Holocaust survivor lived through Auschwitz and Entebbe hijacking

Holocaust survivor who was hijacked to Entebbe: “I heard the hijackers shout in German – it immediately brought me back to Auschwitz.”

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Dr. Yitzhak Hirsch survived the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Holocaust and built a life in Israel afterwards, but recalled Thursday how his dark fears of Nazi oppression were brought back in an instant during the infamous 1976 airplane hijacking to Entebbe in Uganda.

Hirsch recounted in a Kan Radio interview how during World War II the Jews were locked into a ghetto in his native Hungary. Six weeks later he was taken with his family to the Birkenau extermination camp, where his mother and sister were immediately taken to the gas chambers.

“We did not have time to say goodbye to them,” he said.

Hirsch said that just before the deportation, the family decided to trim his sister Lily’s braids because they were afraid her head would be shaved for lice.

“She put the braids in a bag – she also put some valuables there and brought it to the neighbor,” Hirsch said. “When the war was over, we went back to the neighbors to pick up the bag – they said the Russians had taken the valuables, but Lily’s braids remained – it was the only thing left of the whole family.”

Having survived the camps, Hirsch immigrated to Israel and started a family. But nothing prepared him for the fact that many years later he would find himself a prisoner again with his fate in the hands of armed Germans.

Hirsch was one of the passengers on the fateful Air France flight that was hijacked by Palestinian and German terrorists.

“The kidnapper shouted in German typical of the language I used to hear at the camp. It took me back 30 years. Horrible screams,” Hirsch recounted.

After landing in the Ugandan capital, the terrorists separated the Jewish passengers from the rest. One of the other Jewish hostages was a navigator in the Israel Air Force.

“He said that in no way can they come here to rescue us,” Hirsch recalled.

But then at night after the hostages were sleeping, he said, “Suddenly one shot was heard, and then many more shots. People ran everywhere… suddenly one guy came in and said, ‘We came to liberate you’ and we understood that these are soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces.”

Three hostages and one IDF soldier, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s older brother Yoni, were killed during the rescue along with the terrorists.

One of the soldiers commanded by Yoni Netanyahu was Rami Stern, then a young commando in the elite IDF unit that carried out the daring rescue, who met with Hirsch for the radio interview.

Stern said at the time he wasn’t thinking about anything but the technical details of the complicated mission.

“I did not know what Africa or Entebbe looked like. I did not even think that I was going to liberate Jews,” Stern said, noting that he was a second-generation Israeli and his parents had lost their entire families in the Holocaust.

“I did not think in such terms at all,” Stern said, adding that he only realized the historical significance of what he’d been part of when he took a trip to Auschwitz in 1995.

“Suddenly … I told this story for the first time in my life, the journey to freedom versus the journey to life. I understood the similarities and the commonalities,” Stern said.

“Today I understand that I went to Entebbe to remind myself of the importance of the State of Israel. I realized that there is something beyond the borders of the State of Israel, beyond the military operation. We took part in an operation to rescue Jews,” Stern said.