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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Too Many Goodbyes

Fear

I woke up to the sound of gunfire, and fear returned to my heart. I wondered what was going on. My mother tried to set my mind at ease, telling me not to worry, but she failed to reassure me. My fears were well-founded, we soon found out. Hungary wasn’t surrendering. The Germans kidnapped Horthy’s son, forcing Horthy to resign, and the fascist Arrow Cross Party, also called the Nyilas, took possession of the government, with Ferenc Szálasi, a ruthless Jew-hater, as its leader. The Nyilas were thugs, robbers and criminals.

Rumours were rampant about the goings-on outside, about groups of people marching on the street — we heard that the Jewish houses on either side of us were emptied and that the Jews were being led to God knows where. I was frantic with fear and terrified for my life. There was nowhere to go. I was convinced that whoever was removed would be killed. What else could they do with us with the Russians almost on our doorstep? The gate to our building was locked and we couldn’t leave. I begged my mother to get a message to my gentile uncle to try to get us some false papers, to get us out somehow. I could not imagine dying. She agreed to ask a gentile neighbour to do it. My uncle himself came for us, but the superintendent refused to let us leave. I remember trying to figure out some escape route, but of course there was none.

We feared for the worst. A few weeks later the Arrow Cross men came with gendarmes and policemen. They entered our building and ordered us all to come down to the courtyard, where they sorted us according to age. My mother was among the women who were instructed to immediately pack and be ready to leave. One man timidly inquired whether he may remain, as his fiftieth birthday was imminent. He was allowed to stay.

The expression on my mother’s face as we said goodbye was familiar. I remembered it as the same one my father wore when I last saw him — an intensive stare meant to capture and hold my image.

Before All Memory Is Lost: Women's Voices from the Holocaust

If the World Had Only Acted Sooner by Rebekah (Relli) Schmerler-Katz

After two or three weeks in the ghetto, we were gathered and taken to a cemetery. We were a few hundred people lined up in fives, standing and waiting. It was the month of May, on a beautiful sunny and warm day. Everything was green and in full bloom. In spite of the hundreds of people lined up, there was no sound, except for the birds chirping and here and there a cry of a baby. In front of us, the Hungarian gendarmes started to line up machine guns. Every few minutes, they adjusted their guns aimed at us again and again. It seemed like those sadists enjoyed seeing the fear in our faces. Someone in the crowd dared to ask one of our tormentors what would happen to us. The gendarme answered clearly and loudly, “By tonight, all of you will smell the violets from the bottom.” This inhuman explanation was not needed. We all understood what would follow.

I was young and loved spring, my favourite season of the year. I looked around and wanted to take in everything around me for the last time. But our journey didn’t end at the cemetery. We were taken away one by one and our pockets and bodies were searched for valuables. I was standing next to my father. He had our five citizenship papers in his breast pocket. As I mentioned before, these papers meant life to us. When the police touched my father’s breast pocket, he frantically uttered, “These are our citizenship papers.” The police tore out the documents, threw them to the ground and yelled, “You will not need these anymore!”

The gendarmes marched us through some tents until we arrived at a field where there was a long freight train. We were counted and a number of people were sent into each railway car. The five of us were holding on to one another. As we were counted, they stopped right after my parents and my sister and loaded them into the boxcar. That meant my brother and I would have to go in the next one. At this point, my parents and I started to beg to be together. Although two people offered to change places with us, they were not allowed. Again, I pleaded with the gendarmes, and this time they beat me up with a club.

My brother was quiet and sad during the whole journey. He looked as if he knew that this was our last trip and that we would never see each other again. I told him to remember the words Duparquet, Quebec. This was a little mining town in Canada where my uncle, my mother’s brother, lived. If we survived, I said, this should be our meeting place.

I can’t recall how many days and nights we were on the train sleeping on the floor without any food, only stopping once a day when the pails, which were given to us to relieve ourselves, were emptied. We realized that we kept going north, toward Poland. We saw cities destroyed completely, only shells of buildings after heavy bombardments. I remember seeing the city of Krakow black from smoke and fire. We kept going north, and then west.

One early morning the train stopped. We looked out and saw young men in striped blue and grey pyjamas, cloth caps on their heads. I soon figured out that what I had considered to be pyjamas were prisoners’ uniforms. It took a few hours until our turn came to be unloaded. My brother and I met with our parents on the platform. The men in the striped clothes helped us off the train. There was a lot of noise, screaming and yelling. We were completely confused. There were Germans in uniforms holding big dogs walking up and down the platform. The prisoners in the striped clothes were Polish Jews. They yelled and hurried to line us up by fives. Amid the terrible panic, I realized that our group was separated from the children, the older people and the men.

One of the prisoners looked at me and asked me to show him my mother. When he saw her he told me, “Kiss your mother; kiss her again.” I suddenly realized that this was a goodbye forever. I asked him, “Will we stay alive?” He answered emphatically, “You young ones, yes.”

Un combat singulier : Femmes dans la tourmente de l’Holocauste

Si seulement le monde avait réagi plus tôt by Rebekah (Relli) Schmerler-Katz

Deux semaines après notre arrivée au Ghetto, on nous a conduits à un cimetière. Nous étions quelques centaines, debout en rangs par cinq, à attendre. En cette belle journée de mai, chaude et ensoleillée, la nature verdoyante se réveillait et les fleurs s’épanouissaient. Malgré la quantité de personnes rassemblées, pas un bruit ne se faisait entendre, hormis le gazouillis des oiseaux et les pleurs d’un bébé ici et là. Devant nous, des gendarmes hongrois ont commencé à aligner des mitrailleuses. Puis ils ont passé un moment à ajuster et réajuster ces armes braquées sur nous. Ces sadiques semblaient prendre un malin plaisir à lire dans nos yeux une terreur grandissante. Un homme de notre groupe a osé demander à l’un de nos tortionnaires ce qui allait nous arriver. Le gendarme a alors répondu haut et fort : « Ce soir, vous mangerez tous des pissenlits par la racine. » Cette explication cruelle était inutile : nous savions tous ce qui allait nous arriver.

J’étais jeune et j’adorais le printemps, ma saison favorite. Jetant un regard alentours, j’ai tenté de me souvenir de tout ce qui m’entourait pour la dernière fois. Pourtant, notre périple ne s’est pas achevé dans ce cimetière. Les gendarmes nous ont fait subir un à un une fouille complète, y compris corporelle, à la recherche d’objets de valeur. Je me tenais à côté de mon père qui avait nos cinq certificats de nationalité dans la pochette de son veston. Comme je l’ai mentionné précédemment, ces papiers étaient extrêmement précieux et nous y tenions comme à la prunelle de nos yeux. Dès que le gendarme a mis la main sur les documents dans la poche de mon père, ce dernier s’est écrié, paniqué : « Ce sont nos certificats de nationalité ! » Le policier les a déchirés et jetés à terre en hurlant : « Vous n’en aurez plus besoin ! »

Les gendarmes nous ont ensuite fait traverser des tentes qui menaient à un champ où nous attendait un long train de marchandises. Ils nous ont fait monter groupe par groupe dans les wagons. Mes parents, ma soeur, mon frère et moi nous tenions serrés les uns contre les autres. Lors du comptage des groupes, les gendarmes se sont arrêtés juste après mes parents et ma soeur et leur ont ordonné de monter dans un wagon. Cela signifiait que mon frère et moi prendrions le suivant. Mes parents se sont alors mis à supplier qu’on ne nous sépare pas. Deux personnes ont même offert de changer de place avec nous. En vain. Quand j’ai imploré les gendarmes à mon tour, ils m’ont battue à coup de matraque.

Mon frère, le regard triste, est demeuré silencieux durant tout le trajet. On aurait dit qu’il savait que ce serait notre dernier voyage et que nous ne nous reverrions jamais. Je lui ai dit de se souvenir de deux mots : « Duparquet, Québec », le nom de la petite ville minière au Canada où vivait le frère de ma mère. « Si nous survivons, ai-je ajouté, c’est là que nous devons nous retrouver. »

Je ne me souviens plus combien de jours et de nuits nous avons passé dans ce train, à dormir par terre, privés de nourriture, ne nous arrêtant qu’une seule fois par jour pour qu’on vide les seaux hygiéniques qu’on nous avait donnés. Nous avons fini par comprendre que nous roulions plein nord, vers la Pologne. Nous pouvions apercevoir des villes complètement détruites par les bombardements, où seuls subsistaient des moignons de murs. Je me souviens de Cracovie, noircie par la fumée et les incendies. Nous avons poursuivi notre course vers le nord, puis nous avons bifurqué vers l’ouest.

Tôt un matin, le convoi s’est arrêté. En regardant dehors, nous avons aperçu de jeunes hommes revêtus de pyjamas rayés bleu et gris, et munis d’un calot sur la tête. J’ai vite compris que ce que j’avais pris pour un pyjama constituait en fait l’uniforme des détenus. Nous avons dû attendre quelques heures avant de pouvoir descendre du train à notre tour. Les détenus en uniformes rayés nous aidaient à sortir. Mon frère et moi avons retrouvé nos parents sur le quai. Un énorme vacarme régnait, où dominaient les cris et les hurlements. Nous étions complètement perdus. Des militaires allemands flanqués de gros chiens arpentaient le quai. Les détenus en uniformes rayés – des Juifs polonaise – nous criaient après en nous pressant de nous mettre en rang par cinq. Au milieu de cette terrible panique, j’ai constaté qu’on séparait notre groupe des enfants, des personnes âgées et des hommes.

Un détenu m’a regardée en me demandant de lui montrer qui était ma mère. Quand il l’a vue, il m’a dit : « Embrasse ta mère. Embrasse-la encore. » Comprenant soudain que je ne la reverrais jamais, j’ai demandéau détenu : « Allons-nous rester en vie ? » Il m’a répondu, catégorique : « Vous, les jeunes, oui. »

At Great Risk

Coming soon

A Childhood Adrift

The Train

Early one morning, Mama came into the room where I had stayed overnight with Dutch friends. Roused from my sleep, I was shocked to see her in tears as she ordered me to get up and dress quickly because the police were waiting for us in front of the hotel. She pleaded with me that I should cry, so that perhaps I might soften the heart of the policemen. But strangely enough, I, who had hitherto been something of a crybaby, could not bring myself to shed a tear. I looked at Mama with pleading, frightened eyes, yet felt too numb to cry. Once out on the street we were gathered into a large crowd of Jews who had been collected from our hotel and elsewhere in town. To my further dismay, I discovered that Papa was not with us. He had gone out before the police arrived, perhaps to buy a newspaper, or could it be that he pursued a lead to a possible hiding place for us? I shall never know.

Like a lugubrious procession we were marched along the street that led to the railway station. The police chief in charge was a burly brute with a moustache like Stalin’s; he swore at us, spouted antisemitic insults and shoved and bullied our pitiful flock all the way. What awaited us when we reached the square in front of the railway station was a veritable coup de théâtre, a sudden turn of events: by an unbelievable coincidence Aunt Fella had arrived on the night train from Limoges and happened to walk out of the station at the very moment when we were brought there! I still hear her cry of astonishment, “Mon Dieu, qu’est-ce qu’il se passe?” (Oh my God, what is happening?) Then, seeing that I happened to be at the end of the queue and that the police chief had momentarily turned away from it, she pulled me by the hand whispering, “Viens, sauve-toi avec moi!” (Come, run away with me.) But I was too dumbfounded to run. A moment later the police chief turned around; he saw my aunt pull me away and raced after us, slapped my tiny, frail aunt on both cheeks, and violently seized me by the hair and the seat of my trousers. Thus holding me kicking and screaming, that brute ran inside the station and toward the awaiting train on the first platform, past Mama, whom I saw being dragged over the station floor struggling and crying. The entire station was a scene of bedlam, with men, women and children being pulled, shoved and hurled into the train….

