Memoirs

Connect with the voices of Holocaust survivors. Our program was established by the Azrieli Foundation in 2005 to collect, preserve and share the memoirs and diaries written by survivors of the Holocaust who came to Canada. These stories, told personally from the perspective of those who lived through the Holocaust, have a powerful impact on students. The narratives portray people in the fullness of their lives, adding individual voices to a collective experience and helping students make meaning out of the statistics. When taught in their broader historical contexts, survivor memoirs engage students in an educational experience that deepens their understanding of the Holocaust.

These diverse memoirs – published in both English and French – are distributed free of charge to students, teachers, post-secondary instructors, academic researchers, and school and university libraries across Canada. The program’s editorial and research staff carefully fact-checks the accounts and offers readers supplementary material, such as glossaries, introductions written by experts, and maps. A variety of bilingual educational resources are available to support teachers who are using the memoirs in their classrooms.

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Tenuous Threads

Chestnut Boulevard

My father was actively involved with the Hungarian Zionist Organization and, unlike other Hungarian Jews, he did not lull himself into a false sense of security, trusting that the “civilized” Germans and Hungarians would never harm the Jews. He believed the unbelievable stories of persecution told by the refugees from Nazi-occupied countries; he believed even the inconceivable accounts of concentration camps that the few escaped inmates had brought with them. That spring my father had managed to procure false documents for me. Were those documents copied or forged? In any case, they were my entry into the Christian Hungarian community. With the help of Mária Babar, a devout Catholic who had previously worked for our family, it was arranged for me to hide with the Ursuline nuns.

My mother had made a courageous and painful decision by taking this walk with me under the festive wild chestnuts toward the convent of the Ursuline nuns on Stefánia Street near the Városliget, the city park where I had played with my nanny only a few months before. My mother rang the outer bell on the gate of the tall, black iron railing that surrounded the convent. Behind it was a garden, where I seem to remember yellow dandelions dotting the shaggy grass that looked as though it badly needed a trim. When I recently managed to contact the Hungarian Ursuline nuns, they sent me the photograph of the convent building as it was in Budapest in 1944. My memory of the iron grill railing was accurate.

On the day my mother and I arrived at the Ursuline Mother House a strange woman in a black floor-length gown opened the gate. Only a patch of her face was visible under the stiff white band across her forehead to which a starched white bib-like collar was attached. There was no glimpse of hair under the black silk veil flowing from the band to below her shoulders and secured by a pin at the top of her head. 10 tenuous threads

It was the first time I had ever seen a nun this close up. My stomach seemed to constrict around a pebble I hadn’t swallowed. This is a feeling I remember distinctly, a sensation that returns whenever I confront an unavoidable crisis. She must have smiled as her hands escaped from the full sleeves of her ample dress to reach for mine because when I followed her along the path toward the yellow stucco two-storey villa, that pebble in my middle began to dissolve.

Surely my mother waved as she turned from the gate that closed behind me. We would not see each other again for more than a year. How did she say goodbye? She may have said something that ended in pipikém (my little chicken), her favourite endearment for me in Hungarian. I only remember feeling strangely relieved as she released me to follow on my own behind my new companion. From this black-clad woman’s waist swung a string of large beads ending in a cross that bounced at every lively step. When she opened the front door she had addressed me for the first time by my new name, “Ilona,” or its diminutive, “Ili.” Nobody would call me “Judit” or “Jutka” or “Juditka” for almost a year. The game now began in earnest. I was to become Ilona Papp, a Catholic child temporarily separated from her parents in the Hungarian countryside.

Retenue par un fil/Une question de chance

Boulevard des Marronniers

Mon père était très engagé dans l’Organisation sioniste hongroise et, contrairement à d’autres Juifs hongrois, il ne se berçait pas d’illusions en espérant que les Allemands et les Hongrois « civilisés » ne s’attaquent pas aux Juifs. Il prêtait foi aux histoires incroyables de persécutions que racontaient les réfugiés des pays occupés par les nazis ; il croyait même aux récits sur ces endroits inconcevables qu’étaient les camps de concentration et que rapportaient les quelques détenus qui avaient réussi à s’en échapper. Ce printemps-là, mon père était parvenu à me procurer de faux papiers. S’agissait-il de copies ou de faux fabriqués de toutes pièces ? Quoi qu’il en soit, ils m’ont ouvert les portes de la communauté hongroise chrétienne. Grâce à l’aide de Mária Babar, une fervente catholique qui avait autrefois travaillé pour notre famille, mes parents ont pris des dispositions pour me cacher chez les soeurs ursulines.

Ma mère avait pris une décision, aussi courageuse que douloureuse, en me conduisant sous les marronniers sauvages en fête vers le couvent des soeurs ursulines de la rue Stefánia, proche de Városliget, le parc de la ville dans lequel, il y a à peine quelques mois, je jouais encore avec ma bonne. Ma mère a fait retentir la sonnette au portail de la haute grille de fer noire entourant le couvent. Derrière elle, on découvrait un jardin dont, si je me souviens bien, l’herbe hirsute, qui avait grand besoin d’être entretenue, était parsemée de pissenlits jaunes. Lorsque j’ai réussi tout récemment à contacter les soeurs ursulines hongroises, elles m’ont envoyé la photographie du couvent tel qu’il était en 1944. Ma mémoire concernant la grille de fer était exacte.

Le jour où ma mère et moi sommes arrivées à la maison mère des Ursulines, une femme étrange, revêtue d’une longue robe noire, nous a ouvert la grille. On ne pouvait apercevoir qu’un coin de son visage derrière le strict bandeau blanc qui barrait son front et auquel était attachée une guimpe blanche amidonnée. Aucun cheveu ne dépassait derrière le voile de soie noire qui tombait du bandeau jusqu’au-dessous de ses épaules et qui était fixé par une épingle au sommet de sa tête.

C’était la première fois que je voyais une religieuse d’aussi près. Il m’a semblé que mon estomac se contractait autour d’un caillou que je n’avais pourtant pas avalé. C’est là une sensation dont je me souviens précisément, une sensation qui revient à chaque fois que je suis confrontée à une crise inévitable. Sans doute m’a-t-elle souri lorsque ses mains se sont échappées des larges manches de sa vaste robe pour s’emparer des miennes car, tandis que je la suivais le long de l’allée qui conduisait au pavillon de stuc jaune à deux étages, ce caillou dans mon ventre a commencé à disparaître.

Ma mère m’a certainement fait signe de la main lorsqu’elle s’est éloignée de la grille qui s’est refermée sur moi. Nous n’allions pas nous revoir avant un an. Comment m’a-t-elle dit au revoir ? Il se peut qu’elle ait dit quelque chose se terminant par pipikém (ma poulette), le terme d’affection qu’elle utilisait en hongrois à mon égard. Je me souviens seulement que je me suis sentie étrangement soulagée lorsqu’elle m’a autorisée à suivre toute seule ma nouvelle compagne. Autour de la taille de cette femme vêtue de noir se balançait un cordon de grandes perles orné d’une croix qui rebondissait à chacun de ses pas vifs. Lorsqu’elle a ouvert la porte d’entrée, elle s’est adressée à moi pour la première fois en utilisant mon nouveau nom, « Ilona » ou son diminutif « Ili ». Personne n’allait plus m’appeler « Judit » ou « Juditka » pendant près d’un an. Maintenant, le jeu commençait pour de bon. Je devais devenir Ilona Papp, une fillette catholique, provisoirement séparée de ses parents dans la campagne hongroise.

My Introduction to Misery

Six Lost Years

For the next five months, we experienced some tranquility; we had more freedom and peace. Radom had a large Jewish population before the war and it had become larger due to the influx of Jews from surrounding areas. It was not paradise or like life before the war, but we managed to sustain some quality of family life.

My brother Ben befriended a younger man whose father was a watch repairman. Being so mechanically inclined, Ben was fascinated with the mechanism of watches and picked up the profession in no time. He also befriended a young lady, Etta, and soon insisted on marrying her.

Then, by April 1941, the ghetto in Radom was established. At first, it was easier to endure than the ghetto in Lodz or Warsaw, but with the influx of Jews from other communities, it soon also became crowded. With a shortage of apartments and work, the picture started to look like Warsaw again – people begging and sleeping in the streets, with some never waking up.

In the ghetto, the Nazis formed a Jewish police force. Ben was invited to join but declined. We were allowed to go out only if we had work outside the ghetto. We had to have official papers showing our place of work, were forced to wear white armbands with a blue Star of David and had a 7:00 p.m. curfew. After that time, we kids congregated on the stairway of our apartment building to entertain ourselves.

Through the Jewish Council, who were in charge of the ghetto’s administration (under Nazi orders), Ben got a job as a superintendent and handyman in the German Security Service, or “SD,” which occupied an entire six-storey building. The Germans took a liking to him; sometimes he came home with bread, salami or cheese. He also received a bicycle and special papers permitting him to leave the ghetto at any time. The bike had a plate on it saying: “This bicycle belongs to the Department of Special Forces,” and nobody could claim it. It was unusual for a Jew to possess a bicycle, but its purpose was to allow Ben to go to work on the spur of the moment.

Ben had a gift. People always took a liking to him. He was handy and inventive, and had built an AM and shortwave radio at age fourteen. He was a mechanical genius and could fix anything. He mastered watchmaking and photography, and he even fixed guns. I asked Ben if he could get me a job as his assistant. He asked his boss and sure enough, I became Ben’s helper. He showed me how to install electrical lines and outlets, make window blinds and fix small appliances. We worked together on many projects.

Working in a military building, we saw Poles who had been brought in from the underground organizations and from the Polish intelligentsia – leaders, lawyers, priests, doctors and teachers. They were interrogated and tortured; we saw them beaten beyond human imagination. Their screams still ring in my ears.

In the Hour of Fate and Danger

A Fragile Liberation

Just as we have completely caught up with the head of the column, we spot, on the left side of the bend, a strong, slim young man looking down on us from the top of a hill covered with rocks and brush. His gaze is confident; he has a quick-firing gun in his hand and is wearing a black felt cap with a red star on the front. He stands all alone on the peak. A few times, he motions toward the bottom of the hill with a wide sweep of his arm, as if he were signalling our arrival to his army.

The man is a Tito Partisan. He aims his weapon at the deathly pale guards. “Put your rifles, handguns, magazines and bayonets in the middle of the road!” he shouts with blood-curdling determination, and we hear him cock his gun. No sooner has the Partisan finished giving his orders than the soldiers guarding us throw down their weapons helter-skelter. They stand around the discarded weapons looking lost: without their guns, they are naked. They are whining and there is fear in their eyes; they are afraid of retribution.

The second Partisan, who has just appeared on the top of the hill, gives instructions to us in Hungarian, “Collect the guns and stack them in a pyramid shape. Use separate piles for handguns, hand grenades and magazines. Don’t lay a finger on the guards.”

The despondent prisoners are about to be seized by the urge to start lynching.

The Adam’s apple of one of the sergeants is bobbing in his throat; his handlebar moustache is trembling. The foul-mouthed corporal who wanted to leave us rotting in a dirty rathole now begs us for civilian clothes. He has already cast off his uniform, along with his soldier’s honour; he starts blubbering, imploring his former prisoners to hide him and give him some clothes.

As if the Holy Ghost had entered some of the older men, the limp­ing pharmacist pulls out a T-shirt that mice have gnawed holes in to give to the corporal. He is about to hand over the raggedy garment, but the others attack him, angrily berating him and calling him a filthy traitor.

If someone were to make a movie now, he would observe what a poor, pitiable, ghostlike bunch of people we are; we simply cannot process what has happened to us. The orderly rows have broken up, but it hasn’t dawned on us yet that we are liberated from bondage, from the murderers and their henchmen, from those who filled us with anguish, from the thieves who sold the bulk of our provisions on the black market.

The two Partisans on the hilltop direct the rescued men impatiently from the road to the mountain path covered in shrubs and wildflowers. We retrieve the weapons and ammunition from their stacks and distribute them among ourselves. The guards now march in the middle like a flock of sheep. Deathly pale, they walk as slowly as altar boys before Mass.We are in the Erzgebirge, in the woods of the Homolje mountains, somewhere near Žagubica; the other village, Laznica, cannot be too far off.

Buried Words

Dear Diary

Sunday, March 14

I have opened my notebook again after a rather long break. And it is because today we are standing for the whole day in the stable to stretch ourselves out a little. And because it is very uncomfortable for me to write lying down, I brought the notebook upstairs. But the conditions are not favourable here either, because I am chilled to the bone even though it is mid-March and the weather is beautiful, the sun is shining brightly and the earth is fragrant. If only I could walk out of the stable door and sit on the threshold... It is so distant and simply unattainable, that, unfortunately, I should not even whet my appetite and dream about it. I already cannot imagine a life different from the one I am living. Shall it always be like this? Is the evil ever going to end?

Wednesday, April 7

The world is so large, so extremely enormous, that you cannot go around it fast or comprehend its vastness, not even with your mind. Almost the entire globe is inhabited by people. Apparently people live even on the other side of the moon and on Mars, too. There is a place on the surface of the earth for all living creatures. Sadly, there is no place on the surface of the earth only for two miserable, abandoned living creatures. So these two poor, miserable human beings are forced to live under the surface, squeezed in a small box, where you can merely lie down and still feel cramped. And you can only dream about sitting. And these creatures lie in this box for months on end and they emerge into the stable for only three hours a day. Confinement — dirt, bugs, darkness and stuffiness — as in a grave. But these creatures are so happy that it is as it is and not worse and they are thankful for this ‘grave’ in their daily prayers. And they say nothing, they do not even complain anymore because they know that there is no place for them on the surface of the earth. Are we destined to ever emerge onto the surface?

