In honour of Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel, we bring you the story of Michael Zargson, a man that Batya met recently at one of the events we held for Holocaust survivors. His story of surviving the Holocaust is incredible — it’s full of hardship, but ends with a sense of hope and dignity.
Michael was born in 1925 in Korets, Ukraine. When the Second World War began, he was sent to the Korets ghetto. In the first months, the Germans rounded up the Jews in the ghetto three different times, murdering many of them in this process. Michael was able to escape the first two roundups thanks to a German engineer that he worked for. "In the second roundup, he literally pulled me out of the line,” he remembers.
In the third and final roundup, the Germans wanted to kill all the Jews in the ghetto that were still alive. They marched them for seven kilometres toward a valley in the woods, and in a moment of bravery, 16-year-old Michael ran into the woods. "I decided in my heart that I will not turn back no matter what. I will keep running. If a bullet hits me, it will be in my back,” he recalls.
The living conditions in the forest were even harder than those in the ghetto. His clothing wasn't suitable for the extreme winter cold and the lack of food was severe. Michael managed to join a group of partisans who fought in those woods. He participated in the fighting for two years and was even injured. At the end of 1943, the forest was liberated by the Red Army, and Michael decided to join their ranks.
In the Red Army, he was stationed in an artillery battery with the goal to bomb German tanks. He fought in battles to liberate Belarus and the Baltic countries, and also fought in Finland. During the liberation of the Riga ghetto, Michael faced the Nazis' atrocities once again, and became aware of the magnitude of the tragedy. In the battles around Riga, Michael was wounded again — this time in his legs.
When the war ended, Michael returned to his hometown of Korets. The city and its people had drastically changed, so he decided to move to Riga and eventually aided in its liberation. He got married there and welcomed a daughter, Bracha (“blessing” in Hebrew). After a few years, Michael and his family moved to Poland and in 1960, they made Aliyah to Israel, where their son Tzion was born. Michael joined the IDF and participated in two wars. His contribution to the safety of Israel gave him much satisfaction.
Even though he arrived in Israel in a very difficult health condition ("like a dead person," as he puts it), Michael succeeded in starting a new life and raising a large family. His descendants are proof of his triumph over the Nazis who sought to destroy him.