Just as the police chief was about to throw me into the train as well, two gendarmes in khaki uniforms appeared in the nick of time to stop him. Without a word he let go of me. One of the two officers took me aside and gently pressed my head to his chest, so that I would see no more of these horrendous scenes. After a moment he turned me around, saying, “Look, your mother is in that window over there waving goodbye to you.” The train then moved. That was the last time I saw my mama.

Une enfance à la dérive

Le Train

Tôt un matin, Maman est entrée dans la chambre où j’avais passé la nuit avec des amis hollandais. Tiré de mon sommeil, quelle n’a été ma surprise en voyant ma mère en larmes m’ordonnant de vite me lever et de m’habiller parce que la police nous attendait devant l’hôtel. Elle m’a supplié de pleurer dans l’espoir d’attendrir les policiers. Mais, curieusement, alors que j’avais été assez pleurnicheur jusqu’alors, je ne suis pas parvenu à verser une seule larme. J’ai regardé Maman avec des yeux effrayés et suppliants, mais je me sentais trop hébété pour pleurer. Dans la rue, nous avons rejoint un grand groupe de Juifs raflés comme nous dans notre hôtel mais aussi ailleurs en ville. À mon grand désarroi, j’ai découvert que papa ne se trouvait pas parmi nous. Il était sorti avant l’arrivée de la police, peut-être pour acheter un journal, ou peut-être était-il parti en quête d’une éventuelle cachette pour nous ? Je ne le saurai jamais.

On nous a menés en une lugubre procession le long de la rue qui menait à notre destination, la gare. Le chef de police responsable de notre groupe était une brute solidement charpentée arborant une moustache à la Staline ; il nous a injuriés, nous a lancé des insultes antisémites, bousculant et malmenant notre pitoyable troupeau jusqu’au bout. Ce qui s’est passé ensuite lorsque nous sommes arrivés sur la place devant la gare a été un véritable coup de théâtre : grâce à une incroyable coïncidence, tante Fella était arrivée de Limoges par le train de nuit et sortait de la gare au moment même où l’on nous y amenait ! J’entends encore son cri d’étonnement : « Mon Dieu, qu’est-ce qu’il se passe ? » Puis, voyant que je me trouvais en bout de colonne et que le chef de police s’en était momentanément détourné, elle m’a tiré par la main en chuchotant : « Viens, sauve-toi avec moi ! » Mais j’étais trop abasourdi pour courir. Un instant plus tard, le chef de la police s’est retourné et a aperçu ma tante qui tentait de me faire sortir du rang. Il s’est précipité sur nous, l’a giflée sur les deux joues – elle, si menue et si fragile – et m’a brutalement attrapé par les cheveux et le siège de mon pantalon.

Tout en me maintenant fermement tandis que je me débattais et hurlais, la brute s’est ruée dans la gare vers le train à l’arrêt, passant à côté de Maman en larmes qu’on traînait par terre malgré son opposition violente et ses cris. À la gare régnait une panique totale tandis que l’on poussait et bousculait les hommes, les femmes et les enfants pour les forcer à monter à bord du train...

Juste au moment où le chef de la police allait me jeter dans le train, deux gendarmes en uniforme kaki ont fait irruption pour l’en empêcher. Sans un mot, la brute m’a relâché. L’un des deux gendarmes m’a tiré à part, puis m’a doucement pressé le visage contre sa poitrine pour m’épargner la vue de ces scènes atroces. Au bout d’un moment, il a pris ma tête dans ses mains pour la tourner vers le train : « Regarde, ta mère est à la fenêtre là-bas et elle te fait signe de la main pour te dire au revoir. » Son train s’est alors ébranlé. C’était la dernière fois que je voyais ma mère.

Flights of Spirit

Syringes on a Tray

The most dramatic event in my life happened in the summer of 1944. I was sixteen years old and I was facing my death. In wartime, death can occur at any time. But today, death would come not from the hand of my enemy — it would come from the hand of my beloved mother.

I was hiding in a basement with my mother, my father, my three uncles and my aunt. We had covered the entrance to the room with an old cupboard and we sat there listening to every sound coming from outside. We had all agreed that we would rather die here than be captured and shot on the killing fields of the Ninth Fort in Kaunas, Lithuania.

My mother, who was a surgical nurse in the ghetto hospital, had been given the task of arranging our communal suicide. She had filled several syringes with a potent heart drug. The plan was to inject an excessive dose of the drug in our veins and cause a heart attack.

I watched my mother as she prepared a serving tray covered with a clean white cloth. On the tray, there was a bottle of medical alcohol and beside each syringe lay a ball of cotton wool. I thought this was funny, so I reminded my mother that as this was a final injection it did not have to be a clean one. Everyone laughed, except my mother; but she took away the cotton wool.

It was very boring to sit for days on end in that dim basement. I had a lot of time to think and I had many questions: How does it feel to die? Does the brain go on working for a time after the heart stops? My mother was a strong woman and I trusted her but would she have the strength to give me, her only child, the first injection?

I tried to imagine my mother injecting the six of us and then, finally, herself. Then I tried to imagine the seven of us lying on the floor waiting for the drug to kick in. What would we say to each other? Would we laugh or cry? Would it be painful? As I tried to picture the scene, I decided it would be good to go first — I did not wish to see it.

I will now try to describe the circumstances that would make a woman like my mother ready to kill her son and her family. That suicide pact came after we had spent three years, from 1941 to 1944, in the Kaunas ghetto — which became the Kauen concentration camp — in Lithuania. My story can only be understood after knowing what was happening in the Kaunas ghetto during those three years.

Stronger Together

Letter from the Ghetto

By the end of November, a ghetto was formed in the heart of the city. What happened from that point on is described in a letter I wrote on January 30, 1945, only two weeks after our liberation from the ghetto. The purpose of my letter was to write down what had happened to us, while it was fresh in my memory, and give it to Zolti, who I was sure would come out of that hell alive. I still have the original letter, written in pencil by the light of a single candle, the pages now yellowed with time and the words faded away.

Budapest, January 30, 1945

My dearest love!

Nine months ago, on May 9, 1944, when you kissed me goodbye, I told you my life would be worthless if you did not come back. “I will be back, sweetheart, because I love you and our little son. Don’t worry, my dear,” you replied to me. Now we are home and safe and so are your parents, and I feel that you will come home, too. I feel it very strongly. Our little son prays for you every night with his tiny hands clasped together.

Where should I begin to tell you of our sufferings? I want to tell you everything that has happened to us. Maybe I’ll go back to October 15, 1944. Our Regent, Horthy, spoke on the radio, and we were told that Hungary would no longer fight in the war, so nobody had to worry. We were tremendously glad to hear it. We had all crowded into the yard of our building to hear our Regent’s declaration from the janitor’s radio. We were jumping with joy and tearing off the yellow stars from our chests. We thought it was the end of our sufferings. We had had enough. The yellow stars were discriminatory – unlike other citizens, we were not allowed to go out of the house except between five and seven in the evening to buy groceries, and of course by that time there were not many groceries left. We were forbidden to go to any public places like cafeterias, soda shops, movies or playgrounds. On the streetcars or buses we could only sit at the back. In many of the stores you could read this: “Dogs and Jews forbidden to enter.” There were many other awful things but now we thought that an end had finally come to these orders. We were wrong. Even more bad things started. Our Regent had the best intentions, but he was weak, and on the same day, the fascist Arrow Cross Party, with its leader, Ferenc Szálasi, took over the presidency. Szálasi was bloodthirsty. He swore that he would help the Germans to annihilate the Jews.

The next morning I saw sixty or more people – men, women and children – marching with their hands raised above their heads. Fascists escorted them. Later on the same day, some police and fascists with swastikas on their arms came to our building. One of them roared, “Every Jew down to the yard or I shoot!” We were very scared. You know, dear, by then about three hundred people lived in the building, most of them Jews. We had no time to pack anything. I just grabbed the knapsack, little Andy’s winter coat and a blanket. Those things were all ready in case of an air raid. We had to raise our hands like criminals and form a double line in front of the house. When Andy heard those words “hands up” he took his hand out of mine and raised his, too.

First they took us to the nearest open ground and robbed us. We had to throw all money, wristwatches, rings and flashlights on a blanket. We had to put our hands up again so they could inspect if any rings were left. If they found something, they beat our hands with a whip. I put my wedding band in Andy’s coat pocket. I wanted to save it.

After we were robbed, we were ordered to form a double line once more and to march to an unknown place. While we were marching, still with raised hands, you couldn’t imagine what the crowd on the sidewalks did to us. They were enjoying watching our march. They hit us and spat on us. One man grabbed the blanket from my hand, so Andy had no cover for the night. Others took the coats off of people’s shoulders. One man beat your father and smashed his eyeglasses. At that point, Andy and I lost your parents in the crowd. On the route, I saw that we were being led to the Tattersall racetrack. There, we spent two horrible days and nights. It was like a nightmare. When we arrived, it was already dark. We had to sit down on the bare ground, which was covered with dung from the horses. There were a lot of people, collected from every part of the city. Many of them didn’t even have a place to sit, so they stood all night. The children fell asleep in their mother’s laps. Andy too fell asleep and I hugged him all night to keep him warm. We adults were awake the whole night waiting for the morning. What would happen to us? Finally, morning came. We were ordered once more to form a line of four and to walk around a platform where some Arrow Cross bandits were pointing machine guns at us. One of them roared, “You rotten Jews! All of you will die within a few hours.” But nothing had happened yet except that we had no food, water or roof above our heads.

During the day we walked all over the place looking for Mama and Papa. There were Arrow Cross women with whips, and they hit everybody around them. I tried to avoid those beasts. From time to time, Andy and I sat down on the ground and I fed him some crackers and apples from the knapsack. I couldn’t take a bite. After that, we again went to look for your parents. Finally in mid-afternoon, we found each other. We were crying and hugging to try to comfort each other. We all sat down on the ground again to try to keep Andy warm. Then came the second night. About 3 a.m. we suddenly saw a bright light and a man on a loudspeaker announced that we could all go home. The order came from the chief, Szálasi, who had become the head of the government. As soon as we got out, German soldiers shot among us at random. Many were wounded and killed, but somehow we got home. Little Andy’s first words were “Hello, my red tricycle. You say hello to me, too.” You know, dear, he had just received that red tricycle from Joe, our superintendent, before we were taken away.

Memories in Focus

Memories of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

I took my book, Gone with the Wind, which I had been reading for a while, with me to the bunker and I read it front to back many times. There must have been light in the bunker, as well as a trap door that could be opened so we could go out for some fresh air, but only at night, when the Nazis usually didn’t operate. Even so, we had to be careful when we went out because there were informers who would come at night, mix with people and beg them to be let into their bunkers. That’s how they found out where the bunkers were and the next day they would go and tell the Germans, who would come with flame throwers and artillery and announce that if the people didn’t come out in half an hour, they would burn the bunker down. Eventually, the Germans levelled the whole ghetto that way.

We were in the bunker for about three weeks, and for the last few days we stayed inside and didn’t venture out. People spoke only in hushed tones, which had a hint of hysteria in them. Then, the first week in May, the inevitable knock came on the trap door and we heard voices through the air vents. We had been found out. The voices — I can’t recall if in German or Polish — said that if we didn’t come out within half an hour, they were going to throw gas bombs into the bunker and we would all die. When we emerged, we saw Germans squatting with machine guns and they set the building on fire anyway.

One image has stayed clearly in my mind: As we left the bunker, we saw German paratroopers dressed all in black, like the devil himself, with black helmets and machine guns strapped across their chests. They kept shouting, “Hände hoch! Hände hoch! Nicht schiessen!” (Hands up! Hands up! Don’t shoot!) They thought that we had guns and they were afraid of us. I felt very proud.