Les Mots enfouis : Le Journal de Molly Applebaum

Cher journal

Dimanche 14 mars

J’ai rouvert mon carnet après une assez longue pause. Car aujourd’hui, nous passons la journée debout dans l’écurie, afin de nous étirer un peu. Et comme ce n’est vraiment pas confortable pour moi d’écrire allongée, j’ai emmené mon carnet là-haut. Mais les conditions ici ne sont pas bonnes non plus. Bien que nous soyons à la mi-mars, que le temps soit magnifique, que le soleil brille et que la terre dégage un doux parfum, je suis glacée jusqu’à la moelle. J’aimerais pouvoir franchir le pas de la porte de l’étable et m’asseoir sur le perron... C’est tellement loin et tout simplement hors d’atteinte que malheureusement, je ne devrais même pas m’aiguiser l’appétit et y songer. J’ai déjà du mal à imaginer une autre vie que celle que je mène actuellement. Sera-ce toujours comme cela ? Les souffrances s’arrêteront-elles un jour ?

Mercredi 7 avril

Le monde est si vaste, si incroyablement grand, qu’on ne peut en faire rapidement le tour ou en réaliser l’immensité, même par la pensée. Presque toute la surface du globe est habitée. Il paraît même que des gens vivent sur la face cachée de la lune et aussi sur Mars. Sur Terre, il y a de la place pour tous les êtres vivants. Hélas, il n’y a pas de place sur Terre pour deux pauvres créatures abandonnées. Ces deux pauvres et malheureuses créatures sont obligées de vivre sous terre, serrées dans une petite caisse dans laquelle on peut à peine s’allonger et où on se sent à l’étroit. S’asseoir est la seule chose dont on puisse rêver. Ces personnes sont allongées dans cette caisse depuis de longs mois et n’en sortent que trois heures par jour pour aller à l’étable. L’enfermement — la saleté, la vermine, l’obscurité et le manque d’air —, tout est comme dans un cercueil. Mais ces créatures sont heureuses que la situation soit ainsi et pas pire, et expriment leur reconnaissance pour ce « cercueil » dans leurs prières quotidiennes. Elles ne disent rien, elles ont cessé de se plaindre car elles savent qu’il n’y a pas de place pour elles sur Terre. Sommes-nous destinées à refaire surface un jour ?

The Hidden Package

Separation

Before I went to bed, Mam and Pap told me that Ollie and I were to go away with someone named Pauw the next day. They wanted to wait until the morning to mention it to Ollie. I asked who Pauw was, as I hadn’t met him, but I didn’t question why we would be going away. I understood that Mam and Pap must have had a very good reason. I thought about what they had said to each other in the afternoon, even though I was not supposed to be listening.

Ever since the outbreak of the war, the Germans had installed rockets in the park next to our house. These rockets were fired from various locations in Europe and, in Holland, from Rotterdam. At night, when the rockets were sent, the noise was deafening. Lying in bed, I couldn’t help hearing that horrible screeching sound. I had been getting somewhat used to it, however, that particular night, they sounded louder than ever. I plugged my ears, but it didn’t help. Every time they flew over our house it was scary enough, but I was even more worried as to what I was going to face the next day. How was I going to tell Ollie that we had to leave Mam and Pap?

Every morning, Mam and Pap would wake us up at 7:00 a.m. On that particular morning in October, their greeting seemed different. They appeared nervous while we had our breakfast, and they were whispering to each other. When we finished eating, they asked us to listen very carefully. Then they told us that we, Ollie and me, were going away for a little while. Although it wasn’t a surprise to me, I was still afraid because I didn’t know where, and for how long, we would be gone.

My sister, being two years younger than me, thought that she was going on a holiday with Mam and Pap. She packed her little suitcase and was excited to go away. Ollie didn’t understand that our parents were sending the two of us away without them. I, however, understood very well that we were not going on a holiday.

Before we left, we were given strict instructions never to talk to strangers. We were to act as nieces of our new family and we would be brought up as Christians. We were to tell anyone who asked that Mam was in the hospital and that Pap was working in Germany. It was a very believable alibi, a fabrication we would be forced to tell in order to survive. No one was ever to know that we were Jewish.

A little later, a stranger whom we were told to call Oom Pauw came to pick us up. I still didn’t ask our parents why we had to go; I knew we had to. We both kissed Mam and Pap goodbye and went with Oom Pauw, the Resistance worker, to the train station in Rotterdam where we boarded a train. Our destination was Soestduinen, less than a hundred kilometres away but, to me, far away from Rotterdam, our home.

I can still remember how Oom Pauw lifted us up into the train because the step was much too high. I also recall that we had to transfer and I believe it was in Amersfoort where we waited inside the station for our connection. Meanwhile, Oom Pauw gave us something to eat. While we were eating our sandwiches, through the window we saw soldiers marching up and down the platform. Oom Pauw didn’t want to draw attention to us and he told us not to be afraid and not to look at anyone, just to pay attention to our food.

We didn’t know where exactly Oom Pauw was taking us but after an hour’s train ride we arrived at our new home in Soestduinen, “the sand dunes of Soest.” This little village on the coast of the North Sea was located near the queen’s summer palace in Soest. Her palace either stood empty or was occupied by the Nazis when our queen was forced to leave Holland in 1940 at the outbreak of the war. We were far away from Rotterdam, far away from Mam and Pap.

Le Colis caché

La Séparation

Avant que j’aille me coucher, mes parents m’ont annoncé qu’Ollie et moi partirions le lendemain avec un dénommé Pauw. Ils voulaient attendre le matin pour en parler à Ollie. J’ai demandé qui était ce Pauw que je ne connaissais pas, mais je n’ai pas cherché à savoir pourquoi nous devions partir. Je comprenais que Mam et Pap devaient avoir de très bonnes raisons. J’ai repensé aux propos qu’ils avaient échangés au cours de l’après-midi et que j’avais surpris à leur insu.

Au tout début de la guerre, les Allemands avaient installé des roquettes dans le parc proche de notre maison. Des sites de lancement semblables existaient dans divers pays d’Europe ; aux Pays-Bas, c’était à Rotterdam. La nuit, quand les roquettes fusaient, elles produisaient un vacarme assourdissant. Couchée dans mon lit, je ne pouvais éviter de les entendre. Je m’y étais plus ou moins accoutumée, mais cette nuit-là, elles faisaient plus de bruit que jamais. Je me suis bouché les oreilles, en vain. Chaque fois que les projectiles passaient au-dessus de notre maison, je tremblais de peur. Mais ce que j’allais vivre le lendemain m’inquiétait encore davantage. Comment allais-je annoncer à Ollie que nous devions quitter Mam et Pap ?

Tous les jours, nos parents nous réveillaient à 7 heures. Mais en ce matin d’octobre, quelque chose clochait dans leur comportement. Pendant le petit-déjeuner, ils avaient l’air tendus et chuchotaient entre eux. Après, ils nous ont demandé de faire très attention à ce qu’ils allaient nous dire. Ils nous ont alors expliqué qu’Ollie et moi allions habiter ailleurs pendant un certain temps. J’étais déjà au courant mais j’en ai conçu de la peur malgré tout, car je ne savais rien de notre destination ni de la durée de cet éloignement.

Croyant que nous partions en vacances avec Mam et Pap, Ollie a fait sa petite valise, très heureuse à l’idée de cette aventure. De deux ans ma cadette, elle ne saisissait pas que nos parents nous éloignaient d’eux. Moi, par contre, je comprenais très bien qu’il ne s’agissait pas d’un voyage d’agrément.

Avant de partir, nos parents nous ont bien fait comprendre qu’il ne fallait jamais adresser la parole à des inconnus. Nous devions nous comporter comme les nièces de notre nouvelle famille, où nous aurions à faire semblant d’être chrétiennes. Nous devions dire à quiconque nous posait des questions que notre mère était à l’hôpital et que notre père travaillait en Allemagne. C’était une histoire parfaitement plausible à laquelle nous devions nous tenir si nous voulions survivre. Personne ne devait jamais savoir que nous étions juives.

Un peu plus tard, un inconnu, qu’on nous avait dit d’appeler « oom Pauw », est venu nous chercher. Je n’avais toujours pas demandé à nos parents la raison de notre départ – je savais que nous n’avions pas le choix. Après avoir toutes deux fait nos adieux à Mam et Pap, nous sommes parties avec oom Pauw, un membre de la Résistance. Nous avons pris le train à la gare de Rotterdam. Nous devions nous rendre à Soestduinen, éloigné d’une centaine de kilomètres à peine, qui semblait pour moi se trouver à mille lieues de Rotterdam et de notre maison.

Je me souviens encore d’oom Pauw nous hissant dans le train, car le marchepied était trop haut pour nous. J’ai aussi le souvenir d’un transfert – je crois que c’était à Amersfoort –, où nous avons attendu notre correspondance dans la gare. Oom Pauw nous a donné à manger. Tout en avalant nos sandwichs, nous observions par la fenêtre les soldats qui patrouillaient sur le quai. Oom Pauw voulait éviter qu’on nous remarque. Il nous a recommandé de ne pas avoir peur, de ne regarder personne, de simplement nous concentrer sur nos sandwichs.

Nous ne savions pas exactement où il nous emmenait, mais après une heure de train, nous sommes arrivés chez notre nouvelle famille à Soestduinen, qui signifie « les dunes de Soest ». À proximité de ce petit village, situé au bord de la mer du Nord, se trouvait la résidence d’été de notre reine. Après son départ forcé du pays en 1940, dès le déclenchement des hostilités, son palais a été tantôt inoccupé, tantôt utilisé par les nazis. Nous étions loin de Rotterdam, loin de Mam et Pap.

Joy Runs Deeper

The Home that Was Lost

On July 21, a beautiful sunny day in 1944, I found myself sitting in the ruins of our house, crying bitterly. The little town of Kozowa, where I was born on December 9, 1920, had been destroyed. After I could cry no more, I just sat there thinking and dreaming, watching my life pass before me.

My hometown, Kozowa, was in Poland (now western Ukraine), the area known as Galicia. It was built among meadows and fields of corn and wheat that stretched for miles. In my mind it came to life in front of my eyes like an oasis in the middle of a desert. I could see the centre of town where there was a marketplace with a round building containing three stores and two groceries. Around the marketplace, streets branched out in all directions. I used to love to run down the hill from the marketplace to my home. At the top of the hill was the drugstore, and as I ran down I would pass a fence, then the pump where we got water, and then our neighbour’s house before getting to our home. After turning the corner and walking up a few steps, I would reach our big, brown front door.

I loved living in Kozowa. The summers were beautiful, not too hot or humid, and the air was always clean, making it a pleasure to take a deep breath. I used to go for long walks in the fields to pick wild flowers or just to get a little sun on my face. On a nice sunny afternoon in July or August, I would dress in a dirndl and sandals, put a ribbon in my hair and walk down to the train station with one of my girlfriends. It was a beautiful walk. We would take a short cut through the schoolyard and then through a garden that looked almost like a park. The garden was private property but had a path that led to the Koropiec River. The water was so shallow that we could even walk across it. The riverbed was uneven and the water ran swiftly downstream, like a miniature waterfall. Over that waterfall was a little bridge. Well, that’s what we called it, but actually it was just a board lying across our tiny river. We would take our shoes off and walk across the board in our bare feet.

On the other side of the river was another path between gardens – mostly vegetable gardens – where a herd of goats roamed. We often talked to the goats, and sometimes they even followed us. It took maybe an hour to reach the train station. We made sure to get there before three o’clock, when the train arrived. The station was a beautiful structure with an iron fence and a garden in back. We waved to the passengers in the windows of the train, and when the train left we walked home with the thought of coming back in a few days. Somehow I never got tired of that walk. I was always excited to go to the train station again.

When I didn’t have anyone to walk around with, I wouldn’t go very far by myself. I walked only to the river, where I’d sit down to read my book, talk to the goats or just listen to the birds. Sometimes peasant girls came to do their washing at the river. One might think this was hard work but it seemed to me, as I watched them, that they were having a lot of fun. They laughed, giggled and told jokes while beating the wash with a flat stick. I don’t think they would have enjoyed themselves more at a picnic or even in a theatre. The girls had long braids and wore tight vests and long, wide skirts, with one hem of the skirt tucked into the waistband. They were barefoot and carried the wash on their backs or in pails. Walking to the river, they made up part of the beautiful picture.

Despite these idyllic scenes, life in our town was not all that glamorous. Maybe we didn’t know better, or maybe we were just smart enough to make the best of it. For instance, we had no running water, so even taking a bath was quite an ordeal. If you were fortunate enough to have a tub in the house, you had to bring water from the pump, heat it in a big basin on the stove, and pour it into the tub.

When you were done, you had to pour the water out again. This is why many townsfolk went to the public bathhouse to take a bath or even a steam bath instead. I don’t know exactly how the steam was made – an old man, Ludz, attended to that. When the steam was ready, another old man, Mikola, went around the streets banging two scythes together to let people know it was time to go to the steam bath. This happened only once a week, on Fridays, when everybody had to get ready for the Sabbath. In the afternoon, all the men left their work or place of business to bathe. The women went later, when Sabbath preparations were done.

Every Friday morning my aunt, who lived around the corner from us, baked cheese buns. They were the best cheese buns in the whole world, and she baked enough for a whole week. My mother, Malka Esther’s, specialty was cinnamon buns. By noon on Friday, the buns were ready – first my mother gave me some cinnamon buns, then I went to Auntie for some cheese buns, and then I took them all to my grandmother’s house. And what a lady she was! My grandmother was very neat and always wore a long skirt, high-laced shoes and a vest.

She had vests in every colour, but especially loved to wear bright colours. Once, she bought a long sweater and, after trying it on, decided it was too dark for her, so she gave it to my auntie and bought a red one for herself. My grandmother’s head was always covered with a clean, starched kerchief. She used to say that she wished she lived in a town where there was no mud so that her shoes could always stay clean. In our town the roads and the side streets were not paved, so after it rained everything turned to mud. We had to wear galoshes or high boots.

[…]

There were so many types of people in Kozowa that I could write a whole book just trying to describe them. And nobody was called by his or her real name; everybody had a nickname. For instance, next door to us lived the shoychet, the ritual slaughterer. His name was Benzion, so his wife was called Benzinachy. What a character she was! She was a religious woman who covered her shaved head with a kerchief, as other religious women in the town did. Yet, somehow that poor woman always looked helpless. She was large, with an apron always tied around her waist, and her face was always dirty.

