The last messages Rachel Goldberg received from her son, Hersh Goldberg-Polin, was on October 7 at 8:11 in the morning.
“The first one said, ‘I love you,’ and the second one said, ‘I’m sorry,'” Goldberg told DW at the American-Israeli family’s home in Jerusalem.
This was over three weeks ago, and Goldberg has still not received any sign of life from her 23-year-old son, who was one of the hostages Hamas, a Palestinian Islamist militant group, took to Gaza following its attack on Israel.
With United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken returning to the region, the family hopes that there will be some progress to bring the hostages home.
But with the Israel-Hamas conflict is raging on in Gaza and Israeli troops advancing deeper into the territory, there is growing concern about the impact the fighting will have on the hostages held in the sealed-off territory, said Goldberg.
“I’m very worried about what is going on. I’m very worried about innocent people getting hurt,” she explained. She’s not just concerned for the hostages of various nationalities — 241, according to Israeli military figures released on Friday — “but there are also around 2 million innocent Palestinian civilians there who we also don’t want to get hurt.”
Only five hostages freed so far
Until now, Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by the European Union, the US, Israel and others, has only released four hostages, and the Israeli military rescued one other. Qatar, Egypt and other regional stakeholders have tried to negotiate a deal to free more of the hostages, which include some with dual nationalities and many elderly, children, civilians and military personnel.
Goldberg said she knew something was fundamentally wrong after receiving the messages on this fateful morning on October 7. After speaking to some of his close friends, the family discovered that Goldberg-Polin and his best friend, Aner Shapira, went to the Supernova music festival at Kibbutz Re’im near Gaza.
That Saturday, when hundreds of partygoers were dancing into the early hours, Hamas militants breached the high-tech fence that separates Israel and the Gaza Strip. Some paraglided into the event.
The terrorists chased and attacked them for several hours while barrages of rockets rained down. At least 260 people were killed, and others were captured and taken to Gaza. Overall, the Hamas attacks killed more than 1,400 people, according to Israeli officials.
Kidnapped with arm blown off
Hersh Goldberg-Polin, a young football enthusiast, music lover and former medic, was among those captured. Since his disappearance, his family has been putting together the bits and pieces they could find out about his fate. Other witnesses last saw him and his friend at a small bomb shelter where some of the young partygoers had taken refuge. But they were soon discovered, and the Hamas militants threw grenades into the shelter.
Shapira threw several grenades back out but was killed when the attackers fired a grenade into the entrance of the shelter, said Goldberg. The few that were still alive were taunted and forced to climb into a pickup truck before being taken to Gaza.
Footage later emerged that showed Goldberg-Polin climbing into the back of the truck, his left arm blown off. He apparently had managed to tie a cloth around his bleeding arm.
“It gave us the information that he walked on his own onto the truck. Well, that’s what we don’t know. That’s what is so hard 26 days in. He may have bled to death 10 minutes later, and we don’t know,” said Goldberg, who is deeply worried that her son didn’t get medical treatment.
“I know there are good people everywhere. I know that there are good people in Gaza, and I know that there are people who can do the right thing,” she continued. “As a mother, I just have to pray that somehow he got the surgery and that he got the medication that he would still be needing today.”
Despite the harrowing accounts, Goldberg still hopes international efforts might lead to a breakthrough in negotiations over the hostages.
Since the October 7 terror attack, Israel has targeted Hamas with air strikes and ground incursions into Gaza. According to the Hamas-controlled local health authorities, more than 9,000 Palestinians have been killed so far.
Support from a German football club
Goldberg-Polin was born in Berkeley, California and moved to Israel with his family as a child. Together with other US-Israeli families, they met Secretary of State Blinken during his last visit and had a long video chat with US President Joe Biden. The support by the US government has been strong and helpful, the family said.
What also helps the family is the support and solidarity shown by friends and strangers — at home and abroad. An avid football fan of top-flight Israeli side Hapoel Jerusalem, Goldberg-Polin has visited Hapoel’s sister club, Werder Bremen, in Germany on numerous occasions.
Werder Bremen, which plays in the top-flight Bundesliga, and several of its fan groups have taken on a key role in raising awareness of the plight of Goldberg-Polin. There’s been a long friendship between Bremen’s most well-known fan group, the Infamous Youth, and Hapoel Jerusalem’s fans, called the Brigade Malcha. Both groups are known for their left-wing, antifascist views.
When the news broke that Goldberg-Polin had been taken to Gaza, the Werder Bremen fans made contact with their club, asking for them to raise awareness of his kidnapping on its official channels. The club agreed. Werder Bremen then used its social media channels, as well as the big screen of its home stadium, to show its solidarity with Goldberg-Polin and his family.
Bremen fan groups also started a crowdfunding campaign for the families of Goldberg-Polin, and a fan of another top Israeli club, Maccabi Haifa, named Inbar Haiman, who was also kidnapped into Gaza.
Everything counts, even if only symbolic
Arne, from Bremen, is a long-year Infamous Youth member and a friend of Goldberg-Polin’s. He told DW about how the Hapoel Jerusalem fan has visited Bremen several times.
“Hersh was someone who took this friendship between our groups very seriously. He enjoyed it,” Arne recalled.
While many Infamous Youth members have been to Jerusalem and are familiar with the reality of the conflict from Germany, Goldberg-Polin’s kidnapping hit close to home, said Arne.
“We do everything to show our friends that we think about them, be it through banners or raising money for their families, even if it’s only symbolic.”
In Jerusalem, this support is very much valued: “To have this beautiful community in Bremen, these kids, or young adults rather, to have them reach out to us, it’s so important,” said Goldberg, adding that the family will continue to do what they can to get her son home.
“And the truth is there are  Hershs there. Hersh is just my Hersh, but there are  Hershs there. And we’re really trying to get everybody’s Hersh home to them.”
Source : DW News