We were all searched and then forced to lie down next to the building, where Ukrainians guarded us. Now the collaborators were either Ukrainians, Latvians or Lithuanians. We stayed that way for a long time while they gathered up a large column of people. By the time we started walking, it was dark and we were surrounded by burning buildings. People were trying to escape, running away from the column, and one man ran toward the flames of a burning building as one of the guards aimed his rifle and shot after him. The guard was laughing himself silly as he shot, not even seeming to care whether he hit the man or not since it really didn’t matter whether the man died of a bullet or in the flames.

That image became my first recurring nightmare; for years I would dream that I was being shot in the back and was dying as I ran into the flames.

As the Lilacs Bloomed

A Glimpse at Life and Missing Auschwitz

All of a sudden, we arrived at a city. It was well-lit and we could see the streets from the station. My God, how this made me feel! Never before had I experienced such bitter heartache. Was it true that there were still people with a life? Elegantly dressed women, babies with smiling faces. We hadn’t seen children for five months. During those five months, our minds had dulled – perhaps we didn’t even have a soul anymore. All that interested us was not to starve and not to be so cold.

From the train, I could see through a window into a house. The gentle light of a lamp fell on a table covered with a white cloth, a family seated around it. A father, mother and four children were having dinner. No, this was impossible to bear, too much of an ordeal for us who had not sat on a chair for five months, who instead had to crouch, backs bent, to avoid hitting our heads on the bunk above. We thought of our old homes only as if they were part of a beautiful dream, from which we would awaken to the harsh reality. I sensed that we would never see our loved ones again; I didn’t know where to locate them in my thoughts. My weak, tall, lanky son, János, who lived only for his books. My dear husband, who shared my very thoughts. Where could they be living, if they were living at all?

The tears were streaking down my face as I closed the train curtains, and the optimism that had filled us at our departure evaporated as the train pulled away. We were like falling leaves in the current of the autumn wind…. A miserable night passed and toward dawn, while it was still dark, we arrived at our unknown destination in the pouring rain. As we got out of the carriages, I saw an undulating, menacing body of dark water in front of us. There was water wherever I looked and water streaming down our necks. At last we could decipher the name of the station: Schlesiersee. This was the name of the lake and also of the small town situated on its shore.

Rows of five and marching. The outlines of a pretty little town became visible in the grey, pre-dawn light. Mansions, each one more beautiful than the last, and tidy streets. Not a soul to be seen at this early hour, but behind a few windows a woman’s hand would pull aside a snow-white curtain, so suggestive of a peaceful home, and a pair of curious eyes peered out. I wonder what they felt, what they were thinking, as they caught sight of two thousand women marching in a downpour.

We marched for hours. We left the town behind us and all we saw around us were barren fields. Not a factory chimney in sight, even though it had been our hope to work in a factory. After all, it was almost the end of October – what could we possibly do in the fields? We saw all sorts of windmills, which, previously, I had only seen on Dutch postcards. My first time seeing a windmill, soon to become the thousand times cursed backdrop to the tragedy that played out on these fields, whose ill-fated protagonists we would become.

“We talked about Auschwitz as we had before about our dear old bourgeois homes.”

We passed through two villages. People who had just gotten up were shaking their heads, watching our sad, drenched company. The rain that had plagued us since the beginning of our exile was still cascading down on us incessantly, trickling down our skin. Our new attire, which we were so proud of, turned into wringing-wet, foul-smelling rags. My stockings, which I had stopped readjusting, slipped down, and I trampled on them; they were in tatters by the time we arrived in front of a small farm that stood all by its lonely self in the fields.

Fear pierced my heart. Could this be the place where we were going to live? In the autumn? In the winter? No! This was unbelievable, surpassing even our most pessimistic imaginings and yet, at the same time, nothing was impossible or unbelievable. We marched into the courtyard of the farm and were made to stand in a quadrangle-shaped formation. Never, not even on my arrival at Auschwitz, did I feel this level of hopelessness. The lack of civilized amenities had been my fear all along. In Auschwitz, I had been reassured by the presence of electricity and Waschraums. Now, even the gas chamber seemed better than perishing in this place. From the outset, I was convinced that we would never survive a winter here.

Pendant la saison des lilas

Fenêtre sur la vie et la nostalgie d’Auschwitz

Soudain, nous nous sommes arrêtées dans une ville. L’endroit était bien éclairé, et de la gare, nous pouvions apercevoir les rues. Mon Dieu, quelle émotion j’ai pu ressentir à ce moment-là ! Jamais je n’avais connu une peine aussi amère. Était-ce bien vrai qu’en ce monde, des gens continuaient de vivre normalement ? Existait-il encore des femmes élégamment vêtues, des bébés aux visages souriants ? Nous n’avions croisé aucun enfant en cinq mois – cinq mois qui nous avaient anesthésié les sens. Peut-être avions-nous même perdu notre âme. Désormais, nos deux seules préoccupations étaient d’éviter les morsures de la faim et celles du froid.

Du train, je pouvais observer un intérieur de maison. Une lampe diffusait sa douce lumière sur la table recouverte d’une nappe blanche autour de laquelle la famille avait pris place. Un père, une mère et quatre enfants dînaient tranquillement. Non ! Que cesse cette vision insupportable ! C’en était trop pour nous ! Depuis cinq mois, nous n’avions pas pu nous asseoir sur une chaise ; nous devions nous accroupir, l’échine courbée, pour ne pas nous cogner la tête à la couchette du dessus. Nos maisons à nous n’appartenaient plus qu’au monde des rêves dont nous émergions pour replonger dans l’impitoyable réalité. J’avais le sentiment que nous ne reverrions jamais nos proches ; je ne savais pas où les situer dans mes pensées. János, mon grand échalas de fils, un être fragile qui ne vivait que pour ses livres ! Mon cher mari, qui partageait jusqu’à mes pensées mêmes ! Où se trouvaient-ils à présent ? Étaient-ils seulement en vie ?

Le visage ruisselant de larmes, j’ai fermé le rideau de la fenêtre. Quand le train est reparti de nouveau, il ne restait plus rien de l’optimisme qui nous habitait en quittant le Lager. Nous étions comme ces feuilles mortes emportées par le vent d’automne. Une nuit affreuse s’est écoulée puis, peu avant l’aube, alors qu’il faisait toujours noir et que tombait une pluie battante, nous sommes arrivées à notre destination. Elle nous était restée inconnue jusqu’alors. À la descente du train, j’ai pu distinguer devant nous une masse d’eau ondoyante et menaçante. L’eau nous entourait de toutes parts : celle du lac s’étendant à perte de vue et la pluie qui nous dégoulinait dans le cou. Enfin, nous avons aperçu le nom de la gare : Schlesiersee. Il désignait à la fois le lac et la petite ville sur sa rive.

En rangs par cinq, nous avons entamé notre périple. Les contours de la petite ville se révélaient dans la lumière grise qui précède l’aube. Des maisons cossues, toutes plus belles les unes que les autres, des rues bien entretenues. Personne en vue à cette heure matinale, mais derrière certaines fenêtres, nous voyions apparaître ici et là une main de femme soulevant un de ces rideaux blancs comme neige si typiques des demeures paisibles, puis une paire d’yeux curieux. Je me demande à quoi pouvaient bien penser ces gens en voyant une colonne de deux mille femmes avancer sous la pluie diluvienne.

Nous avons marché pendant des heures. La ville a disparu derrière nous et nous ne voyions plus que des champs dénudés. Pas une seule cheminée d’usine à la ronde, ce qui nous a déçues car nous avions espéré que notre prochain travail ait lieu à l’abri. Nous étions à la fin octobre, après tout : qu’y avait-il à faire dans les champs ? Nous apercevions toutes sortes de moulins à vent ; je n’en avais jamais vu que sur des cartes postales envoyées de Hollande. Ils deviendraient la toile de fond de la tragédie qui se jouerait bientôt sur ces terres et dont nous serions les malheureuses protagonistes. Nous sommes passées par deux villages. Les gens, qui venaient tout juste de se lever, secouaient la tête en observant la triste colonne détrempée que nous formions. La pluie qui nous avait tourmentées depuis le début de notre exil continuait de nous ruisseler dessus. Nos nouveaux vêtements, dont nous étions si fières, n’étaient plus que des chiffons dégoulinants d’eau. Je marchais sur mes bas, que j’avais cessé de tirer. Ils étaient en loques quand nous sommes arrivées devant une petite ferme qui se tenait toute seule, au milieu des champs.

La peur m’a transpercé le coeur. Était-ce là que nous allions vivre ? En automne ? En hiver ? Non ! L’endroit dépassait nos scénarios les plus pessimistes. C’était inimaginable. Pourtant, il n’y avait rien d’impossible, rien d’incroyable. Nous nous sommes avancées dans la cour et on nous a fait placer en formation carrée. Jamais, pas même en arrivant à Auschwitz, je n’avais ressenti un tel désespoir. Depuis le début, je redoutais l’absence d’installations adéquates. À Auschwitz, l’électricité et les Waschräume m’avaient rassurée. À présent, même les chambres à gaz semblaient préférables à la mort dans cet endroit. Dès que j’ai vu cette ferme, j’ai été convaincue que nous ne passerions pas l’hiver.

From Dream to Nightmare

The Vale of Tears

I worked with all my strength. I pictured our house, the synagogue and my street on the eve of Yom Kippur. Jews would be rushing to and from the bathhouse, wishing each other “a good year” and “may you have a good inscription in the Book of Life.” Some would hurry to synagogue early, bringing large wax candles. I pictured my mother standing in front of the candles, piously praying with tears in her eyes. Around her, we, her children, always stood crying, as was traditional for us on Yom Kippur eve. Looking at the position of the sun, I ascertained that it was probably time to light the candles. My poor mother was at this moment most certainly crying her eyes out for me, her only son, who was not with her. My mother’s suffering broke my heart. I put away my work and went over to a nearby tree. I rested my tired head there and my tears began to flow. I made every effort to stop my tears, to control my emotions, but my efforts were in vain. Leaning my head against the tree, I stood crying like a little boy. My tears fell on the dusty ground and on my dusty clothes. I felt strangely better. I felt lighter, revitalized. I had completely forgotten that I was supposed to be working and that all around me were Nazi murderers. I began to float in higher realms. My grandfather stood before me. I saw my grandfather in his kittel and his tallis, standing on the bimah and exhorting the congregation to repent from the bottom of their hearts.

Suddenly, from out of the blue, a hail of blows landed on my bent back. I lost my bearings, not so much from the beating but from the unexpectedness and suddenness with which the blows had so murderously and mercilessly targeted my back. Nevertheless, I collected myself immediately, realizing where I was in the world. It was not my grandfather but a Nazi overseer that stood before me. His eyes glowered with violent rage. He was ready to kill me. I went straight back to work.

A Part of Me

Escape

In October 1942, rumours came from Dubno that the last roundup of Jews there had been completed. Even those with special skills, now no longer needed, were murdered. I cried for my sister and her child. But my sorrow was even greater when those who were taken to work on the highways returned home with news that Nazi soldiers were surrounding our ghetto. We understood what this meant. My husband’s mother begged me to leave my child with her and said I should try to escape on my own. As a devoted mother, I refused and declared, “Whatever will happen to me, will also happen to my child.”

I picked up my darling daughter in my arms, parted from my friends, with whom I had lived for the last three years and learned to love, and left. I knew this was the end. When I left my mother-in-law and her home, I broke all ties with my past, all that had been my support, my entire defence. I was now almost totally alone, dependent on my own strength and the caprice of fate. With me was my daughter — a helpless little being who depended on me for solace, comfort and protection — and a piece of bread, which was not nearly enough. I ran out of the house with my beloved Lucy in my arms and the hope that God would not desert me.

We Sang in Hushed Voices

Survival

The small acts of courage were what made it possible to survive. One evening, for example, we were made to stand for hours and hours in the Appellplatz for roll call. When we were finally released, some of the women who needed to go to the bathroom went straight to the barracks to relieve themselves in the latrines. When they got there, however, the doors were locked. A few of the poor women were truly in agony after holding it in for so long. Not being allowed to empty their bladders was torturous. This was the last straw for some of us, and we began to shout in resistance, “Let us pee!” over and over again. “Don’t let them suffer!” I called out. “Don’t torture people so much!” One of the female SS guards heard us yelling and came to the barracks.