For as long as I’d known her she had only one front tooth, and she was constantly chewing because it took her such a long time to chew her food. Benzinachy was a good woman who wouldn’t hurt a soul. Many of her children had died young of various diseases, and she was left with only a boy and a girl. She and her husband also adopted a boy named Gedalieh. I remember once when I visited her, she sent Gedalieh down to the cellar to bring her potatoes and said to him,“Gedalieh, keep talking to me the whole time that you are in the cellar.”

When I asked her why he had to do that, she told me that she had preserves and jams in the cellar, and if he was talking she would know that he was not eating up the goodies!

[…]

All the people in town were like one big family. The ones that were a little better off gave meals and clothing to the less fortunate ones. Despite everything, we helped one another in times of need.

Plus forts que le malheur

Le foyer disparu

Le 21 juillet 1944, par une belle journée ensoleillée, je me suis retrouvée assise au milieu des ruines de notre maison, pleurant amèrement. La petite ville de Kozowa, où j’étais née le 9 décembre 1920, avait été rasée. Une fois mes larmes taries, je suis simplement restée immobile, à penser, à méditer, à voir ma vie défiler devant moi.

Kozowa, aujourd’hui en Ukraine occidentale, faisait alors partie de la Pologne dans une région connue sous le nom de Galicie. La ville se trouvait au coeur de champs de maïs et de blé qui s’étendaient sur des kilomètres à la ronde. En ce jour de juillet 1944, ma ville natale a repris vie sous mes yeux, telle une oasis au milieu d’un désert. Je revoyais son centre-ville, avec sa place du marché et son bâtiment circulaire abritant trois magasins et deux épiceries. De là, des rues rayonnaient dans toutes les directions. J’aimais beaucoup dévaler la colline de la place du marché jusqu’à chez nous, partant de la pharmacie, tout en haut, longeant une clôture jusqu’à la pompe où nous allions chercher l’eau, et parvenant enfin à la maison de nos voisins. Je tournais ensuite le coin, et en quelques enjambées, je me retrouvais en face de notre grande porte d’entrée en bois brun.

J’adorais vivre à Kozowa. Les étés étaient magnifiques, ni trop chauds ni trop humides. L’air était toujours si pur qu’on se plaisait à en prendre de bonnes bouffées. J’avais l’habitude de faire de longues marches dans les champs pour cueillir des fleurs sauvages ou simplement sentir la chaleur du soleil sur mon visage. Par un bel après-midi de juillet ou d’août, j’enfilais un dirndl (une robe à longue jupe plissée) et des sandales, je mettais un ruban dans mes cheveux, puis je me rendais à la gare en compagnie d’une amie. C’était une belle promenade. Nous passions par la cour de l’école, puis coupions à travers un jardin qui tenait presque du parc. Il s’agissait d’une propriété privée, mais un petit sentier la traversait qui menait à la rivière Koropiec, si peu profonde que nous pouvions même la traverser à gué. Son lit était inégal, et le courant rapide ; on aurait dit une chute miniature. Un petit « pont », comme nous l’appelions, enjambait cette chute, mais en réalité, il ne s’agissait que d’une planche de bois. Nous enlevions nos chaussures et traversions la planche pieds nus.

De l’autre côté de la rivière, nous empruntions un sentier tracé au milieu de jardins – surtout potagers –, où errait un troupeau de chèvres. Souvent, nous leur parlions, et parfois elles décidaient de nous suivre. Nous mettions environ une heure à nous rendre à la gare. Nous nous assurions d’y être avant 15 heures, pour l’arrivée du train. C’était une belle gare, entourée d’une clôture en fer et dotée d’un jardin à l’arrière. Nous saluions les passagers de la main, puis, le train disparu, nous rentrions à la maison en nous promettant de revenir quelques jours plus tard. Pour une raison ou une autre, je ne me suis jamais lassée de cette randonnée. J’étais toujours ravie de retourner à la gare.

Quand je n’avais personne pour m’accompagner dans mes promenades, je ne m’aventurais pas bien loin. Je marchais seulement jusqu’à la rivière, où je m’asseyais pour lire mon livre, parler aux chèvres ou simplement écouter les oiseaux. Parfois, de jeunes paysannes venaient faire leur lessive. On aurait tort de croire qu’il s’agissait d’une corvée pénible, car, à les voir, elles semblaient vraiment s’amuser. Tout en battant le linge avec leur palette de bois, elles riaient, gloussaient, se racontaient des blagues. Je pense qu’elles ne se seraient pas diverties davantage à un pique-nique, ni même au théâtre. Les jeunes filles aux longs cheveux nattés portaient un corsage serré et une longue jupe ample, avec le devant remonté à la ceinture. Se rendant pieds nus à la rivière, le linge sur le dos ou dans des seaux, elles faisaient partie intégrante de ce magnifique décor.

En dépit de ces scènes idylliques, la vie dans notre ville n’avait rien de raffiné. Peut-être ne connaissions-nous rien d’autre, peut-être étions-nous assez intelligents pour y trouver notre bonheur malgré tout. Prendre un bain, par exemple, n’était pas une mince affaire, parce que nous n’avions pas l’eau courante. Si l’on avait la chance d’avoir une baignoire chez soi, il fallait aller chercher de l’eau à la pompe, la faire chauffer dans une cuvette sur le poêle, puis la verser dans la baignoire. Le bain fini, il fallait ensuite vider l’eau. C’est pourquoi beaucoup de gens se rendaient aux bains publics, où certains y prenaient même un bain de vapeur. J’ignore comment ce dernier fonctionnait – un vieil homme, Ludz, veillait à sa bonne marche. Dès que la vapeur était prête, un autre vieil homme, Mikola, venait l’annoncer à tous dans les rues en frappant deux faux l’une contre l’autre. Cela ne se produisait qu’une fois par semaine, le vendredi, alors que la population se préparait pour le Shabbat. En cours d’après-midi, tous les hommes quittaient leur travail pour aller aux bains. Les femmes s’y rendaient plus tard, une fois les préparatifs du Shabbat achevés.

Le vendredi matin, ma tante, qui vivait à un coin de rue de chez nous, confectionnait des petits pains au fromage – les meilleurs au monde –, et elle en préparait assez pour toute la semaine. De son côté, ma mère, Malka Esther, cuisait des petits pains à la cannelle, sa spécialité. À midi le vendredi, les petits pains étaient prêts. Ma mère me donnait quelques-uns des siens, j’allais ensuite chercher des pains au fromage chez ma tante, puis j’allais porter le tout chez ma grand-mère. Quelle femme, ma grand-mère ! Très soignée, elle portait toujours une longue jupe, une veste et des bottillons à lacets. Elle possédait des vestes de toutes les teintes, mais elle préférait les couleurs vives. Un jour, elle s’est acheté un long pull, mais après l’avoir essayé, elle l’a trouvé trop sombre pour son goût. Elle a donc décidé de le donner à ma tante, puis elle est allée s’en acheter un rouge. Ma grand-mère se couvrait toujours la tête d’un impeccable fichu empesé. Elle répétait souvent qu’elle aurait préféré vivre dans une ville sans boue pour que ses chaussures puissent rester propres. La chaussée n’était pas goudronnée dans notre ville, si bien qu’après une pluie, les rues devenaient boueuses. Il fallait porter des caoutchoucs ou des bottes hautes.

[...]

On trouvait tant de personnages différents à Kozowa qu’il me faudrait écrire un livre entier pour les dépeindre. Et aucun habitant n’était jamais désigné par son vrai nom : chacun était affublé d’un sobriquet. Par exemple, comme le shoẖet (l’abatteur rituel), qui habitait à côté de chez nous, s’appelait Benzion, on appelait sa femme Benzinatchy. Quel personnage que cette femme ! Elle couvrait sa tête rasée d’un fichu, comme le faisaient les autres femmes pratiquantes de la ville. Pourtant, la pauvre femme semblait toujours désemparée. Elle était corpulente, avec un tablier perpétuellement serré à la taille et le visage immanquablement sale. Du plus loin que je me souvienne, elle n’a toujours eu qu’une seule dent de devant et mâchouillait perpétuellement quelque chose étant donné le temps qu’il lui fallait pour mastiquer sa nourriture. Benzinatchy avait bon coeur : elle n’aurait jamais fait de mal à une mouche. Plusieurs de ses enfants étaient morts en bas âge de diverses maladies. Il ne lui restait qu’un garçon et une fille. Son mari et elle avaient également adopté un enfant du nom de Gedaliè. Un jour que je lui rendais visite, elle a envoyé Gedaliè chercher des pommes de terre à la cave en disant au garçonnet : « Continue de me parler jusqu’à ce que tu sois remonté ! » Quand je lui ai demandé la raison de son ordre, elle m’a expliqué qu’elle gardait de la confiture à la cave et que tant qu’il bavardait, elle savait qu’il n’était pas en train de s’en empiffrer !

[...]

Tous les habitants de notre ville formaient une grande famille. Les plus nantis donnaient de la nourriture et des vêtements aux moins privilégiés. En dépit de tout, nous nous entraidions dans les moments difficiles.

Escape

Unsung Heroes

The Jews of Budapest, now concentrated in designated Jewish houses, were given new laws and regulations daily by a non-Jewish superintendent, whose job it was to carry out the prevailing anti-Jewish regulations. At the outset, the curfew was strict and only allowed us to move around the city for three hours, from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. The curfew regulations were posted inside Jewish houses and outside on bulletin boards. Slowly, the curfew relaxed and the time for free movement became longer — 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. But suddenly, on one Thursday in October, our movement from the Jewish houses was shut down — no in and out anymore. Previously, I would sneak out without the star to get supplies unavailable to us in our allotted hours.

Long before the occupation, many food items — such as sugar, flour, butter, jam and cold cuts — were rationed because of the war. Each person was given a certain number of coupons for an item. The allotments were very small and often the item was not available. But sometimes you could get things that normally were rationed. In the mornings, people lined up at bakeries to get fresh buns. I used to line up and, if I was lucky, I would get a bag full of kaiser rolls, which we all loved. My mom would fry onions with some red paprika; the fresh buns filled with these finely cut fried onions were a real delicacy.

But now we were locked in the Jewish house with no chance of escaping. The following week, that changed for me. One day before noon, our house superintendent came to our apartment with a man in civilian clothes in the style that Hungarian detectives wore. The superintendent, in a high-pitched voice, said that this guy had a document that ordered me to go with him to work with the International Red Cross. I have to point out that any Hungarian kid from the age of twelve had to belong to a paramilitary organization called the Levente. I had attended a number of this organization’s meetings. The meetings had two parts: disciplinary training and emergency work, for which we were taken to clean building sites that had been bombed. So when I saw this detective type, I connected him to my Levente activity. My mother got really scared, not knowing what this order meant. The man discreetly told my mother to give me a coat or sweater where the yellow Star of David was fastened with pins for easy removal. This gave my frightened mother a clue that he was friendly. So I said my goodbyes and went with him.

As soon as we left my house, his eyes searched the area to see if it was safe, and when he seemed satisfied, he told me to remove the yellow star. He told me he was a member of my Hanhac organization and that he was taking members of my kvutza from the locked Jewish houses to an office that was part of the Zionist underground. This was my first encounter with one of our group wearing a disguise. I learned later that wearing some sort of uniform as a disguise gave members freer movement on the streets of Budapest, especially during air raids.

He took me to an office building on Mérleg utca, a street in the prestigious business district close to the Danube. When we arrived, I met some of our leaders and also some members of my kvutza. It was both a happy and a sad reunion: happy because we were together again, sad because of the unknown future awaiting our loved ones.

If Home Is Not Here

Occupation and Escape

I noticed that at regular intervals the German guards strolled over to the next post quite a distance away, stopping to chat for up to half an hour at a time. Everything seemed to be in my favour except for the fact that the sun would soon be setting and it would be much too difficult to make my escape in the dark. I didn’t look forward to the prospect of spending the night in an open field, but there didn’t seem to be any other choice. Fortified by the wonderful sandwiches my aunt had prepared for my journey, I settled down for what felt like the longest night I had ever experienced. As twilight gradually turned into pitch darkness and I could no longer see anything through my binoculars, I tried to use my backpack as a pillow and fall asleep. But try as I might, I couldn’t get comfortable and I spent a very cold and restless night. Daylight couldn’t come soon enough.

By the time dawn broke, all I wanted was a hot café au lait. My wristwatch told me that it was five o’clock, and it was becoming fairly light out. When I looked through my binoculars, however, I wondered if I was hallucinating. There were no Germans anywhere. By some strange miracle they had all vanished, leaving me free to safely make my escape across the river. I was so nervous that I kept checking to make sure that they weren’t just napping or hiding, ready to jump out and grab me. I gathered up my courage, picked up my backpack, slung it across my back and cautiously moved toward the German control post until I was near enough to see that, beyond a doubt, the German sentry was not at his post.

To say I was baffled would be an understatement, but without any further hesitation, I took advantage of the situation and went straight to the river and took off all my clothes except for the bathing suit I wore underneath. I then packed my clothes into the backpack and strapped it tightly across my shoulders. With one final look all around through the binoculars to satisfy myself that I was alone, I plunged into the frigid river. The sudden shock left me gasping for air and my cumbersome backpack made every stroke more laborious than the last.

I wasn’t a particularly strong swimmer and could only swim short distances before running out of breath. I also tended to panic unless I stayed close to the shore. Under the circumstances, I had to rely entirely on willpower to keep me going. The freezing water temperature was only a minor concern compared to the far more serious problem of remaining afloat. As my strength waned, my arms felt as heavy as lead, forcing me to stop and rest. I went into a real panic when several times I swallowed mouthfuls of water. When I checked my progress after these incidents, I saw to my dismay that I had only covered about a third of the distance. Using every ounce of energy to increase my pace, I forced myself to labour on mechanically, afraid that my strength would give out at any moment.

