Dramatic Rescue of Two Hostages Held in Gaza

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Yitzhak Eitan 

After 129 horrific days, former Israeli hostage Louis Herr (70) was rescued in a daring special IDF nighttime operation. Later he relayed, “I haven’t even seen things like that in the movies. I said to the soldier sitting next to me, ‘Say, are you sure we’re not in a movie?’ I had to pinch myself to see that I was awake. That it’s not just another one of my dreams.”  

Louis was rescued together with Fernando Merman (60) after they were imprisoned in an apartment in Rafah in Gaza, even after their family members had been released. In an interview with Channel 12 News, Louis spoke about his experiences when he felt in total crisis mode and his experience during the dramatic rescue. 

Family Members Kidnapped Then Separated 

Louis is not the only member of his family who was kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Yitzchak by Hamas on October 7th. Along with him was his wife Clara (62), Clara’s brother Fernando (60), and sister Gabriella Leimberg (59), along with Gabriella’s daughter Mia (17). Even Gabriella’s dog, Bella, was kidnapped. The females were released after 52 days in captivity. 

“When they were released, they [our captors] told us that the next day, or within a maximum of two days, we would be leaving,” Louis recalls. “Soon [the captors said] we’ll be done with the women and children and that’s it, starting with the men. But when the IDF shelling started, we said, ‘That’s it, we’re not going out.’ “Louis recalled,  “I thought people were busy with war, themselves. That the whole nation is stressed about everything that is happening around us. I argued with Fernando about it. He told me, ‘There must be an organization like this that shows them what to do and who to turn to. Hamas warned us that a drone would catch us there and Netanyahu would send a plane to bomb us. As if what he wants is to kill all the hostages so as not to make a deal.’”  

Fear Turned to Joy 

Describing the first moments when members of the Shin Bet security agency and the police’s elite Yamam counterterrorism unit used explosives to breach the second-floor apartment where the two were being held, Louis said, “Suddenly there was an explosion. The first thought was that the building had been blown up by the IDF. I rolled off the mattress, specifically in the direction of the terrorists.  Suddenly, they [our rescuers] shouted, ‘Louis, here!’ They grabbed my leg and said [in Hebrew], ‘IDF, IDF! We came to take you home.’ They lowered our heads and lay on top of us [to protect us]. It was madness. I haven’t even seen such things in the movies.” 

As they brought the hostages out of the apartment, one of the Shin Bet operatives noticed that Louis was barefoot. He picked him up and carried him so he would not get cut from the glass on the floor. He then took off his own shoes and tied them on to Louis. The shoes went with Louis to Tel HaShomer Hospital and the operative finished the operation without shoes. 

After Louis and Fernando were raced out of the apartment where they had been held, they were whisked into armored vehicles to a makeshift helipad deep in Gaza, then transferred to a military helicopter, which took them to Tel HaShomer Hospital.  

In the Aftermath  

Reflecting on his life after being rescued, Louis said, “Every time I find [out about] another friend of mine who was murdered, or situations I didn’t know about [it’s so hard for me]. There was a scene at a rally [calling for the release of the hostages] where a boy wearing a hoodie hugged my daughter, Natalie, as if he knew her. He turned to me and said, ‘It’s great that you’re here. My cousin was on the team that rescued you.’ I was happy and said, ‘Oh great, tell him…’ But he stopped me and said, ‘He was killed a week ago.’ It broke me completely.”