The guard must have recognized my voice because she came directly over to me, as if I were to blame for the rebellion. The other women were sure that I would be killed. Then, something unexpected happened. A friend of mine from Mukačevo, a woman named Hilda, came to my aid. I had known her before the war, and she was normally very quiet and reserved. Yet, she rallied everyone together and encouraged them all to shout. All seven or eight hundred women in the area began shouting so loudly and with such intensity that the female SS guard grew afraid and left.

There was another way that we could resist – with hope. As we sat on the hard wooden bunks in our barracks, with only our thin, torn dresses to cover us, we still hoped that we would survive. Some of us even tried to learn new languages. By that time, I had already learned some English and spoke it quite well. I also still remembered Hebrew from high school and taught Hebrew words to my friends. It was a time of emptiness, pain and desperation, a time when it was impossible to imagine a way out. There was no way out. But I often thought about miracles.

An extremely important part of our resistance was singing. Although it seems paradoxical to talk about music and Birkenau in the same breath, singing was a key part of our existence. When our work was done and the guards weren’t present, we could find safe moments to sing Hebrew songs. We had to be careful never to sing in front of the SS because they would have beaten us to death. I couldn’t sing well, but it didn’t matter. None of us were really singers. I would teach my friends the words to songs I had learned in school and the women with good voices would figure out the tune. Together we combined words and voices, our voices hushed so that no one would hear us. It gave us encouragement and lifted our spirits; in those moments, we didn’t speak about death and killing.

These were not the only music events in the camp. There were also concerts organized by the SS – although these were hardly happy occasions for the Jewish prisoners. I recall one concert that was spontaneously arranged under orders from the camp administration. We were called out to the Appellplatz and commanded to sit on the ground. What we saw in front of us was a group of men in their filthy, striped prison uniforms, emaciated from hunger, each one holding a violin, a cello or a wind instrument. They were told to take their places on a platform and began to play – and, oh, how beautifully they played. Starving and ill, the musicians played waltzes by Johann Strauss II while the SS guards danced to the music.

I began to cry. I cried inconsolably because those musicians were playing music that had been created to make the world a more harmonious and beautiful place. Yet, these men, imprisoned and starving, were forced to play through suffering and humiliation. Strauss’s waltzes and operettas, which brought joy to listeners for a hundred years, had nothing in common with Hitler and his ideology.

Nous chantions en sourdine

Survivre

De petits gestes de courage nous permettaient de survivre. Un soir, par exemple, nous attendions depuis des heures et des heures sur la place de l’appel. Quand on nous a enfin laissées partir, certaines des femmes, qui avaient besoin d’aller aux toilettes, se sont rendues directement aux baraquements pour se soulager aux latrines. Mais les portes étaient verrouillées. Quelques-unes des femmes n’en pouvaient plus après avoir attendu aussi longtemps. Ne pas pouvoir se soulager était très pénible. Pour certaines, c’en était trop. Nous avons donc commencé à crier, en répétant : « Laissez-nous faire pipi ! » Je clamais : « Ne les faites pas souffrir ! Arrêtez cette torture ! » Une des gardes SS nous a entendues et est venue au baraquement.

Elle avait dû reconnaître ma voix, car elle s’est dirigée directement vers moi, comme si j’étais responsable de la rébellion. Les autres femmes étaient sûres que j’allais être tuée. Mais il est arrivé quelque chose d’inattendu. Une de mes amies de Moukatcheve, qui s’appelait Hilda, m’est venue en aide. Je la connaissais avant la guerre : c’était une femme habituellement très calme et réservée. Cependant, elle a rallié tout le monde et a encouragé les femmes à hurler. Les 700 ou 800 détenues du secteur ont commencé à crier si fort et avec tant d’intensité que la garde SS a pris peur et est partie.

Il existait une autre manière de résister : en gardant espoir. Assises sur nos châlits dans le baraquement, vêtues de robes légères et toutes déchirées dans lesquelles nous gelions, notre force de vie subsistait malgré tout. Certaines ont même essayé d’apprendre de nouvelles langues. J’avais déjà appris un peu d’anglais à cette époque et je le parlais assez bien. Je me souvenais aussi de l’hébreu qu’on m’avait enseigné au secondaire et dont je partageais la connaissance avec quelques amies. C’était une période de vide, de souffrance et de désespoir. Il était difficile d’envisager un moyen de s’en sortir et il ne semblait pas y avoir d’issue possible. À moins d’un miracle… et je me raccrochais parfois à cette pensée.

Notre résistance se manifestait plus que tout par le chant. Bien qu’il paraisse paradoxal de parler en même temps de musique et de Birkenau, chanter représentait un élément essentiel de notre existence. Quand notre travail était fini et que les gardes n’étaient pas là, nous en profitions pour entonner des chants hébreux. Nous devions faire attention à ne jamais chanter devant les SS, car nous aurions été battues à mort. Je chantais faux, mais cela n’avait pas d’importance. Aucune d’entre nous n’avait de talent véritable pour le chant. J’apprenais à mes amies les paroles des chansons qu’on m’avait enseignées à l’école, et les femmes dotées d’une belle voix se chargeaient de trouver l’air. Ensemble, nous combinions paroles et mélodies, et nous chantions en sourdine pour que personne ne puisse nous entendre. Cela nous donnait du courage et nous remontait le moral. Au cours de ces séances, nous ne parlions ni de la mort omniprésente ni des assassinats qui nous menaçaient toutes.

Ce n’étaient pas les seuls moments musicaux du camp. Nous avons eu droit aussi à des concerts organisés par les SS – des occasions pénibles pour les détenus juifs. Je me souviens d’un concert qui avait été monté à l’improviste par ordre de l’administration du camp. On nous a réunies sur l’Appellplatz et ordonné de nous asseoir par terre. En face de nous se trouvait un groupe d’hommes décharnés et revêtus de leurs guenilles de prisonniers. Chacun d’eux tenait qui un violon, qui un violoncelle, qui un instrument à vent. On leur a dit de prendre place sur l’estrade et de commencer à jouer. Quel talent ! Affamés et malades, les musiciens interprétaient des valses de Johann Strauss fils, tandis que les SS dansaient.

Je me suis mise à pleurer. J’étais inconsolable : ces musiciens étaient en train de jouer des airs créés pour rendre le monde plus beau et plus harmonieux. Et ces hommes, emprisonnés et faméliques, étaient forcés de jouer au-delà de la souffrance et de l’humiliation. Les valses et les opérettes de Strauss, qui avaient fait la joie de tant de mélomanes depuis si longtemps, n’avaient rien en commun avec Hitler et son idéologie.

Inside the Walls

Loss in the Ghetto

During this first winter, as the walls grew wet and frozen, we had to move to Brzezinska Street, where we were warmer and away from the barbed wire fence and the German guard who occasionally fired his gun. I made friends in our new place. One of them was a composer a few years older than me. He had a girlfriend who was a musician as well. Even though we lived in the same building, we exchanged letters; we promised to be friends forever.

The small apartment where we lived was available for a short time only, and we were next sent to occupy a small room on Zgierska Street, near the bridge. The apartment consisted of a tiny entrance hall and kitchen combination, and another room that was already occupied by a family. This building was close to the barbed wire fence, behind which the tramways for the gentile population moved along freely. However, we were not directly exposed to the fence, as our room faced the courtyard. There was an outhouse in the yard, where people would empty their chamber pots. In the winter the opening to the outhouse would freeze over, and people would continue to empty their pots, creating a hill that grew and froze until spring came. There was no escaping the stench and it was hard to avoid stepping into it. While I dulled my senses to everything else, this sight and the smell repelled and revolted me. I washed every part of my body whenever I could.

Almost immediately upon our arrival to Zgierska Street, we were, to our horror, infested with lice, and there was no escaping the scourge. I succumbed to a feeling of self-loathing, and once, as my father and I stood by the window, I exhaled loudly and told him that I wished that someone would push me into a hole in the ground and bury me. Surprised at my own vehemence, I glimpsed my father’s profile and saw a look of sadness and despair.

During the first few months in the ghetto, we received mail from my brothers in Soviet-occupied Poland. They were preparing to come back and lead us to the Soviet Union along a certain route. My brothers specifically stressed that there would be schooling for me there, which was an ongoing family concern. But in the spring of 1940, the ghetto was hermetically closed and there was no longer any mail, news or communication whatsoever with the outside world. The penalty for listening to a radio was death.

[...]

In the fall, on Yom Kippur, we went to a prayer gathering; it was the first time I saw my father dissolve into tears. Whenever we thought things could not get worse, they did.We were hungrier than ever and we were getting weaker. My father was unable to carry on digging ditches for potato storage, the work to which he had been assigned. I started to work at a saddle factory, sewing leather and making harnesses, and the meagre pay was enough to receive our basic weekly food ration. It was up to us to consume the ration – bread and other staples – when we wished, and we rationed our food scrupulously, but it was a terrible temptation to dig into the weekly supply. The amount of the ration changed every week, depending on what the administration could get as payment for the production of goods for the Germans.

I felt mindless. Starvation was soon rampant, and mortality in the ghetto reached epidemic proportions. Death started with apathy, weakness and the swelling of ankles. The swelling would move upward, and ultimately the heart and lungs would shrink, resulting in a lingering death. On July 2, 1941, that is how my father died.

When my mother realized that my father’s situation was critical, she sent a neighbour to come and get me at work, and I came home. My father looked at me for a while, and then he closed his eyes for the last time. He was buried in the cemetery at the edge of the ghetto.

My mother and I were now alone.

If, By Miracle

I will always remember my mother’s last words to me. “If, by miracle, you survive, you must bear witness and tell the free world what happened to us.” I am the only survivor of the Holocaust from my mother’s large family, which originally comprised more than 150 people. Among the few survivors on my father’s side were his younger brother, Shimon, the only survivor of seven brothers, and a few of his cousins. That was all that remained of our family. I often asked myself whether there could be a God who allowed the murder of my family and my people, young and old. When I was ten years old, I heard the last cries of Jews reciting the prayer Shema Yisrael on their way to mass graves in my hometown of Nieśwież. As a child, I was angry and disappointed that God had permitted this to happen, but to adopt a negative opinion of God would have meant giving up the struggle to survive and especially giving up on my mother’s last words to me. I came to the conclusion that there was a God and that He would give me the determination to live and be free again, and to avenge the Jewish people. I remembered what I had learned in Hebrew school about the two-thousand-year history of our people – how we had survived pogroms, slaughters and inquisitions.

When I was older, I always held on to my mother’s words and I promised myself that I would fulfill her wishes by telling Jewish and non-Jewish youth, as well as adults, about everything that our people had been forced to endure during the war, to implore them to pass on our history to future generations so that these events would never happen again.

Si, par miracle

Je me souviendrai toujours des dernières paroles de ma mère : « Si, par miracle, tu survis, il faut que tu témoignes et que tu dises au monde libre ce qui nous est arrivé. » Je suis le seul survivant de l’Holocauste de la grande famille de ma mère, laquelle comptait à l’origine plus de 150 personnes. Du côté de mon père figurent parmi les survivants son frère cadet, Shimon, le seul de ses sept frères, et quelques cousins. Voilà tout ce qu’il reste de ma famille.

