away, after a friendship of over three decades, I struggled with her loss, and posted pictures and stories about her on social media. What resulted was quite remarkable. Dozens of people from all over the UK came forward that had also been adopted by her. We became part of her legacy and her family.

Perhaps an indication of her immense trauma and loss was, that although she was like a mother to all of us, we learnt after her death, that not only had she left her parents at age 7 soon after Kristallacht, but that she had also left a brother behind. As close as we all thought we were to her, this was something she had never spoken about with us. Edith and all the kinder in Kibbutz Lavi are in my thoughts and heart today.

 

Elizabeth Harris-Sawczenko

CCJ Director