Members of India’s lost Jewish tribe visit Auschwitz for the first time to learn about Holocaust

Last week, a few members of the northeastern Indian Bnei Menashe Jewish community visited Auschwitz. “I feel more connected to Judaism having learned about the Holocaust,” said one of them.
(From left) Simeon Lhouvum, Yaniv Hoinge, David Haokip, Tzion Baite, and Obed Lhouvum in front of the Auschwitz II (Birkenau) concentration camp in Poland. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Shavei Israel

For the first time, five members of the northeastern Indian Bnei Menashe Jewish community, which claims descent from one of Israel’s lost tribes, visited Auschwitz last week as part of a trip for 12th-graders aimed at educating them about the horrors of the Nazi genocide against the Jewish people.

“I feel more connected to Judaism having learned about the Holocaust,” said Yaniv Hoinge, who was one of the first Bnei Menashe to visit Auschwitz along with a group of fellow Israeli high school students, all of whom attend the Abir Yaakov Yeshiva High School in the northern town of Nahariya.

Shavei Israel, an Israel-based nonprofit that aims to strengthen ties between the Jewish people and descendants of Jews around the world, brought Hoinge and his parents to Israel from Churachandpur, a town in Manipur, India, in 2012. “It actually gives me a stronger feeling of love toward Israel,” Hoinge added, noting that, “The Holocaust makes Israel even more important to the Jewish people.”

“During the Holocaust, the Germans and their collaborators murdered millions of Jews at Auschwitz, including members of my family,” said Shavei Israel Founder and Chairman Michael Freund. “As part of our efforts to help the Bnei Menashe to return to the Jewish people after being cut off for 27 centuries, we view it as essential to instill them with a better understanding of the horrors of the Holocaust and its central place in Jewish history.”

Freund added: “The struggle for Jewish survival is something that resonates strongly with the Bnei Menashe, for they faced enormous adversity over the centuries and still managed to cling to the faith of their ancestors. That is what makes this visit of Bnei Menashe youth to Auschwitz so poignant and meaningful, because it underlines the power of Jewish destiny and the indestructible spirit of the Jewish people.”

The Bnei Menashe are descendants of the tribe of Manasseh, one of the Ten Lost Tribes exiled from the Land of Israel more than 2,700 years ago by the Assyrian empire. So far, some 3,000 Bnei Menashe have made Aliyah thanks to Shavei Israel. Another 7,000 Bnei Menashe remain in India waiting for the chance to return home to Zion.

The other Bnei Menashe Jewish community members who visited Auschwitz last week included Tzion Baite and David Haokip, who both made Aliyah from Manipur, India, with their families in 2014; and Obed and Simeon Lhouvum, brothers who made Aliyah from Gamgiphai, a village in Manipur, India, in 2012. Shavei Israel helped facilitate the Aliyah of all five young men and their families.

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