The realization that the Germans might spot me and shoot me gave me the impetus to keep going. By the time that I had covered two-thirds of the distance and was within reach of the free zone, however, my strength began to seriously fade and I was consumed with fear. I was so exhausted that I could only occasionally kick my legs. At the very moment when my strength gave out completely and I was no longer able to stay afloat, on the verge of going under, I found within myself a renewed energy that came from pure determination. I managed to fight off my fatigue and before long I found myself grasping the shores of the unoccupied zone of France and my entry into freedom.

Citoyen de nulle part

L’Occupation et l’évasion

J’ai remarqué que les gardes allemands flânaient jusqu’au poste suivant, qui se trouvait assez loin, puis s’arrêtaient pour bavarder, parfois pendant près d’une demi-heure. Tout semblait jouer en ma faveur si ce n’était que le soleil n’allait pas tarder à se coucher et qu’il me serait beaucoup plus difficile de faire la traversée dans le noir. Je n’avais pas envie de passer la nuit au beau milieu d’un champ, mais je n’avais guère le choix. Requinqué par les merveilleux sandwiches que ma tante avait préparés pour mon voyage, je me suis installé pour ce qui allait sans doute être la nuit la plus longue de ma vie. Alors que le crépuscule cédait peu à peu aux ténèbres les plus noires et que je ne voyais plus rien derrière mes jumelles, j’ai essayé de me servir de mon sac à dos comme oreiller et j’ai tenté de dormir. En dépit de tous mes efforts, je n’arrivais pas à trouver une position confortable. Étant de plus complètement frigorifié, j’ai passé une nuit plutôt agitée. L’aube n’arriverait-elle donc jamais ?

Lorsque le jour s’est enfin levé, je n’avais qu’une seule envie : boire un café au lait. Ma montre indiquait 5 heures et il commençait à faire assez clair. Lorsque j’ai regardé à travers les jumelles, je me suis demandé si j’avais des hallucinations. Il n’y avait pas un seul Allemand en vue. Par quelque étrange miracle, ils avaient tous disparu, me laissant libre de m’enfuir et de franchir la rivière en toute sécurité. J’étais si nerveux que je n’arrêtais pas de vérifier pour bien m’assurer qu’ils n’étaient pas juste en train de faire un somme ou de se cacher, prêts à bondir pour m’arrêter. J’ai rassemblé tout mon courage, ramassé mon sac que j’ai remis sur mon dos, puis je me suis avancé prudemment vers le poste de contrôle allemand jusqu’à ce que j’en sois suffisamment près pour constater qu’effectivement, sans l’ombre d’un doute, la sentinelle allemande n’était pas à son poste.

J’étais franchement perplexe, c’est le moins qu’on puisse dire ! Cependant, sans hésiter plus longtemps, j’ai tiré parti de la situation et j’ai foncé droit vers la rivière. J’ai enlevé tous mes vêtements, à l’exception du maillot de bain que je portais en dessous, puis j’ai rangé le tout dans mon sac à dos avant de le sangler solidement sur mes épaules. Après un dernier coup d’oeil alentour à travers mes jumelles pour m’assurer que j’étais bien seul, j’ai plongé dans les eaux glacées de la rivière. Le choc brutal m’a coupé le souffle. Mon sac à dos qui était encombrant rendait chaque brasse plus laborieuse que la précédente.

N’étant pas particulièrement bon à la nage, je n’étais capable de couvrir que de courtes distances avant de m’essouffler. J’avais aussi tendance à paniquer dès que je m’éloignais du bord. Dans ces circonstances, je ne pouvais compter que sur ma volonté pour continuer. La température glaciale de l’eau ne représentait qu’un souci mineur comparé au problème nettement plus sérieux consistant à me maintenir à flot. À mesure que je faiblissais, mes bras semblaient être de plomb, m’obligeant à marquer une pause. J’ai alors réellement cédé à la panique après avoir bu plusieurs fois la tasse. Lorsque j’ai vérifié où j’en étais après ces incidents, j’ai constaté à mon grand désarroi que je n’avais franchi qu’un tiers de la distance. Puisant dans toutes les réserves d’énergie qui me restaient, et malgré ma crainte de voir mes forces me lâcher, je me suis forcé à accélérer et à continuer à nager machinalement.

Je me suis dit que les Allemands pouvaient me repérer et m’abattre, ce qui m’a donné l’élan dont j’avais besoin pour poursuivre. Cependant, alors que j’avais couvert les deux tiers de la distance et que je me trouvais à portée de la Zone libre, mes forces ont commencé à me faire réellement défaut. J’étais submergé par la peur et tellement épuisé que je ne parvenais qu’à battre sporadiquement des pieds. Au moment même où je me suis senti complètement vidé, incapable de me maintenir à flot une seconde de plus et sur le point de sombrer, j’ai trouvé au fond de moi une énergie nouvelle tenant de la pure détermination. J’ai réussi à surmonter l’épuisement et, quelques instants plus tard, je touchais la berge opposée. J’entrais enfin en Zone libre, en terre de liberté.

Daring to Hope

Safe and Thankful

My brother Shieh, after running around asking people to hide us, finally found Panie Boguszewska, who was willing to take us in for two weeks. … At Panie Boguszewska’s we regained our strength. She fed us bet­ter than Klemens had, and most importantly, she treated us like hu­man beings. But the place was extremely cramped. There was only enough room for us to sit or lie down, but not to walk about much.

Our Chanale felt miserable. She was lonesome for little Shieleh, who she had played with when we were all together. Through the same cracks that let in the light for us to work by, she could see other children playing outside. The house and barn were in a village, and it was late spring, early summer, May and June, when everything grows and blossoms. Even the birds sang better in the spring. Well, during this time, Mother would tell Chanale all kinds of stories from the Bible and from Jewish history. All the stories had a happy ending for Jews, and Chanale constantly demanded, “When will that miracle happen to us? When will I be able to go outside and play with the children?” Her longing for the outside was unbearable. She envied the chickens she saw pecking at their food and the sheep she saw run­ning in the fields — she wanted to be one of them — but, most of all, she wanted to be a bird. “The Germans wouldn’t reach me. I would fly higher and higher. I would spit in their faces.”

We tried to feed her on the hope that soon, soon our liberation would come. But we knew that freedom was a long way off. Though they were slowly retreating, the Germans were still deep in the Soviet Union.

By this point we had given away almost everything we had and were desperate to get our things back from Mikolai. Shieh and one of the young men went to ask for them, but Mikolai told them that Germans had searched his house and taken everything. Shieh knew that this was a lie, having asked one of the neighbours about it, so I asked Panie Boguszewska if she would take a letter and personally place it in Mikolai’s hand when he left the office where he worked. She agreed.

I wrote a long letter reminding Mikolai of our family friendship. You shouldn’t be corrupted by the idea of possessing another suit or article of clothing, I wrote. You won’t enjoy wearing them, knowing that those same things could have bought another few days or weeks of life for my family and me. I also reminded him that there is such a thing as having to live with oneself, that no matter how he might try to forget the wrong he was doing, and it might be buried deep, it will never go away. I told him that he shouldn’t let himself be influenced by his wife, who wanted our belongings, but should rather make her understand what they were doing to desperate, half-dead people. I reminded him how he had once told me with pride about his experi­ences in World War I, when he had warned Jewish families who were about to be robbed. I tried to make him understand that the world wouldn’t come to an end after the war, and that whoever survived would have on his conscience every wrong he had done. When Panie Boguszewska came back, she asked me what I had written to Mikolai. She told me that when he read the letter, he start­ed to cry and didn’t stop, even when he finished it. Then Mikolai told her, “No matter what, tell them to come for their things.” A few evenings later, I went with Avrumeh and we got our belongings back.

The Nightmare

Across the Rivers of Memory

I remember the cold, rainy autumn day in October 1941 when the youngster at City Hall announced that all Jews must be at the train station at 5:00 p.m. sharp. We were to pack food for three days and take only as much as we could carry. The youngster yelled out the order with a voice full of hatred, sneering at us with the authority of someone assigned full control over our destinies. Privately, to protect me from hearing, my father told my mother the final words of the ordinance. She repeated his words in shock: “Anybody found after the train has left will be shot.” Because we had been told to pack enough food for just three days, we naturally assumed, as any level-headed person might, that we would be returning home after three days. How could it possibly be otherwise? Such a thought was beyond our imagination. After packing, Mama started obsessively cleaning the house, demanding that I help her as she quickly moved from sofa to chair. I couldn’t understand why. The house was already so clean; hadn’t she cleaned it just the day before? I knew better than to question her – she was in such a terrible mood. We were ready to leave when Mama noticed that I had left my apron on the kitchen chair instead of hanging it up on the hook where it belonged. She screamed at me and I had to go and put it back in its place. That is how I remember the very last moment in our home.

My mother layered me in three pairs of long underwear, three sweaters and two coats, explaining as she was dressing me that it was very, very cold. It reminded me of my mother’s compulsion to fatten me up with “reserves,” always protecting me in case of an emergency. I was wearing my backpack when we left to walk to the train station. My parents carried the heavy bundles as well as pots full of food: schnitzels, which my mother had made that day from chicken breasts, and hearts of wheat as a side dish. We had just enough for three days for the three of us.

At the station, I stood with my parents, surrounded by our family: my aunt Mila and uncle Armin Treiser; my maternal grandmother, Rebecca Siegler; and my paternal grandparents, Beile and Elkhanan Steigman. A little farther away were more aunts, uncles and cousins. Most of the adults around us were silent, as if hypnotized; some were moaning and groaning. Kids were chattering and babies were crying. Now and then there was a burst of screaming when someone lost their child or their parents in the crowd. I asked myself, “How come everybody is travelling tonight, all at the same time, all to the same place, all with the same train?”

I saw that passenger trains were coming and leaving without stopping for us and knew instinctively that something was off. It was almost dark, getting colder, and we were still waiting in the rain. We began to get impatient. “In the train, it will be warm,” I reassured myself. I was leaning against my mama and closed my eyes. We stood there from about 5:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m., with passenger trains going back and forth, back and forth. To keep my mind busy, I was thinking about how cold it was in the forest and how the animals must be freezing. I felt bad for them.

Suddenly, a very long, brown train pulled in and stopped. It was a cattle train meant for beasts, not people. The doors, as big as walls, slid open with a thud. The soldiers were screaming at us, shouting, swearing, pushing, pulling, and barking orders for us to get in. Frantically, people began running, slipping in the mud, falling down and getting up. Everybody was moving and yelling. We were being herded with rifle butts into the cars. For a few minutes, I couldn’t see my parents. I panicked. Then, I fell in the mud and got a nosebleed. Somebody stepped on my hand. “Don’t step on me!” I yelled. I was pulled from the mud. I was afraid Mama would be angry because there was mud and blood all over my face, my mittens and my coat. The next thing I knew, I was picked up and thrown into the train.

After hours of waiting in the cold rain, we were stuffed, body touching body, into the train and the huge doors were slammed shut. The train stood in the station for at least two more hours before surging violently forward. We had no idea to where, for how long or why we were being taken away from our homes.

A Cry in Unison

Kol Nidre

That year, 1944, everybody came: the believers, the atheists, the Orthodox, the agnostics — women of all descriptions and of every background. We were about seven hundred women, jammed into one long barracks. We were all there, remembering our homes and families on this Yom Kippur, the one holiday that had been observed in even the most assimilated homes. We had asked for and received one candle and one siddur from the kapos. Someone lit the candle, and a hush fell over the barracks. I can still see the scene: the woman, sitting with the lit candle, starting to read Kol Nidre, the opening prayer of Yom Kippur.

The kapos gave us only ten minutes while they guarded the two entrances to the barracks to watch out for SS guards who might come around unexpectedly. Practising Judaism or celebrating any Jewish holiday was forbidden in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. The Nazis knew it would give solace to the prisoners. But this particular year, some of the older women had asked two kapos for permission to do something for the eve of Yom Kippur.

Most of the kapos were brutalized and brutal people, but a few of them remained truly kind. We knew these particular two were ap­proachable. One of the kind kapos was a tall blonde Polish woman, non-Jewish. The other one was a petite red-headed young Jewish woman from Slovakia.

When they had heard that we wanted to do something for Kol Nidre, the red-headed kapo was simply amazed that anyone still wanted to pray in that hellhole of Birkenau.

“You crazy Hungarian Jews,” she exclaimed. “You still believe in this? You still want to do this, and here?”

Well, incredibly, we did — in this place where we felt that instead of asking for forgiveness from God, God should be asking for forgive­ness from us. We all wanted to gather around the woman with the lit candle and siddur. She began to recite the Kol Nidre very slowly so that we could repeat the words if we wanted to. But we didn’t. In­stead, all the women burst out in a cry — in unison. Our prayer was the sound of this incredible cry of hundreds of women. I have never heard, before or since then, such a heart-rending sound. Something was happening to us. It was as if our hearts were bursting.

Even though no one really believed the prayer would change our situation, that God would suddenly intervene — we weren’t that na­ive — the opportunity to cry out and remember together reminded us of our former lives, alleviating our utter misery even for the short­est while, in some inexplicable way. It seemed to give us comfort.

Even today, many decades later, every time I go to Kol Nidre ser­vices, I can’t shake the memory of that sound. This is the Kol Nidre I always remember.

Getting Out Alive

The German Occupation

I was sent to a labour camp somewhere in greater Budapest. I believe it was in Kispest (“little Pest,” a southern suburb) or Újpest (“new Pest,” a more northerly suburb). I stayed in greater Budapest throughout my career as a forced labourer. At the main camp, the commander and the guards were indifferent, but not sadistic. The inmates were a cross-section of Hungarian Jewry. Among them were Orthodox Jews who worked wearing their skullcaps and who prayed wearing their prayer shawls every night, and assimilated Jewish inmates – those who were not Jewish in any religious sense, but who were Jewish by virtue of Hitler’s edict. The forced labourers represented all parts of the economic spectrum, all ages and all levels of education. I shovelled dirt with Dr. Schisha, a vascular surgeon (who had operated on my varicose veins when I was fourteen) and with a Justice of the Kúria, the highest court in the land. There were, of course, a lot of less accomplished fellows as well. The food was edible, lots of mutton that did not smell very good, but care packages from home improved the menu. We had occasional day passes to go home to be with family and friends, have a hot bath and savour mother’s cooking.

