Visiting Haus Schönegg in Switzerland
Share their experience of visiting Haus Schönegg in Switzerland
Dear Friends of Zion,
On December 13-21, 2011 FZS hosted another group of Holocaust survivors at Haus Schönegg in Switzerland. The following is a report from one of the survivors who lead the group, and his report was also published in a leading Russian newspaper in Israel. We thought it would be interesting for you to read as the survivors describe their experience of being with us for the week of blessings at Haus Schonegg…
Our group of Survivors representing the association of “The Israeli survivors of concentration camps and ghettos from WWII” traveled to Switzerland at the invitation of Bradley Antolovich, Director of the Humanitarian Aid organization “For Zion’s Sake Ministries.” All members of our group were between 71 to 80 years of age. The group included married couple, Dr. Michael and Antonina Steinman, Dr. Lilian Glezer and myself, Alexander Vishnevetsky.
Dr. Lilian Glaser – During the war, she was with her mother, brother and grandfather with his family in the ghetto village of Zhabokrich in the Vinnitsa region. After the war, she graduated from the Medical Institute in Lviv and lived there until in 1973 when, with her family, she immigrated to Israel. She worked as a gynecologist in Israel and continues to work today, in spite of her age. She is a member of the leadership of the Jerusalem branch of the association of “The Israeli survivors of concentration camps and ghettos.”
Michael Steinman – was born in the town of Kopaygorod in the Vinnitsa region. He was also located there in the ghetto during the war. He was Professor of Accounting and Financial Control and immigrated to Israel in 1997. He is Vice-Chairman of the association of “The Israeli survivors of concentration camps and ghettos,” and leader of immigrant scientists in Jerusalem.
Antonina Steinman – was born in the village of Mikhalin, Cherikov district, in the Mogilev region. During the war, she was in German-occupied territory. Since the Germans burned their village, she lived with her mother and two sisters in the woods in a dugout. She is a Doctor of Economics. Before repatriation she worked in the firm, “Interkadry-Aliya,” created by the Embassy of Israel in Moscow for training immigrants.
Alexander Vishnevetsky – My fate is similar to the fate of my colleagues in the group as I was in the ghetto in the town Chechelnik in the Vinnitsa region. After the war, I graduated from the Tashkent Institute of Communications, with a Ph.D. Dissertation. I taught at the Institute of Communications, and I served as an adviser at the Israeli embassy. I have been in Israel since 2004. I have published articles in the Russian language press and do the work in the bureau of the Public Association “The Israeli survivors of concentration camps and ghettos.”
On the trip from Jerusalem and in Switzerland, we were accompanied by Bradley Antolovich and Joanna, a volunteer of the organization “For Zion’s Sake.”
Lilian and Bradley’s children
Isaac, Daniel and Yonit
Bradley with his youngest son Isaac
Bradley and Marianna
Our Plans for the week
The main purpose of the trip for those who invited us was to organize a restful vacation for us, the survivors. And we really wanted to get to know the country and its people. We also thought it important in meeting with the Swiss to recall what happened during the Holocaust while we, the last witnesses of this terrible tragedy, are still alive. We believed that telling our stories should help prevent a repetition of the Holocaust for our people. We would like to hope that mutual understanding is possible, especially with evangelical Christians which represent a significant proportion of the population in the world.
Meeting and sharing our testimonies
Switzerland greeted us with snow-capped mountain peaks and pine forests which were powdered with snow on the slopes. Amidst this natural splendor, not far from the Kiental village, we were served excellent food and were given the ability to travel and have meetings in Switzerland. But more importantly, in addition to being able to communicate well and having time to travel, we had the love and care of the of the Antolovich family- Bradley, his wife Marianna, and their five children. It is hard to imagine how welcoming and warm their attitude was towards us.
Visiting friends of Israel
Sharing their stories at Schonegg
Sharing at a prayer house in Bern
Visiting with two nurses in a mountain village in the Alps
The survivors during their meetings in Switzerland
We visited the capital, Bern, and one of the largest cities in Switzerland- Basel. We went to Emmental, Thun, Interlaken, the Lake of Thun, and into some villages of the Alpine mountain area. I just want to point out that Switzerland, which we saw in the course of these trips – with sturdy country roads, a high level of development and welfare, well-kept towns and villages, beautiful architecture, many attractions, and perfect cleanliness and order is an effect, of course, of Switzerland’s non-participation in wars for centuries.
