"On the one hand, it feels good to have all these people. On the other hand it reminds you of such tough times," said Ernest Weiner, who turned 92.
More than 100 guests turned up to wish happy birthday to a 92-year-old Israeli Holocaust survivor, who didn’t have anyone else to celebrate with.
Ernest Weiner, of Ramat Hasharon, lives only with a caretaker. His wife passed years ago, and he never had children.
Weiner is also blind, and confined to a wheelchair.
“It’s not pleasant to be alone,” he told The Associated Press.
But, thanks to non-profit The Association for Immediate Help for Holocaust Survivors, dozens of volunteers, ranging from children to soldiers, sang, danced, shared food, and greeted him Wednesday for his birthday.
Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli also came by to take pictures with Weiner after hearing he was a big fan.
“He doesn’t have any family left in the world, and we are just here to celebrate his birthday,” volunteer Noga Rotman told The AP. The 32-year-old became a volunteer with The Association after her grandfather, also a Holocaust survivor, became ill.
“At this point in their lives they just want to connect with someone,” Rotman said.
Although Ernest has a live-in caretaker, and another who visits him every day, he is kept company mostly by other volunteers of the group, who visit him several times a week.
The organization was started out of a desire to help survivors live out the last years of their lives comfortably, according to the group’s CEO Tamara More.
"These are people whose lives were robbed from them because of the world's silence," More said. "And we all have an obligation to give them something back in the little time they have left."
The program, run and funded by 8,000 volunteers around the country, helps survivors with day-to-day tasks like buying groceries and driving them to doctors’ appointments. They also provide legal assistance and help pay bills for survivors who need it. The organization hosts social events several times a year.
But, it’s the company and someone to confide in that makes all the difference to survivors like Weiner.
Weiner and his sister fled to Holland when the Nazis invaded his native Austria. His parents stayed behind and died of illness, The AP reported. The rest of his family died soon after.
He and his sister were then placed in the Westerbork transit camp when the Nazis invaded Holland. Because he was a trained electrician, he stayed behind to work at the camp and was able to escape deportation to Auschwitz about 15 times, he estimated. His sister, however, was killed in Auschwitz.
However, Weiner said he suffered many electric shocks as a result of his work, which caused long term damage to his heart and left him blind in his right eye. He later lost sight in his other eye due to diabetes.
"On the one hand, it feels good to have all these people. On the other hand it reminds you of such tough times," Weiner said. “It was not happy times, but it is nice to have someone listen.”