Such was life in the main camp. From the middle of July to the middle of September, I, along with a large group of young people from various camps in and around Budapest, was sent to Hárossziget (Haros Island), an island south of Csepel (an island south of Budapest), which was a very punishing experience. What made it worse was the sadistic camp commander and the nasty, mean-spirited guards who worked under his command. Rubble from the bombdamaged city was trucked to the island and piled up in pyramid-like heaps. Our job was to quickly level these pyramids. I remember when big chunks of the wire-mesh glass roof of our bombed-out railway stations arrived at the island. Without the benefit of work gloves, we had to break it up and handle the dirty jagged glass. Apparently, the purpose of the job was to fill up the marshy part of the island. But it was a make-work project, as they could have trucked the stuff directly to the marshes.

Around the middle of September, we were relieved by a new group, so we returned to the main camp. Occasional day passes were given and at times I would be home at the same time as my father and Jancsi. They were in separate camps in Budapest and coping quite well. Mother lived in our apartment at Hold Street No. 6 III. Her brother Feri, his wife, Blanka, and several friends had moved in with her. Each room housed a family, which lessened the chance that the authorities would put strangers into the apartment.

It was in this atmosphere, when we all happened to be at home on October 15, 1944, that Admiral Horthy spoke to the nation via radio during a midday broadcast. He conceded that Germany and Hungary had all but lost the war. He urged the population to avoid further bloodshed and to stop resisting the Soviet army, which stood about fifty kilometres east of Budapest. It was a happy moment. We all laughed and cried and hugged as we believed his speech signalled the end of the war and that we had all miraculously survived. We knew that most of the Jews in the countryside beyond the capital had been deported, and that most of them had been killed. But we believed that Horthy’s last minute change of heart, which was most likely motivated by his desire to alter his quisling-like image for post-war effect, gave us a reprieve. We believed that time had run out for the Nazis. The Soviets would soon be here and all would be well.

The euphoria lasted for almost an hour. Then we began hearing conflicting reports. Finally, news came that Horthy had been arrested by the Gestapo and that Ferenc Szálasi, the head of the extreme right Arrow Cross Party, had been appointed by the Germans to form a government. His reign of terror began that afternoon. That was the last time I saw my father. We had a long talk and agreed on two principles: 1) As long as our respective labour camps remained in Budapest, we would be safer in those camps than if we were to escape and start hiding prematurely; and 2) Before the camps were moved, we should make every effort to escape in order to avoid deportation.

Objectif : survivre

L'Occupation allemande

J’ai été envoyé dans un camp de travail quelque part dans la banlieue de Budapest, soit à Kispest (« la petite Pest », située au sud de la ville) soit à Újpest (« la nouvelle Pest », plus au nord). Je suis resté dans la banlieue de Budapest tout le temps que j’ai effectué des travaux forcés. Dans le camp principal, certes le chef et les gardes restaient indifférents à notre sort, mais ils n’étaient pas sadiques. Les détenus étaient représentatifs de l’ensemble de la société juive hongroise. Il y avait parmi nous des Juifs orthodoxes qui portaient la kippa en travaillant et priaient tous les soirs en châle de prière et des Juifs assimilés – ceux qui n’étaient pas juifs dans le sens religieux du terme, mais qui se retrouvaient « juifs » en vertu du décret de Hitler. Les travailleurs forcés étaient de tous horizons sociaux, de tous âges, de tous niveaux d’études. Je maniais la pelle aux côtés du Dʳ Schisha, le chirurgien vasculaire qui m’avait opéré des varices quand j’avais 14 ans, et d’un juge de la Kúria, la plus haute cour du pays. Il y avait bien sûr beaucoup d’autres personnes bien moins notables. La nourriture était correcte. Le plus souvent, c’était du mouton qui ne sentait pas bon, mais des colis venus de la maison venaient améliorer l’ordinaire. Nous avions de temps à autre des laissez-passer pour la journée et nous pouvions rentrer chez nous, retrouver nos familles et nos amis, prendre un bain chaud et savourer la cuisine familiale. Ainsi allait la vie dans le camp principal. De la mi-juillet à la mi-septembre, j’ai été envoyé, avec de nombreux autres jeunes provenant de différents camps situés à l’extérieur de Budapest, à Háros-sziget, une île située au sud de l’île de Csepel, au sud de Budapest. Cette expérience a été d’une dureté extrême. Elle a été pire que la précédente du fait du sadisme du chef de camp et de la méchanceté et de la malveillance des gardes qui travaillaient sous ses ordres. Les décombres de la ville bombardée étaient transportés sur l’île par camion et déversés en tas de forme pyramidale. Notre travail consistait à niveler rapidement ces pyramides. Je me rappelle le moment où sont arrivés sur l’île de gros blocs provenant des toits en verre armé de nos gares bombardées. Sans gants de travail, nous devions les casser en petits morceaux et manier ces fragments coupants et sales. Officiellement, le travail avait pour but de combler la partie marécageuse de l’île. Mais en fait, il s’agissait simplement de nous faire travailler, puisque tout ce fatras aurait pu être transporté et déversé directement des camions dans les marais.

Vers la mi-septembre, un nouveau groupe est venu prendre le relais et nous sommes donc retournés dans le camp principal. Des laissez-passer d’une journée étaient distribués occasionnellement et il m’arrivait parfois de rentrer à la maison en même temps que mon père et que Jancsi. Ils travaillaient dans des camps différents à Budapest et tenaient bien le coup. Maman habitait notre appartement au numéro 6 ter de la rue Hold. Son frère Feri, la femme de ce dernier, Blanka, et plusieurs amis avaient emménagé avec elle. Chaque chambre abritait une famille, ce qui réduisait le risque que les autorités n’installent des étrangers dans l’appartement.

C’est dans cette atmosphère que, le 15 octobre 1944, nous nous sommes tous retrouvés à la maison au moment où nous avons entendu à la radio, en milieu de journée, l’amiral Horthy parler à la nation. Il a avoué que l’Allemagne et la Hongrie avaient quasiment perdu la guerre. Il appelait la population à éviter toute autre effusion de sang et à arrêter de résister à l’armée soviétique qui se trouvait à environ 50 kilomètres à l’est de Budapest. La nouvelle nous a remplis de joie. Nous nous sommes tous mis à rire, à crier et à nous embrasser, pensant que ce discours annonçait la fin de la guerre et que nous avions tous miraculeusement survécu. Nous savions que la majorité des Juifs qui habitaient la campagne, à l’extérieur de la capitale, avaient été déportés et tués. Mais le revirement soudain de Horthy, très certainement motivé par le désir de modifier son image de collaborateur en prévision de l’après-guerre, nous accordait un sursis. Nous pensions que les nazis avaient fait leur temps. Les Soviétiques arriveraient bientôt et tout irait bien.

L’euphorie a duré à peine une heure. Puis nous avons commencé à recevoir des nouvelles contradictoires. Finalement, nous avons appris que Horthy avait été arrêté par la Gestapo et que Ferenc Szálasi, le chef du parti d’extrême droite des Croix-Fléchées, avait été désigné par les Allemands pour constituer un nouveau gouvernement. Dans l’après-midi même, il entamait son règne de terreur.

C’est cet après-midi-là aussi que je voyais mon père pour la dernière fois. Nous avons eu une longue conversation et nous nous sommes entendus sur deux choses : premièrement, tant que nos camps respectifs se trouvaient à Budapest, nous y serions plus en sécurité que si nous essayions de nous échapper et de nous cacher immédiatement et, deuxièmement, juste avant que les camps ne soient déplacés, nous ferions tout notre possible pour nous enfuir afin d’échapper à la déportation.

Fleeing from the Hunter

In the Ghetto and Beyond

I felt that my survival depended on how far away I could get from the ghetto.

I found out how to get to Dubeczno from the stationmaster in one of the villages I used to visit. A train to Chełm, in the Lublin area, passed by the station in that village and stopped there briefly every day. After getting the information, I quickly decided to put my plan into action. In April 1942, I said goodbye to my dear friends the Cytryns, who had treated me like their own. I knew so many ways of getting in and out of the ghetto that I wasn’t about to risk being captured by leaving Otwock from the railway station, or by bringing attention to myself when buying a ticket. Instead, I hiked out of town to the village station where I had gotten the information from the stationmaster, and I boarded the train there.

The journey to Dubeczno, including changing trains in Chełm and stops along the way, took twenty-four hours. The journey seemed endless and I worried because Jews were forbidden to use public transportation – I fully expected the German military police to stop the train and check the passengers’ identities. I didn’t sleep or, if I did, I could not distinguish my nightmares from my conscious fears. Luckily, no German military police checked the train. I arrived without any problems at the last station before Włodawa. Because the train had changed its schedule and wasn’t going any further, I had to continue to my destination on foot. I walked for some time with other passengers until we reached Włodawa. It was nearly evening, and through a heavy mist we could see the city as it slowly became more visible.

By the time I arrived it was dark and I was afraid to walk the streets of Włodawa looking for some of my other relatives, cousins on my mother’s side, who lived there. I decided to go directly to my uncle’s instead. I asked around for directions to the road leading to Dubeczno and finally a passerby pointed me in the right direction. Surrounded by darkness, in the middle of nowhere on the outskirts of the city, I felt insecure and tired. I was aware of all the dangers that threatened a Jew at the end of April 1942. I knew that I was on the outskirts of Włodawa, but I wasn’t sure exactly where. I decided to look for a night’s lodging through the method I had used in my previous wanderings – by getting the assistance of the soltys. I must stress that whether the procedure had existed already before the war, or whether the Germans had ordered it, for me it was heaven-sent.

While searching for the soltys, I found myself on a road where there were only isolated farmhouses, each far away from one another. These houses were like shacks with thatched roofs. I entered one and bravely asked for directions to the house of the soltys, explaining that I needed a note for a night’s lodging. The occupants were friendly and seemed glad to have a guest. They laughed at the very official way I was going about trying to get lodging and said the soltys lived a long way off. It was already dark, so the farmer invited me to stay the night there. Of course, the family asked me a lot of questions over supper and, even in my exhaustion, I invented answers almost naturally. My reward for telling half-lies was a warm bed and a hot breakfast the next morning. Such hospitality and kindness from strangers! Would they have acted the same way had they known I was Jewish?

Traqué

Le départ du Ghetto

Je pressentais que ma survie dépendait de mon éloignement du Ghetto. J’ai trouvé un moyen de me rendre à Dubeczno, grâce au chef de gare d’un des petits villages où j’avais l’habitude d’aller. Un train pour Chełm, dans la région de Lublin, passait quotidiennement par cette gare dans laquelle il s’arrêtait brièvement. Après avoir obtenu cette information, j’ai décidé de rapidement mettre mon plan à exécution. En avril 1942, j’ai dit adieu à mes chers amis, les Cytryn, qui m’avaient traité comme l’un des leurs. Je connaissais beaucoup de trajets pour aller et venir hors du Ghetto et je ne voulais pas prendre le risque d’être capturé à la gare en quittant Otwock ou d’attirer l’attention en achetant un billet. Je me suis donc rendu à la gare du village où j’avais recueilli les renseignements du chef de gare et c’est là que je suis monté à bord du train.

Le voyage jusqu’à Dubeczno, avec le changement à Chełm et les divers autres arrêts, m’a pris 24 heures. Le trajet m’a semblé interminable et je m’inquiétais, car il était interdit aux Juifs d’utiliser les transports publics – je m’attendais toujours à ce que la police allemande arrête le train et vérifie l’identité des passagers. Je n’ai pas dormi – ou, si je l’ai fait, je n’ai pas distingué mes cauchemars de mes peurs conscientes. Par chance, la police militaire n’a pas contrôlé le train. Je suis arrivé sans problème au terminus, la station avant Włodawa. On avait changé les itinéraires des trains et celui-ci n’allait pas plus loin. J’ai donc été obligé de continuer à pied. J’ai marché avec d’autres voyageurs jusqu’à Włodawa. Il faisait presque nuit et nous voyions les contours de la ville se dessiner petit à petit à travers un épais brouillard.

Au moment où je suis arrivé, il faisait nuit et j’ai eu peur de marcher dans les rues de Włodawa à la recherche de mes autres parents, des cousins du côté de ma mère qui vivaient là. J’ai plutôt décidé de me rendre directement chez mon oncle. J’ai demandé à des passants quelle direction prendre pour aller à Dubeczno et une personne m’a finalement montré le bon chemin. Je me sentais inquiet et fatigué, j’étais seul, dans le noir, à la périphérie de la ville, au milieu de nulle part. Je connaissais tous les dangers que courait un Juif à la fin avril 1942. J’avais conscience que j’étais dans les faubourgs, mais je ne savais pas exactement où je me trouvais. J’ai décidé de chercher un endroit où passer la nuit, comme je l’avais fait lors de mes précédents voyages – en demandant au soltys. Je ne saurais dire si le procédé existait avant la guerre ou si les Allemands l’avaient institué, mais, pour moi, il était providentiel.

En quête du soltys, je me suis retrouvé sur une route longeant des fermes isolées, éloignées les unes des autres. Ces maisons étaient des sortes de cabanes aux toits de chaume. J’ai pris mon courage à deux mains et je suis entré dans l’une d’elles pour demander mon chemin. J’ai expliqué que j’avais besoin d’un mot afin d’obtenir un abri pour la nuit. Les occupants étaient accueillants et semblaient heureux d’avoir de la visite. Ils ont ri de la façon très formelle dont j’essayais de trouver à me loger et m’ont dit que le soltys vivait très loin de là. Il faisait déjà sombre, aussi le fermier m’a-t-il convié à rester. Évidemment, la famille m’a posé mille questions pendant le repas et, bien que très fatigué, j’ai trouvé les réponses presque naturellement. Ma récompense pour ces quasi-mensonges a été un lit chaud et un bon petit déjeuner le lendemain matin. Quelle gentillesse et quelle hospitalité de la part d’étrangers ! Auraient-ils agi de même s’ils avaient su que j’étais juif ?