Je me suis souvent demandé s’il était possible qu’un Dieu permette le meurtre de ma famille et de mon peuple, jeunes et vieux. Lorsque j’avais 10 ans, j’ai entendu les derniers cris des Juifs qui récitaient la prière Shema Yisraël en route vers les charniers. C’était à Nieśwież, la ville où je suis né. Enfant, j’étais en colère et déçu que Dieu ait permis cela, mais si j’avais adopté une vision négative de Dieu, j’aurais cessé de lutter pour survivre et, surtout, j’aurais trahi les dernières volontés de ma mère. J’en suis venu à la conclusion qu’il y avait un Dieu et qu’Il me donnerait la force de vivre et d’être libre à nouveau et, surtout, de venger le peuple juif. Je me suis souvenu de ce que j’avais appris à l’école hébraïque à propos de l’histoire de notre peuple, vieille de 2 000 ans – comment il avait survécu aux pogroms, aux massacres et aux inquisitions.

Un peu plus âgé, je m’en suis toujours tenu aux paroles de ma mère et je me suis promis que j’accomplirais ses souhaits en racontant aux Juifs comme aux non-Juifs, jeunes et adultes, tout ce que notre peuple a été forcé d’endurer pendant la guerre, en les implorant de transmettre à leur tour notre histoire aux générations futures pour que de pareils événements ne se reproduisent jamais plus.

Confronting Devastation: Memoirs of Holocaust Survivors from Hungary

The Light in a Dark Cellar by Susan Simon

When it all started, I was more afraid of the sirens than the bombs. The drawn-out, high-pitched blast seemed to land right inside my head, seeping down to invade my heart till it froze in terror. As the war progressed, sirens were followed by explosions, and I learned to reserve my fears for the latter. Eventually there were no sirens at all; life turned into a perpetual night in underground cellars, where the sound of bombs and buildings crumbling were all we could hear.

In the early stages of the war, with sirens alerting the public, Rozi and I had to grab a bag filled with food, drink, a first-aid kit and toys and run as fast as we could. If I was in the washroom, Mother waited for me. When the sirens were not enough to penetrate my childish sleep at night, she woke me up and urged me to hurry. In the cellar we gave silent thanks for arriving in one piece.

Windows were covered with black paper, and cracks were filled with caulk to shroud our house in darkness at night. Rumours circulated about cellars collapsing, as well as the buildings above them, but Mother didn’t pass on such gossip to us so the threats would not ruin our hopes.

We had to wear a yellow star above our hearts to identify us as Jews, and we were allowed to leave our homes for an hour or two at certain times to buy food. Scared to walk with our stars, our heads buzzing with horror stories about how Jews were killed on the streets, we rarely stepped outside. It didn’t help that Nazi propaganda was spread on huge posters, glaring from rooftops. One of them showed a little girl covered with vivid splashes of blood, holding a toy that had exploded in her hands. This shocking scene blamed the Allied forces for throwing down explosives in the shape of toys from their air­planes. In truth, only the Nazi imagination could invent such crimes. Confused, Rozi and I thought of this disturbing picture before we fell asleep, particularly because the little girl on the poster had a sweet baby face with big blue eyes, just like Rozi. This likeness terrified her.

The Arrow Cross, the Hungarian party closely allied with the Nazis, took over the government on October 15, 1944. Shortly after this event, they passed a law ordering the Jews in the capital to move into a ghetto.

My family had already escaped a ghetto in the small town of Gyöngyös; Mother didn’t want to enter another one. She decided that we should hide.

The Weight of Freedom

The Slow Roar

Later, in 1941, we would be ordered to wear a yellow Star of David with the word “Jude,” which had to be sewn onto each piece of our outer clothing. Wearing the yellow star, my mother explained, was an ancient method used to keep the Jews separate from the Christians. We were not allowed to leave the house without the yellow patch on our outer clothing. This made it much harder to mix with the Polish population.

Selling anything on the street was considered “black marketeering” and prohibited by the Nazis. To make a point, the Nazis convicted six men caught doing business on the black market and sentenced them to death by hanging. The hanging was to be public to let us know what the consequences of black marketeering were. A huge stage with a scaffold was erected – built high so that everyone could see – in one of the city’s squares and everyone was compelled to attend. To me it appeared as though people wanted to attend this public display of barbarism. The square was ringed with four- or five-storey buildings, and all the windows were packed with onlookers. My family’s friends had an apartment overlooking the square and we were invited to see the spectacle from a good vantage point, right across from the gallows. From the window, we could see the entire square and as far as I could see, the square and streets were packed with people. The mood appeared high, anticipatory, if not festive. No one had ever seen a public execution.

Soldiers and police surrounded the square as the six men were lined up on the scaffold. The executioners put ropes on their necks. A Gestapo official read a short verdict and the trap was sprung. It felt like the crowd uttered a shudder as the men fell through the trap. Their knees jerked, then dropped, and their bodies swayed. They were left hanging for twenty-four hours. The crowd’s mood changed to sombre, and people left either crying or in silence. I heard that the families were allowed to retrieve the bodies for burial the next day. This exhibition understandably caused everyone to take notice, and my mother stopped me from going on the street to sell or trade.

Le Poids de la liberté

Plus tard, en 1941, nous avons dû porter une étoile de David jaune avec l’inscription « Jude », que nous devions coudre de manière bien visible sur nos vêtements. Ma mère m’a expliqué que le port de l’étoile jaune était une ancienne méthode visant à mettre la population juive à l’écart de la population chrétienne. Comme il nous était interdit de sortir sans étoile jaune sur nos vêtements, il est devenu beaucoup plus difficile de nous mêler à la population polonaise.

Vendre de la marchandise dans la rue était assimilé à faire du « marché noir », activité interdite par les Allemands. Pour bien se faire comprendre, les nazis ont arrêté six hommes qui se livraient à cette pratique illicite et les ont condamnés à mort par pendaison. Tout le monde a été obligé d’assister à leur exécution de façon à ce que nous voyions ce qui nous attendait si nous n’obéissions pas à leurs lois. Sur une des places de la ville, ils ont érigé un immense échafaud — très haut pour que la foule puisse bien voir. J’avais l’impression que les gens tenaient à assister à cette démonstration publique de barbarie ; toutes les fenêtres des immeubles de quatre ou cinq étages qui bor-daient la place étaient remplies de curieux. Des amis de ma famille qui habitaient dans l’un de ces bâtiments nous ont invités à assister au spectacle. Nous avions un bon point d’observation : juste devant la potence. Installés à la fenêtre, nous apercevions aussi l’ensemble de la place et les rues avoisinantes, bondées de gens. Il y avait de la fébrilité dans l’air, et une atmosphère presque électrique régnait. Personne n’avait jamais vu d’exécution.

Des soldats et des policiers ont encerclé le square au moment où les six hommes ont été placés l’un à côté de l’autre sur la plateforme. Puis les bourreaux leur ont passé une corde autour du cou. Un fonctionnaire de la Gestapo a alors fait lecture d’un bref verdict, après quoi on a ouvert la trappe. Un frisson a semblé traverser la foule lors de la chute des six condamnés ; leurs jambes ont été parcourues de secousses un moment, puis se sont immobilisées, et les corps se sont mis à se balancer. On les a laissés là, accrochés à la potence, durant 24 heures. L’humeur de la foule s’est assombrie, et les gens ont quitté les lieux en pleurant ou en gardant le silence. On m’a dit que le lendemain, les familles ont eu l’autorisation de récupérer les corps pour les enterrer. Cette démonstration a permis à tous de bien comprendre le message. Ma mère m’a dès lors interdit de retourner vendre ou troquer quoi que ce soit dans la rue.

Under the Yellow & Red Stars

The Rokitno Massacre

These horrors came to a deadly resolution on August 26, 1942. On that day the whole Jewish population of Rokitno was ordered into the market square. No one was exempt now, including infants, the gravely ill and the elderly. Those who couldn’t walk were carried to the square on stretchers. Some people carried others on their backs. German soldiers and German and Ukrainian police surrounded the square. They began by separating children, women, men and the elderly. The situation developed into fear and disorder. Soon, deafening screams and moans filled the square. People panicked. Children were clinging to their mothers. Everyone was trying to defend the old and the sick.

All of a sudden, a sharp scream pierced the air: “Jews, they’re going to kill us all now.” It was Mindl Eisenberg, a big, tall, brave woman nicknamed “The Cossack” who saw the police squadron arrive from behind the train station and alerted the crowd. Anguished, people began to run for their lives. Men ran to find their wives and children. Everyone was trying to escape. Only bullets could stop them. The guards fired at the crowd and dozens of people were killed instantly, covering the square with blood. In this hell, my seventeen-year-old brother, Samuel, found me, grabbed me by the arm and we started running….

That was the last time we saw our mother, our father and our five-year-old brother, Moishe. We found out later that our father had been captured with other survivors of the shooting in the market square and taken to the Sarny area, approximately forty kilometres from Rokitno. Just outside of Sarny, in the ravines by the brick factory, he was shot along with some 18,000 other Jews who met horrifying deaths in that awful place. Witness accounts of the massacre say that the ground, covered with hundreds of bodies, was moving for days because people had been buried alive.

We never found out exactly what happened to our mother and our youngest brother.

My brother and I ran away from the market square to the house of the German officer who had promised to save Samuel. We broke into the house through the back window, but unhappily encountered the Polish chef. Without hesitation, my brother took my hand and we ran out the door into the backyard and then through the yard toward the woods. We crawled underneath the rail cars that had, I know now, been prepared for transporting Jews to the Sarny area and escaped into the forest. We ran as fast as we could and kept on running.

Étoile jaune, étoile rouge

Le massacre de Rokitno

Ces horreurs ont culminé et trouvé un terme fatal le 26 août 1942. Ce jour-là, toute la population juive de Rokitno a reçu l’ordre de se rassembler sur la place du marché. Cette fois-ci, personne n’était exempté, ni les bébés, ni les vieillards, ni les grands malades. Ceux qui ne pouvaient pas marcher ont été transportés sur des civières ou à dos d’homme. Les soldats allemands, la police allemande et la police ukrainienne encerclaient la place. Ils ont commencé par séparer les enfants, les femmes, les hommes et les vieillards. La peur et le chaos ont gagné la foule. Bientôt, la place s’est emplie de hurlements assourdissants et de gémissements. C’était l’affolement général. Les enfants s’agrippaient à leur mère. La foule essayait de protéger les vieillards et les malades.

Tout à coup, un hurlement aigu s’est élevé : « Juifs, ils vont tous nous tuer maintenant. » C’était Mindl Eisenberg, une grande femme, forte et courageuse, surnommée « la Cosaque », qui avait vu l’escadron de police arriver depuis la gare et qui alertait la foule. Les gens, paniqués, se sont mis à courir de toutes leurs forces. Les hommes couraient pour essayer de retrouver leur femme et leurs enfants. Tout le monde essayait de s’enfuir. Seules les balles pouvaient les arrêter. Les gardes ont tiré sur la foule et des dizaines de personnes ont été tuées sur-le-champ, baignant la place de sang. Dans cet enfer, mon frère de 17 ans, Samuel, m’a trouvé, m’a attrapé par le bras et nous nous sommes mis à courir…

C’est la dernière fois que nous avons vu notre mère, notre père et notre petit frère de 5 ans, Moïshé. Nous avons appris plus tard que notre père avait été capturé avec d’autres qui avaient survécu au massacre de la place du marché et avait été emmené dans la région de Sarny, à une quarantaine de kilomètres. À la périphérie de Sarny, dans les ravins voisins de la briqueterie, il a été fusillé avec environ 18 000 autres Juifs qui ont trouvé une mort affreuse dans cet horrible endroit. Des témoins du massacre disent que le sol, couvert de centaines de corps, a remué pendant des jours parce que des gens avaient été enterrés vivants.

Nous n’avons jamais su exactement ce qui était arrivé à notre mère et à notre frère cadet.

Mon frère et moi nous sommes enfuis de la place du marché et avons gagné la maison de l’officier allemand qui avait promis de sauver Samuel. Nous nous sommes introduits dans la maison par la fenêtre de derrière mais, malheureusement, nous nous sommes trouvés nez à nez avec le chef cuisinier polonais. Sans hésiter, mon frère m’a pris par la main et nous sommes sortis en courant par la porte de derrière qui donnait sur le jardin et, de là, nous avons gagné la forêt. Nous avons rampé sous les wagons du train qui avait été affecté, je le sais maintenant, au transport des Juifs vers Sarny et nous nous sommes échappés dans la forêt. Là, nous avons continué à courir à toutes jambes.

