“My name is Vera Kerner. I am 94 years old and I recently made Aliyah with the help of Nefesh B’Nefesh. I was born in Berlin in 1927 and fled to Belgium with my family to escape the Nazis. Unfortunately, we had to flee again when the Nazis invaded Belgium, and I was caught on a train with my father while trying to get to the Swiss border. By some miracle, my mother went unnoticed and made it to France. It was on that train that I was separated from my parents at the age of 13 – watching as my father was torn away, never to be seen again. His last words being, ‘take care of your mother’, and I did.

Despite the many challenges I faced, I persevered. I was supposed to be sent to a detention center and then to ‘the East,’ but thankfully, a stranger showed me kindness and helped me make it back to my grandparents in Belgium. With their help, I was smuggled into France and eventually found my way to where my mother was hiding. Together, we tried to make our way to the Swiss border, but we were chased by armed gunmen with attack dogs.

Despite the danger, we never gave up. Once we reached the border, I used my language skills, charm, and wit to gain admission into Switzerland along with my mother, aunt, and uncle. We were able to stay there for the remainder of the war, and it was a great relief to be in a safer place.

Today, I am living in Israel, surrounded by my family. One of the main reasons why I made Aliyah was to be closer to my two daughters, seven grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren. Although living in Israel has its challenges, such as not speaking Hebrew fluently. While I am a very independent person, I feel handicapped at times because I must rely on my daughters for their help. Thankfully, I have still adjusted well.

I can’t attend a regular Ulpan, so I asked Nefesh B’Nefesh if they could recommend a Hebrew tutor. They answered immediately and paired me with Sarah, a volunteer Hebrew tutor. Together we learn basic vocabulary and work on conversational skills.

Adjusting to life in Israel was not easy, but I have found a community of English speakers in my assisted living complex who have welcomed me with open arms. Most importantly, I am no longer oceans apart from my family.

If I were to give advice to future Olim who are in a situation like mine – don’t wait as long as I did. Come when you can. Also, I encourage future or New Olim to reach out and ask for help. Nefesh B’Nefesh is there for us even after we make Aliyah, and that is are source I am grateful for.

My story is a testament to the strength and resilience of the human spirit. Despite the many challenges I faced in my life, I never gave up. And now, at the age of 94, I have made Aliyah and am surrounded by the love and support of my family in Israel.”

Tonight and tomorrow, as we observe Yom HaShoa, we honor and remember the millions of Jewish lives cut short, those who perished, those who fought back, and the survivors who are still with us passing down the testimony of the horrors that occurred.

May their memories be a blessing and an inspiration”

Vera Kerner, Jerusalem, Yom HaShoah 2023