Terrified, hungry and all alone in captivity in Gaza for over a month, Argentinian-born Ofelia Roitman hoarded small pieces of pita bread from the meager rations she received from her Hamas terrorist captors.
“It reminded me of the Holocaust,” said Roitman, 77. “I thought I was going crazy.”
On the morning of Oct. 7, the veteran educator had just settled into her safe room in Kibbutz Nir Oz, after sirens warned of incoming rockets from the Gaza Strip. She was home alone that holiday weekend, as her husband was recovering from a recent surgery. Suddenly, armed terrorists barged into her home.
Her last phone message to her daughter Natalie Madmon at 9:37 that morning was: “They are here, please please.”
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The attackers sprayed the steel door of the safe room with bullets, with one hitting her arm. One of them used a shoelace as a tourniquet to tie up her arm before she was thrown face down in a tractor for the ride to Gaza.
Israeli soldiers who finally made it to her house saw no signs of her body or of a struggle, Madmon told JNS. Days later, her family was notified she was a hostage in Gaza.
‘I don’t treat Jews’
When she got to Gaza, Roitman was brought to a tunnel where a Palestinian woman doctor initially refused to bandage her wound.
“I don’t treat Jews,” she replied in English.
Her captor insisted the physician tend to her as needed.
Roitman was then driven in a wheelchair through the streets of Gaza for 20 minutes.
She was taken to an apartment where she would be held alone for the next 46 days with almost no food. Periodically, she would be taken to a doctor to tend to her injuries, dressed in a full Muslim head covering for women with only a slit for her eyes. Her captors warned her not to speak a word.
Once, captors asked her for the phone numbers of her family members in Israel, but, not wanting to reveal them, she said they were in her cellphone back home.
46 days alone
For the next month and a half, Roitman did not know if it was day or night.
“I was really afraid, and without barely any light or food I felt that I was going crazy,” she recounted.
The grandmother decided she needed some way to keep her wits so she started to pace around the small apartment in circles. The days were endless, and always with growing hunger. She was given a pita with zaatar during the day—which she would tear in small pieces and save part for later—and some dry rice at night.
“The food issue for me was like in the Holocaust,” she said.
One day she noticed a pen and notebook in the flat and received permission to write in it.
“I said if Anne Frank could write, why couldn’t I,” she told Israel’s Channel 12 television.
For the next 53 days, she kept a diary in Spanish of her days in captivity.
Where are our planes?
Under the building, there were tunnels from where Hamas terrorists would fire rockets at Israel. Whenever they fired a projectile, the building shook. When the missiles reached Tel Aviv or Beersheva, crowds outside would erupt in celebration, she said.
“I said to myself, ‘Where are our planes?’” she recollected. “When I heard them, I was very happy, and was not afraid.”
On the 47th day of her captivity, Ofelia Roitman was taken from the apartment and brought to a hospital where she was reunited with two of her neighbors from Nir Oz who were also kidnapped.
(Last month’s hostage releases that saw more than a hundred Israelis freed in return for 250 Palestinian security prisoners had just begun.)
The next day, the three neighbors were handed over to the Red Cross and then returned to Israel.
“After being held alone for so long, I was back with my family,” the mother of three and grandmother of nine recounted, her eyes welling up in tears and her arm still bandaged from the wound.
Telling the world
Throughout her captivity, her nephew Hernan Feler, who is a popular sports broadcaster in Buenos Aeries, began each game with a public reminder of the plight of his aunt and the other Israeli captives held by Hamas. She became known in Argentina as “Aunt Ofelia.”
Reunited with her last week in an apartment in the Israeli retirement center where she is staying, Feler recalled an argument with his wife who was worried he was getting into too many arguments over his remarks about the Hamas attack and the war.
He told her to remember all the Holocaust movies they watched and how she always asked how was it that people did nothing when they knew what was going on.
“I told her if they kill me let it be because I did something and not because I was silent and did nothing. And I think she understood,” Feler said.
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