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Traqué

Le départ du Ghetto

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

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

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

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

Fleeing from the Hunter

In the Ghetto and Beyond

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

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

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

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

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

Miraculous Escape

Always Remember Who You Are

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

A Light in the Clouds

When Childhood Ended

In that fall of 1940, the dormant, underlying hatred of Jews — which no doubt had existed for countless years in the country — was exploding in Romania. A movement called the Iron Guard was expanding, whose members wore green uniforms and devoted their time to terrorizing helpless Jews. There was nothing now to hold them back; they were in their element, having the backing of the Romanian government. A period of lawlessness had begun; the police seemed to vanish or may very well have been part of the new movement. All we saw were these green-shirted individuals spreading terror everywhere they could.

Then, almost one year after the Soviet occupation, unbelievably and without any warning or loss of life, the scene abruptly changed. Overnight, the dreaded German and Romanian armies arrived, marching in ceremoniously. It was a show of threatening might when troops wearing high boots marched in. It is difficult to forget the sound of the German army — their rhythmic, clicking steps in unison as they marched, their endless tanks, a variety of heavy arma­ments parading through the main street for all to see. The intention was probably to intimidate the population. To me, it felt as though Germany was taking over the country, a part of their quest to control and occupy all of Eastern Europe. The Nazis and the other Axis powers, which included Romania, had pushed the Soviets out of Edineți and were invading the Soviet Union and Soviet-occupied areas.

The population did not welcome the German and Romanian armies. People stayed home, listening intently and nervously to news on radios in fear and horror of what was to come. My sister and I were not told much but we sensed awful changes that were taking place almost overnight. It was as if a huge dark cloak had descended, enveloping us in a sense of deep, grim foreboding. We heard adults whispering, and their conversation stopped when we entered a room, as parents do to protect their children’s innocence. We were young, but old enough to understand the implications of what was happening around us.

It was to be the end, the loss of everything we knew — home, stability, comfort, school and our peaceful existence, the normal family life we had started to get used to. Although we were still totally unaware of how tragically the situation would affect each one of us, for my sister and me, and countless others, the arrival of the Germans and Romanians heralded the brutal end of our childhood.

In Dreams Together

Excerpt from the diary of Leslie Fazekas

Leslie’s diary entries are all addressed to his girlfriend Judit, whom he has been separated from since July 1, 1944, after they were deported from Debrecen, Hungary, and sent to different forced labour camps in Vienna, Austria. Leslie’s diary entries and letters to Judit span from August 1944 to April 1945. Translation from Hungarian by Péter Balikó Lengyel.

Sunday, December 31 [1944] at 8:30 a.m.

My dear Judit,

If my keeping a diary has been reduced to writing on special days only (and each Sunday is special, in that it was on this day of the week that we last saw each other) today I shouldn’t be doing anything other than writing and writing and writing. And this day is at once another important anniversary: It was precisely one year ago, on December 31, 1943, that our paths first crossed. So it has been one year since we have lived our lives joined together, if separated in space. Ultimately it would not matter if that preordained first tryst had happened a day sooner or later. As it happens, we have just closed the chapter on one year — mine so productive and successful in terms of all the new knowledge I absorbed. Now we embark on our second year, amid profoundly changed circumstances.

It must have been around this time of the day that the doorbell of the apartment under Vörösmarty [street] 14 rang. It was Judit showing up for our date; we had agreed to go out to the woods to take some pictures. She had an exercise class at 11:00 and I wanted to do my skating later in the morning, so I picked up my skates and camera, and we took the tram to the woods [the Nagyerdő, Great Forest park]. We got off at the Vigadó and started roaming around. We walked to the small hill by the pond, where I took pictures on the footbridge and of the two of us sitting on a bench with our arms around each other. It was past 10:30 when we decided we couldn’t put off leaving a minute longer. You said you were very cold. I wasn’t, so I unbuttoned by overcoat and told you to huddle up to me. We held each other tight there among the freezing woods. Our lips were close, and we kissed. I felt a dizziness come over me. Then a policeman strolled by, and we fluttered apart. You caught your tram at the university, I jumped on the tram step after you, and we quickly agreed to go see a movie together in a few days… I was musing over that kiss, the very first kiss of my life, which would engender a string of hundreds and hundreds of more kisses to come. I had never kissed before because I knew, and kept telling myself, that kissing a woman was a serious choice for me. I will become engaged to the woman I kiss. Therefore, my dear Judit, what we performed that day was nothing less than an act of engagement. That is why I remember that day as faithfully as I do.

