The Azrieli Foundation is a Canadian philanthropic organization that supports a wide range of initiatives and programs in the fields of education, architecture and design, Jewish community, Holocaust commemoration and education, scientific and medical research, and the arts. Their Holocaust Survivor Memoirs program was established in 2005 to collect, preserve and share the memoirs and diaries written by survivors of the twentieth-century Nazi genocide of the Jews of Europe who later made their way to Canada.
Usability Matters is an award-winning user experience design studio delivering exceptional screen-based experiences for all kinds of users. From strategy through design and research, UM works with clients in the arts, healthcare, logistics, not-for-profit, publishing, travel and more.
Riddle Films are producers dedicated to capturing the worlds of the performing arts and culture and making them accessible to as broad an audience as possible. Their work airs on television screens, online and at film festivals around the world, including CBC, Bravo, PBS, YLE, Canal+, the Toronto International Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival, the Rotterdam International Film Festival, and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
The Dev Guys is a small team of agile, adaptable and highly experienced developers, specializing in solution development across the areas of web, mobile and application creation. Established in 2011, they’ve successfully developed and launched dozens of projects ranging from data analysis tools to custom content management solutions, mobile games and applications.
Alex Levin was born in 1932 in Rokitno, Poland. He escaped a mass shooting in his village and survived the Holocaust by hiding in the forest. After the war he joined the Soviet army, then came to Canada in 1975. Alex died in 2016 at the age of 83.
Anka Voticky was born in Brandýs nad Labem, Czechoslovakia, in 1913. She and her family survived the Holocaust by living as refugees in Shanghai, China. In 1948, they immigrated to Montreal, Canada. Anka died in 2014 at the age of 100.
Anna Molnár Hegedűs was born in Szátmar, Hungary, in 1897. She survived imprisonment in the Szatmár ghetto and Auschwitz during the Holocaust. After the war, Anna immigrated to Israel in 1949 and to Canada in 1952. Anna died in 1979.
Arthur Ney was born in Warsaw in 1930. During the war he was imprisoned in the Warsaw ghetto but escaped before the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. He hid in a Polish orphanage until his liberation and came to Canada in 1948. Arthur died in 2016.
Claire Baum was born on January 25, 1936, in Rotterdam, Netherlands. She and her sister lived in hiding with a non-Jewish woman they called Tante Nell. Her parents also survived the war, and they all moved to Canada in 1951. Claire lives in Toronto.
Sisters Kitty Salsberg and Ellen Foster were born in Budapest, Hungary. They survived the Budapest ghetto hiding in a bomb shelter. They came to Canada in 1948. Kitty lives in Toronto, and Ellen lives in Los Angeles.
Elsa Thon was born in 1923 in Pruszków, Poland. During the war she left the Krakow Ghetto with false papers, but was caught and sent to the Plaszów camp. After the war, she went to Argentina in 1955, then to Canada in 1980. Elsa lives in Toronto.
Eva Meisels was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1939. When the Nazis occupied Hungary, she and her mother were sent to the Budapest ghetto and liberated in January 1945. They came to Canada in 1956. Eva and her husband, Leslie, live in Toronto.
Felix Opatowski was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1924. He survived the Lodz ghetto and several concentration camps, including Auschwitz. After liberation, he worked at a US army base and immigrated to Canada in 1949. Felix passed away in 2017.
Felicia Carmelly was born in Vatra Dornei, Romania, in 1931. She survived the war in a camp in Transnistria, near the Ukraine. In 1959, Felicia and her family immigrated to Israel and came to Canada three years later. Felicia lives in Toronto.
Helena Jockel was born in Mukačevo, Czechoslovakia, in 1919. She spent most of the war imprisoned in Auschwitz. After liberation, Helena returned to Czechoslovakia and came to Canada in 1988. Helena Jockel passed away in 2016.