A Drastic Turn of Destiny

Growing Up Under Hitler

My father was beholden to his Gestapo friend for extending a helping hand to us on three occasions. The first was in 1933, the second was during the Polish deportation in October 1938, and the third was just before Kristallnacht. In the early afternoon of November 9, 1938, he telephoned my father to warn him of what would be happening that evening. He suggested again that we seek refuge in the Polish consulate because he was sure that they would arrest my father and send him off to a concentration camp. This time, however, not only were there not as many people in the consulate but we only had to spend one night there. This was even more fortunate because we no longer had the good services of Uncle Dadek – he had already fled to Brussels, Belgium. The persecutions continued with Jews being rounded up. The elderly were most affected – in Leipzig the SS dragged them to a rivulet near the zoological garden and made them jump from one side to the other while the officers whipped the old people ferociously. Many of them couldn’t make it across and fell into the icy-cold water. Onlookers, mainly youngsters, stood on the bridge off Humboldtstrasse laughing, encouraging the SS as if this were a display of trained animals. Witnessing this was one of the most sickening memories that is indelibly engraved in my mind. Even today, I can still see this picture as vividly as if it happened yesterday. It was probably the first real exposure I had to seeing man’s cruelty to man. As Boy Scouts we had had fist and kicking fights with the Hitler Youth and during the last years of my attendance at the public school, we had been singled out by teachers and ridiculed, but I had never seen this type of barbarism displayed by fellow human beings.

Walking through the city it was incredible to discover the burned synagogues and the Jewish-owned stores smashed and plundered. The Jewish district of Leipzig, in the vicinity of the Gustav-Adolf-Strasse, Humboldtstrasse and Gerberstrasse, suffered the worst fate. There was hardly a Jewish store owner or wholesaler who did not lose all his or her assets that night. The destruction was not only total but systematic – one could see the old German edict of thoroughness in its execution. It was hard for me – a twelve-year-old boy – to grasp the logic or reason behind such intentional and planned wanton behaviour.

Were these the very same people whose culture had produced Schiller, Haydn, Schumann, and Goethe, who Lord Byron said was the greatest genius his age had produced? Or was this a new breed producing Hitler, Streicher, Goebbels, Heydrich? Was Goethe prophetic when he said, “The Germans should be transplanted and scattered all over the world, like the Jews, in order to bring to full development the good qualities that lie in them, and for the health of all nations?” Kristallnacht was not only the burning of synagogues and the destruction of Jewish property but a test that demonstrated the effectiveness of many years of anti-Jewish propaganda used to brainwash the population. The general population showed no reluctance to participate in the destruction and the photographs of German people’s faces taken during this unpunishable “freedom to destroy”speak volumes. We are frequently told that not everyone engaged in the horrendous events of that night, but when one looks at the spectators, one realizes that their facial expressions aren’t very different from those of the perpetrators. Nor can one excuse the rest of the world for not taking measures to challenge the Germans and to express the total unacceptability of these acts. When could we expect decent human beings to take a stand on matters of wilful and planned destruction and death? Ninety-one Jews were killed that night and 25,000 carted off to concentration camps to a fate worse than death. In those days the concentration camps were still located within Germany – Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen. But the world remained silent and the Germans realized that nobody from the outside world was concerned about the Jews.

Too Many Goodbyes: The Diaries of Susan Garfield, Susan Garfield

In 1944, as Budapest’s Jews begin to suffer under German occupation, eleven-year-old Susie takes to her diary. Precocious and charming, Susie records the mundane along with the poignant, describing her family, friends and her daily life against a backdrop of war and persecution. Soon, Susie’s young life is marred by farewells — to her father, forced into labour service, and then to her mother when collaborators take her away. After the war, Susie makes a fateful decision to embark on a journey to a new country. Lonely and struggling to adapt in Canada, Susie’s diary is now filled with angst. In Too Many Goodbyes, Susan’s memoir picks up the story where her younger self left it — close to finding a place where she truly belongs.

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At a Glance
Hungary
Hiding
Siege of Budapest
Wartime diary and postwar diary paired with postwar memoir
War Orphans Project
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Adjusting to life in Canada
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

256 pages

About the author

Photo of Susan Garfield

Born Zsuzsanna Löffler in Budapest in 1933, Susan Garfield immigrated to Canada as a war orphan in 1948 and lived in Vegreville, Alberta, before moving to Winnipeg, Manitoba, where she still lives. Susan's English translation of her Hungarian wartime diary was published in Voices of Winnipeg Holocaust Survivors (2010), and her story as a new immigrant to Canada was told in Holocaust Survivors in Canada: Exclusion, Inclusion, Transformation, 1947-1955 (2015).

Before All Memory Is Lost: Women's Voices from the Holocaust, Myrna Goldenberg

In this anthology, twenty women reflect on their experiences of survival during the Holocaust — from the heart-stopping fears of hiding to the extreme risks of “passing” as non-Jews, and from the terrors of the Nazi camps to the treacheries of the Soviet Union. Each woman’s unique account is connected to the others by common threads and themes: family, fear and the ways they resisted and, ultimately, triumphed over extreme adversity. Many also offer poignant insights into their experiences of loss and renewal after liberation. Featuring a wide variety of narrative styles, including prose, poetry and diary excerpts, this powerful and unique Canadian collection gives voice to the many women who endured in the face of horrifying brutality and memorializes the families and friends whose voices were silenced.

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At a Glance
Anthology of memoirs by 20 women survivors
Survivors from across occupied Europe and Soviet Union
Sections: Hiding, Passing, Camps and Soviet Union
Section introductions by Myrna Goldenberg
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
English

606 pages

2018 Independent Publisher Gold Medal, 2017 Canadian Jewish Literary Award

About the editor

Photo of Myrna Goldenberg

Myrna Goldenberg is the co-editor of Different Horrors, Same Hell: Gender and the Holocaust (2013) and Experience and Expression: Women, the Nazis, and the Holocaust (2003), as well as a number of other publications. A professor emerita of Montgomery College, Maryland, Goldenberg’s research focuses on gender and the Holocaust and on teaching the Holocaust in the university and college classroom.

Un combat singulier : Femmes dans la tourmente de l’Holocauste, Myrna Goldenberg

Dans la présente anthologie, vingt femmes retracent le parcours de leur survie durant l’Holocauste – depuis la terreur de la vie en clandestinité jusqu’aux risques inouïs d’endosser une identité non juive, en passant par l’horreur des camps nazis et la perfidie du régime soviétique. Chacun des récits est lié aux autres par des thèmes et des fils conducteurs communs : la famille, la peur, les modalités de résistance et, finalement, le triomphe qui suit l’adversité extrême. Plusieurs auteures évoquent en outre l’ampleur de ce qu’elles ont perdu et le processus de reconstruction après la guerre. Mêlant prose, poésie et extraits de journaux intimes, ce recueil exceptionnel fait entendre de façon puissante les voix de survivantes canadiennes de l’Holocauste et témoigne de leur capacité à survivre face à une violence inhumaine. Il rend également hommage aux parents et amis qui ont péri aux mains des nazis.

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At a Glance
Anthology of memoirs by 20 women survivors
Survivors from across occupied Europe and Soviet Union
Sections: Hiding, Passing, Camps and Soviet Union
Section introductions by Myrna Goldenberg
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
French

698 pages

2018 Independent Publisher Gold Medal

2017 Canadian Jewish Literary Award

About the editor

Photo of Myrna Goldenberg

Myrna Goldenberg is the co-editor of Different Horrors, Same Hell: Gender and the Holocaust (2013) and Experience and Expression: Women, the Nazis, and the Holocaust (2003), as well as a number of other publications. A professor emerita of Montgomery College, Maryland, Goldenberg’s research focuses on gender and the Holocaust and on teaching the Holocaust in the university and college classroom.

At Great Risk: Memoirs of Rescue during the Holocaust, Fishel Goldig, David Korn, Eva Lang

In a village in Poland, a farmer hides Fishel and his family; in a Protestant orphanage in Slovakia, a pastor shelters David and his brother; and in France, underground networks save Eva and her sisters. At a time when most turned away from the anti-Jewish atrocities, some people risked their lives to save their Jewish friends, neighbours and often, even strangers. These three stories emphasize not only the courage and moral strength of a rescuer, but also the survivor’s remembrance and gratitude to them. After the war, Fishel and Eva were instrumental in having their rescuers honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations, and David reconnected with his rescuer, who was also named righteous. At Great Risk also features fifteen Azrieli Foundation authors who were rescued during the Holocaust.

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At a Glance
Anthology of memoirs by three survivors, featuring a section on fifteen Azrieli Foundation authors and their rescue stories
Poland; Czechoslovakia; Slovakia; France
Vichy France
Ghetto; hiding; passing/false identity
Resistance and rescue
Righteous Among the Nations
Arrived in Canada in 1948 (Fishel); 1965 (David); 1974 (Eva)
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

326 pages

About the author

Photo of Fishel Goldig

Fishel Philip Goldig was born in Mielnica, Poland (now Melnytsia-Podilska, Ukraine), in 1933. He immigrated to Montreal in 1948, where he estab­lished various businesses while also becoming a professional singer, cantor and theatre performer. Fishel lives in Montreal and is dedicated to Holocaust education.

About the author

Photo of David Korn

David Korn was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic), in 1937. In 1949, he immigrated to Israel, where he earned a degree in engineering. David came to Canada in 1965 and worked on building restorations in Montreal, Ottawa and Halifax. David lives in Halifax, where he speaks often about his wartime experiences.

About the author

Photo of Eva Lang

Eva Lang was born in Brussels, Belgium, in 1930. She immigrated to British Mandate Palestine in 1945 and to Canada in 1974. Eva was an early childhood educator and an aestheti­cian. She lives in Netanya, Israel, where she paints and is very involved in Holocaust education.

A Childhood Adrift, René Goldman

In the 1930s, René Goldman grows up entranced with theatre, music, languages and geography. Enveloped by his parents’ love and protection, he wanders the streets and alleys of Luxembourg and Brussels, carefree and prone to mischief. Yet as he starts hearing adults speak the words “deportation” and “resettlement,” René is forced to grapple with a strange, new reality. In 1942, when his family flees to France, eight-year-old René is separated from his parents and shunted between children’s homes and convents, where he must hide both his identity and his mounting anxiety. As René waits and waits for his parents to return, even liberation day does not feel like freedom. An eloquent personal narrative detailed with historical research and intuitive observations, A Childhood Adrift explores identity, closure, disillusionment and the anguish of silenced emotions.

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At a Glance
Luxembourg; Belgium; France
Vichy France
Hidden child
Passing/false identity
Postwar Poland; China
Life under Communism
Arrived in the US in 1960, and in Canada in 1963
Educational materials available Hidden Children
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
English

328 pages

About the author

Photo of René Goldman

René Goldman was born in Luxembourg on March 25, 1934. After the war, he lived in children’s homes outside Paris and then pursued his education in Poland. In 1953, René left for Beijing, where he studied Chinese language, literature and history. He graduated from Columbia University and then joined the faculty of the University of British Columbia, where he taught courses in Chinese history. René Goldman lives in Summerland, British Columbia.

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Une enfance à la dérive, René Goldman

René Goldman est un enfant fasciné par le théâtre, la musique, la géographie et les langues. Choyé par ses parents, il aime déambuler dans les rues de Luxembourg puis de Bruxelles, insouciant et enclin aux bêtises. Mais lorsque les adultes commencent à parler de « déportations », René est contraint de faire face à une inquiétante réalité. En 1942, sa famille s’enfuit en France et René, 8 ans, est séparé de ses parents. Il est ensuite ballotté entre plusieurs maisons d’accueil où il doit cacher ses origines juives mais aussi son angoisse. La Libération n’en sera pas une pour René qui attend en vain le retour de ses parents. Témoignage éloquent et bien documenté, Une enfance à la dérive explore les questions liées à l’identité, au deuil, à la désillusion et à l’angoisse provoquée par des émotions trop longtemps réprimées.