I never saw you a second time that day, as you spent New Year’s Eve in Laci’s company, but you and I were together in our thoughts the whole time. At least, you were on my mind all night long. So this was the story of that memorable day, the day of our engagement, as we bade farewell to a fine year and stepped into a sad new one. Interestingly, every New Year’s Eve I would ask myself the same question that seemed so obvious to ask: Are we all going to live to see the next year, together in good health and spirits, as in the old year? That night, however, I had no doubt that nothing could come between us, that the road ahead of us would be an easy one. And today? It sends shivers down my spine just to think of the next New Year’s Eve and the year that lies ahead. Is it possible it will find me reduced to decaying bones? In the past, I would wish for the next New Year’s Eve to find us together as before, a company celebrating in good spirits. Now I wish only that it simply finds us alive, if separated. But what the new year will bring this time I dare not even think about. We have so little agency in controlling our own destiny that it is futile to make advance calculations. Although the direction our life is to take is out of our hands, I am certain that the new year will bring many changes. On New Year’s Eve I have the habit of glancing back at the past year. Such a glance would fill one hundred pages this time, and I do not have that much paper to write on. So here is a shorthand version. January 3: a day to remember; Judit leaves her mark on every month. February: my last good month, full of fun, the baths, and a lot of study. March 19: our German allies march in. April: ecstatic swoon of love with Judit. May 1 to June 2: Good times in Haláp, with Peti, Tomi, Horo [Horovitz] and Janka.¹  June 2, the bombing of Debrecen. To June 16: clearing rubble from the ghetto.²  June 16 to 28: the brickyard. Never been so resourceful before, inspired by Judit. Helping each other a lot. Then the cattle car, an unconscious spell with Judit beside me. July 1: Strasshof, the first air raid, the day we are separated. July 2: The Vienna hub. We are assigned to Saurer’s here. I have been working the night shift since July 10. Going hungry much of the time at first, and longing for Judit. By now we have gotten used to this life; Judit is with me forever. And now here is this New Year’s Eve, a holiday I am going to distinguish from other days by simply sleeping through the night.

¹ Out of this group of young men, only Leslie and “Horo” (Gábor Horovitz) survived the Holocaust. “Janka” refers to Leslie’s classmate András Frank (1925–1944). Regarding the fates of Peti and Tomi, see the memoir.
² The ghetto inmates were taken to clear rubble in the bombed sections of the city, not in the ghetto, which was not bombed.

Spring's End

Departure

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

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

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

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

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

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

La Fin du printemps

Le Départ

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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. »

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.”

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.

J’ai emporté dans le bunker mon livre, Autant en emporte le vent, que je lisais depuis un moment, et que j’ai lu et relu plusieurs fois. Notre abri était éclairé et muni d’une petite trappe par laquelle nous pouvions aller prendre l’air durant la nuit, quand les nazis n’étaient habituellement pas en faction. Même ainsi, il fallait nous montrer prudents lorsque nous sortions, car des informateurs se faufilaient parmi nous et suppliaient qu’on les laisse entrer dans les bunkers. C’est ainsi qu’ils découvraient nos cachettes et en révélaient l’emplacement aux Allemands dès le lendemain. Ces derniers venaient alors avec des lance-flammes et de l’artillerie, et avertissaient les occupants que, s’ils ne sortaient pas dans la demi-heure, leur abri serait réduit en cendres. Les Allemands ont fini par détruire entièrement le ghetto en opérant de la sorte.

Nous vivions dans le bunker depuis trois semaines et nous n’avions pas mis le nez dehors depuis plusieurs jours. Nous ne parlions qu’à voix basse avec une pointe d’hystérie dans le ton. Puis la première semaine de mai, les inévitables coups ont retenti sur la trappe, et des voix nous sont parvenues des bouches d’aération. Nous avions été découverts. Les voix – je ne me souviens plus si c’était en allemand ou en polonais – disaient que, si nous ne sortions pas d’ici trente minutes, ils allaient lancer des bombes à gaz à l’intérieur et que nous allions tous mourir. Lorsque nous avons émergé, nous avons vu des Allemands accroupis, munis de mitraillettes. Ils ont incendié l’édifice malgré tout.

