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Holocaust Survivor's Son Is the Father of a Hostage in Gaza: 'I Believe Omer is Alive'

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GEDERA, Israel – The attack on October 7th touches the people of Israel in so many different ways, specifically, the impact on family members of hostages.

Shai Wenkert, the son of a Holocaust survivor, is now the father of a Hamas hostage.

Omer Wenkert's picture is all around his hometown of Gedera. Hamas captured the 22-year-old from the Nova Music Festival, and he remains in captivity.

His father told CBN News, "He's a very handsome guy. He likes music. He's a restaurant manager. And he likes food. He's supposed to start study(ing) about the culinary food in November, but he's still captive in Gaza."

We talked with Shai Wenkert recently at the family's home.

"Omer went to the NOVA Fest with Kim Damti. She's a friend of him, (a) youth friend," his father recalled. "They went to the Nova in the morning, 5:30 A. M., before sunrise."

He continued, "And there was missiles around, and they went to the bomb shelter. At the bomb shelter, it's okay for missiles, but it's not okay for hand grenades, that (they) are throwing inside, and for gun shooting. Some of them went outside. All the people that went outside were (shot) dead. Also, unfortunately, Kim Damti, she died. She was killed."

Omer left the bomb shelter and was taken captive by Hamas.

Shai Wenkert remembered, "I saw Omer on the video on the Toyota SUV. He was, only with underwear, handcuffed. They're cursing him, they're beating him, and they're pointing guns at him. And he went inside (the) Gaza Strip. And at the end of the video, there is a building. And I saw the building. I did a capture. And I tried to find it (on) Google Maps. And I found this area. It's next to Bureij."
Following the release of certain hostages in November, Shai talked with some who had been with Omer in captivity.

"The Thai guys, we met them at the hospital," Shai told us." Everyone is going to the hospital after the captivity. And so we went there with a picture, with Omar's photo on the picture. And immediately when we came in, (the former Thai hostages) told me, 'Oh, yes, yes, Samuel, Samuel. He always sang there, a song, Ezei Yom Haya Li, Samuel (What a Day I Had, Samuel!). It's a happy song, an optimistic song.' They said he's quite okay mentally. Omer has a colitis disease and this is a chronic disease of the stomach."

Shai's mother, Omer's grandmother, is a Holocaust survivor.

"My mother is a very strong woman," Shai explained. "But she's very – it's very hard for her. This is the first grandson. She was waiting for him and she didn't believe that (the) Holocaust can come again. Because they always told them, 'Never again.'"

Shai added, "And on the 7th of October, it was a second Holocaust. But the terrifying (thing) is, it happened in Israel, in the State of Israel. So she didn't believe that she can suffer more than she suffered at the Holocaust."

The most difficult thing for Omer's grandmother is that she can't see him.

"She can't talk to him. They were (in) the ghetto (during the Holocaust) – there were five, five years. They can move, they can walk, they can do something, but not as (Omer's) captivity (by) Hamas."

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We asked Shai, "What gives you strength? What gives you hope?"

He answered, " I feel strength because I'm – I believe that Omer is alive. I know he's alive. And I have one mission now in my life – to bring Omer back. So I have to be strong. I have two more kids. I have to be strong also for them. And we are doing interviews, we are doing meetings, we are going abroad, and we are doing a lot of things to take Omer out, and to take all the hostages out."

The mission took him to the U.S., where Shai and his wife Niva visited the U.N. Security Council and Niva visited Columbia University.

"We got a supportive response," he stated. "Also, for the U.N., there was a lot of people with photos of the hostages in the middle of New York, next to the UN. Also at the Columbia University. People, they need to hear the story, to spread the word around. I want the world to believe how happy I'm going to be, my wife and my family, when Omer is coming back."

He continued, "So if all the world will believe it, it probably can be faster than we want to be. On the 7th of October, we met the enemy of the humanity. It's not (an) enemy about only Jews, because on Columbia, they are not attacking only Jews, they are attacking all civilians. They are pro-Palestinians. And we met the anger of Hamas. This is (the) worst thing and the world needs to know the act Hamas did.

Shai noted that Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, uprooting thousands as part of the disengagement, and Palestinians have governed themselves since then.

"Eighteen years there is no soldier at the Gaza Strip," he noted. "They have their own land to build the houses. They got money from Qatar, from U.S., from everywhere. They build a 'metro' just to eliminate us."

Israel celebrated its 76th birthday recently, and despite the war, Shai says he's confident about the future.

"Israel is a very strong country," he declared. "We are going to come (out) and to be together and to be stronger than now. Now we are in a terrible, difficult situation, but Israel is tough, it's strong, and we are going to get out of it."

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About The Author

Julie Stahl

Julie Stahl is a correspondent for CBN News in the Middle East. A Hebrew speaker, she has been covering news in Israel fulltime for more than 20 years. Julie’s life as a journalist has been intertwined with CBN – first as a graduate student in Journalism; then as a journalist with Middle East Television (METV) when it was owned by CBN from 1989-91; and now with the Middle East Bureau of CBN News in Jerusalem since 2009. As a correspondent for CBN News, Julie has covered Israel’s wars with Gaza, rocket attacks on Israeli communities, stories on the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria and