“Daddy’s little angel. That’s what he called me, and that’s how I felt. I was loved, safe, happy, a little girl full of dreams.”
Riva Hirsch lived a peaceful life with her father, mother, two brothers, and grandmother in Novaseletz, Romania.
“Father was a furrier and had a shop behind our house where he made garments from fur pelts. One of my fondest childhood memories was when he made a white rabbit coat, hat, and muff for me. It was so beautiful, and I loved to twirl around so that the coat’s pompoms and my dark braids would fly in the air.”
When little girls are 10 years old they should be playing with dolls or hosting tea parties.
When Riva Hirsch was 10 years old, she was hidden by nuns in a bunker near a convent in Ukraine. Fearful of frequent visits by the SS soldiers, the nuns were only able to visit the bunker every two or three days to leave food and water.
“When the door was cracked, it was my lifeline. The door separated me from the outside world. Inside that bunker, my life was lonely and frightening,” she recalls.
So fearful were the nuns of being discovered, they often simply cracked the door and hurriedly threw in the food.
“I was living among rats. If I was fast enough to get to the food before the rats ran away with it, I ate. If I was too slow, I was forced to exist on lice. They were all over me. At times, I could hardly open my eyes or my mouth. Swallowing lice helped keep me alive. They were my breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
Riva existed in this dark isolation for two years.
“I don’t know how time passed. Day was night and night was day. I felt more dead than alive. But though I didn’t have even the simple basics of life like other girls, I was safe.”
“In 1945, the door of the bunker opened wide. It had not been open more than a crack for two years.
“The nuns wrapped my frost-bitten feet in cloth and draped a blanket over my shoulders. I was suffering from malaria and typhus. My vision was impaired and my teeth had fallen out.
“A voice spoke in a language I didn’t understand. I later learned the Russian Army had liberated me.
“A hand pushed me forward. I moved toward the light and with small footsteps left the bunker in Tulchin, Ukraine.
“I was 12 years old.”
Like many children of the Holocaust, Riva Hirsch was robbed of her childhood more than six decades ago by Adolf Hitler.
Today, she spends time working with the Elks Lodge of Mountain Brook to help promote the education and social development of Alabama’s youth.
Riva is well-known throughout the state for her dedication to raising money for the Elks Youth Camp. Located on Lake Martin in Tallassee, Alabama, the Elks Youth Camp offers activities and programs for young people between ages eight and thirteen. The youngsters receive an opportunity to experience different surroundings while learning valuable lessons about life. The programs are designed to help build character while showing how important it is to work with others.
In 2006, Riva single-handedly sold more Cadillac raffle tickets than any other Alabama member. This was just one of the reasons she was named Alabama Elk of the Year, becoming the first woman to receive that honor in the history of the Mountain Brook Lodge.
“Since we came to America in 1962, people have been wonderful to my husband and me,” Riva says. “Being a part of the Elks Association gives me an opportunity to give something back to this country by giving our youth such a great opportunity to build character … and have fun!”
Riva is pictured with Hayden Cater.
When Aisic Hirsch talks about the terror he experienced in Poland during the Holocaust, his wife, Riva Hirsch, understands more than anyone. That’s because she experienced circumstances very similar to Aisic’s, almost 1,000 miles away in Ukraine.
Riva and Aisic Hirsch married in Haifa in 1950, five years after they were liberated by Russian troops.
“We both went to Palestine after the war, and it was there that I met my beshert, a Yiddish word that means perfect match, soul mate, destiny,” Riva explains.
“I was a police officer and often ate at a local café. Riva was a waitress there, just 16, and the most beautiful girl I had ever seen,” says Aisic.
Through the years, they’ve shared much more than the painful story of their past. They’ve shared many happy family times, always observing and celebrating their Jewish faith and heritage, a faith and heritage that made them a target of murder by the Nazis and then brought them together in Palestine.