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Holocaust survivor escapes Hamas but fears for missing family

Being unsafe in her own home was a feeling that 87-year-old Holocaust survivor Ruth Haran had not experienced since the end of World War Two.

That changed on Oct. 7 when Hamas gunmen burst into her home in the kibbutz of Beeri in southern Israel. They forced her into the house’s safe room. She emerged hours later unscathed. Her family did not.

Ten of Haran’s children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are now missing, and she believes Palestinian militants are holding them in the Gaza Strip.

“Please, do everything in order to set them free,” she begged in an interview on Israel’s Channel 12 on Friday.

The wife of one of Haran’s great-grandchildren told Reuters on Monday the family were amazed that Haran had survived a raid where so many died at the hands of Palestinian gunmen.

“When we got the phone call on Sunday (Oct. 8) that she’s in Netivot, we were shocked and we were just amazed by her strength and by her ability,” the wife, Annalee Milstein, told Reuters in an interview from her home in Tel Aviv.

“She was completely alone by herself in the house and in the panic room the whole day,” Milstein said.

The attack, which took place in several kibbutzes and towns in southern Israel near Gaza, was the deadliest attack in Israel’s history. Militants of Hamas, which controls Gaza, killed more than 1,300 people.

Israel has responded with its fiercest-ever bombardment of Gaza, killing at least 2,750 Palestinians, wounding thousands more and displacing 1 million as it masses troops for a ground invasion.

Mobile phones tracked to Gaza

Haran, a Romanian-born Jew who survived the Nazi persecution and moved to Israel as a child in the country’s infancy, told Channel 12 that she had been relaxing in her home on the morning of Oct. 7 and realised something was wrong when she called to her son Avshalom, then to other family members, with no answer.

Shortly afterwards, she said, Hamas militants stormed into the house and ordered her into a panic room, with which many homes in southern Israel had been equipped for possible Hamas missile attacks.

She stayed there until she felt safe enough to come out, and saw the destruction left by the attack – bodies, and burned and blown-up homes.

Members of three generations of her family, including some visiting relatives, were all missing, and the family believe they are among scores of hostages taken by Hamas back to Gaza. Israel has confirmed at least 199 hostages were taken.

The family has been able to track the location of some of their mobile phones to Gaza, Milstein said. A call to one was answered by a man speaking Arabic-accented Hebrew. He told them the family had been abducted.

Hamas has threatened to kill hostages whenever Israel strikes civilian targets in besieged Gaza.

(Published 17 October 2023, 02:15 IST)

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