Holocaust survivor shares her story with Emirati and Jewish children in Dubai

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A Holocaust survivor shared her life story with schoolchildren in Dubai on Wednesday, in a public exchange symbolizing deepening ties between Jews and Arabs in the Gulf.

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Eve Kugler recounted the memory of how her family was terrorized in Nazi Germany – addressing Emirati and Jewish schoolchildren on the 84th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom.

“It’s historic, and it is an amazing honor,” Kugler told Al Arabia English. “I don’t know how this could have happened, but it is historic and it is hugely, hugely important, hopefully, as a first step to more personal contact between the Arab nations and Jewish people.”

More personal contact between different groups of people should promote understanding and lessen the chance of prejudice and violence, she added.

Kugler later visited the emirate’s Crossroads of Civilizations Museum where she inaugurated a new chapter of the March of the Living foundation – a global Holocaust remembrance group.

Emirati and Jewish schoolchildren pose for a photograph with Holocaust survivor Eve Kugler. Eitan Neishlos (back left) and the UAE's Rabbi Levi Duchman (back right) are also pictured. (Marco Ferrari/Al Arabiya English)
Emirati and Jewish schoolchildren pose for a photograph with Holocaust survivor Eve Kugler. Eitan Neishlos (back left) and the UAE's Rabbi Levi Duchman (back right) are also pictured. (Marco Ferrari/Al Arabiya English)

The 91-year-old described to schoolchildren how her family heard a knock on their door on the evening of November 9, 1938 in the city of Halle in Germany.

A group of Nazis burst into the family home, along with the local police chief, and started smashing dishes and turning over furniture.

They tore apart the family’s Torah holy book and stamped on her father’s prayer shawl. “Everything that was sacred, they desecrated,” she said.

The next morning, she woke up to find that the windows of her father’s shop had been smashed.

Nazis forced the family to clean up the broken glass, calling her mother a “filthy Jewish woman.”

Jewish and Emirati schoolchildren spray paint a mural at the Jewish Educational Campus in Dubai. (Marco Ferrari/Al Arabiya English)
Jewish and Emirati schoolchildren spray paint a mural at the Jewish Educational Campus in Dubai. (Marco Ferrari/Al Arabiya English)

The family fled to France, and were separated when Eve and her sister were sent to the US when she was just ten years old.

Her parents ended up being interned in a series of Nazi concentration camps, but survived the ordeal – a “total, absolute miracle” according to Kugler.

Holocaust survivor Eve Kugler speaks with Rabbi Levi Duchman in Dubai. (Marco Ferrari/Al Arabiya English)
Holocaust survivor Eve Kugler speaks with Rabbi Levi Duchman in Dubai. (Marco Ferrari/Al Arabiya English)

A burgeoning community

Dubai is home to a burgeoning Jewish community that has blossomed in size and visibility since the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020 – normalizing relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel.

Stewarding the community in the Gulf nation since 2014 has been the country’s first licensed Rabbi, Levi Duchman.

“The UAE is home to over 200 nationalities, and if us in the Jewish community could take a key role in sharing with the wider community this message of understanding, this message of peace, this message of getting along with each other, it’s important,” he told Al Arabiya English.

“And when children understand it, they then teach it to their children, and they pass it on.”

Eitan Neishlos speaks at the Jewish educational campus in Dubai. (Marco Ferrari/Al Arabiya English)
Eitan Neishlos speaks at the Jewish educational campus in Dubai. (Marco Ferrari/Al Arabiya English)

Also speaking at the event was Eitan Neishlos, March of the Living’s Ambassador in the Gulf.

Neishlos himself is descended from Holocaust survivors, and spoke about how the UAE is quickly becoming a safe haven for Jews in the Middle East.

“I’m standing here looking at palms and I feel like I'm under the shaded palm of the Abraham Accords, which is a gift.”

“For the first time. I feel that in an authentic way, we can start to learn about each other’s pasts, and when we look at each other’s pasts, we can look at the happy moments, but we can also look at the sad moments.”

“Today, of course, we’re dealing with a tragic piece of our history. But my hope today is that we do so in order to build a better future and I hope also that we are contributing to the longevity of our communities.”

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