Lisa Wegner, a Holocaust victim aged 79 living in Vinnitsa, could not have imagined that one day she would be visited by the son of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, bringing her a gift for her birthday. She is one of the 50,000 elderly Jews throughout the Former Soviet Union, who receive financial assistance from the Hessed organization of the American Joint Distribution Committee, provided by the Conference for Jewish Material Claims against Germany (Claims Conference).
Yuval Rabin, who celebrated his own 56th birthday in Vinnitsa on 18 June, readily agreed to visit the elderly and ailing lady who suffers from Parkinson’s Disease. Lisa tells me in Yiddish that she was born in the village of Shpikov. “My Yiddish is better than my Russian,” she says in a strong stetl accent. The Vinnitsa region was home to some 142,000 Jews on the eve of “Operation Barbarossa. When the German troops arrived, she, her sister and parents were terrified for their safety. In July that year they were confined to the Shpikov ghetto. From there they were transferred to a village called Ragozna and then to the Pakora concentration camp where they lived in conditions of starvation. On liberation of the camp in March 1944, Lisa was the only one of her family to survive.
She continued to live in Shpikov and married a wounded war veteran. She had two daughters and worked as a hairdresser. One of the daughters, who suffers from a chronic illness, lives in Israel in Upper Nazareth and the other remained in Vinnitsa. Because of her frail health, Lisa is unable to leave her home to visit her daughter and grandchildren. However, the Hessed organization provides her with food, medicines, laundry and cleaning help, repairs, heating, all of which helps supplement her minimal pension. Amir Ben Zvi, Director of the Joint in central and western Ukraine, says that without their help, Lisa would not have survived.
Yuval Rabin was accompanied by a Claims Conference official and Chaim Chesler, Limmud FSU founder. Wegner was deeply touched by Rabin’s visit who wished her, in his usual shy way, and her daughter good health.
Photo courtesy Nathan Roi
Translation by Asher Weill