John Freund was born in 1930 in České Budějovice, Czechoslovakia. During the war he was imprisoned in concentration camps, first Terezin, then Auschwitz. An orphan after the war, John immigrated to Canada in 1948. He lives in Toronto.
Judy Abrams was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1937. She survived the war by hiding in an Ursuline convent and endured the Siege of Budapest living with her aunt. She came to Canada in 1949 and divides her time between Montreal and New York.
Leslie Meisels was born in 1927, in Nádudvar, Hungary. His entire immediate family survived the Holocaust in several concentration camps. He immigrated to the US in 1958 and to Canada in 1967. He and his wife, Eva, live in Toronto.
Leslie Vertes was born in Ajak, Hungary, in 1924. He survived the Holocaust in hiding. Shortly after liberation he was sent to several labour camps by the Soviet forces. After the Hungarian Uprising, Leslie immigrated to Canada. Leslie lives in Montreal.
Marguerite Élias Quddus was born in Paris, France. She survived the war hiding with her sister in convents and on farms, but her father was taken to Auschwitz and murdered. She came to Canada in 1968. Marguerite lives in Montreal.
Marian (Finkelman) Domanski was born in Otwock, Poland, in 1928. He escaped the Otwock ghetto and moved between Polish villages, surviving the war posing as a non-Jewish herdsman. He immigrated to Canada in 1970. Marian passed away in 2012.
Max Bornstein was born in November 1921 in Warsaw, Poland. He lived in Winnipeg but moved to Paris in 1933. During the war he was caught sneaking into neutral Spain and sent to a labour camp. He returned to Canada in 1947 and passed away in 2015.
Michael Kutz was born in Nieśwież, Poland, in November 1930. He escaped from a mass grave and survived the war by joining the partisans in the Belorussian forest. He immigrated to Canada in the early 1950s. Michael and his wife, Pat, live in Montreal.
Muguette Szpajzer-Myers was born in 1931 in Paris, France. She survived the war in hiding in the village of Champlost with her mother and older brother. In 1947, Muguette immigrated to Canada. Muguette lives in Montreal.
Nate Leipciger was born in Chorzów, Poland, in 1928. During the war he was sent to several ghettos and then to Auschwitz and other concentration camps. He survived with his father, and they immigrated to Canada in 1948. Nate lives in Toronto.
Rachel Milbauer was born in 1935 in Turka, Poland. She was sent to the Kolomyja ghetto, then escaped with her family and hid in a barn until liberation. In the mid-1950s, she immigrated to Israel, then to Canada in 1958. Rachel lives in Toronto.
Steve Rotschild was born in Vilna, Lithuania, in 1933. Along with his mother, he survived the Vilna ghetto and the HKP labour camp. After the war, he immigrated to Israel with his family in 1949 and from there to Canada. Steve lives in Toronto.
Tommy Dick was born in 1925 in Budapest, Hungary. He survived forced labour battalions and escaped from a firing squad. He hid in various hospitals until the end of the war. In 1948, he immigrated to Calgary, Canada, and passed away in 1999.
Families before and during the Holocaust were comprised of immediate and extended family members, just as they are now. Some survivors, like Judy Abrams, had no siblings, while others, like Helena Jockel, had many. And some, like Rachel Shtibel, lived with numerous relatives, often including aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins in homes that were busy and full of life. Many survivors watched these family members die during the Holocaust, while others were separated and never saw their parents or siblings again. A few lucky ones made it through the war together. Memories of family are often the most precious and the most painful to survivors of the Holocaust.
Some of the most important aspects of Holocaust survivors' accounts of their lives are their memories of life before the war. Their stories of the shtetls and towns they grew up in, with their inhabitants, customs, routines and celebrations, are often the only remnants of communities and ways of life that were completely wiped out by the war.
