Penina Nash of Israel was a 5-year-old girl, living with her family in Poland when the Nazis invaded in September 1939. As the German Army advanced, Jews fled eastward through the Soviet Union to safety, trying to stay one step ahead. Penina, her mother and siblings finally reached the shelter of remote Uzbekistan.
But when Penina’s mother died a year later, the children were sent to an orphanage, where non-Jewish children would beat them, ridicule them and insult them. Penina and her siblings were assaulted night after night. The other children even took their daily bread rations. “The kids would take my bread, and I was left without anything to eat all day long,” Penina remembers.
After the war, Penina, just 12 years old, decided to make aliyah to Israel; she began her journey in July 1947 aboard the infamous SS Exodus 1947. Penina clearly recalls her harrowing ordeal to reach Eretz Yisrael.
“We arrived in Haifa and we saw the lights of Mount Carmel,” she remembered. “We were so happy that we have finally found a home. But then they took us in a British warship to the French border, where they wanted to grant us French citizenship, but none of the children on the Exodus agreed to stay in France. So the ship returned to Hamburg, Germany. There, we were put in tiny blocks. We only had enough space to spread out our legs and lie down. We spent a whole year living in these terrible conditions, until we received our formal immigration papers, and were able to leave for Israel.” She finally stepped foot on Israeli soil in 1948.
Now, Penina is 79 years old and lives in her own apartment in the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon. A live-in homecare worker, financed by Israel National Insurance, cares for her. She is living with stomach cancer and osteoporosis, but she tries to keep her spirits high. “All my life I have fought to survive,” she said. “Three years ago I was diagnosed with stomach cancer, but have survived it so far.”
Penina’s husband, Alex, a survivor of Buchenwald, died just a few months ago. He had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. She is comforted by her son and three grandchildren.
Penina enjoys coming to the Zahalon Geriatric Medical Center and Day Center in Jaffa several times a week. The Claims Conference contributed funding to establish Zahalon, and ongoing grants support daily visits by Shoah survivors. “Time passes when I’m here,” she said, sitting at a table in the center’s garden. “On the days I come here, I wake up fully motivated to get out of bed and get dressed. It gives me strength,” she said.
Penina is grateful for the companionship at the center and for the Zahalon staff, who keep an eye on her. “At the center, they make you feel human, and take care of you, and that’s a great thing,” she said.