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At a Glance
Luxembourg; Belgium; France
Vichy France
Hidden child
Passing/false identity
Postwar Poland; China
Life under Communism
Arrived in the US in 1960, and in Canada in 1963
Educational materials available: Enfants cachés
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
French

360 pages

About the author

Photo of René Goldman

René Goldman was born in Luxembourg on March 25, 1934. After the war, he lived in children’s homes outside Paris and then pursued his education in Poland. In 1953, René left for Beijing, where he studied Chinese language, literature and history. He graduated from Columbia University and then joined the faculty of the University of British Columbia, where he taught courses in Chinese history. René Goldman lives in Summerland, British Columbia.

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Flights of Spirit, Elly Gotz

Sixteen-year-old Elly Gotz hides with his family in an underground bunker in the Kovno ghetto in Lithuania, prepared to die rather than be found by the Nazis. After surviving nearly three years in the ghetto, where thousands from the Jewish community have been murdered, Elly and his family refuse to be the Nazis’ next victims. But there is no escape from the liquidation of the ghetto in the summer of 1944, and Elly and his father are taken to Kaufering, a brutal subcamp of the notorious Dachau concentration camp. After the war, as his family tries desperately to flee from Germany and their past, Elly is determined to regain his lost youth and education. Throughout his journey, Elly’s motivation and enterprising spirit drive him to succeed and, ultimately, to find strength in flight.

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At a Glance
Lithuania
Kovno ghetto
Kaufering concentration camp
Postwar Germany; Norway; Zimbabwe; South Africa
Arrived in Canada in 1964
Educational materials available: Elly Gotz Activity
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

240 pages

About the author

Photo of Elly Gotz

Elly Gotz was born in Kovno (Kaunas), Lithuania, in 1928. In 1947, Elly and his parents immigrated to Norway and then to Zimbabwe. Elly immigrated to Toronto in 1964, where he established various businesses and achieved his lifelong dream of becoming a pilot. In 2017, at age eighty-nine, he fulfilled another aeronautical dream by going skydiving.

Photo by Hasnain Dattu.

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Stronger Together, Ibolya Grossman, Andy Réti

“Don’t cry darling. We need this baby. You will see.”

With these words from her husband, Zoltán, Ibolya Rechnitzer’s fear of being pregnant during the uncertainty of wartime is somewhat eased. But in November 1942, four months after their baby, Andy, is born, Zoltán is drafted into the forced labour service of the Hungarian army and Ibolya must cope, alone, as a single mother and a Jew facing persecution in Budapest. Her son gives her a reason to fight, and Ibolya protects him fiercely during the war and after, when she must make a crucial decision that will forever alter their lives. As Andy grows up in the shadow of the Holocaust and his mother’s memories, he finds the remarkable courage to tell his own story and carry on his mother’s legacy. Two memoirs in one, Stronger Together gives voice to both mother and son as they each reflect on their past, their losses and, above all, their optimism.

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At a Glance
Hungary
Budapest ghetto
Forced labour
Arrow Cross regime
Siege of Budapest
Life under Communism
Postwar Hungarian Uprising
Arrived in Canada in 1957
Adjusting to life in Canada
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

288 pages

About the author

Photo of Ibolya Grossman

Ibolya Grossman was born in Pécs, Hungary, in 1916. After the war, she was arrested and jailed by the Communist regime in Hungary for trying to escape the country. On her second attempt she succeeded with her son, Andy, immigrating to Canada in 1957. Ibolya first wrote and published her memoirs in 1990; she passed away in Toronto in 2005.

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About the author

Photo of Andy Réti

Andy Réti was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1942. He was liberated from the Budapest ghetto in January 1945. Andy has been a volunteer at Toronto’s Holocaust Education Centre since 1998, and joined his mother on many of her events as a survivor speaker. Since his mother’s passing, Andy has continued in her footsteps, telling their stories to numerous audiences.

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Memories in Focus, Pinchas Gutter

Ten-year-old Pinchas is separated from his parents and twin sister when they are deported from the Warsaw ghetto to the killing site of Majdanek. As Pinchas is sent on to a series of concentration camps, he shuts himself off to the terrors surrounding him and tries his best not to be noticed, to become almost invisible. But after liberation, his photographic memory won’t let his past fade away, and Pinchas struggles to deal with nightmares and flashbacks while raising a family and trying to heal his emotional scars. As he journeys from England to France, Israel, Brazil and South Africa, Pinchas searches for belonging before finally finding his true home in Canada. A poignant reflection on suffering, injustice and trauma, Memories in Focus also offers hope and faith in the future.

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At a Glance
Poland
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
Majdanek multipurpose camp
Concentration camps and forced labour camps
Death march
Postwar England; France; Israel; Brazil; South Africa
Mental health struggles
Arrived in Canada in 1985
Educational materials available: Pinchas Gutter Activity
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

192 pages

About the author

Photo of Pinchas Gutter

Born in Lodz, Poland, on July 21, 1932, Pinchas Gutter was the only member of his immediate family to survive the Holocaust. In 1945, he was liberated and taken to Britain. Pinchas lived in France, Israel, Brazil and South Africa before immigrating to Canada in 1985. He is the first Holocaust survivor to be immortalized in an interactive three-dimensional projection in the USC Shoah Foundation’s Dimensions in Testimony. Pinchas lives in Toronto.

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As the Lilacs Bloomed, Anna Molnár Hegedűs

In the spring of 1944, as Germany occupies her native Hungary, Anna Molnár Hegedűs barely has time to notice the flowers blooming around her. One year later, as the lilacs blossom once again, she returns to her hometown of Szatmár, Hungary, and sets her memories to paper, the experiences still raw and vivid. Her unflinching words convey the bitter details of the Szatmár ghetto, Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Schlesiersee forced labour camp and a perilous death march. At forty-eight years old, Anna has survived a lifetime of trauma, and as she writes, she waits, desperately hoping her family will return.

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At a Glance
Hungary
Ghetto
Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp
Concentration and forced labour camps
Written in 1945; first published in Hungarian in 1946
Arrived in Canada in 1952
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
English

256 pages

2015 Independent Publisher Gold Medal

2015 Literary Translators’ Association of Canada John Glassco Award

About the author

Photo of Anna Molnár Hegedűs

Anna Molnár Hegedűs was born in Szatmár, Hungary (now Satu Mare, Romania), in 1897. In 1921, she married Zoltán Hegedűs,and they raised two children, János and Ágnes. Anna and her daughter were imprisoned in Auschwitz-Birkenau together, an uncommon occurrence given Anna’s age and the selection process. Anna immigrated to Israel in 1950 and to Montreal in 1952, where she became a devoted neonatal nurse, staying with mothers and their newborns for a week to several months, often maintaining relationships with the families. Anna Hegedűs passed away in 1979.

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Pendant la saison des lilas, Anna Molnár Hegedűs

Au printemps 1944, alors que l’Allemagne occupait sa Hongrie natale, Anna Hegedűs a à peine le temps de remarquer les fleurs qui s’épanouissent autour d’elle. Un an plus tard, à l’époque où les lilas refleurissent, elle rentre chez elle, à Szatmár, et commence à consigner ses souvenirs, encore vifs et intenses. Ses mots nous transmettent sans détour le quotidien dans le ghetto de Szatmár, à Auschwitz-Birkenau, au camp de travaux forcés de Schlesiersee et lors d’une marche de la mort meurtrière. À 48 ans, Anna a survécu à d’immenses traumatismes dont elle a fait le récit alors qu’elle attendait désespérément le retour des siens.

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At a Glance
Hungary
Ghetto
Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp
Concentration and forced labour camps
Written in 1945; first published in Hungarian in 1946
Arrived in Canada in 1952
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
French

280 pages

2015 Independent Publisher Gold Medal

About the author

Photo of Anna Molnár Hegedűs

Anna Molnár Hegedűs was born in Szatmár, Hungary (now Satu Mare, Romania), in 1897. In 1921, she married Zoltán Hegedűs,and they raised two children, János and Ágnes. Anna and her daughter were imprisoned in Auschwitz-Birkenau together, an uncommon occurrence given Anna’s age and the selection process. Anna immigrated to Israel in 1950 and to Montreal in 1952, where she became a devoted neonatal nurse, staying with mothers and their newborns for a week to several months, often maintaining relationships with the families. Anna Hegedűs passed away in 1979.

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The Vale of Tears, Pinchas Hirschprung

An epic journey across wartime borders, The Vale of Tears chronicles two years in the life of Rabbi Pinchas Hirschprung as he seeks an escape route from Nazi-occupied Europe. In this rare, near day-by-day account, Rabbi Hirschprung illuminates what life was like for an Orthodox rabbi fleeing persecution, finding inspiration and hope in Jewish scripture and psalms as he navigates the darkness to a safe harbour in Kobe, Japan. Written in Yiddish in 1944, this translation offers a unique perspective into the man who would become the world-renowned Chief Rabbi of Montreal for almost thirty years.

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At a Glance
Poland; Soviet Union; Lithuania; Japan
Forced labour
Escape
Written in 1943–1944; first published in Yiddish in 1944
Quotes from Jewish scripture and liturgy
Arrived in Canada in 1941
Chief Rabbi of Montreal, 1969–1998
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
English

368 pages

2018 Independent Publisher Gold Medal

2018 J.I. Segal Translation Award

About the author

Photo of Pinchas Hirschprung

Rabbi Pinchas Hirschprung was born in Dukla, Poland, in 1912. In 1941, he managed to escape Europe for Japan, immigrating to Montreal nine months later. A world-renowned Torah and Talmudic scholar, Rabbi Hirschprung became the chief rabbi of Montreal in 1969 and led its Jewish community until his death in 1998. Rabbi Hirschprung’s Yiddish-language memoir was published in 1944 and translated into Hebrew in 1948; The Vale of Tears is its first English translation.

A Part of Me, Bronia Jablon

Bronia Jablon is separated from her family, and even her husband has escaped into the woods without her. It is 1942, the height of Nazi persecution in Poland, and Bronia and her three-year-old daughter, Lucy, wonder how they will survive each day. Should they hide in their hometown or should they search for their family in the nearby ghetto? Starving and exhausted, Bronia does not know who they can trust when all of their old friends and neighbours are either collaborating with the Nazis or too terrified for their own lives to offer assistance. When they finally find help, a cold, dark cellar becomes both their haven and prison. A Part of Me is a story of devotion and perseverance, and of how love sustains a mother and her daughter as they make it through the Holocaust one pivotal decision at a time.

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At a Glance
Poland; Ukraine
Ghetto
Hiding
Mother and daughter survival
Postwar Soviet Union; Poland; Israel
Arrived in Canada in 1967
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
English

160 pages

About the author

Photo of Bronia Jablon

Bronia Jablon was born on April 15, 1918, in Dubno, Poland (now Ukraine). She survived the war with her daughter, Lucy. After the war, she completed her nursing degree in the Soviet Union and then lived in Poland and Israel before immigrating to Canada to be with her daughter and grandchildren in 1967. Bronia Jablon passed away in Toronto in 1994.

We Sang in Hushed Voices, Helena Jockel

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

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At a Glance
Czechoslovakia; Hungary
Ghetto
Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp
Death march
Life under Communism
Arrived in Canada in 1988
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

128 pages

2015 Living Now Silver Medal

About the author

Photo of Helena Jockel

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

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Nous chantions en sourdine, Helena Jockel

Quand les nazis envahissent la Hongrie en mars 1944, l’institutrice Helena Jockel ne pense qu’à une chose : sauver « ses » enfants. Elle les accompagne à Auschwitz-Birkenau et les voit emmenés dans les chambres à gaz. Son récit lucide et déchirant de la vie au camp enregistre à la fois les moments de cruauté insondable et les éclairs trop brefs de beauté et de gentillesse. Après la guerre, Helena redevient enseignante sous un régime communiste qui lui interdit d’évoquer l’Holocauste. Mais elle refuse de cacher sa judéité.

