ICF’s Story Of A Survivor: Yaakov Silberstien

by Yoni Schwartzman

Israel365 and Malbev

The Israel365 Charity Fund has been working closely with Malbev, another nonprofit in Israel, to improve the lives of the Holy Land’s aging Holocaust Survivors. ‘Melabev At Home’ provides therapeutic services and psychosocial support to older adults living at home. Licensed social workers make weekly home visits arranging professional therapies, volunteer visits, and individualized intervention or guidance in all aspects of the aging process. For the individual and their family (when relevant), the social worker serves as a case manager providing information and guidance through this tumultuous phase in their lives. The social worker cuts down on unnecessary bureaucracy and confusion while the therapists provide life-changing care, and the volunteers aid in combating loneliness. The purpose of this program is to return a sense of self and meaning to people who are experiencing dementia or Alzheimer’s and offer support to their families.


Alzheimer’s destroys the mind and, in the process, ravages the very ‘self,’ impairing memory, speech, mobility, and social skills. Melabev works to preserve the’ self’ for people with Alzheimer’s. The motivated, dedicated, and caring professional staff conducts a wide range of therapeutic and dignified activities for people with Alzheimer’s symptoms at the level of their functioning.

Activities include dance, art, music, gardening, animal therapy, bibliotherapy (text-based therapies), cooking/baking, and mental stimulation with challenging cognitive and memory exercises.
Keeping the person engaged in meaningful activities and at their skill level will help them age in place – the process of growing old in one’s own home. The unfamiliarity of a nursing home or assisted living facility cannot compare to the many benefits of a stable and familiar at-home aging process.

“In December 2020, throughout Israel (Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, and the central and northern regions), Melabev provided 93 therapies for 27 Holocaust survivors coping with dementia,” reports Malbev director Yossi Barnett. “All of the participants in this program are survivors of ghettos and camps. We also offer support for primary caregivers with hands-on professional advice from therapists.”

Yaakov’s Story

Yaakov Silberstien is one of many Holocaust Surivors that ICF and Malbev is helping with their services. Silberstein shared his story with ICF, from the time he attended the Gur Hassidic Heder in Poland, enduring six years in concentration camps, until his emigration to Israel and his contribution to the State of Israel:

“It all began on September 13, 1939 the eve of Rosh Hashana. At the time, I was a student at the Chachmei Lubin Yeshiva. I was returning home from shopping for the holiday. Suddenly, dozens of German soldiers appeared in the street and they took everyone passing by, both Polish and Jewish. They loaded us onto a truck and took us to the city of Czenstochov, on the outskirts of the city, where we were incarcerated in a camp. I stayed there for a couple of days and from there was sent to Ravitz prison. At the end of October, we were loaded onto wagons and sent to Buchenwald where I worked in a quarry and stayed for three years.”

“In October 1942, I was taken on a transport to Auschwitz. As they were about to send us to the gas chambers, suddenly a high-ranking officer screamed at the SS soldiers, “Are you crazy? These are skilled workers who we need. Bring them immediately to the sheds!” On a summer day in 1943 I was called to the “Politische Abteilung” – the political department. When I came in, a number of SS men jumped on me and started beating me brutally while screaming, “you filthy Jewish pig!” It turned out they suspected me of being a member of the camp’s underground organization. After pleading again and again that I didn’t have any connection to the underground, they laughed and said that they believe after 50 lashes I will regain my memory. The following day, I was summoned to another interrogation. Again, the same questions, the screaming, and again, the answers that I don’t know anything, and again, the 50 lashes.”

“In mid-January 1945, when it became clear that the days of Auschwitz were numbered, they still did not want to give up on cheap labor. We marched to Geiwitz in the freezing snow to the camps in Germany. There we were taken onto cattle trains and 12 days later I found myself once again in Buchenwald – as if I had returned home. From Buchenwald I was sent to the sub-camp of Altenburg from where I was liberated by the American Army five and a half years after I was rounded up next to my home in Tomaszow-Masovietzk, Poland.”

“After the war, I decided to emigrate to Israel, a journey via immigrant camps in Italy. On board a refugee boat to Israel, we were caught by the British and exiled in Cypress. There I met and married my wife Sisa Rachel, OBM. From Cypress, we traveled to the Atlit detention camp in Israel from where we were liberated. In 1947, Sisa and I came to Rishon LeZion, a city that was at its very beginnings and without any infrastructure. During the first years in Rishon LeZion, I worked in road construction, in the winery, and citrus fruit harvesting. Sisa and I worked as waiters in a restaurant until I was lucky to be accepted to a permanent position at the Jewish Agency.”

“Aside from my work, I fulfilled the spiritual will of Rabbi Frankfurter from Buchenwald, which is why I became actively involved in organizations and institutions that work to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and the rights of Holocaust survivors. For this work, I received the Rishon LeZior “Yakir Ha’ir” award (the “City’s Noble”) award as well as the “Or” (the “Light”) decoration by the Knesset of the State of Israel for my activities throughout the years on behalf of my fellow Holocaust survivors.”

“In the name of the Holocaust survivors who were incarcerated in ghettos and camps,” Yaakov Silberstien concluded, “I would like to thank Israel365 for your continuous support of this significant program.”


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