Memoirs

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

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

| 0 Complete Order

Not a student, teacher or post-secondary instructor?

If you are not affiliated with an educational institution, you can purchase the books in English through Second Story Press. The French versions of the memoirs are free to educators and the public.

Order the entire Azrieli Holocaust Survivor Memoirs collection:

Un terrible revers de fortune

Grandir sous Hitler

Mon père était redevable à son ami de la Gestapo, lequel lui avait tendu une main secourable à trois reprises. La première fois, c'était en 1933, la deuxième, pendant la déportation polonaise d'octobre 1938, et la troisième, juste avant la Nuit de cristal. Au début de l'après-midi du 9 novembre 1938, il avait téléphoné à mon père pour l'avertir de ce qui allait se passer ce soir-là. Il nous avait invités, une fois de plus, à chercher refuge au consulat de Pologne, car il était certain que les nazis allaient arrêter mon père et l'expédier dans un camp de concentration. Cette fois-là cependant, il y avait non seulement moins de gens au consulat, mais nous n'avons pas eu besoin d'y passer plus d'une nuit. C'était d'autant plus heureux que nous ne bénéficiions plus alors des services de l'oncle Dadek. Il s'était déjà enfui en Belgique, à Bruxelles.

Les persécutions continuaient et on rassemblait désormais les Juifs. Les personnes âgées étaient les plus touchées. À Leipzig, les SS avaient traîné des vieillards au bord d'un ruisseau situé non loin du Jardin zoologique. Ils les avaient ensuite obligés à le franchir d'un bond en les fouettant comme des furies. Bon nombre d'entre eux n'y étaient pas parvenus et ils étaient tombés dans l'eau glacée. Les badauds, des jeunes pour la plupart, observaient le spectacle en riant depuis le pont qui donne sur la Humboldtstraße. Ils encourageaient les SS comme s'il s'agissait d'un numéro de bêtes de foire. J'ai été témoin de cette scène. C'est l'un des souvenirs les plus écoeurants qui soient et il restera gravé à jamais dans ma mémoire. Aujourd'hui encore, je revois ces images aussi nettement que si c'était hier. Pour la première fois ce jour-là, je m'étais retrouvé réellement confronté à la cruauté de l'homme pour l'homme. Lorsque nous étions boyscouts, nous nous battions à coups de pied et de poing avec les Jeunesses hitlériennes. Pendant les dernières années où je fréquentais encore l'école publique, les enseignants nous mettaient sur la sellette et nous ridiculisaient, mais jamais de ma vie je n'avais vu des êtres humains faire preuve d'une telle barbarie.

En traversant la ville à pied, j'ai découvert avec stupeur les synagogues incendiées et les magasins juifs pillés et mis à sac. Le quartier juif de Leipzig, situé à proximité des rues Gustav-Adolf-Straße, Humboldtstraße et Gerberstraße, avait connu le pire. Cette nuit-là, presque tous les commerçants et les grossistes juifs avaient perdu leurs biens. La destruction avait été non seulement totale, mais systématique. Elle illustrait bien la méticulosité propre à l'esprit allemand. J'avais 12 ans à l'époque et j'avais du mal à saisir la logique qui présidait à ces agissements gratuits et largement prémédités.

S'agissait-il bien du même peuple ? Celui dont la culture avait engendré Schiller, Haydn, Schumann et Goethe, celui-là même que Lord Byron avait désigné comme le plus grand génie de son époque ? Ou bien Hitler, Streicher, Goebbels et Heydrich étaient-ils le produit d'une nouvelle espèce ? Goethe avait-il fait acte de prophétie en déclarant la chose suivante : « On devrait transplanter et disperser les Allemands dans le monde entier, à l'instar des Juifs, afin que s'épanouissent pleinement les qualités qui sommeillent en eux, et ce pour le bien des nations » ? Lors de la Nuit de cristal, on avait non seulement mis le feu à des synagogues et détruit des biens juifs, mais cette nuit-là avait également servi de test. Elle avait démontré l'efficacité de nombreuses années de propagande anti-juive, témoignant du lavage de cerveau subi par la population. Le peuple n'avait manifesté aucune réticence à participer à cette oeuvre de destruction. Les visages des Allemands photographiés pendant cette nuit impardonnable où on leur avait donné la « liberté de détruire » en disent long. On nous répète que seule une partie de la population avait pris part aux événements atroces de cette nuit-là, mais, dès lors qu'on scrute les spectateurs, on ne constate guère de différence entre l'expression de leurs visages et celle des auteurs de ces crimes. Le reste du monde n'a aucune excuse de n'avoir pris aucune mesure à l'encontre des Allemands pour signifier le caractère parfaitement intolérable de tels actes. À partir de quand étions-nous en droit d'attendre que des êtres humains dignes de ce nom prennent enfin position face à des actes de destruction volontaires et des meurtres entièrement planifiés ? Cette nuit-là, 90 Juifs ont été tués et 25 000 autres ont été rassemblés puis déportés vers des camps de concentration où les attendait un sort pire que la mort. À cette époque, les camps de concentration étaient encore situés en Allemagne : à Dachau, Buchenwald et Sachsenhausen. Mais le reste du monde gardait le silence et les Allemands avaient bien compris que personne ne se souciait du sort des Juifs.

A Name Unbroken

Three Weeks

It was night and the place was lit up with floodlights. I saw German SS troops with machine guns and dogs. We were ordered out of the boxcars without our luggage. It was a cold but clear night and the scene surrounding me was unbelievable. SS soldiers were running with German shepherd dogs, yelling and occasionally shooting at people. The night was filled with thousands of people in total panic. We were ordered to line up five abreast at the side of the boxcars. Some people in grey-and-blue striped clothing appeared. They looked like prisoners and began to remove the dead bodies and baggage from the boxcars. I stood in line by an open car door and one of these men asked me quietly if I spoke Yiddish. When I answered him, he whispered to that I should try to get out of here because our people were being killed. He said I should say I was eighteen years old. As the line moved forward, several people were shot because they stepped out of line or because they were trying to join the rest of their family, from whom they had been abruptly separated. The line slowly moved forward. I found myself in front of a table with two men behind it. One of them asked my name, my age and my occupation. I replied that I was eighteen years old and a farmer. He pointed to my right.

