Holocaust Survivors Mark 65 Years Since Nazi Prisoner Swap

Nazis released 282 Jews in exchange for German Templars, who were held by British authorities in Mandate Palestine.

Grace Wermenbol
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Grace Wermenbol

Holocaust survivors marked on Friday the 65th anniversary of the arrival in Israel of 282 Jews released by the Nazis in exchange for German Templars, who were held by British authorities in Mandate Palestine.

The Jews numbered 222 from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany - 10 from the German town of Laufen, and 50 from the French town of Vitel.

The German authorities allowed some Jews to leave Europe on what was known as a "Palestine certificate," in exchange for the Templars - many who were Nazi sympathizers.

These exchanges were also beneficial to the Germans, who wanted their citizens "Heim ins Reich", or Home in the Empire.

Bergen-Belsen had initially been constructed as a site for exchange between Germans and Jews. Being sent here significantly improved [their] survival chance," said Chaya Brasz, a former director of the center for Research of Dutch Jewry at the Hebrew University and author of the book Transport 222.

Brasz writes in her book that Jews eligible for such an exchange had to possess "Palestinian citizenship" or be the wives or children of Palestinians. A list of individuals meeting these requirements became known as "the Istanbul list."

In February 1943, the Jewish Agency started registering people who did not necessarily meet the preconditions set by the British for exchange on "veteran lists."

Alice Offenbacher, one of the survivors from Bergen-Belsen, was on one of those on the latter lists. She was saved along with her family after her sister, who was already in Palestine, applied for the necessary exit papers from the Jewish Agency for her family back home.

Meanwhile, Offenbacher and her relatives in Holland turned to the Red Cross with the same request, receiving notification of their registration for exchange in July 1943.

Of the 282 Jews planning to move to Israel, only the Jews from Vitel were eligible for exchange, states the Irgoen Olei Holland in a report on their wartime activities.

According to Brasz's book, as early as 1942, most of the people on the Istanbul list "were in Poland and of Polish background and had been killed or had disappeared. Hence the Germans looked for replacements."

This meant survival for Offenbacher and the other 221 Jews from Bergen-Belsen.

Offenbacher said that upon the group's arrival at Haifa, she did not celebrate.

"We had left so much behind, there was no reason for that," she told Haaretz in an interview Friday. Offenbacher added that she considers their escape from the Nazi genocide as nothing less than a miracle.

"It was extraordinary," she said.

On Friday, she said the anniversary remains a special day for her.

"Every year on the 10th of July, the remaining survivors, are in touch with each other, either by e-mail or phone," Offenbacher said.

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