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“I was named after my uncle who was murdered”

A quest for information on his family´s fate led Reuven Barak, an Israeli, to the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen at the end of December. He wanted to know if the ITS possessed documents on his family´s persecution and to see the archive´s holdings firsthand. “My parents were able to escape in time, but my grandparents, uncle, aunts and cousins all perished,” said Barak.

Barak´s father was able to escape on the Danube to the Romanian Black Sea coast in 1939. “He and about a thousand other refugees boarded an overhauled freighter to Palestine,” said the Israeli. He was held in a British internment camp until he was freed in 1940 and could go to a kibbutz. “Sadly my father never spoke about his past. I had to research his story myself.”

Barak´s mother also managed to escape the National Socialists in 1939.  She emigrated to Palestine legally on board the Galilee via Triest. She met her husband at the kibbutz, and Reuven was born in 1947. His mother was distraught over the fate of their remaining relatives, which she researched and discussed with Reuven. “My grandfather had a three-year-old son who was murdered by the Nazis. I was named after him.”

Reuven´s grandfather Markus (Max) Freilich lived in Vienna with his family before the Austrian Anschluss. He initially escaped to Kezmarok in Slovakia, but when the Germans occupied the country, he and his wife Sofie and other family members were deported to Auschwitz and murdered.  Barak found it difficult to look at Max´s death certificate in the ITS archive, even though he has been thinking about his family´s history and the Holocaust for many years. “It is the only document we have from Auschwitz,” he said. According to the death certificate, Max died on 12 October 1942.   

Today, Barak in his own way contributes a great deal to the understanding between Germans and Israelis. As the Israeli representative for SOS Children´s Villages, he is often in Germany. The 64-year-old also gives numerous talks on Israel and organizes tours of the country. Remembrance of the Nazi past plays an important part for him. “We all have mementos: letters, photographs and personal possessions which we have given to Yad Vashem. That is the best place for them.”