Yaakov Weissmann escaped the horrors of the Holocaust by hiding with a non-Jewish family in France when he was four years old.
He is now 83 years old and survived the October 7 massacre in Israel by Hamas terrorists, which has been compared to Nazi horrors for its severity.
Weissmann’s hamlet, Netiv Haassara, is only 500 meters (1,600 feet) from the Gaza Strip’s border, from which Hamas Islamists rushed into Israel, killing 1,400 people, mostly civilians.
Israel declared war on Hamas and has been hammering the densely populated enclave with air attacks that have killed 2,750 people, the vast majority of whom are ordinary Palestinians.
Weissmann heard rockets go off at around 6:00 am that Saturday, which was also the Sabbath, the Jewish day of rest.
“Rockets, rockets and booms. Well it’s not the first time,” said Weissmann, whose village of 800 inhabitants is used to projectiles aimed by armed Palestinian groups at Israel.
Pistol in hand, he and his wife followed the drill to get into his fortified shelter — something that every home in the area is equipped with, securing the door and window within 15 seconds.
“Then I heard, with my wife, we heard machine gun fire. When we heard this, we know there has been an infiltration of enemy forces,” he said.
A deep sadness came over him, he said, “because as soon as there is gunfire, I know there are deaths”.
When he came out of the shelter, he found to his great relief that all 23 of his descendants — children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren — who live in the village were alive.
Twenty people in Netiv Haassara were killed, including many whom Weissmann knew personally.
Five of them died with weapons in their hands. They were security volunteers, said Weissmann, who believes they had helped to prevent further bloodshed.
As the day went on, the scale and the horror of the attack became clear.
In the worst-affected areas, entire families, including babies, were killed in their homes, which were set on fire in some cases.
The attacks were described as “savagery never seen since the Holocaust” by Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
According to US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Hamas fighters took “evil to another level” than Islamic State terrorists.
Weissmann remarked ten days later that the dominating emotion for him, aside from loss, is “anger, because, how did our famous army get caught off guard?”
Weissmann, who was born in France in 1940, said the incident brought back memories of his childhood spent hiding from the Nazis.
His Polish parents escaped pogroms to France in 1933, but his father was imprisoned in 1944 by Nazi-allied French militia.
He was transferred to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where 1.1 million people, the vast majority of them were Jews, were murdered.
A non-Jewish family took him and his sister on a visit to a village near Lyon, pretending they were their nephew and niece.
Following the war, Weissmann relocated to Israel, where he originally lived near the Jordanian border before relocating to Netiv Haassara, an agricultural community in the Sinai Peninsula that Israel took from Egypt during the 1967 six-day war.
However, the hamlet was evacuated in 1982 as part of a peace treaty that returned control of the peninsula to Egypt.
It was then displaced to its current location close to the Gaza Strip, conserving its name.
At 83, Weissmann has been displaced again — this time to a retirement home in central Israel’s Modiin.
Inhabitants of villages close to Gaza have mostly vacated their homes in recent days as Israeli troops massed in preparation for a ground invasion.
“I don’t want revenge, but I want the people responsible to pay,” said Weissmann, adding that for him, “not only is Hamas at fault, but those Gaza” who “jumped in joy and distributed sweets” when the gunmen were carrying out their attack.
His greatest revenge against the Nazis was simply having stayed alive and built a family.
“You wanted to exterminate us, well, I had children and grandchildren and we keep on living,” he said, adding that he uses the compensation Germany pays him as a Holocaust survivor to take the family on vacation.
What he wants for Hamas is to “eradicate them from the map”.
Israel’s vow to “destroy” Hamas must be met, he said, adding: “Then I will calm down.”
After that, he says without hesitation that he plans to return to Netiv Haassara.
“But I can understand that my daughters may not want that,” he conceded.