Every year, Yitzhak Livnat would proudly welcome the new cohort of students and share his remarkable story of survival. He did so “in a very authentic way”, his son, Doron, tells us. “My father was always very genuine and very honest.” Sadly, Yitzhak passed away in March 2017, and so, Doron now carries the torch in his father’s honour.
Cohort VI joined Doron, together with his wife Marianne, at the Yitzhak Rabin Centre for a tour of the Israeli Museum. After all, Yitzhak Livnat was a devoted Zionist and his story, just like Rabin’s, is deeply entangled with that of the birth and development of the State of Israel. The perfect setting, then, in which to remember a dear friend of the programme.
Thankfully, Yitzhak’s story is well documented. He survived internment at Auschwitz, as well as subsequent death marches to Mauthausen and Gunskirchen, where, finally, liberation arrived in the form of American troops. From there, he began an arduous, improbable journey to Eretz Yisrael, one that took him to Bucharest, the Alps, the Vatican, Cyprus and, at long last, Haifa.
Doron repeatedly described his father as fearless and, certainly, where discrimination is concerned, Yitzhak was unafraid to speak his mind, no matter the setting. Four years ago, he was invited to attend the official reopening of the Mauthausen museum. It was a huge ceremony, Doron recalls, with no fewer than eight European presidents in attendance. As part of proceedings, a time capsule was to be buried. Yitzhak, on behalf of the camp’s former internees, was asked to contribute. His route to the podium would take him directly past the presidents and Yitzhak took the opportunity to share a strong word, or two, with the Hungarian statesman.
“I couldn’t understand what he was saying, of course, but it wasn’t nice, that much I could tell,” Doron explains. “It’s live on TV. The cameraman didn’t know what to do and nor did I. I’m the responsible adult now! Eventually, we climb the podium, he does what he has to and when we reach backstage, I ask: “abba, what was that?”
“I had to give him a lesson”, Yitzhak responds. “He should stop the anti-Semitism going on in Hungary. It’s unacceptable.”
As the ceremony reached its conclusion, each delegation was invited to light a memorial candle. Yitzhak, now in his wheelchair, lead the Israeli representatives.
“Suddenly, I could see the Hungarian president with his entourage walking towards abba,” adds Doron. ‘This could be interesting’, I thought. The Hungarian president stands on his haunches in order to be on the same eye level as my father. This time, my father is not angry. They start to laugh. There is a whole conversation and they almost hug each other. Again, I ask my father, ‘what was that?'”
“He told me that he wants to discuss this more, and he came to introduce himself and to ask to keep the dialogue open.”
“And what did you say?”
“I told him that next Monday I am coming to Budapest and I’m staying in the Kempinski Hotel. I told him, look for me!”
There began an unlikely friendship. In fact, Doron reveals that when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Hungary last summer, the Hungarian president asked if he knew who ‘Itzik’ was and, for some 20 minutes, proceeded to tell him the very same stories that he had heard from Yitzhak. Hungary would soon make an official apology for its treatment of Jews during the Holocaust and Doron is certain that his fearless father’s intervention had more than a little something to do with it.
Doron and Marianne have been devoted friends of our programme since its inauguration and have supported dozens of students in their pursuit of careers in Holocaust research and study. In appreciation of this dedication, the University of Haifa awarded Doron an Honorary Doctorate. We wholeheartedly thank Doron and Marianne for their longstanding commitment to the programme and hope that they share our belief that we honour Yitzhak’s legacy each and every day.
Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program? You can find the application and more information at our website: http://holocaust-studies.haifa.ac.il/