Events commemorating the Holocaust began in Israel still on Sunday evening. And on Monday morning, at 10 a.m., life in Israel stopped for a moment under the sound of sirens, with people going out of their cars in stopped traffic thus paying their respects to the memory of six million innocent victims of the Holocaust.
Despite the fact that the day was a working day, tens of thousands of Jews visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum and cemeteries in Jerusalem. There is no family in the country that suffered no losses during the Second World War. Holocaust, or Shoah, survivors were scattered all over the world and Armenia was not an exception in this sense. As a people who themselves had seen a massacre and extermination, Armenians could not but give a warm reception to the Jews.
The number of Jews in Armenia was not great. According to Sochnut, a non-governmental organization facilitating the immigration of Jews to Israel, about 2,000 Jews have immigrated from Armenia into Israel since the 1980s.
In the Yad Vashem Museum there are names of hundreds of people who helped save Jews from concentration camps and annihilation. The list includes ten Armenians -- people who, risking their own lives, saved numerous Jews.
Former Armenia-based Jews, together with others, observe this day and among them there are elderly citizens who saw the extermination of their nation and share their memories of miraculous escapes and coming to Armenia.
Sofya Barim (Chernamorian), 81, lives along with her husband Petros Chernamorian and family in the southern Israeli town of Qiryat Gat. She told of how together with a sister she fled occupation and went to Kazakhstan, worked in cotton fields and returned to her birthplace, the town of Krasilov in Ukraine. Then she learned about the execution of her sister’s family by the fascists and about the destruction of her home.
An Armenian soldier approached her and, thinking that she was an Armenian, began to speak to her in Armenian. After learning that she was a Jew he decided to take her to Armenia, to Leninakan (now Gyumri), and in 1946 they went to Armenia together. The woman says Armenians gave her a good reception in their country, where she learned the language and immersed into family life cares.
Zhanna Amniel, a native of Kharkov in Ukraine, is a former resident of Yerevan in Armenia. Amniel (Tarumian) together with her husband Bebel Tarumian miraculously survived the genocide, was evacuated to the Russian Far East, and after returning to Kharkov learned about 90,000 killed Jews who had been buried in a pit dug near the tractor plant. With memories of anti-Semites and a ruined town, Amniel left the place and moved to Armenia in 1961 after meeting an Armenian engineer, Bebel Tarumian. She arrived in Armenia, a country with which, she says, her brightest and happiest years of life are connected.
“When I said I was a Jew, I noticed respect toward me in the eyes of Armenians, it was a sort of merit to be a Jew,” Amniel told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “Even during the days of the Israeli-Egyptian war Armenians were expressing their sympathy to me.” Speaking about the recognition of the Armenian Genocide by Israel, the former Yerevan resident added that “they want to recognize it, only politics is a hindrance in the matter.”