I looked around me and did not see a single person I knew. A panic took hold of me – here I was, alone, in a killing place, unable to do anything about it. I was crying to myself, Why was I here? What had I done to deserve this?

Au fil d’un nom

Trois semaines

Il faisait nuit mais le lieu était éclairé de puissants projecteurs. J’ai pu distinguer des SS allemands munis de mitraillettes et de chiens. On nous a donné l’ordre de sortir des wagons sans prendre nos bagages. La nuit était froide, mais claire, et la scène incroyable. Les SS couraient le long du train avec leurs bergers allemands, hurlant leurs ordres, abattant des gens ici et là. Des milliers de personnes prises d’une panique absolue emplissaient la nuit.

On nous a ordonné de nous mettre en rang par cinq le long des wagons. Des gens aux allures de prisonniers et vêtus de pyjamas à rayures bleues et grises sont alors apparus. Ils ont commencé à retirer les cadavres et les bagages des wagons. J’étais en rang à côté d’un wagon ouvert et l’un de ces hommes m’a demandé tout bas si je parlais yiddish. Je lui ai répondu que oui, et il m’a murmuré d’essayer de quitter ce lieu aussi vite que possible car on y massacrait notre peuple. Il m’a conseillé de dire que j’avais 18 ans, même si ça n’était pas vrai. Tandis que la file avançait, plusieurs personnes ont été abattues pour être sorties du rang ou avoir essayé de rejoindre le reste de leur famille dont on les avait brutalement séparées. On avançait lentement. Je me suis retrouvé devant une table derrière laquelle étaient assis deux hommes. L’un d’eux m’a demandé mon nom, mon âge et ma profession. J’ai répondu que j’avais 18 ans et que j’étais fermier. Il m’a indiqué la colonne de droite.

J’ai regardé autour de moi : je ne connaissais absolument personne. J’ai alors été pris de panique en me voyant seul et démuni dans cet enfer. Je pleurais intérieurement : qu’est-ce que je faisais là ? Qu’est-ce que j’avais fait pour mériter un tel sort ?

Suddenly the Shadow Fell

Surrounded by Silence

At the end of the day, when we were marched from the ghetto to the railway station, I was unprepared for what I experienced out on the main street. It was lined with people, several dozen of whom were members of the Arrow Cross and were laughing and clapping loudly, showing their happiness that the Jews were being taken away and yelling insulting, derogatory remarks. Perhaps they were already thinking how wonderful it would be the next morning to loot our abandoned houses. Behind them, hundreds of people stood silently, which was painfully disturbing. Up until then, I had thought better of most people in my hometown.

In central Hungary, there was no uprising against the Nazis or their collaborators, not like there was in Slovakia or Poland. Since the beginning of the 1920s, Hungarian society had been homogeneous, a regulated police state, and people probably didn’t dare to risk the wrath of those loudmouth antisemites. Even with that in mind, this behaviour was still a blow to us; their silence was a shock that has stayed with me all my life.

The next morning, we arrived in Debrecen, where the gendarmes were concentrating the Jewish people from the smaller ghettos before deporting them somewhere else by train. These larger ghettos were brickyards or similar establishments on the edges of the city; we were put into a hide-processing plant, a tannery that was worse than a brickyard would have been. Because the hides were processed by soaking them in bins of water until the hair fell off, the place had only outer walls; it didn’t have a roof because rain or snow was a welcome addition to the processing operation. For the Germans and their Hungarian associates, it was a good enough place to keep us in.

I cannot recall how many roofless buildings there were, but between three and five thousand people had been amassed. The one we were forced to stay in was so crowded that the five of us were only able to put down our belongings. At night, my grandmother and my little brothers crouched down on them, trying to sleep. My mother and I had to stand, planting our feet among them, leaning against each other to try and sleep or nap, whatever we could manage. On top of this inhumane compression, it started to rain on the first night and continued to rain steadily for two days and nights. We stood in mud, soaked to the skin.

In the daytime, we were permitted to roam within the enclosed area. I saw terribly sadistic gendarmes, strangers who had been brought in from other parts of the country to eliminate the possibility of leniency toward people they might know. They beat people, punishing them for even the slightest infraction. On the first day I saw one of the oldest people from my town, Louis Angyal, who was very hard of hearing, feeble and near-blind, walking with a white cane in the middle of the yard where freight cars stood with open doors. While he shuffled around in the yard, a guard yelled at him to stop, but since he didn’t hear, he kept walking. After the third yell, they grabbed him, beat him and hung him up by his wrists from the corners of one of the freight car’s doors. He lost consciousness within minutes and they didn’t even take him down. They left him there to show others what would happen to those who didn’t obey orders. They did this only because we were Jews.

Soudain, les ténèbres

Un tragique silence

À la fin de la journée, on nous a convoyés à la gare. Je n’étais pas du tout préparé à ce qui nous attendait sur la rue principale. Une foule s’était rassemblée le long des trottoirs et tous ces gens, dont plusieurs douzaines de membres des Croix fléchées, nous criblaient de quolibets, riaient et applaudissaient bruyamment pour exprimer leur joie de voir partir les Juifs. Ils songeaient sans doute déjà au bonheur qu’ils auraient le lendemain à piller nos maisons abandonnées. Derrière eux, des centaines de personnes observaient la scène en silence, réaction qui m’a rempli de douleur et m’a profondément perturbé. Jusqu’alors, j’avais cru qu’ils nous manifesteraient leur soutien.

En Hongrie centrale, aucun groupe ne s’est soulevé contre les nazis et leurs collaborateurs, comme cela s’est fait en Slovaquie et en Pologne. Depuis le début des années 1920, la société hongroise présentait un caractère homogène dans un État policier réglementé, et j’imagine que personne n’osait prendre le risque d’attiser la colère de ces brutes antisémites. Malgré tout, cette passivité de la part des citoyens de notre propre ville nous a porté un coup. La vue de cette foule silencieuse m’a causé un choc dont je ne me suis jamais remis.

Le lendemain matin, nous sommes arrivés à Debrecen, où les policiers concentraient les Juifs provenant des petits ghettos de la région avant de les déporter ailleurs par convois ferroviaires. La plupart de ces centres de rassemblement étaient d’anciennes briqueteries, ou des établissements de même type, situés en bordure de ville. À Debrecen, il s’agissait d’une tannerie, un endroit pire que ne l’aurait été une briqueterie. Comme on y faisait tremper les peaux en plein air dans des cuves d’eau pour faciliter l’enlèvement des poils, il n’y avait que des murs, et pas de plafond car la pluie ou la neige accélérait le processus. Pour les Allemands et leurs associés hongrois, c’était tout ce que nous méritions.

Je ne me souviens plus du nombre de bâtiments à ciel ouvert qui s’y trouvaient, mais de 3 000 à 5 000 personnes étaient entassées en ce lieu. Celui où l’on nous a forcés à nous installer était si bondé que nous ne pouvions que déposer nos biens par terre. Le soir, ma grand-mère et mes petits frères se recroquevillaient sur les bagages pour tenter de dormir. Ma mère et moi restions debout, les pieds plantés parmi eux, nous appuyant l’un contre l’autre pour essayer nous aussi de dormir ou du moins de sommeiller un peu. Il s’est mis à pleuvoir dès le premier soir sur cette foule compressée de façon inhumaine, et cela a duré sans interruption deux jours et deux nuits. Le sol n’était plus que boue ; nous étions trempés jusqu’aux os.

Durant la journée, on nous autorisait à nous déplacer à l’intérieur de l’enceinte. J’y ai vu des policiers sadiques à l’oeuvre ; ils avaient été recrutés dans d’autres régions du pays pour éviter toute forme de clémence à l’égard de personnes qu’ils auraient pu connaître. Ils battaient les gens, les punissaient pour la moindre infraction. Le premier jour, j’ai aperçu l’un des citoyens les plus âgés de ma ville, Louis Angyal, malentendant, faible et presque aveugle, qui marchait avec sa canne blanche au beau milieu de la cour où se trouvaient des wagons de marchandises, portes ouvertes. Alors qu’il se déplaçait d’un pas traînant, un garde lui a crié de s’arrêter, mais comme M. Angyal entendait mal, il a continué à marcher. Après le troisième cri, ils l’ont saisi, l’ont battu et l’ont accroché par les poignets à un coin de la porte ouverte d’un wagon. Il s’est évanoui en l’espace de quelques minutes, mais ils ne l’ont pas décroché. Ils l’ont laissé là pour montrer aux autres ce qui les attendait s’ils n’obéissaient pas à leurs ordres. Ils ont fait cela simplement parce que nous étions juifs.

A Tapestry of Survival

One day I went to visit a friend in the apartment house in which we had first lived when we fled to Budapest. While I was there, a troop of Hungarian soldiers came in to the centre courtyard of the building and were lining up all the Jews to take them away. I started walking toward the exit gate. A soldier stopped me.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m leaving. I don’t live here.”

He scowled at me, “But you’re a Jew!”

“No, I’m not,” I said.

“So what are you doing here?”

I knew that telling him that I was visiting a Jewish friend would not help my cause. Just in time I remembered that air-raid sirens had sounded right before the soldiers arrived. “I came in when the air-raid sirens started.”

An officer came by, and the soldier told him my story. “Aw, don’t bother. Let him go,” he said.

As the soldier escorted me to the exit, he said, “I still think you’re a Jew.”

And I replied cockily, “To err is human,” and walked out to freedom.

I was so proud of my cleverness that this story later became my first piece of published writing, in my high school yearbook. It is only in the last few years that I allowed myself to realize how close I was to being taken away by the Hungarian soldiers; my family would never have found out what had happened to me. There were many close calls, and I think it took quick thinking and miraculous escapes to survive those times, as well as a strong will to live. But I was not aware of these things at the time. We all just did what we had to.

Where Courage Lives

July 15, 1942

Around 9:00 p.m. on July 15, I was at home in Paris with Maman. My brother, Jojo, was in Champlost, helping Monsieur Basile with the harvest. Maman’s friend, a gentile lady named Madame Dumas, was visiting us. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. It was Maman’s sister-in-law, all out of breath. Being multilingual, she worked as a translator at German headquarters, which enabled her to know ahead of time of impending raids. Blond with blue eyes, she was able to hide her Jewishness. (Talk about chutzpah!)

“You must leave immediately,” she told Maman, “because tomorrow the Germans are coming to take away all the Jewish women and children!” Many men had been taken away the year before. She then left in a hurry, to warn other people. Madame Dumas asked Maman what she planned to do. “What can I do?” she replied, “I have nowhere to go! Tomorrow when they come, I’ll take Muguette and go with them.” I started to cry. “I don’t want to go with you,” I told my startled mother. “I won’t go, I won’t!” Seeing that I was becoming hysterical, Madame Dumas told Maman to pack a few things and to come with her. She would take us to her house to spend the night and then they could decide what to do.

Madame Dumas and Maman each took a pair of scissors and removed the yellow stars that had been sewn onto our coats, and Madame Dumas (I’ll always remember this) put them into her brassiere. We left our apartment and took the metro to go to Madame Dumas’ home. The curfew for Parisians was 10:00 p.m. but for Jews it was 8:00 p.m. and we were only allowed to travel in the metro’s last wagon. Maman, Madame Dumas and I entered another wagon. There were many people in the metro, including German soldiers. Madame Dumas and Maman sat together in a seat. I sat by myself in a strapontin, a folding seat, flanking the doors. On the seat facing me sat an elderly gentleman. I noticed him staring at me. He kept staring at my face and at my coat. I was frightened and intrigued at the same time. He finally caught and held my eyes and then stared again at my coat. I looked down and saw, to my horror, on the left side of my beige coat, yellow threads remaining from the yellow star. I remember putting my right hand on my left shoulder and slowly beginning to pull out the threads. I saw the old gentleman smile; he got off at the next stop.

