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Rebirth & Renewal Release date 02.05.2019
Miriam Lapid, a Holocaust survivor, sat in the stands of Hatzerim AFB's parade ground as her son graduated from the IAF Flight Course as a helicopter pilot; several years later, he was killed in a helicopter crash. 30 years later, she watched her grandson, Capt. R', graduate from the Flight Course on the same parade ground
Yael Fuchs

Capt. R' – a "Yanshuf" (Black Hawk) pilot at the 123rd ("Desert Birds") Squadron – graduated from the Flight Course several years ago. Present in the crowd was his grandmother, Miriam Lapid, a Holocaust survivor. However, this was not her first time there. Approximately 30 years ago, she sat in the exact same place as her son, Capt. R's father, Ran Z"L graduated as well. He then went on to become a helicopter pilot, and in 2009 tragically lost his life in a helicopter crash.

Photography: Mike Yudin

"Just before my dad died, he, my grandmother and his brothers took a trip to Europe to learn about their heritage. It was the first time my grandmother told the story of what happened to her; at that moment, our family had changed", recalled Capt. R'. "Afterwards, our dad decided to take us to visit the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where my grandmother was during the war. That was where I began to form an emotional bond with the story".

The Story Unfolds
Miriam Lapid was born in the Netherlands in 1932; World War II broke out when she was six. She was expelled from her school and moved to an improvised Jewish school. Approximately 107,000 Jews were deported from the Netherlands to the camps. Miriam was then transferred along with her family to Bergen-Belsen.

Miriam, before the war | Photo courtesy of the family

"I remember the train ride. We stayed in the train for two whole days – the concept of time was ungraspable during the war", said Miriam. "We arrived at a small train station in Bergen-Belsen and walked a few hours on foot from there. We reached the Dutch camp inside Bergen-Belsen – the families were together, but didn't sleep in the same shacks. The adults performed manual labor, mainly shoe factories for the Nazi military industry". More and more prisoners arrived at the camp every day, and continued working where the dead had left off.

"I always knew my grandmother had been in the Holocaust, but I didn't know the details behind it. She never told us a thing. It was only when we were born that she began telling the children what happened, and I slowly began learning it all as well", said Capt. R'.  "At one point during my military service, I asked my grandmother to tell her story in front of my friends. That was the first time I heard her tell the story in front of many people. I think my military service provided an entryway into this topic. I don't know if it's just my service, or the point in time when I began connecting with my grandmother's story, but it's probably a combination of the two".

Photography: Mike Yudin

Towards a Better Future
Near the end of the war, the German put Miriam and her family on a train. At the time, Miriam's mom contracted typhus. Whenever the train stopped, the people onboard would disembark and look for food in the area. "It was my brother's job. He would come back with a loaf of bread or whatever else he would find, because the Germans gave us nothing", she continued. As their journey continued, United States airplanes would fly over them and bomb all around Europe. "Every time we crossed a train station or a bridge, we would hear the airplanes and tell ourselves that the previous stations and bridges had probably been blown up by now". The US Military's airstrikes lasted all throughout World War II.

The train drove across Germany, until they reached a small village where they were released by the Russian military. Even there, life wasn't easy. "On one hand, we were liberated; on the other hand, we didn't know where to go and what to do next", continued Miriam. After a long time spent in the village in Germany, Miriam passed through several other places before reaching a conclusion with her family. "Zionism was so important to us that it quickly became a solution. That is why we decided to move to Israel. It was a positive decision, knowing that what happened wouldn't happen again".

Miriam and her family before the war | Photo courtesy of the family

Miriam made a home for her family in Israel alongside her husband, Aki. They had six children and one of them, Ran Z"L, served as a helicopter pilot in the IAF. During his service, Ran Z"L was asked to pilot the Chancellor of Germany during the latter's visit to Israel. Ran decided that he would do it only if his mother allowed. "Nothing means more to me than the fact that my son, a pilot in the IAF, flew the Chancellor of Germany. It's a personal victory for me", she said.

From Generation to Generation
"The choice of being a combatant is undoubtedly related to Grandma's story. It doesn't matter how you do it, but I think that in this country, if you can – you should", declared Capt. R'. "My grandmother taught me that you have to treat everyone with dignity, and that one mustn't be indifferent to whatever happens around them. This is one of the things that went through my mind when I was scrambled to Mount Hermon in order to save a wounded Syrian child, at the time of the horrible civil war that occurred right across the border. Our closeness makes this our duty, even though we don't truly 'have' to do it".

Photography: Mike Yudin

This feeling of closure isn't a one-time event. It passes from generation to generation. "What I took from my grandmother is her spirit, her values, her respect. These are things she had even before the war", concluded Capt. R'. "As a human, an aircrew member and an IDF officer, I believe that this is the universal lesson to be learned from that horrible event. She's a survivor – they survived a very difficult war, and it wasn’t by mere luck".