Miraculous Escape

Always Remember Who You Are

We didn’t know where my mother had been taken. Nobody knew anything in our part of Poland. We had heard rumours of murder by gas. But who could believe this? The Nazis deliberately withheld information from their victims for fear of resistance or reprisal. They were the kings of deception.

After this incident, my father seemed to have lost his will to live but became desperate to protect me, his only child. He knew that if I remained in the ghetto, I would be caught in the next Aktion. He did not know exactly what had happened to those who were taken, but he understood that they were not coming back. We heard that the transports from our region were taken to a camp in the small town of Bełżec. The rumours that circulated about the mass murders underway there were terrifying. My father no longer kept any secrets from me. Since he was desperately trying to save me, he told me exactly what was going on. I trusted my father and knew that he would do everything in his power to keep me safe.

Once the Germans realized how valuable my father’s accounting skills were, they moved him into the office hut in our hometown permanently. There he came into contact with non-Jews, who were permitted to live outside the ghetto walls. My father quickly befriended a Polish Catholic man, Josef Matusiewicz, who had been brought from his town to serve as the stock-keeper.

[…]

My father did not know where to turn or what to do after the loss of my mother. He was scared of the day when he would come home from work to find that I, too, had disappeared. But asking Josef to help me was a dangerous proposal. In German-occupied Poland, strict laws prohibited people from helping Jews in any way, including providing food rations or hiding Jews in their homes. Any person caught or even accused of helping a Jew risked their own life, as well as the lives of their family and, sometimes, communities.

When he agreed to take me, Josef knew he was violating Nazi law. Josef had not been a family friend, and I did not know him. Many years later, I learned about the night Josef told his wife that he wanted to bring a little Jewish girl into their home. He explained the situation and what he had been asked to do. Josef’s adopted daughter Lusia told me that her mother, Paulina, was dismayed by the request: “Are you crazy? You’re going to bring a little Jewish girl into our house? You’re going to endanger our lives, you cannot do that!” I believe that Josef was an extremely courageous man and responded that God would help. They were a very religious family and fervently believed that God would help them protect me. Josef saw my father’s desperation and could not look away. At tremendous personal risk, the decision was made to take me in.

My father tried to prepare me for another major change. He explained that it was very important that I understood that he could not keep me safe. Every day in the ghetto was dangerous for me. I knew that being Jewish was dangerous. My mother was already gone. I did not want to lose him, too. My father reassured me that I would live with people who would be good to me and care about me. Life would be much better for me there than it was in the ghetto. Before we had come to the ghetto, I was terribly spoiled, an only child. Needless to say, after a year in the ghetto, I was not spoiled any longer. I did not want to go. But my father made it absolutely clear that I had no choice in the matter. I had to go. Otherwise, he told me, I might die. And I had seen death in the ghetto. I am not sure if I understood at the age of eight what it meant to die, but I knew that it was final.

My father assured me that he would be fine, and that we would be together shortly. “It won’t take long. Everything will be fine. I’ll come and see you and I’ll take you home.…” He promised me everything a parent would promise an eight-year-old child. And so, when Josef Matusiewicz came to get me, I went along with him. I was petrified because I didn’t really know this man, whom I had met only a handful of times. I didn’t want to leave my father.

Josef Matusiewicz’s position granted him special access to the otherwise restricted ghetto, and one night he was able to get into the ghetto to collect me. I had to say goodbye to my father. I clung to him and did not want to let go. When we could no longer delay the inevitable, Josef put me in a large bag and carried me out of the ghetto like I was a sack of potatoes. I was cautioned not to make any noise, not to move, not to draw any attention to myself. Years later I learned that there was a police station located right next to where we left the ghetto. I don’t know how Josef managed to take me out. It really was a miracle that we were not caught.

In Dreams Together

Coming Soon

Spring's End

Departure

In April 1942, the population of our town fell by nearly a thousand. We had been notified that we were to appear with our luggage at a large warehouse near the railway station. The Jews of Budějovice were a civilized lot – we did not fuss much. We were used to doing what we were told, so we checked into the warehouse, presented our documents, were assigned numbers and prepared for the night. A few children whimpered and some of the older boys started to fool around.

The next day, we were told to board a passenger train that would take us to a gathering place. Our main worry was whether this new place would be in Czechoslovakia. Somehow there seemed less to worry about as long as we stayed in our own country. As the train began to move, we got our first glimpses of the cruel SS men (Schutzstaffel) – the Nazi elite troops who guarded the concentration camps. They were dressed in perfectly ironed uniforms and had animal-like expressions on their faces. One such beast – a high official with many stars on his uniform – inspected the train. Shouting orders in German, he kicked and slapped several people who got in his way.

The train sped north toward Prague, then west. At the end of the day we were unloaded at the gathering place, Terezín. Terezín was an old town that had many soldiers’ barracks, massive three-storey brick buildings and several large yards. The town had a moat all around it, making escape impossible.

That first night in Terezín we slept in a large warehouse, body to body, with just enough room to move around on our tiptoes. The next day, all the families were separated. Women were moved to one of the large barracks, and men to another. There was not much time to say goodbye as we had to line up quickly. Food was distributed from large barrels into small pots that were assigned to all the inmates in Terezín. Bread, potatoes and gravy comprised our main daily meal.

We stayed in Terezín from April 1942 until November 1943. The town grew more and more crowded from the incoming transports of Jews from other parts of Czechoslovakia. Old people and sick people started dying quickly. Every morning, bodies covered with white sheets were seen piled up in wagons, waiting to be moved to the crematorium.

At first, we all lived in the barracks, many to a room, sleeping on the floor. Somehow, amidst all this, children were allowed a little fun. We were permitted to play in the yard, to sing and play word games. One of my memories is of a teacher who would sing his and my favourite song, “Spring Will Come Again, May Is Not Far Away.”

La Fin du printemps

Le Départ

En avril 1942, la ville a perdu près d’un millier d’habitants. On nous avait informés que nous devions nous présenter avec nos bagages à un vaste entrepôt situé près de la gare. Les Juifs de Budějovice avaient un sens civique aigu – nous ne faisions pas d’histoires. Nous avions l’habitude de faire ce que l’on nous disait de faire, nous nous sommes donc rendus à l’entrepôt, avons présenté nos documents, des numéros nous ont été attribués et nous nous sommes préparés pour la nuit. Des enfants pleuraient et quelques garçons plus âgés ont commencé à chahuter.

Le jour suivant, on nous a dit de monter à bord d’un train de passagers qui nous emmènerait à un lieu de rassemblement. Notre souci principal était de savoir si ce nouvel endroit se trouvait en Tchécoslovaquie. C’était comme si nous avions moins de souci à nous faire tant que nous restions dans notre propre pays. Lorsque le train s’est mis en branle, nous avons eu pour la première fois l’occasion d’apercevoir les cruels SS (Schutzstaffel, escouade de protection) – les troupes d’élite nazies qui surveillaient les camps de concentration. Ils portaient des uniformes parfaitement repassés et leurs visages avaient des expressions quasi animales. Une de ces bêtes – un officier de haut rang avec de nombreuses étoiles à son revers – a inspecté le train. Aboyant des ordres en allemand, il a donné des coups de poing et des coups de pied à plusieurs personnes qui se trouvaient sur son passage. Le train a filé vers le nord, en direction de Prague, puis vers l’ouest. À la fin de la journée, on nous a débarqués à Terezín, le lieu de rassemblement. Terezín était une ville ancienne et comptait de nombreuses casernes de soldats, des immeubles de briques massifs à trois étages et plusieurs grandes esplanades. Un fossé faisait tout le tour de la ville, ce qui rendait toute tentative d’évasion impossible.

Lors de cette première nuit passée à Terezín, nous avons dormi dans un vaste entrepôt, accolés les uns aux autres, avec juste assez d’espace pour nous déplacer sur la pointe des pieds. Le lendemain, toutes les familles ont été séparées. Les femmes ont été emmenées dans l’une des grandes casernes et les hommes dans une autre. Nous n’avons pas eu beaucoup de temps pour nous dire au revoir car nous devions nous mettre en rang rapidement. La nourriture était distribuée à partir de grands tonneaux dans de petits pots qui étaient attribués à chacun des détenus de Terezín. Notre principal repas quotidien se composait de pain, de pommes de terre et de jus de viande.

Nous sommes restés à Terezín d’avril 1942 à novembre 1943. La ville était de plus en plus surpeuplée avec les convois de Juifs arrivant d’autres parties de la Tchécoslovaquie. Les personnes âgées et les personnes malades ont commencé à mourir rapidement. Chaque matin, nous voyions des corps recouverts de draps blancs être empilés dans des wagons, en attendant d’être transportés au crématorium.

Au début, nous habitions tous dans les casernes, à beaucoup dans une pièce, dormant par terre. Pourtant, en dépit de tout, les enfants trouvaient le moyen de s’amuser un peu. Nous étions autorisés à aller jouer dans la cour, à chanter et à jouer aux devinettes. Je me rappelle un enseignant chantant une chanson qui était sa préférée et ma préférée aussi : « Le printemps reviendra, le mois de mai n’est pas loin. »

Tenuous Threads/One of the Lucky Ones, Judy Abrams, Eva Felsenburg Marx

Two Jewish girls born six months apart — Judit Grünfeld (Judy Abrams) in Hungary and Eva Felsenburg (Marx) in Czechoslovakia — are only children when they are thrown into the turmoil and terror of World War II. At seven, Judy’s mother leaves her at a convent where she must adopt a new Christian identity. Eva is first sent away at two, then again at six, in disguise and tearful. Separated from their parents, forced to “pass” as Christian children, coping with dangers they barely understand, these evocative and lyrical memoirs describe childhoods irrevocably marked by the Holocaust. Tenuous Threads and One of the Lucky Ones tell us the parallel but unique stories of two children who were able to survive when so many others perished.

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At a Glance
Judy Abrams:
Hungary
Hidden child
Passing/false identity
Arrived in Canada in 1949
Adjusting to life in Canada
Educational materials available: Hidden Children
Eva Felsenburg Marx:
Czechoslovakia; Slovakia
Hiding
Passing/false identity
Arrived in Canada in 1949
Adjusting to life in Canada
Recommended Ages
12+
Language
English

224 pages

About the author

Photo of Judy Abrams

Judy Abrams, born in Budapest, Hungary, on April 28, 1937, immigrated to Montreal in 1949 and later taught French at the UN International School in New York City. Judy and her husband live in Montreal.

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About the author

Photo of Eva Felsenburg Marx

Eva Marx was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic), on October 21, 1937. She immigrated to Montreal in 1949, where she became an elementary school teacher. Eva Marx lives in Montreal.

Retenue par un fil/Une question de chance, Judy Abrams, Eva Felsenburg Marx

Deux fillettes, nées à six mois d’écart et dans deux pays différents, sont plongées brutalement dans la tourmente et la terreur de la Deuxième Guerre mondiale. Filles uniques, elles connaissent des parcours remarquablement similaires, Judit en Hongrie et Eva en Tchécoslovaquie. Séparées de leurs parents, obligées de se faire passer pour des chrétiennes, confrontées à des situations qui les dépassent, les deux fillettes vivent une enfance qui restera marquée à jamais par l’Holocauste. Leurs mémoires évoquent de manière expressive et personnelle les parcours parallèles et néanmoins uniques de ces deux enfants qui ont survécu là où tant d’autres ont péri.

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At a Glance
Judy Abrams:
Hungary
Hidden child
Passing/false identity
Arrived in Canada in 1949
Adjusting to life in Canada
Educational materials available: Enfants cachés
Eva Felsenburg Marx:
Czechoslovakia; Slovakia
Hiding
Passing/false identity
Arrived in Canada in 1949
Adjusting to life in Canada
Recommended Ages
12+
Language
French

256 pages

About the author

Photo of Judy Abrams

Judy Abrams, born in Budapest, Hungary, on April 28, 1937, immigrated to Montreal in 1949 and later taught French at the UN International School in New York City. Judy and her husband live in Montreal.

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About the author

Photo of Eva Felsenburg Marx

Eva Marx was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic), on October 21, 1937. She immigrated to Montreal in 1949, where she became an elementary school teacher. Eva Marx lives in Montreal.

Six Lost Years, Amek Adler

“How much longer could we last?” sixteen-year-old Amek Adler laments, after arriving at yet one more concentration camp in the spring of 1945. From the Lodz and Warsaw ghettos to the Radom forced labour camp, and from the Natzweiler concentration camp to Dachau, Amek has witnessed too much destruction and tragedy to bear any more suffering. To hold onto hope for his survival, he dreams of the life he had with his parents and three brothers, reminiscing about holidays, social events and dinners; he dreams of a life without pain and starvation; and he dreams of the future. When Amek is finally liberated, he is determined to embrace all the opportunities that freedom offers. Six Lost Years is a story of the courage it takes to confront the past, live for the present and embrace the future.

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At a Glance
Poland
Lodz ghetto, Warsaw ghetto, Radom ghetto
Forced labour and concentration camps
Dachau concentration camp
Postwar Italy, displaced persons camp; Sweden
Arrived in Canada in 1954
Adjusting to life in Canada
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

144 pages

About the author

Photo of Amek Adler

Abram (Amek) Adler was born in Lublin, Poland, on April 20, 1928. He was liberated in April 1945, eventually reuniting with his mother and two of his brothers. Amek lived in Italy between 1945 and 1947, immigrated to Sweden in 1948 and then to Canada in 1954 with his wife, Ruth. In Toronto, Amek succeeded in both the fur industry and the jewellery business, becoming president of the Canadian Jewellers Association in 1989. Amek spoke to numerous audiences about his experiences during the Holocaust and educated countless students on March of the Living. Amek Adler passed away in 2017.

