The Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program

Living #StrongAndFree means living free from discrimination, persecution and war, with the strength that comes from having access to the opportunities to fulfill your dreams.

Not everyone has these opportunities. Today, there are 65.3 million people who have been forced from their homes and who are going to harrowing, deadly lengths for a chance to live a safe and fulfilling life.

For Canada’s 150th birthday, we want to explore how Canada can be the caring and courageous country we believe it to be, which means being a country that provides the chance to live #StrongAndFree to those who have been forcibly displaced.

The stories of the Holocaust survivors who built a new life here in Canada can serve as an empathetic bridge to understanding the lives of people who have recently been displaced by war — and their complex, unimaginable struggle to find a safe place to live.

The memoirs of Holocaust survivors are testimonies that help us better understand the dangers of xenophobia and anti-immigrant fearmongering, how these fears are articulated in public discourse and government policy, and what happens when the world turns its back on the most vulnerable.

Through these Canadian stories, we confront our nation’s past failures, interpret the dangers and responsibilities of the present and remember the reasons to fight for a future Canada that truly lives up to its ideals as a global leader by being open, compassionate and inclusive.

Witnessing & Rescue: Creating Action and Empathy Through Refugee Stories

Jewish refugees en route to Canada, 1949.

The stories we tell matter. Too often news stories and other media demonize refugees and describe them in ways that suggest these refugees don’t belong as part of our country. These negative depictions lead to the creation of concrete political barriers that leave today’s refugees stranded and desperate with nowhere to turn for help.

We can combat this demonization by becoming active witnesses to the individual stories of refugees. We believe that specific, individual stories mobilize compassionate responses and actions.

Canada & Child Refugees

War orphans arrive at Pier 21, Halifax

Today there are 28 million children who have been forcibly displaced from their home by violence and insecurity.

Many of these children fight to survive without any family and experience a high risk of exploitation, slavery and abuse.

Through the testimony of young Jewish refugees left orphaned and alone in war-torn Europe, we can call attention to the plight of all vulnerable children who need our protection.

Second Chance, Canada

Front page coverage of “Swastika Clubs” in Toronto. The Evening Telegram, August 1, 1933. Source: Canadian Jewish Congress CC National Archives.

As Canadians, we need to work to make sure that Canada is an inclusive and compassionate country, today and in the future. This work requires taking a close, honest look at our past failures. The stories of Jewish refugees coming to Canada provide an opportunity to examine a particular moment in Canada’s past.

These stories show how Jewish refugees were eventually able to resettle in Canada and the challenges they faced in rebuilding their lives in a new land, as well as the Canadian public’s response and the government’s policies and institutions that both helped and hindered the process of immigration and settlement.

The Canadian Story of Holocaust Survivors

For some immigrants, the route to Canada is quick and direct. For others, this journey takes many years, with a variety of stops along the way. And arrival in Canada does not always mean arrival in the promised land — many survivors’ stories include adversity and experiences dealing with prejudice, even after everything they have been through to get to Canada. What is common, however, is the determination all survivors share to start new lives and to move on from the horrors of their pasts.

John Freund: "Into A New World, Alone"

Arthur Ney: "The Canadian Rebirth of Arthur Ney"

Renate Krakauer: "I Felt Like I Landed On The Moon"

Leslie Vertes: "What Did I Survive For?"