Madame Dumas took us to her apartment, where we spent the night. The next morning, July 16, 1942, at 7:00 o’clock, Maman left me with Madame Dumas, who, it had been decided, would take me by train to a hamlet called Le Bois Mouchet in Normandy. I had been there on vacation the year before. The streets of Paris were still under curfew, which wasn’t lifted until 8:00 a.m., but my mother started to make her way to her mother and sister’s place in order to warn them of the impending roundup, which came to be known as the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup.

The metro only started running after curfew was lifted, so she had to go on foot. She told me later that she crept from door to door, running when she could and hiding when she heard footsteps. It was a long way from Madame Dumas’ house to my grandmother’s but Maman made it in record time. Gromeh lived on the third floor and Maman ran up the stairs. When she came to the second floor and started her way up to the third, she saw her sister being escorted down by two French policemen. When she saw my mother, my aunt, who still couldn’t speak French, told her in Yiddish, “You see they are taking me away!” Maman pressed herself against the wall and didn’t dare answer because she knew that if she did, she would also be taken. She watched as her sister was led away, and that was the last time she saw her. Maman later learned that she was taken to Drancy, the transit camp near Paris, and then deported to Auschwitz. Maman was tormented and reproached herself for not having spoken out. “My sister went to her death thinking I was angry at her,” she often said.

Les Lieux du courage

15 juillet 1942

Vers 21 heures, le 15 juillet, j’étais à la maison à Paris avec Maman. Mon frère Jojo se trouvait à Champlost, où il prêtait main-forte à monsieur Basile pour la récolte. Une amie de Maman, une femme non juive nommée madame Dumas, était en visite chez nous. Soudain, on a frappé à la porte. C’était la belle-soeur de Maman, à bout de souffle. Parlant plusieurs langues, elle travaillait comme traductrice au quartier général allemand, ce qui lui permettait d’être au courant des rafles qui se préparaient. Blonde aux yeux bleus, elle pouvait se faire passer pour une non-Juive (quelle ẖoutzpah !).

« Vous devez partir immédiatement, a-t-elle dit à Maman et à moi, car demain, les Allemands viendront arrêter toutes les femmes et tous les enfants juifs ! » Plusieurs hommes avaient été emmenés au cours de l’année précédente. Puis, elle est partie précipitamment afin d’aller avertir d’autres personnes. Madame Dumas a demandé à Maman ce qu’elle comptait faire. « Que puis-je faire ? a-elle répondu, je n’ai nulle part où aller ! Demain, quand ils viendront, je vais prendre Muguette et je vais les suivre. » Je me suis mise à pleurer. « Je ne veux pas partir avec toi, ai-je dit à ma mère étonnée, je n’irai pas, non ! » Voyant que je devenais hystérique, madame Dumas a conseillé à Maman de préparer une valise avec le strict nécessaire et de la suivre. Elle nous a emmenées chez elle afin que nous y passions la nuit. Elle et Maman décideraient ensuite de ce qu’il conviendrait de faire.

Madame Dumas et Maman ont pris chacune une paire de ciseaux et ont enlevé les étoiles jaunes cousues sur nos manteaux, puis madame Dumas (je m’en souviendrai toujours) les a cachées dans son soutien- gorge. Nous avons quitté l’appartement et nous sommes dirigées vers le métro afin de nous rendre chez madame Dumas. Le couvre-feu pour les Parisiens commençait à 22 heures, mais pour les Juifs, il débutait à 20 heures et nous ne pouvions voyager que dans le dernier wagon du métro. Maman, madame Dumas et moi avons évité précisément ce wagon-là. Il y avait foule dans le métro, y compris des soldats allemands. Madame Dumas et Maman ont pris place ensemble sur une banquette. Je me suis assise seule sur un strapontin, un siège amovible placé à côté des portes. Sur la banquette en face de moi se trouvait un monsieur d’un certain âge. J’ai remarqué qu’il me dévisageait avec insistance. Il ne cessait de porter son regard de mon visage à mon manteau. J’étais à la fois apeurée et perplexe. Il a finalement capté mon regard, qu’il a soutenu, puis il a fixé mon manteau à nouveau. J’ai baissé les yeux et, à ma grande frayeur, j’ai vu pendre du côté gauche de mon manteau beige des fils jaunes qui provenaient de l’étoile récemment décousue. Je me rappelle avoir placé la main droite sur mon épaule gauche et commencé lentement à retirer les fils. J’ai vu le vieil homme sourire ; il est descendu à l’arrêt suivant.

Madame Dumas nous a emmenées à son appartement où nous avons passé la nuit. Le lendemain matin, le 16 juillet 1942 à 7 heures, Maman m’a laissée en compagnie de madame Dumas. Il avait été décidé que celle-ci m’emmènerait en train jusqu’à un hameau appelé Le Bois Mouchet, en Normandie. L’année précédente, j’y avais passé une partie de mes vacances. Quand ma mère est sortie, le couvre-feu n’était pas encore levé (il le serait à 8 heures), mais elle s’est quand même aventurée dans les rues désertes pour rejoindre la résidence de sa mère et de sa soeur afin de les mettre en garde contre la rafle qui se préparait et qu’on allait appeler la « rafle du Vel’ d’Hiv’ ».

