The Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program

Every victim of the Holocaust carried their own history — the spirit of a family, the legacy of a community and a culture — as well as a future brutally cut short.

These lost worlds, histories and communities live on in the memoirs of Holocaust survivors.

The memoirs of Holocaust survivors are more than simple autobiographies. These books do not simply tell one individual’s story — they also recount the stories of those who did not survive, paint the portraits of millions of murdered Jews, each of whom had a name and an identity. The loss of these people marks the end of an entire civilization, which exists today only in the collective memory of those of us who read these stories.

For most survivors, their story is all that they had left after the war. The moral imperative to remember drives every memoir; these books are memorials to a lost world whose inhabitants did not survive the Holocaust but who the readers can know and remember and share through the stories and memories of the survivors.

Below are vivid memorials to these lost worlds, the shtetls and urban Jewish communities in Eastern Europe decimated by the Nazis’ genocidal mission that now only exist in the testimony and memoirs of Holocaust survivors.

Rabbi Pinchas Hirschprung, a renowned and revered Jewish scholar who would later become Chief Rabbi of Montreal, takes us inside the peaceful shtetl of Dukla, in the eastern Polish region of Galicia. His memoir offers a rare glimpse into a tight-knit community that lived by Jewish customs and explores how they dealt with the oncoming storm.

Michael Kutz grew up in a small Eastern European town with a strong Jewish presence, where Jewish tradesmen and artisans were the driving economic force and where even the Belorussians and Ukrainians living in the town spoke and understood Yiddish. Witness the people and institutions that formed this community and how it was destroyed in the “Holocaust by Bullets.”

Bronia Beker brings to life the people who inhabited her hometown of Kozowa, Poland. Her lively and vivid depictions of Kozowa’s Jewish residents are a poignant memorial to all who were murdered in the ghetto after the German occupation in 1941.

Alex Levin and his family were part of Rokitno’s 2,000-member-strong Jewish community, in what he describes as “majestic and beautiful surroundings.” Witness life in Alex’s home shtetl and how he was forced to build a new community hidden in the deep woods after the Nazis massacred Rokitno’s Jewish population.

Willie Sterner grew up in one of the oldest and most important Jewish communities in Europe — Kazimierz, Krakow’s Jewish quarter. But Krakow became the capital of the Nazis’ General Government in 1941, and Kazimierz, a historic centre of Jewish culture and religion, was decimated.

Rachel Milbauer’s family farm was located in the small village of Turka, outside the city of Kołomyja in Eastern Galicia. Rachel remembers carefree days here with her very close extended family and playing with local Hungarian and Ukrainian neighbours. Rachel’s memoir poignantly brings to life both her bucolic childhood community and its tragic end.