My name is Daniel, 26 years old from Tel Aviv. I am a first-year medical student at Tel Aviv University. In addition, as a participant of the IMPACT! scholarship program for released soldiers, I volunteer in the “Ten Kavod” program of United Hatzalah, which includes visiting, assisting, checking vitals, and alleviating loneliness for elderly residents of the community. Through this program, I was assigned to volunteer with Mrs. Jenny Rosenstein.
Jenny, 87, lives in central Tel Aviv. Jenny is a lovely woman, with a very large heart. When I first arrived at her home, the first thing that caught my eye was the artwork. Jenny’s house is full of paintings – abstract paintings, realistic paintings, portraits, and more. Most of the paintings are on canvas but some are also on paper, painted with oil paints or watercolors. All the paintings in Jenny’s house – or at least the majority that she told me about, are her own handiwork. I had no idea, before my first deep conversation with her, what heartbreaking story was behind this wonderful burst of art.
Jenny is a Holocaust survivor. She was born in 1935 in a town called Chernivtsi, then part of the Soviet Union, which today is part of Romania. Jenny’s innocent childhood was very short. When she was only 4, World War II broke out, and when she was only 6, the Nazis came to her town. The experiences she had in the following 4 years until the Allied armies arrived to liberate the ghetto in which she lived in 1945, changed life forever.
Before I met Jenny I knew she was a Holocaust survivor. This information was given to me before I met with her, but I wanted to build trust between us first, so she would feel comfortable sharing her story and feelings with me from then until today. I built this, as a medical student, in a conversation about her medical condition – I learned that Jenny’s medical condition is extremely complex. She responded, she claimed, very harshly to the COVID-19 vaccines, which resulted in a significant weight loss. Since she was quarantined in her home, she was disconnected from the outside environment, the groups to which she used to tell her story – and especially her two children whom she saw less and less, and this broke her spirit.
After our first meeting, Jenny sent me on WhatsApp (her technological capabilities, including smartphone use, social networks, computer, and tablet are wondrous to me) links to articles, interviews, and excerpts in which she spread her story in the Holocaust – the attempt to hide her with Christians until she was discovered as a Jew, the Nazi soldier who abused and scarred her, physically and mentally, and the tragic end of the war – in which she brutally lost her grandmother and younger sister in front of her young eyes, a few days before the liberation of the ghetto. These stories broke me, left me in tears, trembling, and realizing the magnitude of the responsibility that rested on me in my volunteering with a special woman like Jenny.
It was only at our third meeting that she began to open up about her story – until then she had explained how much she had suffered, how hard it was for her, but did not go into the depths of the tragic life story. Her opening up took place through the art I described at the beginning of the text – her first drawing looks simple at surface level, but behind it is a terrible truth. This is a drawing drawn on newsprint, with charcoal figures scattered on it. This is a drawing that Jenny drew in the Mogilev-Podolski ghetto in Ukraine, showing the abuse of Jewish children by Nazi soldiers. The painting was painted with scraps of waste and feces from the Nazi soldiers’ restroom, and it remains with her to this day, a copy of it is displayed at Yad Vashem.
When I asked her about this story she shared with me her experiences – the happy childhood stories, her grandmother who was a famous pharmacist-doctor in her community, and the big tragedy that came following the arrival of the Nazis. Her father disappeared in the middle of the war and found her and her mother only after years. She claimed he was a tough man, an angry drunk, and her mother was scarred after seeing her mother and little daughter executed before her eyes. Jenny herself lives to this day in severe post-trauma, but also described to me inconceivable human forces – her arrival in Israel, how she met her husband, also from Romania, her establishment of a hair styling business with her own two hands, which for years existed in Dizengoff Center where Jenny was both a well-known librarian as well as a business owner. With great joy, she tells about her children – her son, Shmulik, who works as a travel agent, and her daughter, Galit, who works in productions of Israeli films on the major television networks. The power that Jenny radiates in her ability to continue her life, to have a family, to translate her pain and feelings into art, is nothing less than inspiring.
Jenny is, in addition, a well-known figure in the struggle of Holocaust survivors to improve their rights and gain the proper respect that the State of Israel needs to give them. A few months ago, Jenny was interviewed on the news because she was suffering and had to wait many months for a specialist doctor’s appointment – and as a result, the Minister for Social Equality came to visit her and made sure her appointment was prioritized. Jenny still feels, and rightly so, completely neglected on behalf of the state. I often try to help her, through phone calls to the Ministry of Health and the HMO, online inquiries and consultation with doctors from the Faculty of Medicine in various topics that Jenny deals with and feels unheard. Jenny is still waiting for substantive answers regarding severe medical problems she experienced in the past months and how to act regarding the fourth vaccination, weight gain, and more. The helplessness and loss of trust that Jenny experiences from the various government and medical systems is reflected in the posts she posts on her Facebook page and letters she sends to the Ministry of Health – which I hope will be answered and allow her and other people in her situation to be answered in a more appropriate way.
Jenny is the type of person with whom in a brief conversation, provides a deep perspective on life – she was in the deep abysses of human pain, suffering, and tragedy, and at the same time the highest peaks of transcendence, belief in goodness, hope and fighting for noble causes. Jenny is the epitome of human inspiration, whose voice, the book she wrote, her paintings, and her testimonies should be heard in a big way. If it will be allowed in the days of COVID-19, Jenny will come to share her story on Holocaust Day with my classmates – the future doctors of the State of Israel, with a belief that her story and her strengths will strengthen our morals and compassion needed from us for our future responsibilities as doctors in Israel.
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