Fifty Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) supporters from across the U.S. will visit Poland and Israel in May with Holocaust survivors, G.I. liberators, and soldiers from the IDF, according to a press release from FIDF.
The eight-day trip will be led by Peter Weintraub, national president of FIDF, and FIDF National Director and CEO Maj. Gen. (Res.) Meir Klifi-Amir. Titled “From Holocaust to Independence,” the trip will take participants on a voyage through Jewish history.
The trip will begin in Tarnow, Poland, where the pre-Holocaust Jewish community numbered in the thousands, and will continue to Krakow’s Jewish ghetto and the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps. Afterwards, the delegation will fly to Israel via and Israeli Air Force (IAF). There, they they will commemorate Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror, celebrating Israel’s 68th Independence Day as well.
“This one-of-a-kind delegation will span the modern history of the Jewish people by uniting Holocaust survivors, American liberators of concentration camps, and IDF officers,” Klifi-Amir said in a statement.
Klifi-Amir said that the trip will trace the near-extinction of European Jewry to the rebirth of Israel as a Jewish homeland, and “the new generation of a Jewish army that watches over our legacy today, making sure that ‘never again’ and ‘never forget’ are not just phrases, but rather promises.”
For Klifi-Amir, visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau with IDF soldiers is deeply symbolic, sending “a message to the world that we remember, and that the Holocaust cannot, and will not, ever happen again.”
Members of the delegation include Israeli Auschwitz survivor Martha Weiss, and Birkenau survivor Giselle Cycowicz. They will be joined by three American soldiers who liberated concentration camps during World War II. Colorado native and 42d Infantry Division member Sid Shafner, now 94, was one of the first U.S. soldiers to enter Dachau with his Division, and was awarded two bronze stars for heroism. Cranston Rogers, 91, of Massachusetts, liberated Dachau with the 45th Infantry Division on April 29, 1945, retiring as a colonel. William Bryant Phelps, 90, of Texas, liberated Mauthausen-Gusen with the 11th Armored Division.
Shafner will be reunited with Holocaust survivor Marcel Levy at an Israeli Air Force base. Levy traveled with Shafner’s unit after being liberated from Dachau, working as a cook. Shafner and Levy became close friends and have stayed connected since 1945. The last time the two saw each other was 21 years ago, at the bat mitzvah of Shaffner’s granddaughter in Jerusalem.
With the generation of liberators and survivors passing away, Weintraub described the trip as “one of the last opportunities for survivors and liberators to share their stories together.”
“It promises an incomparable emotional experience for everyone involved,” he said. “I can’t imagine a more bittersweet moment than walking through the gates of Poland’s most notorious death camp surrounded by those who suffered within its walls, those who helped set them free, and those who must make sure they are not forgotten.”