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Ukrainian Holocaust survivors find safe haven in Germany


BERLIN: Borys Shyfrin fled the Nazis as a child, along with other members of his Jewish family.
More than eight decades have passed, Ukrainian The Holocaust survivor was once again forced to leave his home — but this time he found safe haven in New York. Germany.
Shyfrin was among a number of Ukrainian Jews who lived through Nazi terror and have now fled to the country where Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich launched an attempt to wipe out the Jews.
He never wanted to leave Mariupol, where he had lived for decades. But Russia’s brutal attack on the Ukrainian port city made it impossible to stay.
“No gas, no electricity, no water,” the 81-year-old told AFP from a nursing home in Frankfurt, recalling the relentless bombardment by Moscow forces.
“We’re waiting for the authorities to come in… We’ve been waiting a day, two days a week.”
Shyfrin, a widow who had lost contact with her only son, recalled that the bodies of those killed by bombs and guns were scattered on the streets.
“There were a lot of them…no one picked them up. Everyone got used to it – no one noticed.”
People forage by finding food possible, with water provided by fire trucks that regularly visit his neighborhood.
Shyfrin’s apartment was damaged during the fighting in Mariupol – so fiercely guarded that it became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance – and he spent much of his time sheltering in the building’s cellar mine.
– ‘Becoming homeless’ – The elderly man eventually left Mariupol with the help of a rabbi who helped local Jews get out of the city.
He was evacuated to Crimea, and from there, made a long overland journey through Russia and Belarus, eventually reaching Warsaw, Poland.
After a few weeks in Poland, they found a place in a nursing home in Frankfurt. In July, he was transported to Germany by ambulance, with the help of the Conference of Claims, a Jewish organization that assisted in the evacuation of Ukrainians. Holocaust survivors.
Shyfrin, who walks with the aid of a cane, is still processing the whirlwind of unexpected events that brought him to Germany.
The outbreak of war was a “huge surprise,” he said.
“I used to love (Russian President Vladimir) Putin a lot,” said Shyfrin, a native Russian speaker who did his military service in the Soviet Union and went on to work as a radio engineer in the army.
“Now I don’t know if Putin was right to go to war with Ukraine – but somehow, because of this war, I became homeless.”
Shyfrin was born in 1941, in Gomel, Belarus.
When he was just three months old, his family fled to Tajikistan to escape Nazi forces occupying the area.
Many Jews in Belarus died during the Holocaust, during which the Nazis killed a total of six million European Jews.
In neighboring Ukraine, the once large Jewish community has also been almost completely wiped out.
After the war, his family returned to Belarus and Shyfrin completed his studies, performed his military service, and settled in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, in the mid-1970s.
– ‘Trauma’ – The pensioner seems philosophical about the twist of fate that forced him to leave his home.
“Well, that doesn’t depend on me,” he said when asked about having to flee war for the second time in his life.
His most immediate concerns are more practical – such as how to get his money back home.
“I couldn’t even get my honestly earned military pension,” he said.
He recently moved to a new care home run by the Jewish community, which is more Russian-speaking.
Along with assisting Shyfrin in the final leg of his journey, the Conference of Claims provided financial support to him.
The organization has evacuated more than 90 Ukrainian Holocaust survivors to Germany since the outbreak of conflict, a break from the organization’s usual job of ensuring that survivors receive compensation. and ongoing support.
The agency has long helped run Holocaust victims care programs in Ukraine.
As the conflict increases, it becomes clear that such care programs cannot be sustained anymore, especially in the east, said Ruediger Mahlo, the conference’s representative in Germany.
“Since many survivors need a lot of care and cannot survive without this help, it is clear that we must do everything we can to evacuate (them),” he told AFP.
Getting them out involves huge logistical challenges, from finding an ambulance in Ukraine to finding the right care home.
For many frail Holocaust survivors, Mahlo said, it can be a struggle to come to terms with the fact that they have found refuge in Germany.
They are fleeing to a country that “in the past has persecuted them and tried to kill them,” he said.
“Certainly, they get hurt,” he said.

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