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Team Scott had the honor of hearing from Eugene “Yani” Halpert, a Holocaust Survivor, and listen to his story of hope and perseverance

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Leyinzca Bihlajama
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing

While only 5 years old in 1942, Halpert still vividly remembers the day he felt a shift in his small town of Slovakia when he saw a swastika sign with an antisemitic message. 

What followed was a period of unrest and confusion as Jewish families were being rounded and sent to Auschwitz, under what would later be known as false pretenses.

“They started deporting Jews to Auschwitz and we were not aware what it really as, that it was a test camp,” Halpert said. “The Germans made it seem like it was a resort town… a nice, pleasant atmosphere. In 1942 the first 200 people were deported from my town.”

Halpert’s family was one of the few that were exempt due to a need from Nazi soldiers for the services those families provided.

“About 10 or 15 families in my town got exemptions,” he recalled.” The people who were useful, for example my father was the head of a store and supplied the German with blankets, heavy coats, and socks.”

The exemption was short lived as the war developed and Halpert’s father learned their family was on a list to be deported to Auschwitz. Their family quickly packed up and went to a neighbor’s home who offered them shelter in the attic. After two weeks in the attic, Halpert’s family began their journey towards the Tratra Mountains with the help of his father’s business affiliates.

“My father was in business, so my father had a lot of connections in smaller towns with non-Jewish people… I can’t remember if it was one month or two months as we could only travel about 10 miles a day with horse and wagon,” Halpert shared. “Also, we couldn’t travel at night because at night we would be visible; we had to blend in with the local traffic.” 

Upon arriving at the mountains Halpert’s family settled into a tourist town, staying at a local hotel and blending in with the patrons. However, after a few weeks the Nazi presence and their determination to uncover Jewish families grew.  Once again Halpert’s family found themselves on the trail of survival, traveling further into the mountains until they came upon a cave that would serve as a bunker to about 40 people.

“One thing I remember was that nobody could stand up, it was maybe about four feet high, and it was deep,” said Halpert. “Everyone was sitting on makeshift beds on top of each other… Every morning it was like a tragic comedy as they began dividing the food, and every family watching ensuring one family didn’t get more than another one.”

In 1944 Halpert’s family and those in the bunker were found by allied Russian forces, leading them to a nearby town where American Forces were located.

“Once we saw the American soldiers we knew we were free,” Halpert recalled. “There was a sense of freedom.”

After the war, Halpert’s family returned to their hometown with the optimism to be reunited with friends and family. Unfortunately, they were met with the realization that many were not returning.

“There were about 2,800 Jewish people in my town, only about 290 people came back and survived,” said Halpert.

Halpert’s story is echoed across the Jewish community as a reminder of six million Jewish people who did not return home after the Holocaust. The Days of Remembrance serve to honor the survivors, pay tribute the rescuers, celebrate the liberators, remember those lost, and serves as a reminder why it is imperative to confront antisemitism and other forms of hate-based conduct and inspire to build a better future for all.