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Holocaust Memorial Education Center

Shimon and Sara Birnbaum Jewish Community Center

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Survivor Profile










NOVEMBER 1, 1923







  • BIOGRAPHY By Nancy Gorrell

    Ita grew up in the Ukraine (town unknown) on November 1, 1923. Not much is known about her background, or family prior to the war. According to her grandson, Aviv Wagner, we know she was a beautiful woman with blue eyes who became a nurse and was serving during the war in Leningrad in the military hospital rehab where she met her future husband, Zvi Wolf-Wagner, a Polish Jew, recuperating from his wartime grenade injury. She nursed him back to health, and they married afterwards.


    Due to his injury, Zvi was released from military duty. The couple was sent to work in Siberia, near the Ural Mountains, where they live for the remainder of the war and early post-war life. We don’t know the name of the exact town, but they lived on a small farm without a bathroom or electricity. Life was harsh. There was considerable anti-Semitism. Ita gave birth to their first son, Mischa (Michael) on November 28, 1946. Later, Ita gave birth to two more sons: Yedudah, and Moti.


    In either 1953 or 1954, Ita and her husband and three sons “escaped” from the Soviet Union to Israel. According to Aviv, “Nobody could leave Russia at that time. My grandfather had a Polish passport, and that’s how he escaped, crossing Austria. All five escaped together on the Polish passports.” The family then travelled through Europe to Israel. They took a boat from Greece. A Jewish organization helped them.


    Finally, they settled on a kibbutz, Ein Carmel near the Mediterrean Sea.  Ita and her children lived there for three or four years, and then they left. They had a hard time fitting into Israeli society with the prevalence of anti-Russian feelings. The went to Brazil where Zvi had a sister and Zvi tried to start a business. The business didn’t work out, so Ita and her family came back to Israel and settled permanently in Kiryat Yam.


    Aviv and his younger sister came to live with Ita when Aviv was five years old. Aviv describes in his interview his grandmother as a “Russian workhorse.” She had a large family to take care of once he and his younger sister came to live with her. She spent much of her time cooking for everyone and Aviv recalls with pleasure the plentiful food she would serve but always with limits. Once in Kiryat Yam, Zvi found a good job building the power station in Haifa. It was one of the best companies in Israel and all the family worked there, but it “destroyed my grandfather’s health because he worked there day and night.”


    Zvi retired from the power company when he was 60 years old. Aviv remembers both his grandparents with great love and affection and recalls calling them in Russian, “Yetta” and “Baba” when he was growing up.




    DATE: October 12, 2017

    LOCATION: SSBJCC, Bridgewater, New Jersey



    Q: Describe your family background.
     My grandfather grew up in Rabba Ruska, Poland which does not exist anymore. Now it’s under a different name. I know he grew up with six siblings and six stepbrothers and sisters. It was a family of 12. His mother, Chaya remarried. I think he worked with shoes; he was a shoemaker. Rabba Ruska was big town but there was also big Jewish community it.


    Q Did you know your grandfather?
    Yes, very well. I lived in the same house with him in a suburb of Haifa called Kiryat Yam.


    Q: Did he talk to you at all about his Holocaust experiences?
    My grandfather was not talking. He had trauma from a bombing grenade. Every once in a while he would start singing out of nowhere in Polish and yiddish songs from the war.


    Q: What about your grandmother?
    My grandmother, Ita used to limit me with the food. She used to count it, but you had to eat everything. They fed me a lot. My grandparents moved from Russia to Ein Carmel kibbutz—it was just beautiful, what a kibbutz, near the Mediterranean Sea. It was not easy to get into Israeli society. They had a hard time to fit in.


    Q: How and when did your grandparents emigrate to Israel?
    They emigrated in 1953 or 1954 from Russia. Nobody could leave Russia at that time. My grandfather had a Polish passport and that’s how he escaped crossing Austria.


    Q: Did your grandfather talk about the war at all?
    No. He didn’t talk at all. He was very quiet.


    Q: What do you think or know happened to him during the war?
    He ran from Poland to Russia. He was recruited into Soviet Army. He got an injury and was in a hospital in the Ukraine. There, he met Eta, my grandmother, in the hospital rehab and she was the nurse that took care of him. She was very pretty. She had blue eyes.


    Q Did they spend the war together?
    Yes. He was out of the army after his injury.


    Q: When and where was your father born?
    He was born on November 28, 1946 in Siberia in the Ural Mountains.


    Q: What was post-war life like for your grandfather and father in Soviet Russia.
    They lived in this town in Siberia after the war. My father told me that they lived in a house but there was no bathroom or electricity. They lived on a small farm. My father went to school there.


    Q: Did they experience anti-Semitism?
    He experienced a lot of anti-Semitism. They even experienced it in Israel when they emigrated. In Israel, they were called “Russian.” In Russia, they were called “Jews.” I know that my grandfather was very tough with his children with the discipline. The belt was the education. There were limits on everything. The parents were always acting like they were still in the war.


    Q: When did your grandfather’s family emigrate from Russia to Israel?
    My grandfather went in 1954 with his whole family. All five escaped together on the Polish passports.


    Q: When did your grandparents have more children?
    They had three boys: my father was the oldest: Mischa (Michael), Yedudah, and Moti. All were born in Siberia.


    Q: How did they settle in Israel?
    They travelled through Europe to Israel. They took a boat from Greece; somebody helped them; some Jewish organization. Then they settled on the kibbutz, Ein Carmel.  They lived there for three or four years, and then they left.


    Q: Any reason why they left the Kibbutz?
    They didn’t really fit into the Kibbutz, and then my grandfather’s sister living in Brazil invited them to come there. They went but they only lived there one year. My grandfather’s business didn’t work out so well, and so they came back to Israel and settled in Kiryat Yam where I grew up with them.


    Q: What was life like in Kiryat Yam?
    My grandfater found a good job building the power station in Haifa. They recruited my grandfather. His health was destroyed because he worked day and night, but this company is the best in Israel. All my family worked there. The whole family got benefits.


    Q: When did he retire?
    When he was 60. He was retired when he took care of me. Of his other sons, one became a school principal in Israel, and one became an HR in the company. It was a government power company. Even his grandson, Aviv Wagner, myself, worked there. Twice! Before I went into the military.

  • Sources and Credits:


    SSBJCC Holocaust Memorial and Education Center Survivor Registry Interview, October 12, 2017; Interviewer: Nancy Gorrell