Comme les portes du métro n’ouvraient qu’une fois le couvre-feu levé, elle a dû se rendre à pied chez sa soeur et sa mère. Elle m’a dit plus tard qu’elle se glissait furtivement d’une porte à l’autre, courait quand elle le pouvait et se cachait quand elle entendait des bruits de pas. Entre l’immeuble de madame Dumas et celui de ma grand-mère, le chemin était long, mais Maman l’a parcouru en un temps record. Gromè habitait au troisième étage et Maman a escaladé la volée d’escaliers en courant. Quand elle est parvenue au deuxième étage, se dirigeant vers le troisième, elle a vu sa soeur escortée par deux policiers français. Quand elle a aperçu ma mère, ma tante, qui ne pouvait toujours pas s’exprimer en français, lui a dit en yiddish : « Tu vois, ils m’emmènent ! » Maman s’est plaquée contre le mur et n’a pas osé proférer un mot, car elle savait qu’une réponse de sa part la condamnerait elle aussi. Elle a regardé sa soeur se faire emmener, et c’est la dernière fois qu’elle l’a vue. Plus tard, Maman a appris qu’on l’avait emmenée à Drancy, un camp de transit à proximité de Paris, puis déportée à Auschwitz. L’arrestation de ma tante a beaucoup tourmenté ma mère au cours de sa vie et elle s’est reprochée de n’avoir pas osé lui parler. « Ma sœur est allée à sa mort en croyant que j’étais fâchée contre elle », disait-elle souvent.

Resistance and Song

Hope's Reprise

In June 1943, around one hundred young men and women arrived at Werk C. They were first sent from the Warsaw ghetto to Majdanek near Lublin, but because of the shortage of workers in Skarżysko they were transported here to replace the hundreds who had perished. From them we learned how the Nazis destroyed the occupants of the Warsaw ghetto. Much later, we would hear about the liquidation of the Lodz ghetto, too, in the summer of 1944, when people were sent to Chełmno and Auschwitz.

Among the newcomers from Majdanek were a few doctors who were put to work in the sick house. There were also some singers and actors, as well as the writer Mordechai Strigler, thanks to whom the Sunday concerts became rich in content. We even sang concert songs while marching to or from work.

Today is not the time to laugh

So I’ve just been told;

But I do just the opposite.

I don’t give a damn;

I won’t transform the world

Because it’s not worthy.

A special hit was the song I created right after my arrival in Skarżysko, “In the Skarżysko Lager”:

In a quiet, thick forest

Stands the Lager wired round.

I tell you, people here are treated like garbage;

The Lager does not

Differentiate between rich and poor.

For many months I’ve been suffering here

But from the present noise one can become deaf.

The mass murders break one’s heart;

No words are adequate to express my pain.

How bitter it is in Skarżysko Lager.

This Skarżysko Lager, Good God,

The mere thought of it

Causes my hands and feet to tremble.

Would that I had never known this place.

Every evening the program ended with this song, sung by the whole crowd, like a hymn. Thanks to the artistic and literary people who came to us from Majdanek, we had a new program every week. Every evening after work I would sit down with my new friend Mordechai to write Yiddish or Polish poetry and sketches or satires about Lager life.

The concerts were a balm for the physically and spiritually broken prisoners. I recall one Sunday morning when Mordechai and I were finishing a new sketch for that evening and having trouble with a closing line. The barrack was empty, we thought, because the night shift workers had not yet returned from work. We suddenly heard a quiet voice from a corner. We turned to see a young man, around twenty years of age, who looked half-dead. He could barely raise his head as he looked at us through half-shut eyes. He called my name and gave me a closing line for the song. Then he asked if he would be able to attend the concert that evening. He died that day.

The death rate in Skarżysko was so high that if the war continued for much longer, the Nazis wouldn’t need to shoot anyone – we all would die of hunger anyhow. It was a miracle that some workers still managed to smuggle in food acquired through illegal trading with the gentile workers. They were both risking their lives because the Nazis would severely punish, or even put to death, anyone who attempted to improve our lot.

W Hour

Preparing to Fight

Summer was fast approaching, and along with it, the powerful Soviet army. Air raids were now a daily occurrence. The sirens began as soon as the German air defence detected planes over Warsaw, followed by the powerful German anti-aircraft searchlights crisscrossing the sky. Shortly after that we heard the roar of planes and saw the brightly coloured bullets of the anti-aircraft guns mingling with the beams of the searchlights; the scene was spectacular. We began a new game of gambling on the fate of each plane and on the number of hits the gunners would score, but the Soviet planes heading for Berlin flew too high.

After witnessing a few of these air raids, my excitement took the form of a constantly gurgling stomach. My emotional state was fed by rumours, predictions, speculations and some limited facts about what was going on around us. The wilder rumours included stories that the Americans were going to drop thousands of paratroopers into the middle of Warsaw; that the Soviet army was already on the other side of the Vistula River, preparing to coordinate their ground attack with the American paratrooper drop; and that the partisans were planning to come into Warsaw from the forests and seize the bridges to facilitate the Soviet troops’ entry into the city. This last piece of gossip turned out to be based on an actual agreement between the Polish underground and the Soviet army.

August 1, 1944 was filled with excitement and confusion. Father Stefanowski asked me to walk to a certain address to pick up hosts for communion, and I was thrilled to be able to see for myself what was going on in the streets. I saw groups of young men and women, as well as some older adults, standing near walls that had been recently plastered with posters of different sizes. After ensuring that there were no German soldiers or Gestapo agents around, I stopped to read one that called on the Polish people to rise up, to join one of the resistance groups fighting for the liberation of Warsaw and Poland. The poster proclaimed that the “holy war” was only a few hours away. Other posters stated that the Soviet army and Polish contingents would be crossing the Vistula to join the uprising.

Highly excited and fighting tears of joy, I saw numerous young men with guns hanging from their shoulders under open jackets. Many of them wore red and white armbands embossed with the initials of a political party. They didn’t have uniforms, but to me they looked like the best dressed and equipped soldiers I had ever seen. They looked at their watches every few minutes, which confirmed to me that the uprising would, as some of the posters had promised, start at 4:00 p.m. that day.