In Basel, we went to the Jewish Museum of Switzerland and the Museum of Art. We went in the synagogue, and we visited the house-museum of Albert Einstein, where he lived from 1903-1905. In the region of Emmental, we visited a factory that produces cheese.
But the most interesting and important events were meetings with the Swiss residents. The were meetings were attended by dozens of people. During these meetings, we talked about ourselves, about our time in the ghetto or concentration camp, about how we managed to survive in these terrible conditions, and how our life was afterwards. Given the interest of people, we also talked about our lives in Israel. I believe it is important that our presentations made by the participants raised questions and there were responses of sympathy and empathy. It turned out that most of the students had never met any survivors of the Nazi-occupied territories.
Wherever we were received, there were tables laden with food and our hospitable hosts listened to all of our stories with warmth, empathy and attention. Overall we felt the support of Christians – the Evangelicals. After the end of our presentations and after answering various questions, which often lasted three hours or more, people did not leave but approached each of us with new questions, and words of gratitude and support for our country and the Jewish people. They also requested that we come again for such meetings. We perceived this as the highest compliment.
Many said that they are haunted by thoughts of Israel because they have friends and acquaintances in our country. People were singing popular Israeli songs and dancing to Israeli music with us. Words to such popular songs as “Hava Nagila,” “Shevet Achim Gam Yachad,” “Halleluya,” and others these evangelical Christians know by heart. Everywhere we were invited we saw inscriptions in Hebrew and Israeli flags, menorahs, candlesticks and other Jewish objects.
The story of our meetings could continue with many interesting details, especially as I record them on tape, but it’s not possible for one article to contain them all. Of necessity in such meetings, especially in attempts to explain about our country, and in all the meetings that we held with groups of Christians, my friends and I gave our strong convictions about the Jewish people as opposed to other nations.
Meeting the Antolovich Family…
With the Antolovich Family we communicated mostly in Russian. Also we gave our presentations in Russian being translated into Swiss German. One member of our delegation, Lilian Glaser, sometimes used English or German. I also used Yiddish. True, I had to add to my Yiddish some German words and Slavic phrases instead of Hebrew words. People understood my language, treating it as a literary German, even though Yiddish is only close to German. Life itself in Switzerland contributes to the knowledge of several languages. In the canton of Bern, the recognized language of communication in newspapers, books, and notices in shops, etc. is the literary German. To it is added original and largely non-German dialects, with which the inhabitants of the German-speaking cantons communicate. Given the availability of French-speaking and Italian-speaking cantons, as well as some passable English, you can imagine the linguistic diversity of communication in this country which is located in the heart of Europe. The Antolovich children speak many languages including Russian, English and German, and since they have lived in Israel for 12 years, they can also speak Hebrew.
I especially want to say that we were struck not only by the relationships of the children with their parents, but by their Jewish names. We were all impressed by the literacy and education of their children. I would especially like to say about Bradley’s wife, Marianna, that she is a very energetic and competent woman, as well as a beautiful wife, who keeps the whole house, plays the piano and cooks wonderfully!
Haus Schonegg to be Swiss headquarters for Ghetto and Concentration Camp Survivors
This idea was proposed by Bradley Antolovich while still in Jerusalem on the eve of our trip. At the House of prisoners it is supposed to be a small remembrance of the Holocaust. We have found that former prisoners, the outgoing generation Holocaust survivors, who stay in this house can effectively communicate with and meet not only the Swiss, but also those from neighboring countries. The house in the Swiss Alps was acquired by the organization “For Zion’s Sake,” and Bradley reported that it can be used as a home for Holocaust Survivors. The house has 25 rooms with all the conveniences and a kitchen with a large dining room. We gave our enthusiastic support to creating a home in Switzerland, and it was the subject of discussion, both in the evenings at Bradley’s home, and at our meetings with the citizens of Switzerland where we asked them to support this idea. At the same time, we are constantly conscious of the fact that we are not asking for material support for survivors or even myself. Rather, we are appealing to Christians for moral support for our country and our people under the looming threat from Islamic fanatics, all kinds of anti-Semitism, and anti-Zionists. The Islamic factor now threatens us and Europe. We are reminded of the lessons of World War II when the Christian world was silent, knowing about the destruction of the Jews and yet not openly opposed to it. This facilitated not only the Holocaust, but also resulted in the deaths of many representatives of Christianity at the hands of Nazi butchers.
