Zvi Kalisher, born Henryk Weichert, was an extraordinary man of God who found comfort and joy in his Lord Jesus Christ after losing his entire family and surviving extreme horror during the Holocaust in Poland.
After World War II, as an 18 year old completely alone in the world, Kalisher arrived in the land then known as British Mandate Palestine and went on to fight for Israel’s independence during the war that raged from 1948 to 1949.
Upon coming to faith after the War of Independence, Kalisher passionately spread the Gospel of Yeshua on the streets of Jerusalem. He also got married, and he and his wife Naomi had three sons and a daughter.
Kalisher died on Nov. 17, 2014 having lived through unimaginable difficulties, but having found the eternal salvation of God.
In 1939 when the Germans invaded Poland, his childhood country, Kalisher’s mother took him to an orphanage to live. She figured that with his blond hair and blue eyes he would have a better chance of survival.
“The beginning was very hard. It was the first time in my life I was separated from my parents,” Kalisher told Elwood McQuaid in Friends of Israel, an acclaimed documentary entitled Zvi: The Return. “My mother told me several times to be strong and to be a man. She told me not to tell anyone I was Jewish.”
While at the orphanage, Kalisher learned German and was taken to Berlin to become part of the Hitler youth. He was rejected, however, due to his small stature and was sent back to Poland.
Kalisher then began a desperate search for his family. By this time Polish Jews had been rounded up and incarcerated in the Warsaw Ghetto. It here that Kalisher first looked for them.
With other children, Kalisher entered the ghetto through a sewer.
“There was very bad air and stink and many rats – but all I was thinking about was my family,” he told McQuaid. “I did not find anyone.”
Speaking to McQuaid in a beautiful park that stands on the location of the former ghetto in Warsaw, Kalisher described what he saw when he came up from the sewer.
“There were streets with thousands of bodies dying and skeletons walking on the street and shouting for help. And you looked at them and couldn’t help. So I and other children decided to risk our lives, not even thinking about our lives to bring food.”
Those who did not die of starvation in the ghetto were taken by train to the infamous Treblinka concentration camp. Then, Kalisher explained to McQuaid, they were taken “straight from the train to the gas ovens.”
In Warsaw, Kalisher had gone back and forth through the sewer, bringing food to those inside and searching for his family. When the sewer was eventually discovered and sealed he found himself trapped inside the ghetto.
Eventually deciding to climb the wall around the ghetto to escape, Kalisher scaled it and jumped down, landing between two German soldiers who were on guard there.
“They were sitting and they were surprised,” Kalisher recalled in the documentary. “When I jumped they did not know what to do. I had no time to think even for one second. I ran away. I don’t know how I succeeded. The Germans were shooting and I came out with my bones.”
After this, Kalisher, who was still just a boy, spent many nights hiding from the Germans in Polish forests. He focused on survival, trying to find food and work.
At one point he was taken in by a German farmer who lived there and who hired him to look after livestock. Horribly, but also miraculously because he understood German, Kalisher heard the farmer telling his wife he wanted to kill him in order to exact revenge for the death of his own two sons who had been killed fighting on the Eastern front.
Kalisher was able to escape and continued to survive.
After the war, and an extensive search for his family in Europe, Kalisher felt it was time to look to the future. He decided to move to Palestine.
“Although the British were blocking Jewish immigration at the time, many felt they had nothing to lose by running the blockade,” he told McQuaid.
Kalisher boarded a small ship with 500 to 600 people crammed in, and set sail for Palestine from France. The journey took 14 days with the ship so heavy with people it sank lower and lower in the sea.
Kalisher told McQuaid about the approach to the Promised Land.
“As we got nearer we could see the mountains of Carmel. Everyone forgot they were hungry, they forgot there had been six years of the Holocaust – they forgot everything and looked to the future.”
However, the British intercepted the ship and took the passengers to an internment camp on Cyprus.
“For the young people it was terrible, but it was worse for the older people as their families and children had died. They had gone from one camp to another camp,” Kalisher said.
Interned for seven months, Kalisher and others with him trained to be soldiers in order to fight for Israeli independence when the time came
“When Israel became a state, there was great joy but we were thinking we will have to pay for this with our blood,” Kalisher remembered.
Kalisher was required to fight in Israel’s War of Independence against the Arabs. One of his duties was to defuse and remove enemy landmines and plant explosives for the Israeli army. Miraculously he remained unharmed.
With independence won, many of Kalisher’s fellow soldiers went to their families, but he had no one. At this point he began to think deeply about his situation.
“Before I was not thinking about faith, I was not thinking there is God. I was by myself,” Kalisher told McQuaid. “But I saw so many dead before my eyes and I was nearly killed also.”
“Who was protecting me?” he continued. “I started to believe in God. I said: ‘There is someone who put his hand on me.’”
Kalisher relates how one day when he was sitting alone on a bench in Jerusalem, a lady from Switzerland came to him and gave him a Bible. The book also contained the New Testament.
Hungry to find God, Kalisher began to read the Bible earnest. A passage of scripture struck him profoundly in light of his situation: “Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.” Psalm 27:10
In time, Kalisher also met a pastor who invited him to meetings in Jerusalem where believers prayed in the name of Yeshua. He questioned whether a Jew who had endured the Holocaust could believe in Jesus, but he kept going back – drawn “like a magnet.”
“It took me about three years to understand that the Lord Jesus Christ is my Savior,” Kalisher recalled. “Yeshua changed my life, absolutely changed it. I can see a big joy in my life.”
Then, as McQuaid recounts, Kalisher became an “outstanding witness for the Messiah for the Lord on the streets of Jerusalem and all over the world.” Indeed, Kalisher wrote a book about this called The Best of Zvi: 50 Years of Telling the Story on the Highways & Byways of Israel.
“This is our obligation as believers,” Kalisher said. “We cannot keep our faith inside.”
“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.'”