When I arrived at my destination, I checked the posters again to see how much time I had left, and I ran back through streets that were now empty of normal traffic. The usual German foot patrols were conspicuously absent. Open troop carriers raced through the streets, sirens screaming, filled with heavily armed German soldiers. Huge machine guns, with chains of bullets hanging from their loading sides, were mounted on the front and back of these trucks.

News of the uprising was already public knowledge at the institution. We were told to get ready for 4:00 p.m., now only a few hours away. As one of the oldest boys I had few friends close to my age, but we all started talking about what to do. It quickly became obvious that we each had a different plan and in the end only one other boy and I wanted to join the army. I was thrilled at the prospect of fighting for liberation and revenge, but what I couldn’t discuss with anyone was that my first priority after the uprising  —  which I assumed would succeed  —  would be to find out what had happened to my family. For now, I couldn’t give up my false identity.

My would-be comrade-in-arms and I agreed that we would wait for the first signs of engaged battle before telling Pan Kapusta of our plans and asking for his permission to leave. The meeting with him in the courtyard went the way we had hoped  —  he congratulated us on our bravery in Poland’s hour of need. He suggested that we prepare everything that night and leave the following morning. For the moment, we joined the rest of the students and adult personnel outside on the street. Our ears were bombarded by the constant sound of small-arms and machine-gun fire. Some boys were sure that the small-arms fire came from underground fighters and that the heavier machine guns were still in German hands. As I scanned the street and the buildings, I was touched by the sight of many different sizes of Polish flags suspended from windows, balconies and gates, all fluttering in the breeze.

The most compelling sight on that unforgettable first day, however, was a platoon of resistance fighters coming toward us. The onlookers broke into jubilant cheers. To us, these heroes were angels come to deliver us from the depths of hell. They were without doubt a motley crew — at no time during the uprising did I see units of more than one political party marching together under one commander. The only thing they had in common was the look in their eyes, burning with the desire for revenge.

L'Heure W

La veille du combat

L’été approchait à grands pas et avec lui la puissante armée soviétique. Les raids aériens se produisaient désormais quotidiennement. Dès que la défense aérienne allemande détectait des avions au-dessus de Varsovie, les sirènes retentissaient, puis les projecteurs allemands balayaient le ciel. Peu après, le vrombissement des avions se faisait entendre et la lumière brillante des projectiles antiaériens venait se mêler aux faisceaux des projecteurs. Une scène spectaculaire. Nous avions inventé un nouveau jeu : parier sur le sort de chaque avion et sur le nombre de cibles qu’atteindraient les artilleurs. Mais les avions soviétiques qui se dirigeaient vers Berlin volaient trop haut.

Après avoir été témoin de quelques-uns de ces raids aériens, j’ai vu mon excitation se transformer en d’incessants gargouillements d’estomac. Mon état émotionnel se nourrissait de prédictions, de spéculations et de bribes d’informations concernant ce qui se passait autour de nous. Les rumeurs les plus folles disaient que les Américains s’apprêtaient à larguer des milliers de parachutistes au beau milieu de Varsovie ; que l’armée soviétique se trouvait déjà de l’autre côté de la Vistule, préparée à coordonner son attaque terrestre avec les parachutistes américains ; et que les partisans étaient prêts à sortir des forêts pour prendre le contrôle des ponts de Varsovie afin de faciliter l’entrée des troupes soviétiques dans la ville. Il s’est avéré que cette dernière rumeur était fondée sur un véritable accord conclu entre la résistance polonaise et l’armée soviétique.

Le 1ᵉʳ août 1944 a été une journée de grande fébrilité et de totale confusion. Le père Stefanowski m’avait demandé de me rendre à une certaine adresse pour aller chercher des hosties pour la communion et j’étais tout excité de voir par moi-même ce qui se passait dans les rues. Des groupes de jeunes, hommes et femmes, ainsi que quelques adultes, se tenaient près des murs fraîchement placardés d’affiches de différents formats. Après m’être assuré qu’il n’y avait ni soldats allemands ni agents de la Gestapo en vue, je me suis approché d’une affiche : on appelait le peuple polonais à s’insurger et à se joindre à l’un des groupes de résistance qui se battaient pour la libération de Varsovie et de la Pologne. On y proclamait que la « guerre sainte » était imminente. D’autres affiches affirmaient que l’armée soviétique et des contingents polonais traverseraient la Vistule pour participer à l’Insurrection.

Exalté par tout cela et retenant des larmes de joie, j’ai aperçu nombre de jeunes hommes avec une arme à l’épaule sous leur veste ouverte. Beaucoup d’entre eux portaient un brassard rouge et blanc frappé des initiales d’un parti politique. Aucun n’était en uniforme, mais pour moi, il s’agissait des soldats les mieux vêtus et les mieux équipés que j’aie jamais vus. Ils regardaient leur montre à tout moment, ce qui confirmait à mes yeux que l’insurrection allait bien être déclenchée à 17 heures comme l’annonçaient certaines affiches.

Une fois parvenu à destination, j’ai regardé de nouveau les affiches pour évaluer le temps qu’il me restait, puis je suis revenu en courant dans les rues à présent désertes. Il n’y avait manifestement plus de patrouilleurs allemands. Par contre, des véhicules remplis de soldats allemands armés jusqu’aux dents filaient à toute allure, sirènes hurlantes ; d’énormes mitrailleuses antiaériennes prêtes à l’emploi, bandes de cartouches engagées, étaient montées à l’avant et à l’arrière de chaque camion.

À l’orphelinat, tout le monde était déjà au courant. On nous a dit de nous préparer pour 17 heures. Il restait très peu de temps. Étant parmi les plus grands de l’orphelinat, j’avais peu de camarades de mon âge, mais nous avons tous commencé à discuter de ce qu’il convenait de faire. Nous nous sommes vite aperçus que nous avions tous un plan différent et en fin de compte, seuls deux d’entre nous souhaitaient s’enrôler, dont moi. J’étais très enthousiaste à l’idée de me battre : je voulais aider à libérer mon pays et j’avais soif de vengeance. Cependant, je ne pouvais dire à personne que ma priorité après ce soulèvement (dont j’étais certain que nous sortirions vainqueurs) serait de découvrir ce qui était arrivé à ma famille. Pour l’instant, il était hors de question que je révèle ma véritable identité.

