Holocaust Survivor Who Safeguarded Lessons and Legacy

Hana Greenfield, a regal and charismatic member of Israel’s English-speaking community for more than 60 years, died January 27 in Tel Aviv after a long illness.

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Hana Greenfield, a regal and charismatic member of Israel’s English-speaking community for more than 60 years, died January 27 in Tel Aviv after a long illness. She was 87.

“My mother was a survivor in her spirit and in every fiber of her being,” said Ilan Greenfield. “She always made a point to speak about the Holocaust. This was her mission in life.”

Greenfield's traumatic experience as a young Czech girl during the Holocaust spurred her creation of educational programs for fellow survivors and for a new generation of students in her native country.

The cause was complications after a three-year battle with Parkinson’s disease, her daughter, Meira Partem, said.

Hana Lustigova was born on November 3, 1926 to a prominent Jewish family from the town of Kolin in the Central Bohemian Region, some 60 kilometers east of Prague. During the summer of 1942, three years after Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, the 15-year-old was among 750 Jews sent to the Terezin (Theresienstadt) ghetto. After being sent to Auschwitz in 1943, she was among 500 “able-bodied” women selected for slave labor in Hamburg, Germany. She was among those in the death march − the Nazis’ forced movement of prisoners − to Bergen-Belsen, the German concentration camp.

Following her liberation in 1945, Greenfield was brought to London by her uncle, a chemist from Cambridge who had discovered her name on a list of Bergen-Belsen survivors. His insistence that she keep her Holocaust experiences to herself left her angry and frustrated.

“In spite of my appearance, I was raped as a child,” Greenfield wrote in her searing autobiography, “Fragments of Memory: From Kolin to Jerusalem,” (Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem and New York), first published in the 1980s. “I was robbed of my mother and father, of my home and of the love and warmth to which every child is entitled. I ached with pain and I wanted to talk about it. I wanted to cry and I wanted to scream, and I wanted to be comforted and hugged and understood. Instead I was told to be silent and to forget. Forget?”

Years later, in 1991, Mrs. Greenfield would establish a seminar at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial “for teaching, coaching and directing survivors ... how to present their experiences in public for educational purposes,” she wrote in her autobiography, which has been translated into four languages and sold more than 100,000 copies.

In 1954, two years after she immigrated to Israel, Greenfield met her future husband, Murray Greenfield, a New York City businessman and Palestine Economic Corporation executive who was active in “Aliyah Bet,” a clandestine movement that brought Jews from Europe to Palestine by sea from 1934 to 1948. Together, they established art galleries in their name in Israel and New York and a duty-free business, among other entrepreneurial endeavors. “We had crazy ideas which we found wonderful,” recalled Mr. Greenfield, 87, who together with his wife of 59 years established Gefen Publishing House in 1981.

During a visit to the Czech Republic following the “Velvet Revolution” and the fall of communism in 1989, Mrs. Greenfield saw an opportunity to inject the legacy of the Holocaust into the public “consciousness.”

“I realized when I talked to young people that they didn’t know the word, ‘Jew’ − if you ate it or if you wore it − because the word had disappeared,” Mrs. Greenfield said in a 2001 Haaretz article that profiled an award-winning high-school educational program for Czech youth she created for the Terezin Ghetto Museum. That program is now in its 20th year.

In 1988, at a conference in Oxford, England, Greenfield presented a paper about the fate of 1,196 children from the Bialystok Ghetto in Poland who were gassed at Auschwitz on Yom Kippur in 1943. In the exalted company of scholars who asked about her academic background, Greenfield is said to have told her hosts, “I am a graduate of Auschwitz,” according to her daughter, Meira.

Friends and extended family members present at the shiva in Tel Aviv’s northern neighborhood of Ramat Aviv − where the Greenfields settled in 1967 − recalled a woman who was exquisite, impeccably dressed, a talented milliner, a painter and puppeteer, who was dedicated to her family and to fellow survivors.

“She taught me that you also have to be beautiful inside,” said Karen Zarfaty, who said she was virtually adopted by Mrs. Greenfield, who was her aunt. “She was like a mother to me.”

Hanna Feld, a native of Prague who first met Mrs. Greenfield in London after the war, marveled at her “tenacity.”

“How she had the courage to be positive after what she suffered,” said Feld, an 81-year-old Tel-Aviv resident.

Mrs. Greenfield was buried on a hilltop in Kfar Adumim, a mixed religious-secular communal settlement in the West Bank that overlooks the Judean desert. “She wanted to be buried in a place with a view,” said her son Ilan, a resident of that community who also recalled his mother’s Jewish pride and love for the land of Israel. “She settled in northern Tel Aviv as a pioneer, and for her, Kfar Adumim and Tel Aviv were one and the same.”

Hana Greenfield is survived by her husband, two children, 10 grandchildren and a sister, Irene Revel of Prague. A son, Dror, died of cancer in 2003.

Hana Greenfield at the Czech Embassy in Tel Aviv, April 2007.Credit: Herbert Bishko
Hana Greenfield.Credit: Herbert Bishko

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