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At a Glance
Czechoslovakia; Hungary
Ghetto
Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp
Death march
Life under Communism
Arrived in Canada in 1988
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
French

142 pages

2015 Living Now Silver Medal

About the author

Photo of Helena Jockel

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

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Inside the Walls, Eddie Klein

An idealist and a dreamer, young Eddie Klein recites poetry in the Lodz ghetto, where his talent is noticed by an important member of the Jewish administration. When Eddie is orphaned, he comes under the protective wing of those in charge of the ghetto, including the powerful Mordechai Rumkowski, and his life takes a decidedly different path, giving him a bird’s-eye view of a house of privilege and a polarizing, controversial figure. But in August 1944, Eddie’s fate changes as he is deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and forced to face, alone, each precarious moment. When Eddie is finally liberated, he is met with indifference about his experiences and he does not speak about the Holocaust for more than fifty years. Inside the Walls, Eddie’s return to the past, is a testimony to one man’s luck, his fight for survival and his courage to speak out.

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At a Glance
Poland
Lodz ghetto
Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp
Labour and concentration camps
Death march
Postwar Israel
Arrived in Canada in 1956
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

120 pages

About the author

Photo of Eddie Klein

Eddie Klein was born in Sieradz, Poland, in 1927. He immigrated to British Mandate Palestine in 1945, where he worked for the Palmach and the Israeli Air Force. Eddie married his wife, Miriam, in Tel Aviv in 1955, and they immigrated to Canada in 1956. Eddie enjoyed windsurfing and lived in Montreal for more than sixty years. Eddie Klein passed away in Israel in 2020.

If, By Miracle, Michael Kutz

Nearly buried alive, ten-year-old Michael Kutz narrowly escapes the Nazi death squad that has killed four thousand Jews, including his own family, in his hometown of Nieśwież. Guided by his mother’s last words and determined to survive, he becomes the youngest member of a partisan resistance group in the dense Belorussian forest, taking part in daring operations against the Nazis and their collaborators. After the war, Michael embarks on an odyssey through Czechoslovakia, Austria, Italy, and, finally, Canada, as he tries to find a home where he can leave the horrors of his past behind. Translated from the original Yiddish, If, By Miracle is the gripping and compelling story of a courageous and resilient young boy searching for freedom.

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At a Glance
Poland
Escaped from mass grave
Resistance
Postwar Italy, displaced persons camp
War Orphans Project
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Adjusting to life in Canada
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
English

184 pages

2015 Living Now Silver Medal

About the author

Photo of Michael Kutz

Michael Kutz was born in Nieśwież, Poland (now Belarus), on November 21, 1930. He arrived in Canada as a war orphan in 1948 and lived in Winnipeg before settling in Montreal in the early 1950s, where he joined various charitable organizations dedicated to helping disadvantaged youth, the elderly and war veterans. Michael Kutz passed away in 2020.

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Si, par miracle, Michael Kutz

Presque enterré vivant, Michael Kutz, âgé de 10 ans, réchappe de justesse à l’escadron de la mort nazi responsable de l’exécution de 4 000 Juifs dans sa ville natale. Guidé par les dernières paroles de sa mère et déterminé à survivre, il devient le plus jeune membre d’un groupe de résistants dans la forêt biélorusse. Après la guerre, Michael entame un périple qui aboutit au Canada, où il pourra enfin oublier les horreurs de son passé. Si, par miracle raconte l’histoire fascinante d’un garçon courageux en quête de liberté.

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At a Glance
Poland
Escaped from mass grave
Resistance
Postwar Italy, displaced persons camp
War Orphans Project
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Adjusting to life in Canada
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
French

208 pages

2015 Living Now Silver Medal

About the author

Photo of Michael Kutz

Michael Kutz was born in Nieśwież, Poland (now Belarus), on November 21, 1930. He arrived in Canada as a war orphan in 1948 and lived in Winnipeg before settling in Montreal in the early 1950s, where he joined various charitable organizations dedicated to helping disadvantaged youth, the elderly and war veterans. Michael Kutz passed away in 2020.

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Confronting Devastation: Memoirs of Holocaust Survivors from Hungary, Ferenc Laczó

Commemorating seventy-five years since Nazi Germany occupied Hungary, Confronting Devastation, an anthology of Canadian survivors’ memoirs, examines the diverse experiences and memories of the Holocaust in Hungary. From the worsening exclusions that marked Jewish daily life before 1944 to forced labour battalions, ghettos and camps, and persecution and hiding in Budapest, the authors reflect on lives that were shattered, on the sorrows that came with liberation and, ultimately, on how they managed to persevere. Editor Ferenc Laczó frames excerpts from twenty-two memoirs in their historical and political contexts, analyzing the events that led to the horrific “last chapter” of the Holocaust — the genocide of approximately 550,000 Jews in Hungary between 1944 and 1945.

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At a Glance
Anthology of memoir excerpts by 22 survivors in wartime Hungary
Sections on pre-war life; forced labour battalions; ghettos and camps; Budapest; liberation
Section introductions by Ferenc Laczó
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
English

488 pages

About the editor

Photo of Ferenc Laczó

Ferenc Laczó is assistant professor in history at Maastricht University. He is the author of Hungarian Jews in the Age of Genocide: An Intellectual History, 1929–1948 (2016) and co-editor (with Joachim von Puttkamer) of Catastrophe and Utopia: Jewish Intellectuals in Central and Eastern Europe in the 1930s and 1940s (2017).

The Weight of Freedom, Nate Leipciger

Nate Leipciger, a thoughtful, shy eleven-year-old boy, is plunged into an incomprehensible web of ghettos, concentration and death camps during the German occupation of Poland. Demonstrating incredible strength of character as he struggles to survive, he forges a new, unbreakable bond with his father and yearns for a free future. With memories that remain etched in tragedy and pain even as he looks optimistically to the future, Nate builds a new life in Canada. Introspective and raw, yet ever hopeful, The Weight of Freedom is Nate’s vivid journey through a past that can never be left behind.

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At a Glance
Poland
Ghettos and concentration camps
Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp
Postwar Germany
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Adjusting to life in Canada
Educational materials available: Nate Leipciger Activity
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
English

360 pages

About the author

Photo of Nate Leipciger

Nate Leipciger was born in Chorzów, Poland, in 1928. He immigrated to Toronto in 1948, where he eventually obtained a university degree in engineering. Nate was a member of the International Council of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum for fifteen years and has been an educator on March of the Living for nineteen years. Nate Leipciger lives in Toronto.

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Le Poids de la liberté, Nate Leipciger

Nate Leipciger, garçon timide et réfléchi, est balloté de ghettos en camps durant l’occupation allemande de la Pologne. Dans son désir de survivre et de retrouver la liberté, il démontre une force de caractère incroyable, aidé par son père qu’il apprend à connaître. La guerre finie, il s’installe au Canada, plein d’optimisme mais marqué à jamais par la souffrance. Récit introspectif, sans fard, mais empreint d’espoir, Le Poids de la liberté retrace le parcours saisissant de Nate Leipciger durant ces années de guerre impossibles à oublier.

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At a Glance
Poland
Ghettos and concentration camps
Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp
Postwar Germany
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Adjusting to life in Canada
Educational materials available: Activité Nate Leipciger
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
French

384 pages

About the author

Photo of Nate Leipciger

Nate Leipciger was born in Chorzów, Poland, in 1928. He immigrated to Toronto in 1948, where he eventually obtained a university degree in engineering. Nate was a member of the International Council of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum for fifteen years and has been an educator on March of the Living for nineteen years. Nate Leipciger lives in Toronto.

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Under the Yellow & Red Stars, Alex Levin

Under the Yellow & Red Stars is a remarkable story of survival, coming of age and homecoming after years as a stranger in a strange land. Alex Levin was only ten years old when he ran deep into the forest after the Germans invaded his hometown of Rokitno. He emerged from hiding eighteen months later to find that he had neither parents nor a community to return to. A harrowing tale of escape, endurance and exceptional emotional resilience, Levin’s story also draws us into his later life as an officer and eventual outcast in the USSR and as an immigrant who successfully builds a new life in Canada. This poetically written memoir is imbued with loss and pain, but also with the optimistic spirit of a boy determined to survive against all odds.

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At a Glance
Poland
Ghetto
Escaped mass shooting
Hiding
Resistance
Postwar Soviet Union
Life under Communism
Arrived in Canada in 1974
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

208 pages

2010 Pearson Prize Teen Choice Award

About the author

Photo of Alex Levin

Alex Levin was born in 1932 in Rokitno, Poland (now Ukraine). After the war, he was sent to the USSR and enrolled in cadet school, remaining in the Soviet army until forced out for being Jewish. Alex came to Canada in 1975 and settled in Toronto, where he spoke to many students about his experiences in the Holocaust. Alex Levin passed away in 2016.

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Étoile jaune, étoile rouge, Alex Levin

Étoile jaune, étoile rouge est l’histoire remarquable de la survie d’un garçon, de son passage à l’âge adulte et d’un nouveau départ après des années passées à combattre l’oppression et l’arbitraire d’une société totalitaire. Alex Levin n’avait que dix ans lorsqu’il s’est enfui au fond de la forêt après l’invasion par les Allemands de Rokitno, sa ville natale. Il est sorti de sa cachette dix-huit mois plus tard et a découvert à son retour qu’il n’avait plus ni parents ni communauté pour l’accueillir. Ce récit poignant témoigne de l’endurance et de la capacité d’adaptation exceptionnelle de l’auteur. L’histoire de Levin se poursuit au-delà de la guerre : il devient officier en URSS, où il est victime d’antisémitisme, puis immigre au Canada, où il parvient à refaire sa vie. Ces mémoires à l’écriture poétique sont marqués par la perte d’êtres chers et par une profonde douleur, mais sont aussi révélateurs de l’optimisme d’un garçon déterminé à survivre envers et contre tout.

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At a Glance
Poland
Ghetto
Escaped mass shooting
Hiding
Resistance
Postwar Soviet Union
Life under Communism
Arrived in Canada in 1974
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
French

224 pages

2010 Pearson Prize Teen Choice Award

About the author

Photo of Alex Levin

Alex Levin was born in 1932 in Rokitno, Poland (now Ukraine). After the war, he was sent to the USSR and enrolled in cadet school, remaining in the Soviet army until forced out for being Jewish. Alex came to Canada in 1975 and settled in Toronto, where he spoke to many students about his experiences in the Holocaust. Alex Levin passed away in 2016.

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A Drastic Turn of Destiny, Fred Mann

The nerve-wracking account of one family’s efforts to stay one step ahead of the Nazi death machine, A Drastic Turn of Destiny is also the captivating story of a boy’s coming of age in the chaos of war. The biblical theme of Exodus gives shape to Fred Mann's story as he traces his family’s flight from Nazi Germany through Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal and Jamaica to ultimately find refuge in Canada. Against the backdrop of very real fear, persecution and exile, this memoir brings to light the experiences of a resourceful teenage boy who is forced to grow up too fast. Successful as he is in helping his family in their desperate determination to survive, Fred Mann’s story is at the same time a lament for a lost childhood.

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At a Glance
Germany; Belgium; France; Spain; Portugal; Jamaica
Escape
Jamaican internment camp
Arrived in Canada in 1952
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
English

304 pages

About the author

Photo of Fred Mann

Fred Mann was born in 1926 in Leipzig, Germany. During his travels after the war, he met and married his wife in Salzburg, Austria, and the family immigrated to Toronto in 1952, where he had a long career as an international financier. Fred Mann passed away in 2008.

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