Although most Holocaust survivors' stories are of events they experienced, many were often aware of the greater geo-political actions going on in the countries around them. Some, like Michael Kutz, took an active interest in warring nations and their leaders, listening to the radio and asking many questions. And others, like Helena Jockel, were devastated by the actions and inactions of their politicians. The escalation of world events and changing alliances may have had global importance, but they also had a very human cost.
For many centuries, Jews had experienced waves of prejudice and oppression and had been subject to violent attacks, but during the Holocaust the Nazis implemented a program of state-sponsored antisemitism throughout the German-occupied countries that was unprecedented in scope. They targeted not only Jews, but also Roma, political dissidents, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the disabled. The Nazis confiscated property from Jews, denied Jews access to public places like parks and movie theatres, and barred Jews from attending schools, owning businesses and participating in other aspects of civic and public life. The discriminatory laws bolstered the actions of many ordinary citizens who harassed, humiliated and physically harmed their Jewish neighbours.
Following the Nazi government's Wannsee Conference in 1942, which confirmed the regime's plans to carry out their "Final Solution," deportations of Jews began across Europe. Jewish families and individuals, including the ones in Re:Collection, were forcibly removed from their homes or ghettos and were transported – often by train, but sometimes by truck or foot – to a variety of camps established by the Nazis. Many Jews were taken to death camps, where the overwhelming majority were murdered.
During the Holocaust, many survivors, along with their families, were forced from their homes and confined to living in ghettos. These ghettos were often enclosed districts within a town or city in which Jews were segregated from the rest of the population. Daily life continued in some form, but living conditions were miserable, and starvation, disease and murder was rampant. Some inhabitants escaped, others resisted through smuggling – trading goods on the black market – while others were witness to, or even took part in, armed uprisings, the largest of which was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943.
Beginning in 1933 and continuing until the end of the war, Nazi Germany created more than 20,000 camps to detain and imprison millions of victims of the Holocaust. The facilities ranged from forced-labour camps to transit camps to death camps, or killing centres. More than three million people were murdered in these killing centres alone. For the small percentage of survivors, daily life meant facing starvation, disease and brutal beatings, and often the loss of all of their loved ones.
The term “Final Solution,” a short form of the euphemistic “Final Solution to the Jewish Question” was used by the Nazis to refer to their ultimate plan to wipe out the Jewish people. The organized mass murder began with the use of mobile killing units and the operation of killing sites: Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Chelmno, Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau. More than 2,700,000 Jewish people were murdered by asphyxiation with poison gas or by shooting. Killing units would enter a town, assemble its Jewish population and murder men, women and children, whether young or old, healthy or sick. By the end of the war, Nazi-occupied Europe was littered with mass graves, often the only remaining evidence of once-thriving Jewish communities.
Resistance to Nazi Germany and its collaborators took many forms, including spiritual resistance, aid and rescue, and open revolt. Some survivors, such as Arthur Ney, recall armed uprisings, which occurred in ghettos and camps across occupied Poland and the Soviet Union. Others, such as Michael Kutz, describe escaping into the forest and joining armed Soviet partisan units, or in some cases forming separate partisan groups, to harass German occupiers and sabotage the war effort. Even without taking up arms, Jews who continued to participate in religious, cultural and educational activities played an equally important role in resisting Nazi persecution.
Life in hiding took various forms for Jews during the war. For some, hiding lasted only days, while for others, such as Rachel Shtibel, hiding went on for years. Many Jews spent the Holocaust hiding in plain sight, assuming false identities and living as non-Jews. For everyone, however, one thing was certain: life in hiding was always treacherous, and many were caught. Throughout the Holocaust, the Nazis made every effort to uncover Jews in hiding, including bribing and rewarding those who turned people in. For those who were found helping Jews, punishment was severe, often ending in death.
One theme that is very common in survivors' stories is escape. Many, if not most, can speak of moments in which they narrowly avoided capture or death – often escaping from deportations, camps, ghettos, prisons or executions. Escape often took great courage and sometimes assistance, and was almost never guaranteed to succeed. The question for many was not what they were escaping from, but what they were escaping to.
