Arie Even's family said they were unable to visit him during his last week due to the virus

By Rachel DeSantis
March 24, 2020 12:54 PM
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Israeli sanitation workers
Credit: Xinhua/Shang Hao/Getty

An 88-year-old Holocaust survivor who escaped the Nazis by hiding in a basement in the countryside has reportedly become the first coronavirus fatality in Israel.

Arie Even died on Friday, though none of his children or 18 grandchildren were able to visit him in his last week due to anti-contagion measures put in place by Israeli officials, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“My siblings and I will memorialize our father in a way that is meaningful to us, but the thing is, there is a pandemic. That’s the problem,” son Yaakov told the Times. “We don’t want to get it. It is bad enough that he got it.”

Even (né George Steiner) was born “very well-to-do” in Budapest, Hungary, from which his family was forced to flee after the Swedish Embassy warned his mother, Magda, that they would soon be arrested, his family said. More than 500,000 Hungarian Jews were killed during the war.

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Magda placed her two sons on a tram and told them, “I’ll get in front, and you get on in back — and if something happens, run,” according to the Times.

“At the last minute they managed to get away,” Even’s daughter Ofra told the newspaper. “Someone from the embassy stuffed them under the tarp of a horse-drawn carriage, and from there to some basement where they survived.”

Even’s maternal grandparents were killed by Nazis in Budapest, but the rest of his family survived, and when he was 17 years old, he moved to Israel, the Times reported.

“He didn’t speak about the Holocaust. He didn’t discuss it with us,” said Ofra. “Only in the last few years, I’d spend Holocaust Day with him and we began talking about it.”

Even was married for 50 years to his wife Yona before she died in 2012, according to the Times. He worked for the Foreign Ministry, but gave up his position to become a customs officer instead because Yona was a diplomat, and couples were not allowed to both serve as diplomats.

Through Yona’s work, the couple traveled together to places like Japan, India and France, said Yaakov. They also enjoyed history, traveling, classical music and cooking.

“Humanism was in his DNA,” Ofra told the Times.

Even was reportedly laid to rest on Saturday in the middle of the night, buried by volunteers from the Jerusalem burial society, who dressed in hazmat suits. Only his youngest child, Omri, was able to attend, while the others are mourning in isolation and sitting shiva in their own homes.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there have been at least 1,442 cases of coronavirus in Israel, according to The New York Times. There have been 43,499 cases and 537 deaths attributed to coronavirus in the United States.

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