What have we learned about Jewish life in Switzerland
Our meetings with the Jews in Switzerland have been rare. We met a few religious Jews in the plane flying to Basel. Among themselves they spoke Yiddish, and I spoke with one of them, a resident Basler. We also met two young Jewish boys and girls who sell things in a small kiosk on the streets of Bern. According to Joel, the Jewish girl who gave us a tour of the museum and the synagogue of Basel, Basel is home to 2,600 Jews, and there are 200 Jews in Bern. The Jewish Community of Basel is the second largest community after Geneva. Today, the Jewish population in Switzerland is about 18,000 people out of a total population of about 7.2 million. Most Jews are living in German cantons.
We visited the Jewish Museum in Basel, which introduces the history of Swiss Jewry. This is the only Jewish museum in Switzerland. In its courtyard there are a number of Jewish tombstones of the 13th century. In that century there was the first documented news about Jews in the territory of modern Switzerland. The chronicles kept mentioning that in 1213 the Bishop of Basel took the power away from a certain Jewish usurer to give loans.
Jewish Museum in Basel
The Jews “fell” into Switzerland from neighboring countries, particularly from Germany, to escape persecution. Here they were mostly in the credit business, providing loans to the feudal lords, churches, and citizens. In the museum, we saw a variety of evidence of the material culture of the Jews who had lived in Switzerland for many centuries, including religious objects and old books. There were pictures and books related to the first Zionist Congress in Basel, as well as information about the contemporary Jewish community. In the museum we were also shown a video about the Jews in Switzerland.
Outside the Great Synagogue
Torah scrolls in the ark
Visitng the Great Synagogue in Basel
After visiting the museum, Joel took us to a nearby functioning synagogue. It was built between 1866 and 1869, and in 1892 another dome was added. It was a huge room with great interior design and stained glass windows. They made an exception for us and showed us the contents of Aron-Kodesh, where the Torah scrolls are kept.
The Museum of Einstein in Bern
The world-famous scientist Einstein lived very modestly in Bern with his wife, Mileva. They had a small apartment on the second floor of a four-story house and very modest furnishings. This room and another room upstairs are now converted into a museum. Everything connected with the life of the scientist is presented on numerous panels on the walls. In Bern, Einstein worked in the Patent Office from 1903 to 1905. In his spare time, he developed his special theory of relativity. In a room on the third floor of the house are exhibits of works of Einstein and there is a film about his life.
Einstein Museum in Bern
Basel became the venue for seven out of eleven Zionist Congresses which were held before the First World War. The highlight among the main attractions of this city is the building where in August 1897 the first Zionist Congress was held – the concert hall, Stadt-Casino Barfusserplatz. Participants of the congress, and there were more than 200, lived at the hotel, “Three Kings on the Rhine,” on the bank of the Rhine River near the old bridge. There is a well-known photograph of Theodor Herzl standing on the balcony of the hotel overlooking the Rhine and the bridge. We were drinking cappuccinos at this luxury hotel and admiring the view of the Rhine and the bridge at the same place where Herzl had stood.
Materials of 1st Zionist Congress
A book from Hertzel at the Jewish Museum.
From the balcony on the 3rd floor of the hotel “Three Kings on the Rhine” Herzl looked at the river and the city
Today where we stand Herzel would have seen us and we him
We were surprised to see a statue of Moses in the cathedral square of the capital. The statue is from the 16th century, but in 1791 it was replaced by the present one. In his left hand, Moses holds an open book with the Ten Commandments, and his right hand points to the commandment “You shall not make for yourself an idol.” On his head there are two beams of light that resemble horns. So Moses is traditionally portrayed in the Middle Ages, as descending from Mount Sinai with the commandments after communicating with God.
The vast Museum of Fine Arts in Basel has one of the major public art collections in Europe. It contains a lot of works which date as far back as the 15th century. Of course, our group showed great interest in the works of Marc Chagall, the best of which is displayed in a separate room in the museum. Widely represented in the museum are works of the Impressionists – Cezanne, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Monet and Renoir.
In conclusion, I wish on behalf of our group to express my deep gratitude to the organization “For Zion’s Sake,” its director, Bradley Antolovich, the whole Antolovich family, and to all our new friends in Switzerland for the hospitality and welcome they have given us.
Bradley Antolovich, family and staff