Many survivors credit moments of survival to luck, fortune, fate or miracles. Sometimes these miracles, as they are most often referred to, are attributed to faith, God or religion, but just as often they are not. For some, whatever the force was that intervened to save their life is inexplicable, but no less significant and profound.
There is a well-known saying in Judaism, "Whoever saves a single life, saves an entire universe" (Mishnah, Sanhedrin 4:5). This saying is often applied to those who helped during the Holocaust. Whether it was to rescue hundreds, or even thousands of lives, as Oskar Schindler or Raoul Wallenberg did, or one single life, these acts of bravery and compassion not only saved the survivors themselves but also ensured the continuation of their families and descendants. As Claire Baum says of her own rescuer, Tante Nel, "She didn't just save my sister and me, she saved an entire generation."
Liberation arrived at different times and in different ways for every survivor. It was a day dreamed of by all but when it came, it was not always the joyous occasion we might imagine it to be. Many survivors, after liberation, found themselves thousands of miles from home, with little or no family left alive and they themselves sick or injured. For every story of Allied troops chasing away the Nazi oppressors or their collaborators, there are also stories of suffering and long and difficult journeys home, in some cases only to find those homes destroyed or occupied by strangers. Survivors searched for loved ones, often hearing tragic news about their fates, and continued to face threats of violence, hatred and discrimination. For every survivor, life would never be the same again.
Canada became the eventual home for all of the survivors in Re:Collection. For some, the route here was quick and direct. For others, it was a journey over a number of years, with a variety of stops along the way. And arrival in Canada did not always mean arrival in the promised land – many survivors' stories include adversity and prejudice, even after everything they had been through. What is common, however, is the determination all survivors shared to start new lives and to move on from the horrors of their pasts.
In the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, survivors who were trying to go home or find loved ones experienced chaos and tragedy at almost every turn. Often there were no homes or families to go back to. Years later, the traumas they had faced continued to haunt many survivors. The long-term emotional effects vary — from an avoidance of the past to persistent nightmares or to a constant struggle to come to terms with what happened to them and their loved ones. Many survivors have theories as to why they survived, while others are uncertain what to attribute their survival to. And for some, drawing on their painful experiences is a way forward, both cathartic and a way to teach others, to help future generations avoid the horrific mistakes of the past.
The Nazi persecution of Jews in occupied Europe was systematic and escalated slowly. Anti-Jewish laws were put in place to isolate and single out Jews, and cement their status as lowlier than non-Jews. These were the first steps of the Holocaust, when Jews lost their possessions, civil rights and citizenship at the hands of the Nazis. This special collection recounts the ways that some survivors experienced state-imposed persecution.
With the end of World War II, the remaining Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe were finally liberated. This may have marked the end of the Holocaust, but for many survivors the trauma never left them. They still have physical and emotional scars from their experiences. They still grieve over their loved ones. Their perspectives on life are forever shaped by their stories of survival. This special collection shows the range of post-war experiences that survivors carry with them decades after the end of the war.
One of the most notorious killing sites during the Holocaust was the concentration and death camp known as Auschwitz. Upon arrival, Jews were selected either for life or death, with those chosen for labour separated from their loved ones who were murdered in gas chambers. The labourers worked long hours in horrific conditions on a starvation diet, living in fear that every moment could be their last. From the deportation on cattle cars to the forced death marches, this featured special collection outlines the trauma that survivors of Auschwitz endured during the Holocaust.
More than one million children were murdered in the Holocaust, but some managed to evade the Nazis. They were sheltered by brave individuals, religious institutions or resistance groups who risked their lives to keep them safe. Others were left to fend for themselves, posing as gentiles with false identities or seeking refuge in forests. Some were in hiding with their families, while others were separated from their parents, who may not have survived the war. The stories of some of the children who managed to survive in hiding are featured in the collection below.