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In the Hour of Fate and Danger, Ferenc Andai

In the lush mountains of Serbia in 1944, thousands of Hungarian Jewish men are held captive as slave labourers, their pain and suffering echoing in the silence of their surroundings. Within the beauty and the devastation, nineteen-year-old Ferenc Andai is forced to work to exhaustion, subject to the whims of cruel Hungarian commanders and German overseers. For Ferenc, the only relief from his harsh reality is his company — an artistic and literary circle of men that includes the renowned poet Miklós Radnóti. As liberation inches closer and a fierce battle for power between Nazi collaborators and resisters rages on in the region, Ferenc faces decisions that will determine whether he lives or dies. Powerful, evocative and lyrical, In the Hour of Fate and Danger is the true story of Ferenc’s chilling and suspenseful journey through Nazi-occupied Serbia.

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At a Glance
Hungary; Yugoslavia; Serbia; Romania
Bor, Serbia, forced labour camps
Resistance
Tito Partisans
Poetry by Miklós Radnóti
Arrived in Canada in 1957
Published in Hungarian in 2003
Winner of 2004 Miklós Radnóti Prize
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
English

276 pages

About the author

Photo of Ferenc Andai

Ferenc Andai (1925–2013) was born in Budapest, Hungary. He arrived in Canada in 1957, where he obtained an MA in Slavic Studies from the Université de Montréal and a teaching diploma from McGill University. He also earned his PhD in history (summa cum laude) from Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. Ferenc was a history teacher and then head of a high school social science department. His book Mint tanu szólni: bori történet (To Bear Witness: A Story of Bor) was published by Ab Ovo in 2003 and awarded the Radnóti Miklós National Prize in 2004.

Buried Words: The Diary of Molly Applebaum, Molly Applebaum

In the fall of 1942, roundups of Jews in Dąbrowa Tarnowska, Poland, lead twelve-year-old Molly Applebaum and her cousin Helen to find refuge on a nearby farm, where their only hope for survival is to be hidden away underground — in a box. Confined “in a grave” from 1943 to early 1945, Molly has only her older cousin and her diary to keep her company. As one day passes into the next, Molly writes of the cold, dark space; the ever-present dirt and bugs; the unbearable suffering from insufficient food; and the difficult, complicated reliance on two Polish farmers who are risking their own lives to save her. A unique and poignant document, Molly’s diary is a stark confession of her fears and anxieties, her despair and her secrets and, above all, her fervent wish to stay alive. Buried Words presents Molly’s extraordinary diary, never before published in English, and also the memoir she wrote in the 1990s. Molly Applebaum’s courageous words, written fifty years apart, offer a fascinating reflection on both her wartime experiences and her postwar life.

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At a Glance
Poland
Hiding
Wartime diary paired with postwar memoir
Postwar Austria and Germany, displaced persons camps
War Orphans Project
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Adjusting to life in Canada
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
English

184 pages

About the author

Photo of Molly Applebaum

Molly Applebaum was born in Krakow, Poland, in 1930. After the war, she spent three years in displaced persons camps before immigrating to Canada as a war orphan. Buried Words is the first English translation of the diary Molly wrote in Polish from March 1942 to January 1945, accompanied by the memoir she wrote in the 1990s. Molly Applebaum lives in Toronto.

Les Mots enfouis : Le Journal de Molly Applebaum, Molly Applebaum

À l’automne 1942, les rafles de Juifs à Dąbrowa Tarnowska, en Pologne, obligent la jeune Molly Applebaum, 12 ans, et sa cousine Helen à trouver refuge dans une ferme où elles se cachent dans une caisse ensevelie sous terre. Enfermée dans ce « cercueil » de 1943 à 1945, Molly n’a pour seule compagnie que sa cousine et son journal. Au fil des jours, Molly décrit l’espace froid et obscur, la crasse et la vermine, la faim et la relation compliquée avec les deux fermiers polonais qui risquent leur vie pour sauver la sienne. Elle nous livre sans détours ses craintes, ses secrets et surtout son désir ardent de survivre. Les Mots enfouis présente l’extraordinaire journal de Molly, suivi des mémoires qu’elle a rédigés dans les années 1990. Ces deux textes, écrits à 50 ans d’écart, constituent un témoignage courageux et passionnant de son parcours pendant et après la guerre.

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At a Glance
Poland
Hiding
Wartime diary paired with postwar memoir
Postwar Austria and Germany, displaced persons camps
War Orphans Project
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Adjusting to life in Canada
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
French

184 pages

About the author

Photo of Molly Applebaum

Molly Applebaum was born in Krakow, Poland, in 1930. After the war, she spent three years in displaced persons camps before immigrating to Canada as a war orphan. Buried Words is the first English translation of the diary Molly wrote in Polish from March 1942 to January 1945, accompanied by the memoir she wrote in the 1990s. Molly Applebaum lives in Toronto.

The Hidden Package, Claire Baum

Almost forty years after the end of the war, Claire Baum opens a package from a stranger in Rotterdam, unleashing a flood of repressed memories from her childhood. As Claire delves into her past, she uncovers the personal sacrifice and bravery of her parents, the Dutch resistance and the families that selflessly gave shelter to her and her sister, Ollie. The Hidden Package portrays Claire’s years spent in hiding and pays tribute to all those who played a part in saving her life and ensuring a future for the next generations of her family.

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At a Glance
The Netherlands
Hidden child
Wartime letters and drawings
Arrived in Canada in 1951
Educational materials available: Hidden Children
Recommended Ages
12+
Language
English

132 pages

2015 Moonbeam Children's Book Award Bronze Medal

About the author

Photo of Claire Baum

Claire Baum was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in 1936. She and her sister were liberated by the Canadian Army on May 5, 1945. She arrived in Canada with her family in 1951 and married Seymour Baum in 1956. Together they raised three children and built a very successful business. Claire has been a Holocaust educator since 1984, speaking predominantly to younger students about her experience during the war and her appreciation for living in Canada, the land of her liberators. Claire lives in Toronto.

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Le Colis caché, Claire Baum

Près de 40 ans après la fin de la guerre, Claire Baum a ouvert un colis que lui a fait parvenir une inconnue de Rotterdam, déclenchant un flot de souvenirs d’enfance refoulés. En replongeant dans son passé, Claire a mis au jour le sacrifice et le courage de ses parents, de la Résistance néerlandaise et des familles qui lui ont procuré un refuge ainsi qu’à sa sœur, Ollie. Le Colis caché met en scène ses années passées en clandestinité et rend hommage à tous ceux qui ont joué un rôle dans sa survie et ainsi, assuré la pérennité de sa famille.

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At a Glance
The Netherlands
Hidden child
Wartime letters and drawings
Arrived in Canada in 1951
Educational materials available: Enfants cachés
Recommended Ages
12+
Language
French

144 pages

2015 Moonbeam Children's Book Award Bronze Medal

About the author

Photo of Claire Baum

Claire Baum was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, in 1936. She and her sister were liberated by the Canadian Army on May 5, 1945. She arrived in Canada with her family in 1951 and married Seymour Baum in 1956. Together they raised three children and built a very successful business. Claire has been a Holocaust educator since 1984, speaking predominantly to younger students about her experience during the war and her appreciation for living in Canada, the land of her liberators. Claire lives in Toronto.

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Joy Runs Deeper, Bronia Beker, Joseph Beker

Bronia Rohatiner and Josio (Joseph) Beker grow up in the shtetl of Kozowa, Poland, a small town filled with lively culture, eccentric characters and extended family. When nineteen-year-old Bronia meets the older, handsome Josio, she is charmed by his confidence and fearlessness. Separated when Josio is drafted into the army, reunited amid the chaos of the war, their connection endures as their persecution intensifies. After tragedy strikes Bronia’s family, Josio strengthens her will to live. When everything they hold dear is lost, together they build a new future.

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At a Glance
Poland
Ghetto
Hiding
Escape
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Introduction by Jeanne Beker
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

144 pages

About the author

Photo of Bronia Beker

Bronia (née Rohatiner) Beker was born in Kozowa, Poland (now Ukraine), on December 9, 1920. She married Joseph Beker in 1945 and they came to Canada in 1948, where they raised their two daughters, Marilyn and Jeanne. Bronia passed away in 2015.

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About the author

Photo of Joseph Beker

Joseph Beker was born in Kozowa, Poland (now Kozova, Ukraine), in 1913. In 1948, he immigrated to Canada with his wife, Bronia, where they worked and raised a family. Joseph Beker passed away in 1988.

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Plus forts que le malheur, Bronia Beker, Joseph Beker

Bronia Rohatiner et Josio (Joseph) Beker ont grandi dans le shtetl polonais de Kozowa. Quand Bronia, 19 ans, a rencontré le beau Josio, elle a été charmée par son assurance et son audace. Séparés quand Josio a été incorporé dans l’armée, puis réunis dans le chaos de la guerre, les jeunes gens ont consolidé leur attachement tandis que les persécutions s’intensifiaient. Lorsque la tragédie a frappé la famille Rohatiner, Josio a su redonner le goût de vivre à Bronia. Après avoir perdu tout ce qui leur était cher, ils ont pu reconstruire ensemble un nouvel avenir.

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At a Glance
Poland
Ghetto
Hiding
Escape
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Introduction by Jeanne Beker
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
French

160 pages

About the author

Photo of Bronia Beker

Bronia (née Rohatiner) Beker was born in Kozowa, Poland (now Ukraine), on December 9, 1920. She married Joseph Beker in 1945 and they came to Canada in 1948, where they raised their two daughters, Marilyn and Jeanne. Bronia passed away in 2015.

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About the author

Photo of Joseph Beker

Joseph Beker was born in Kozowa, Poland (now Kozova, Ukraine), in 1913. In 1948, he immigrated to Canada with his wife, Bronia, where they worked and raised a family. Joseph Beker passed away in 1988.

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Unsung Heroes, Tibor Benyovits

In 1944, after German forces invade Hungary, the Zionist youth organization that twelve-year-old Tibor belongs to goes underground to avoid detection. When Tibor is separated from his family, he must rely on the support of his network, a courageous group under immense pressure to save as many Jews as possible in Budapest. Inspired by these Unsung Heroes, Tibor joins the resistance effort and bravely acts as a courier for the group, delivering false identity documents and protective papers to Jews in danger. When the war ends and Tibor must face all that he has lost, his group remains his lifeline, giving him hope and helping him find freedom.

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At a Glance
Hungary
Hiding
Passing/false identity
Resistance
Arrow Cross regime
Siege of Budapest
Postwar Israel
Arrived in Canada in 1962
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

192 pages

About the author

Photo of Tibor Benyovits

Tibor (Ted) Benyovits was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1932. He immigrated to Israel in 1949, where he met his wife, Miriam, and where their first child was born. At the encouragement of relatives, they came to Toronto in 1962, where Ted eventually established a successful machinery business. He was a devoted and active member of his synagogue, Beit Rayim, and his love for Israel and Jewish life remained strong throughout his life. Ted Benyovits passed away in 2020.

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If Home Is Not Here, Max Bornstein

Max Bornstein’s epic account of a poor Jewish boy born in 1920s Poland is breathtaking in scope. Not quite two when he immigrates to Canada, he returns to Europe in 1933, the year that Adolf Hitler came to power. Barely surviving as a stateless refugee in 1930s Paris, he manages to escape as France falls to the Nazis only to be interned in a Spanish concentration camp. Rich in details of pre-war life in Poland, France and Canada and life for Jewish refugees in wartime Britain, If Home Is Not Here gives rare insights into the experiences of a Jewish boy caught up in political forces beyond his control.

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At a Glance
Poland; France; Spain; England
Returned to Europe from Canada in 1933
Escape
Spanish concentration camp
Mental health struggles
Postwar England
Arrived in Canada again in 1947
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
English

328 pages

About the author

Photo of Max Bornstein

Max Bornstein was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1921. After living in Canada as a child, he arrived back on Canadian soil fourteen years later, in 1947. In Toronto, Max worked in the garment industry, married Minnie and raised two children. He maintained an avid interest in quantum physics, international politics and in Judaism and Israel. Late in life, Max discovered his ability to play the piano and frequently entertained the residents in his long-term care home. Max Bornstein passed away in 2015.

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Citoyen de nulle part, Max Bornstein

Max Bornstein retrace le parcours d’un petit garçon juif né dans une famille pauvre en Pologne dans les années 1920. À 2 ans, il émigre au Canada, mais retourne en Europe en 1933, l’année de l’accession de Hitler au pouvoir. Réfugié apatride dans le Paris des années 1930, il réussit à fuir lors de la prise de la capitale par les nazis, mais sera interné dans un camp de concentration en Espagne. Citoyen de nulle part décrit la longue errance physique et psychologique vécue par un jeune homme juif emporté dans la tourmente politique de son époque.

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At a Glance
Poland; France; Spain; England
Returned to Europe from Canada in 1933
Escape
Spanish concentration camp
Mental health struggles
Postwar England
Arrived in Canada again in 1947
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
French

376 pages

About the author

Photo of Max Bornstein

Max Bornstein was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1921. After living in Canada as a child, he arrived back on Canadian soil fourteen years later, in 1947. In Toronto, Max worked in the garment industry, married Minnie and raised two children. He maintained an avid interest in quantum physics, international politics and in Judaism and Israel. Late in life, Max discovered his ability to play the piano and frequently entertained the residents in his long-term care home. Max Bornstein passed away in 2015.

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Daring to Hope, Chana Broder, Rachel Lisogurski

When Rachel and her husband, Avrumeh, escape from the Siemiatycze ghetto in Poland one cold winter night in 1942 with their four-year-old daughter, Chana, they are desperate for refuge. Turned away by their closest friends, they are forced to wander the countryside looking for places to hide and asking for help from strangers and acquaintances. For close to two years, every day is filled with uncertainty for them and for the courageous farmers who eventually hide them. Throughout, young Chana is fiercely protected by her parents, who teach her not to cry, not to even make a sound. After liberation, Chana’s childhood truly begins, and decades later, she finally has the opportunity to honour those who res­cued her family. Told from the perspective of both mother and daughter, Daring to Hope reflects on the darkness of wartime and the love that held a family together.

