Naphtali Lau-Lavie, Holocaust survivor, Haaretz correspondent between 1956 and 1970, diplomat and public figure, brother of former Chief Rabbi Yisrael Lau, died on Saturday, aged 88.
Lau was born in Krakow, Poland in 1926. As a child, his family moved around often due to the career of his father, who was a scion of an important family of rabbis and was appointed the rabbi of different cities in Europe. He spent his first years in Romania, then Slovakia and Poland.
After the Second World War broke out his family was sent to the Piotrkow Ghetto in Poland. In 1941, at 15, he was kidnapped from his home and sent to forced labor in construction in Auschwitz, side-by-side with Polish criminal and political prisoners. "I didn't know what it was, I had no idea," he later testified to Yad Vashem.
During his stay there, he said, he heard of executions, including by gas, and saw prisoners hanged. After 40 days, he was smuggled back to his family. When he reunited with his mother, she told him that "one day" she would tell him how exactly his rescue came about, and that in the meantime, he must forget he has been to Auschwitz.
Later, his father, Moshe Chaim, was murdered in Treblinka. His mother, Chaya, was murdered in Ravensbruck. His younger brother, Shmuel, was also murdered in the Holocaust. Naphtali and his brother Yisrael – later chief rabbi of Israel – who was 11 years his junior, were sent to the Hortensia and Czestochowa camps. In early 1945, they were transferred to the Buchenwald camp, and survived the Holocaust.
In October 1945, they immigrated together to British-mandate Palestine by boat, and were detained by the British in the Atlit camp.
Lau lived most of his years in Israel in Ramat Gan. Between 1956 and 1970 he worked for Haaretz, covering the Eichmann trial in 1961, among others. Later he held several public positions, including adviser to Moshe Dayan, defense ministry spokesperson in 1977, and general consul in New York in 1981.
As a consul, he tried to form a Jewish front around Israel. "This is the only way we can surface a unified position facing the administration in the hard road ahead. A Jewish front can strengthen Israel and assure it the support of the media, the House and the Senate – and thus, the administration," he said at the time.
His next position was as director in Israel of the United Jewish Appeal. In recent years he worked as deputy chairman of the WJRO, the World Jewish Restitution Organization.
He is survived by his wife Joan and four children, including Dr. Rabbi Benny Lau, and grandchildren.