J’en ai gardé une image très nette : alors que nous sortions du bunker, nous avons vu des parachutistes allemands entièrement vêtus de noir, comme le diable en personne, affublés de casques noirs et munis de mitraillettes qu’ils portaient en bandoulière. Ils ne cessaient de hurler : « Hände hoch ! Hände hoch ! Nicht schießen ! »
(Les mains en l’air ! Les mains en l’air ! Ne tirez pas !) Ils pensaient que nous avions des armes et ils avaient peur de nous. J’en ai éprouvé une grande fierté.

Ils nous ont fouillés et forcés à nous allonger le long de l’immeuble, nous plaçant sous la surveillance de soldats ukrainiens. Désormais, les collaborateurs étaient ukrainiens, lettons ou lituaniens. Nous sommes restés ainsi durant un long moment alors qu’ils rassemblaient les habitants, les regroupant en files. Il faisait sombre quand nous nous sommes mis en marche, au milieu des bâtiments incendiés. Certains prisonniers tentaient de s’échapper en quittant leur file en courant ; un fugitif a détalé tout droit vers un immeuble en feu lorsqu’un des gardes l’a visé et a déchargé son arme sur lui. Hilare, le tireur ne semblait même pas se préoccuper d’avoir atteint sa cible ou non, car peu lui importait que l’homme meure par balle ou brûlé vif.

Ce souvenir a été le premier à me hanter régulièrement dans mes cauchemars. Pendant des années, j’ai rêvé qu’on me tirait dans le dos et que je mourais après m’être jeté dans les flammes.

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.

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.

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.

The Smallest Hope

Never Safe

After getting a little rest in the morning, we started the afternoon of our first waiting day by getting organized to leave. Then, late that afternoon, we heard screaming in the distance — and the voices were getting closer. Soon, there was a funny smell in the air.

Just a few blocks away, a Jewish hideout linked to the sewers had been discovered. After saturating the location with gas, and seeing none in the group of maybe two hundred people there flee, the Germans must have become suspicious, entered the building and dis­covered a connection to the underground system. They reacted by pumping massive amounts of poison gas into the sewer.

As quickly as we could, we attempted to get away through the sewers where we were hiding from the other fleeing Jews and the Nazis. Unfortunately, our labelled route out of the ghetto would have taken us toward the fugitives before looping around to the “Aryan” side. All our stickers were now useless. We were just scrambling to stay ahead of the oncoming men, women and children.

Within ten or fifteen minutes, we spotted a ladder going up to a street. Arriving there a couple of minutes in advance of the first fleeing Jews, I ran up the metal steps, squeezing beside my friends so each of us could get as close as possible to the access lid. We took turns breathing fresh air through its tiny holes. When all the others made it to our spot, they wanted to climb up and breathe too, but there was barely enough air and space for my friends and me. As the terrified Jews struggled to climb the ladder, we instinctively kicked them down to the ground. It was selfish but when you’re fighting for survival you just react and do whatever is required.

With the concentration of gas increasing, it didn’t take long for the people under us to start losing consciousness. Moments later we were beginning to feel overcome ourselves. We could not wait any longer, so we pushed and pushed and managed to flip open the cover. We jumped out and ran across the street as fast as we could. We expected to be shot in the process, but to our amazement there were no Germans around.

After we crossed the road, my friends said to follow them to one or two hideouts nearby. They weren’t sure whether these were still intact, but we had no choice but to find out.

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.

Traqué, Marian Domanski

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

Préface de Joanna Michlic

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

232 pages, including index

2011 Independent Publisher Silver Medal

About the author

Photo of Marian Domanski

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

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Fleeing from the Hunter, Marian Domanski

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

Introduction by Joanna Michlic

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

224 pages, including index

2011 Independent Publisher Silver Medal

About the author

Photo of Marian Domanski

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

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Always Remember Who You Are, Anita Ekstein

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

Introduction by Beth Griech-Polelle

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

232 pages, including index

About the author

Photo of Anita Ekstein

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

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A Light in the Clouds, Margalith Esterhuizen

