We Sang in Hushed Voices

When the Nazis invade Hungary on March 19, 1944, all elementary school teacher Helena Jockel can think about is how to save “her” children. She accompanies them to Auschwitz-Birkenau only to see them taken to the gas chamber. In her clear-eyed and heartbreaking account of living and surviving in the camp and on a death march, she records both the too-brief moments of beauty and kindness and the unremitting cruelty. After the war, as she renews her passion for teaching under a Communist regime that will not allow her to speak about the Holocaust, Helena refuses to hide the fact that she is Jewish.

At a Glance
Czechoslovakia; Hungary
Ghetto
Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp
Death march
Life under Communism
Arrived in Canada in 1988

128 pages

2015 Living Now Silver Medal

Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

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Photo of Helena Jockel

About the author

Helena Jockel (née Kahan) was born in Mukačevo, Czechoslovakia (now Mukachevo, Ukraine), on October 23, 1919. After the war, she returned to Czechoslovakia and in 1948 married her widowed brother-in-law, Emil Jockel. They remained in Czechoslovakia until Helena retired. In 1988, Helena and Emil moved to Canada to join their family. Helena Jockel passed away in Halifax in 2016.

Explore this story in Re:Collection

Although it seems paradoxical to talk about music and Birkenau in the same breath … together we combined words and voices, our voices hushed so that no one would hear us…. In those moments, we didn’t speak about death and killing….