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At a Glance
Poland
Ghetto
Hiding
Postwar Italy, displaced persons camp
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Adjusting to life in Canada
Arrived in Israel in 1972 (Chana) and 1985 (Rachel)
Adjusting to life in Israel
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

248 pages

About the author

Photo of Chana Broder

Chana Broder was born in Siemiatycze, Poland, in 1938. After the war, she lived in a displaced persons camp in Italy before immigrating to Montreal in 1948. In Montreal, she continued her education, married and raised a family. In 1972, Chana and her family moved to Israel, where Chana became an ESL teacher. In 2013, she reunited with the descendants of her wartime rescuers and had them recognized as Righteous Among the Nations. Chana lives in Israel.

About the author

Photo of Rachel Lisogurski

Rachel Lisogurski was born in Grodzisk, Poland, in 1911. After the war, she and her family lived in a displaced per­sons camp in Italy before immigrating to Montreal in 1948. Rachel first wrote her memoir in 1967 as a way to improve her English. In 1985, she moved to Israel to join her daughter and family there. Rachel Lisogurski passed away in Israel in 1998.

Across the Rivers of Memory, Felicia Carmelly

Ten-year-old Felicia Steigman is confused by the sudden disruption to her life when she is expelled from school and forced to wear a yellow star. But she is completely unprepared for what happens next — the forced abandonment of her home and a gruelling journey, overseen by cruel Romanian Nazi collaborators, to Transnistria, a squalid place that doesn’t even exist on a map. Surviving three years surrounded by devastation and death, Felicia’s innocence disappears. When her family’s suffering is silenced and dismissed, Felicia boldly confronts the past, speaking out against injustice and commemorating the forgotten killing fields of Transnistria.

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At a Glance
Romania; Transnistria
Deportation
Death march
Postwar Romania
Life under Communism
Israel
Arrived in Canada in 1962
Adjusting to life in Canada
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
English

200 pages

About the author

Photo of Felicia Carmelly

Felicia Carmelly was born in Vatra Dornei, Romania, on September 25, 1931. In 1959, Felicia and her family emigrated from Communist Romania to Israel. Three years later they immigrated to Canada, where Felicia earned her master’s degree in social work. Felicia founded Toronto’s Transnistria Survivors’ Association in 1994 and published the anthology Shattered! 50 Years of Silence: History and Voices of the Tragedy in Romania and Transnistria in 1997. Felicia Carmelly passed away in 2018.

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A Cry in Unison, Judy Cohen

Judy Weissenberg is the mischievous and lively youngest child growing up in a large family in Debrecen, Hungary. But as the Nazis rise to power in Europe and anti-Jewish laws tear her family and community apart, Judy’s joyful youth becomes marred by fear and the hushed whispers of the adults around her. Then, in 1944, Germany occupies Hungary and Judy’s world is shattered. One terrifying event follows another, and soon Judy is faced with the incomprehensible — Auschwitz-Birkenau. In the shadow of the gas chambers, she clings to her sisters and “camp sisters,” who are her only hope of enduring the miseries that are to come.

In A Cry in Unison, Holocaust survivor, educator and human rights activist Judy Weissenberg Cohen weaves her riveting story of survival with descriptions of the political and social forces that upended her life. Her voice is a powerful call to honour the unique experiences of women in the Holocaust and to refuse to be silent in the face of injustice.

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At a Glance
Hungary; Germany
Debrecen ghetto
Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp
Bergen-Belsen concentration camp; forced labour camp
Death march
Postwar Hungary and Germany, displaced persons camp
Garment Workers Scheme (Tailor Project)
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Adjusting to life in Canada
Women’s experiences in the Holocaust
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
English

232 pages

About the author

Photo of Judy Cohen

Judy Weissenberg Cohen was born in Debrecen, Hungary, in 1928. She is an active speaker and Holocaust and human rights educator, and in 2001 she founded the website “Women and the Holocaust,” which collects testimony, literature and scholarly material exploring the specific gender-based experiences of women in the Holocaust. Judy Cohen lives in Toronto.

Getting Out Alive, Tommy Dick

Nineteen-year-old Tommy Dick was killed, only to resurface in an almost unfathomable series of twists and turns that miraculously resulted in his survival. Born into a Hungarian family that had converted from Judaism in a country where antisemitism was a constant reality, Tommy soon found out that in the eyes of the Nazis he was still a Jew, still a target for deportation and annihilation. Getting Out Alive is a fast-paced, gripping account of courage and tenacity in the face of overwhelming terror as, on the run and in disguise, Tommy is chased by luck as much as he is by death. Ultimately, the combination of courageous acts by others, unshakeable friendships and his own extraordinarily quick wit conspired to save the life of an adventurous and determined young man in the cruellest of times.

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At a Glance
Hungary
Born Christian
Forced labour camp
Escape
Arrow Cross regime
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

96 pages

2008 Independent Publisher Gold Medal

About the author

Photo of Tommy Dick

Tommy Dick was born in 1925 in Budapest, Hungary. In 1948, he immigrated to Canada and eventually settled in Calgary. At the age of thirty-six, Tommy enrolled in law school and practiced law in Calgary for thirty years. Tommy Dick passed away in 1999.

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Objectif : survivre, Tommy Dick

Tommy Dick, dix-neuf ans, est exécuté. Mais il va miraculeusement survivre après une incroyable suite de rebondissements. Né dans une famille juive hongroise qui avait renoncé au judaïsme, Tommy se rend rapidement compte qu’aux yeux des nazis, il est resté « un Juif » , une cible à déporter et à assassiner. En cavale et déguisé, il défie la mort à plusieurs reprises. Ses mémoires nous font voir comment, en pleine barbarie, certains actes de bravoure, la force inébranlable de ses amitiés et sa remarquable présence d’esprit ont déterminé le succès d’un plan qui a sauvé la vie de ce jeune homme résolu et aventureux.

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At a Glance
Hungary
Born Christian
Forced labour camp
Escape
Arrow Cross regime
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
French

104 pages

2008 Independent Publisher Gold Medal

About the author

Photo of Tommy Dick

Tommy Dick was born in 1925 in Budapest, Hungary. In 1948, he immigrated to Canada and eventually settled in Calgary. At the age of thirty-six, Tommy enrolled in law school and practiced law in Calgary for thirty years. Tommy Dick passed away in 1999.

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Fleeing from the Hunter, Marian Domanski

On the run in Nazi-occupied Poland, thirteen-year-old orphan Marian Finkelman — later Domanski — must fend for himself in a desperate search for safety. Forced to grow up much too early, the daring young boy risks his life over and over again to slip in and out of the ghetto in his hometown of Otwock to find food. When he finally escapes the ghetto, alone and living by his wits, Marian’s perfect Polish and fair complexion help him narrowly escape death as he travels through the Polish countryside “passing” as a Polish-Catholic farmhand. A heart-rending tale of lost youth, Fleeing from the Hunter poignantly describes the quick thinking and extraordinary will to live that are Marian Domanski’s greatest strengths as he manages to survive against all odds.

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At a Glance
Poland
Ghetto
Passing/false identity
Wartime documents
Postwar Poland
Arrived in Canada in 1970
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

224 pages

2011 Independent Publisher Silver Medal

About the author

Photo of Marian Domanski

Marian (Finkelman) Domanski was born in Otwock, Poland, in 1928. He joined the Polish air force after the war and worked as a photographer before moving to Denmark in 1968. He immigrated to Canada two years later, where he was very active in Toronto’s Polish-Jewish community. Marian Domanski passed away in 2012.

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Traqué, Marian Domanski

Marian Finkelman — plus tard Domanski — est en fuite dans la Pologne occupée par les nazis. Orphelin à 13 ans, il doit se débrouiller seul. Forcé de grandir trop vite, Marian risque sa vie à chaque fois qu’il sort du ghetto de sa ville, Otwock, à la recherche de nourriture. Quand il s’échappe définitivement du Ghetto, seul et vivant d’expédients, il réussit à se faire passer pour un ouvrier agricole catholique et sillonne la campagne polonaise. Récit déchirant d’une enfance perdue, Traqué décrit de manière émouvante la vivacité d’esprit et la volonté exceptionnelle de survivre qui ont été les grandes forces de Marian Domanski.

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At a Glance
Poland
Ghetto
Passing/false identity
Wartime documents
Postwar Poland
Arrived in Canada in 1970
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
French

232 pages

2011 Independent Publisher Silver Medal

About the author

Photo of Marian Domanski

Marian (Finkelman) Domanski was born in Otwock, Poland, in 1928. He joined the Polish air force after the war and worked as a photographer before moving to Denmark in 1968. He immigrated to Canada two years later, where he was very active in Toronto’s Polish-Jewish community. Marian Domanski passed away in 2012.

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Always Remember Who You Are, Anita Ekstein

When the Nazis invade eastern Poland in 1941, young Anita Ekstein, a cherished only child in a large, close-knit family, is suddenly living in the shadow of fear and violence. At seven years old, she and her parents are forced from their home into a ghetto, and one day, her mother is gone. As Anita’s father desperately tries to save his beloved daughter, he befriends a Catholic man who smuggles Anita out of the ghetto, risking his own life to save hers. Frightened, living among strangers and missing the warmth her parents provided, Anita learns how to be Catholic and spends most of her days inside and in silence. Always at risk of being discovered, Anita has only her newfound faith to accompany her on the lonely path of survival. After the war, orphaned and struggling with her identity, Anita finds her way through her grief and confusion to fulfill her father’s last request to Always Remember Who You Are.

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At a Glance
Poland
Postwar Poland; France
Hidden child
Passing/false identity
Postwar identity struggles
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Adjusting to life in Canada
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

232 pages

About the author

Photo of Anita Ekstein

Anita Helfgott Ekstein was born on July 18, 1934, in Lwów, Poland (now Lviv, Ukraine). After the war, Anita and her aunt immigrated to Paris, arriving in Toronto in 1948. A dedicated Holocaust educator, Anita founded a group for child survivors and hidden children in Toronto, participated in the March of the Living eighteen times and has spoken to thousands of students. Anita lives in Toronto.

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In Dreams Together, Leslie Fazekas

In the summer of 1944, Leslie Fazekas and his family are deported from their hometown of Debrecen, Hungary, to Vienna, Austria, as forced labourers. It is only after the war that they will discover that most of the cattle car trains from their hometown were destined for Auschwitz. Fate and fortune have intervened to save their lives, and in the devastating circumstances of their captivity, Leslie details all of his experiences in diary entries and letters to his girlfriend, Judit, whom he was separated from in Vienna. Leslie’s writing from August 10, 1944, to April 2, 1945, are both love letters and precious archival documents, and they are a testimony of his family’s survival during a precarious time.

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At a Glance
Hungary; Austria
Debrecen ghetto
Strasshof distribution camp
Forced labour camp
Wartime diary and letters paired with postwar memoir
Arrived in Canada in 1956
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

184 pages

About the author

Photo of Leslie Fazekas

Leslie Fazekas was born in Debrecen, Hungary, in 1925. After the war, he reunited with Judit (Judy), and they married in Budapest in 1949. Leslie returned to school and earned his mechanical engineering diploma at the Technical University of Budapest. In 1956, Leslie and his family immigrated to Toronto, where Leslie attended the University of Toronto for computer programming, a field he worked in until he retired in 1988. Leslie and Judy live in Toronto.

Spring's End, John Freund

A young boy who loved soccer as much as he loved to write, Spring’s End tells how John Freund’s joyful childhood is shattered by the German invasion of his homeland, Czechoslovakia. Hoping at first that the conflict and persecution would soon blow over, John’s Jewish family suffers through the systematic erosion of their rights only to be deported to Theresienstadt — en route to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. John’s loss of innocence and suffering are made all the more poignant as his vivid words reveal an unwavering faith in humanity, determined optimism and commitment to rebuilding his life in Canada.

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At a Glance
Czechoslovakia
Theresienstadt ghetto / concentration camp
Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp
Death march
Postwar Czechoslovakia
War Orphans Project
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

136 pages

2008 Independent Publisher Gold Medal

About the author

Photo of John Freund

John Freund was born in České Budějovice, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic), in 1930. During the Nazi occupation, John took part in writing for a clandestine magazine called Klepy (Gossip). Original copies of the publication were recovered and are now held at the Jewish Museum in Prague. After the war, as a war orphan, John qualified to immigrate to Canada, and he arrived in 1948. John lives in Toronto with his wife, Nora, enjoying the city’s cultural arts, galleries and museums.

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La Fin du printemps, John Freund

Enfant, John Freund aimait écrire et jouer au football. La Fin du printemps raconte comment son enfance joyeuse a basculé après l’invasion de son pays d’origine, la Tchécoslovaquie, par les nazis en 1939. Espérant au début que le conflit et les persécutions prendraient rapidement fin, la famille de John Freund a enduré l’érosion systématique de ses droits avant d’être déportée d’abord à Theresienstadt, puis au camp de la mort d’Auschwitz-Birkenau. Le récit des souffrances de John Freund et la perte de son innocence sont d’autant plus poignants que ses mémoires témoignent d’une foi inébranlable en la nature humaine, d’un optimisme constant et d’une détermination courageuse à refaire sa vie au Canada.

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At a Glance
Czechoslovakia
Theresienstadt ghetto / concentration camp
Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp
Death march
Postwar Czechoslovakia
War Orphans Project
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
French

144 pages

2008 Independent Publisher Gold Medal

About the author

Photo of John Freund

John Freund was born in České Budějovice, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic), in 1930. During the Nazi occupation, John took part in writing for a clandestine magazine called Klepy (Gossip). Original copies of the publication were recovered and are now held at the Jewish Museum in Prague. After the war, as a war orphan, John qualified to immigrate to Canada, and he arrived in 1948. John lives in Toronto with his wife, Nora, enjoying the city’s cultural arts, galleries and museums.

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