PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Some family members, by the hundreds, never made it to the death camps. They were slaughtered on the spot.
With pain and pride, Rabbi Israel Zoberman, of Virginia Beach, still clutches black-and-white images of his relatives who were killed during the Holocaust.
“The husband and father who are not in the picture were massacred in 1941, Aug. 28 to 29, when the entire area [in Surny, Ukriane] where 14,000 Jews were rounded up and machine-gunned,” he said.
His aunt, Basmalka, whose husband was a bank manager, penned letters that recorded the dark chapter in history.
“They had no sign whatsoever something as horrific as the Holocaust would happen. Look how things can change so rapidly — which is a warning to us,” said Israel Zoberman.
The horror would claim the life of his great-grandfather, Rabbi Jacob Zoberman, his wife Deana, and many other family members who were murdered in the Belzec, Poland, death camp.
His family fled to Siberia, and then Kazakhstan. In 1946, when Israel Zoberman was in Poland where his family lived as refugees, there was a massacre of Jewish people that left 42 killed and another 40-plus wounded.
The family had to flee again. From 1947 to 1949, the family lived at the Wetzlar Displaced Persons Camp in the American-occupied zone in Germany. In 1949, his family moved to Israel.
71 years later, Israel Zoberman, founder and spiritual leader of Temple Lev Tikvah in Virginia Beach, has nightmares after seeing a horrible chapter in history unfold in live television coverage this month.
In a matter of hours on Jan. 6, the nation watched as an attack was launched on democracy.
Israel Zoberman on two occasions served as guest chaplain on the Senate floor — the same place where a violent mob attempted to fight to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election on Jan. 6.
One of those two guest occasions was six years ago.
“In my prayer [on the Senate floor in 2014] I mentioned the Holocaust and I was grateful for American democracy — and here I am praising American democracy, [and] in the very place where I stood was just invaded by America’s own children,” said Israel Zoberman.
Since the attack, Israel Zoberman says those involved in the insurrection have changed his view on whether the history of Adolf Hitler’s Germany could repeat itself.
“I hate to tell you it could happen. It could happen, even here, [and] become the kind of dictatorship that would swallow its citizens — not just Jews, not just Blacks, but all others [who don’t agree with their ideology],” he said.
When asked whether he was speaking of white supremacy, Israel Zoberman responded: “Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely.”
Hundreds of people, including business owners, police officers, a firefighter, retired and active-duty troops are under investigation. Israel Zoberman has a message for them.
“I come from a world that witnessed the destruction of democracies; Germany was a democracy before Hitler took over, so do not take for granted the freedoms we enjoy,” said Israel Zoberman.