Margalith and her older sister, Dorica, grow up in a warm, close-knit family in Romania, but at a young age, the girls tragically lose their mother. Just as they are readjusting to a new family life, their childhood abruptly comes to a brutal end — Romania aligns itself with Nazi Germany and antisemitism boils over in their community. In 1941, Romanian soldiers force Margalith and her family from their home and send them on a devastating deportation march to the unknown. Crossing a river takes Margalith into Transnistria, a wretched land between borders, an expanse of thousands of kilometres containing more than a hundred ghettos and camps. This area, controlled by Romania, is where Jews like Margalith and her family are abandoned, left to die in desolation. A ghetto in the town of Murafa provides a bleak shelter where Margalith and her family struggle to keep starvation at bay until help arrives unexpectedly before war’s end. Her journey to freedom and a new homeland provides both opportunity and heartache, and Margalith finds A Light in the Clouds as she endures the darkness of her past to search out the bright future ahead.

Introduction by Gaëlle Fisher

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At a Glance
Romania; Transnistria
Deportation
Death march
Postwar British Mandate Palestine; Israel; South Africa
Arrived in Canada in 1989
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

124 pages, including index

About the author

Photo of Margalith Esterhuizen

Margalith Esterhuizen was born in Rădăuți, Romania, in 1927. In early 1944, Margalith was released from a ghetto in Transnistria, and in May 1945, she arrived in British Mandate Palestine (now Israel). There, she attended college, worked, and married and started a family. In 1954, Margalith and her husband, Bill, moved to South Africa, where he had grown up, to continue raising their family. Margalith worked in real estate, a field she continued in when she and Bill immigrated to Canada in 1989 to join their children. Margalith lives in Caledon, Ontario.

In Dreams Together, Leslie Fazekas

In the summer of 1944, eighteen-year-old Leslie Fazekas and his family are deported from their hometown of Debrecen, Hungary, to Vienna, Austria, as forced labourers. Fate and fortune have intervened to save their lives — after the war, they discover that nearly half of their Jewish community was sent to Auschwitz. During the devastating circumstances of his captivity, Leslie records his experiences in a diary and in letters to his girlfriend, Judit, from whom he was separated in Vienna. For eight months, Leslie’s words alternate between hope and uncertainty in love letters that are also a testimony of his survival during a perilous time. In Dreams Together features Leslie’s diary alongside his postwar memoir, a reflection on his childhood, the war and the love that shaped his life.

Introduction and annotations by László Csősz

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

184 pages, including index

About the author

Photo of Leslie Fazekas

Leslie Fazekas was born in Debrecen, Hungary, in 1925. After the war, he reunited with Judit (Judy), and they married in Budapest in 1949. Leslie returned to school and earned his mechanical engineering diploma at the Technical University of Budapest. In 1956, Leslie and his family immigrated to Toronto, where Leslie attended the University of Toronto for computer programming, a field he worked in until he retired in 1988. Leslie Fazekas passed away in 2023.

Spring's End, John Freund

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

Introduction by Esther Goldberg

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At a Glance
Czechoslovakia
Theresienstadt ghetto / concentration camp
Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp
Death march
Postwar Czechoslovakia
War Orphans Project
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Educational materials available: The Human Experience of Auschwitz
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

136 pages, including index

2008 Independent Publisher Gold Medal

About the author

Photo of John Freund

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

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La Fin du printemps, John Freund

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

Préface de Esther Goldberg

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

144 pages, including index

2008 Independent Publisher Gold Medal

About the author

Photo of John Freund

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

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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.

Introduction by Adara Goldberg

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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, including index

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).

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

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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, including index

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.

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

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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, including index

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.

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.

Introduction by Helen Epstein

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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
René Goldman Activity
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
English

328 pages, including index

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.

Préface de Helen Epstein

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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
René Goldman
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
French

360 pages, including index

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.

Introduction by Rami Neudorfer

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At a Glance
Lithuania
Kovno ghetto
Kaufering concentration camp
Postwar Germany; Norway; Zimbabwe; South Africa
Arrived in Canada in 1964
Audiobook available
Educational materials available: Elly Gotz Activity
2024 Wolfe Chair Holocaust Studies Student Impact Prize
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

240 pages, including index

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.

Introduction by Marlene Kadar

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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, including index

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.

