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BUILDING BRIDGES

German Volunteers Came to Help Holocaust Survivors in Haifa

Formed to promote strong links between the two states, Saxony Friends of Israel is a German organisation founded by Michael Sawitzki, helping to inform German people about Israel, connect people from both countries, organise educational trips to Israel, and help Holocaust survivors in the Holy Land.

Members of the organization arrive regularly in Israel to renovate houses of Holocaust survivors, on a voluntary basis. In addition, they arrive in times of crisis to provide help and donations, and to offer immediate and tangent solidarity with Israel.

 

Thus, on January 2017, shocked by the fires that raged at the end of 2016 and wishing to offer help to the city in general, eighteen volunteers from the organization stayed in Haifa for two weeks to help renovate houses of Holocaust survivors. The group included bricklayers, mechanics, carpenters, electricians, locksmiths, heating engineers, conservators, painters, engineers, and welders, all highly professional, experienced in working at complex construction sites, and possessed of the ability to improvise when needed.

"As believers in the God of Israel, we were scared by the news of the fires," says Martin Fritzsch, one of the volunteers, "and have asked ourselves and our friends in Israel in what possible way we may provide help and support. 

"We are so thankful for the excellent coordination and the hearty welcome by Dr Raphael Karpel and the staff of the Haifa municipality. It was a great opportunity for us, as Germans, to help in Israel and to manifest that we are friends of Israel and of the Jewish people. All of us were deeply touched to be there during those days and to offer help. 

"As volunteers, we have helped at the Beit HaGefen Jewish-Arab Cultural Centre and in two residential buildings with apartments for the elderly. The members of the group have given up a part of their annual vacation and have paid for the trip from their own pockets. We had a lot of painting work to do, some dry construction, a bit of electricity problems to fix - wiring etc. - and some other masonry works. The artisans in the group have guided all the others and have helped to maintain a very high quality of professional work. We just pray that the work we have done has improved the welfare of the people of Haifa.

"We will never be able to forget the face-to-face encounters with the people of Haifa, and especially the Holocaust survivors in the Shikmona houses. It moved us to find out that we have felt welcomed every time and by every person. Moreover, the candid conversations we had about the mutual history of our peoples, and the opportunity to convey our sense of responsibility and feelings of guilt about the past was extremely important to us. Among other things, the visit was a modest token of repentance.

"We have travelled back with a thankful heart, having acquired new friends, amazing experiences, and a lot of new ideas and impressions from your beautiful country and people. Perhaps those days in Haifa will help to create a new connection between Israel and Saxony, and to figure out in what way the German people can help to create a better future."