Mon futur compagnon d’armes et moi avons convenu d’attendre le début des combats avant d’annoncer notre plan à Pan Kapusta et de lui demander la permission de partir. Notre conversation avec lui dans la cour s’est déroulée comme nous l’espérions : après nous avoir félicités pour notre bravoure au moment où la Pologne avait le plus besoin de nous, il nous a conseillé de nous préparer le soir même en vue d’un départ le lendemain matin. Mais auparavant, nous sommes allés rejoindre les autres élèves et le personnel qui se trouvaient dans la rue. On entendait le tir nourri des armes légères et les rafales des mitrailleuses. Selon certains des garçons, les armes légères appartenaient certainement aux résistants, tandis que les mitrailleuses étaient des armes allemandes. En parcourant des yeux la rue et les immeubles, j’ai été touché de voir la multitude de drapeaux polonais de différents formats qui flottaient au vent. Ils étaient accrochés aux fenêtres, aux balcons et aux portails.

Mais le moment le plus palpitant de cette journée mémorable a été de voir passer toute une unité de combattants de la Résistance sous les acclamations de la foule. À nos yeux, ces héros étaient des anges envoyés du ciel pour nous délivrer des profondeurs de l’enfer. Ils formaient sans conteste une bande hétéroclite – durant l’Insurrection, jamais je n’ai vu d’unité représentant plus d’un parti politique marcher sous les ordres d’un unique commandant. La seule chose qu’ils avaient en commun était ce désir brûlant de vengeance qui se lisait sur leurs visages.

Gatehouse to Hell

Cruel Lessons

When I settled into the bunk, I thanked my new friend and we started talking. I asked him how long he had been there. He said six or eight weeks and then offered to give me a few tips. For instance, as we were talking I was rubbing my arm where they had tattooed the number. “Don’t rub it,” he warned me. “It might get infected.” When I asked him what Auschwitz was all about, Jakob was straightforward. “It’s a very terrible place,” he said. “Nobody gets out of here alive.” He took me outside the barracks, pointed to a chimney and said, “The only way we’re going to get out of this camp is through that chimney.”

I could see a huge red brick building but I didn’t understand what he meant. When we had arrived in Auschwitz we walked to Birkenau from the railway station and we could smell something burning. Of course, we didn’t know there were crematoria in Birkenau. How could any normal human think that in the middle of the twentieth century they were burning human bodies? Those things were too farfetched for us to even think about. But when we came into the quarantine camp, we started wondering what kind of place this was. The kapos would point to the chimney and say, “That’s your destination.” The ghetto, the labour camps in Poznań... these were all terrible places. Still, there we didn’t talk about chimneys, we didn’t talk about crematoria, we didn’t talk about gas chambers.

Jakob was quick to advise me that I had to be extremely careful in the quarantine camp. He told me that the Germans would try to work me to death there. If I survived, they would just take me to another camp. I told him that I had just come from a labour camp and that Auschwitz couldn’t be harder than that. “Oh, yeah?” he replied. Unfortunately, he was right.

Many of us were indeed worked to death in that quarantine camp, with hardly any food. The guards took us out early in the morning and we worked at making roads and digging ditches for the sewers. We were doing all of this because the camp was expanding. There were lots of prisoners, so we didn’t have to work fifteen hours a day, but we were doing very hard manual labour. It would have gone much faster if there had been wheelbarrows to take the rocks and move them to where they were supposed to go. But, no, we had to carry them in our hands. The whole thing was designed, I would say, as a test to see if we were able to do this type of work. If we survived three months of the harshness of quarantine, then we qualified to go to the D camp in Birkenau, which was the men’s labour camp.

The atrocities that happened in quarantine were horrible. Dr. Mengele was a frequent visitor, although in the beginning we didn’t know who he was. He and the officers went through each of the barracks to choose people for all kinds of experiments. We saw men taken away and they never came back. We heard screaming.

Then there was the selection. After I’d been working in the quarantine camp for about two weeks, a kapo came into the barracks and announced that there was going to be a selection, that no Jews would be going to work the next day. The other inmates left and the Jews stayed behind in the barracks. At first I was happy to have a day off work. I was so naive that I didn’t know what the selection was for. I thought that maybe the Germans were going to pick the ones who were healthy for special work. To me, we were having a holiday.

Jakob was wiser. He told me that he had heard that people had to be very careful during the selection, advising me to make sure that I knew where my clothes were when I was ordered to undress, to stand up straight, to not ask any questions.

An hour or so later, I saw Dr. Mengele. He came in with his entourage, about half a dozen SS men, and one man in civilian clothes who was taking notes. We had to strip naked. Dr. Mengele sat down and we walked in front of him. He indicated which person should go to the left or to the right. When a person went in one direction, the civilian wrote his number down.

When it was my turn, I saw that the man didn’t write down my number. I thought when he took down a number it meant they were going to take that person to another labour camp. Jakob had told me that sometimes, if a person was lucky, the Germans would need him for other work. I thought that I had missed an opportunity. So I went back and I tried to tell him that he had forgotten to write down my number. One of the guards pushed me away. I was almost crying. I was stubborn. I didn’t want to stay in Auschwitz. I didn’t want to go to the gas chambers. I didn’t want to be cremated. I didn’t want to die there and I kept pushing back. Finally the guard gave me a good push and I fell over to the other side. I was with the men who didn’t have their numbers written down.