Introduction by Stephen Smith

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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
Audiobook available
Educational materials available: Pinchas Gutter Activity
The Warsaw Ghetto: From Persecution to Resistance
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

192 pages, including index

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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Dans la chambre noire, Pinchas Gutter

Pinchas, 10 ans, est séparé de ses parents et de sa sœur jumelle durant leur déportation depuis le ghetto de Varsovie jusqu’au centre de mise à mort de Majdanek. Pinchas passe ensuite par une série de camps de concentration auxquels il survit grâce à sa faculté de se couper de la terreur environnante et de passer inaperçu, devenant pratiquement invisible. Mais après la Libération, sa mémoire photographique ne lui laisse aucun répit et Pinchas souffre de cauchemars et de flashbacks tandis qu’il se consacre à sa famille et tente de se libérer des séquelles de son passé. Au cours de ses séjours en Angleterre, en France, en Israël, au Brésil et en Afrique du Sud, Pinchas cherche à trouver sa place et choisira de faire du Canada son pays d’adoption. Récit poignant qui traite de la souffrance, de l’injustice et du traumatisme, Dans la chambre noire suscite également de l’espoir et de la confiance en l’avenir.

Préface de Stephen Smith

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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 (French)
Dans le ghetto de Varsovie : entre persécutions et résistance
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
French

192 pages, including index

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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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.

Préface de Na’ama Shik

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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
Educational materials available: Survivre à Auschwitz
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
French

280 pages, including index

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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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.

Introduction by Na’ama Shik

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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
Educational materials available: The Human Experience of Auschwitz
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
English

256 pages, including index

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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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.

Introduction by Zale Newman and Arielle Berger

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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, including index

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.

Introduction by Sara Horowitz

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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, including index

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.

Introduction by Dorota Glowacka

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At a Glance
Czechoslovakia; Hungary
Ghetto
Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp
Death march
Life under Communism
Arrived in Canada in 1988
Educational materials available: The Human Experience of Auschwitz
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

128 pages, including index

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.

Préface de Dorota Glowacka

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

142 pages, including index

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.

Explore this story in Re:Collection

The Smallest Hope, Jack Klajman

The holes in the walls erected around the Warsaw ghetto in 1940 are only large enough for small children to squeeze through, so it’s up to the bravest young inhabitants to smuggle food back to their starving loved ones. Nazi guards patrol the ghetto walls, and the punishment for being caught is death. Jankiel (Jack) Klajman is only nine years old but knows what he needs to do to give his family a chance to survive. It is only through luck that Jack manages to hide from successive waves of deportations to the Treblinka death camp. When the Jews in the ghetto decide to rise up against the Nazis in spring of 1943, Jack turns his smuggling efforts to the aid of the resistance and narrowly escapes the ghetto during the terrible fighting. Along with other Jewish boys passing as gentile, he makes a living selling cigarettes in the heart of the city to the Nazi soldiers. Jack represents the Smallest Hope of a once-great Jewish community. Although he suffers great losses during the war, when Jack leaves behind the fire-scarred ruins of Warsaw he finds a way to flourish, making his way to Canada and building a life full of music, family and hope for a better future.

Introduction by Avinoam J. Patt

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At a Glance
Warsaw, Poland
Warsaw ghetto
Hiding and passing/false identity
Witnessed the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
War Orphans Project
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Accessible ebook
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
English

244 pages, including index

About the author

Photo of Jack Klajman

Jankiel (Jack) Klajman was born in 1931 in Warsaw, Poland, where he spent the entirety of World War II, witnessing the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising from within the ghetto and the Warsaw Uprising a year later while in hiding. Jack was the only survivor of his family. After the war, he eventually made his way to England in the fall of 1945 as part of a program supporting Jewish war orphans and then to Canada in 1948 through the War Orphans Project. Jack settled in London, Ontario, where he owned a fur store for many decades. In 2013, he was featured in the documentary Little Heroes from the Warsaw Ghetto, which chronicles his and other Jewish boys’ survival in Warsaw after the destruction of the ghetto. With his wife, Sonia, he had four children and three grandchildren. Jack Klajman passed away in 2019.

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.

Introduction by Helene Sinnreich

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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, including index

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.

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We help teachers bring the subject of the Holocaust into their classrooms, using first-person narratives as a way for students to connect with the history of the Holocaust through survivors’ experiences. Our Holocaust survivor memoirs, educational resources and programming are free of charge and available in both French and English.