L’Antichambre de l’enfer

Cruelles leçons

Une fois installé sur ma couchette, j’ai remercié mon nouvel ami et nous avons commencé à parler. Je lui ai demandé depuis combien de temps il était là. « Six ou huit semaines », m’a-t-il répondu, et il s’est offert à me prodiguer quelques conseils. Par exemple, tout en parlant, je me frottais le bras à l’endroit où ils m’avaient tatoué. « N’y touche pas, m’a-t-il averti, la plaie risque de s’infecter. » À ma question : « Qu’en est-il exactement d’Auschwitz? », il m’a répondu sans détour : « C’est un endroit atroce. Personne n’en ressort vivant. » Il m’a alors emmené dehors et, montrant du doigt une cheminée, a ajouté : « La seule façon de sortir de ce camp, c’est par cette cheminée. »

Je voyais un grand bâtiment de briques rouges, mais je ne comprenais pas ce que mon ami voulait dire. Quand nous avions marché de la gare jusqu’à Birkenau le jour de notre arrivée à Auschwitz, une odeur de brûlé flottait dans l’air. Nous ignorions bien sûr qu’il y avait des crématoires dans ce camp. Comment un être humain normal aurait-il pu imaginer qu’au milieu du xxe siècle, des gens brûlaient des corps ? C’était tellement inconcevable qu’une telle idée ne nous aurait jamais traversé l’esprit. Mais en arrivant aux baraquements de quarantaine, nous avons commencé à nous demander ce qui se passait dans ce bâtiment. Les kapos indiquaient la cheminée en disant : « Voici ce qui vous attend ! » Le Ghetto, les camps de Poznań… tout cela avait été abominable. Pourtant, il n’y avait jamais été question de cheminées, ni de crématoires, ni de chambres à gaz.

Jakob m’a vite averti qu’il me faudrait être extrêmement vigilant au camp de quarantaine : les Allemands tenteraient de me tuer au travail, mais si je survivais, ils me transféreraient tout simplement dans un autre camp. J’ai rétorqué que j’arrivais tout juste d’un autre camp de travail et que les conditions ne pouvaient pas être pires à Auschwitz. « Oh que si ! », s’est-il exclamé. Malheureusement, il avait raison.

Beaucoup d’entre nous sont en effet morts d’épuisement au camp de quarantaine, où nous recevions très peu à manger. Tôt le matin, les gardes nous conduisaient aux chantiers : nous construisions des routes, nous creusions des fossés pour les égouts. Nous faisions tout cela parce que le camp était en pleine expansion. Comme il y avait beaucoup de prisonniers, nous n’avions pas à travailler 15 heures par jour, mais le travail était très dur. Nous aurions pu accomplir ces corvées beaucoup plus rapidement si nous avions eu droit à des brouettes pour transporter les pierres. Mais non, nous devions tout déplacer à mains nues. Je dirais que tout cela avait pour but de tester notre endurance à ce genre de tâche : si nous parvenions à survivre aux trois mois passés dans ces conditions, nous serions envoyés au camp D, le camp de travail des hommes à Birkenau.

Les atrocités commises au camp de quarantaine ont été terribles. Le docteur Mengele venait régulièrement nous rendre visite, bien qu’au début, nous ignorions qui il était. Accompagné d’officiers, il allait de baraquement en baraquement et choisissait des détenus pour toutes sortes d’expériences. Nous avons vu des hommes emmenés pour ne plus jamais revenir. Nous entendions des cris.

Puis il y a eu une sélection. Deux semaines après mon arrivée au camp de quarantaine, un kapo a fait le tour des baraquements pour annoncer qu’il y aurait une sélection et qu’aucun Juif n’irait au travail le lendemain. Les autres détenus sont partis et les Juifs sont restés dans les baraquements. Au début, j’étais ravi d’avoir un jour de congé. Naïf comme je l’étais, j’ignorais encore ce que signifiait la sélection : je m’imaginais que les Allemands allaient choisir les plus forts afin de leur confier un travail spécial. Pour moi, il s’agissait d’un jour de repos. Jakob était plus avisé. Ayant entendu dire qu’il fallait faire très attention durant une sélection, il m’a conseillé de bien me rappeler où je mettais mes vêtements quand ils nous ordonneraient de nous déshabiller, de me tenir bien droit et de ne poser aucune question.

Une heure plus tard environ, j’ai vu arriver le docteur Mengele. Il est entré dans notre baraquement escorté d’une demi-douzaine de SS et d’un homme en civil chargé de prendre des notes. Nous devions nous dévêtir complètement. Le docteur Mengele s’est assis, et nous avons défilé devant lui. Il indiquait qui allait à gauche, qui allait à droite. Lorsqu’un détenu était envoyé dans l’une des deux directions, le civil inscrivait son matricule.

Mon tour venu, j’ai remarqué que l’homme n’a rien noté. Je croyais que lorsqu’il inscrivait un numéro, cela signifiait que la personne allait être transférée dans un autre camp de travail ; Jakob m’avait en effet expliqué que parfois, un chanceux se voyait confier une autre tâche. M’imaginant avoir raté une occasion, je suis retourné vers le civil pour lui dire qu’il avait oublié d’inscrire mon matricule. L’un des gardes est intervenu. J’en pleurais presque. Je m’entêtais. Je ne voulais pas rester à Auschwitz. Je ne voulais pas finir dans les chambres à gaz. Je ne voulais pas finir au crématoire. Je ne voulais pas mourir dans ce lieu, et je continuais à me débattre. Finalement, le garde m’a assené une bonne poussée, me faisant tomber de l’autre côté, du côté de ceux dont le matricule n’avait pas été inscrit.

In Hiding

Papa has put his hat on askew and the collar of his over coat is turned under. Mama hands him his small suitcase. “Here are a few clothes,” she says, sounding distressed. They rush down the stairs. I watch them from the top of the stairs, stunned, and then I follow Mama to the kitchen window like a sleepwalker. Papa tries to go into the toilet in the courtyard, but they don’t let him. They grab him by the arm and drag him like a convict. The concierge finds it funny, watching from her window. She infuriates me!

“See you soon,” calls Papa, looking back. My father knows what he’s talking about. She’ll see, he’ll come back! The officers and Papa are walking so fast that by the time we get to the window facing the street, they’re already far away. “He didn’t even shave and he had nothing to eat,” says Mama, upset. Seeing my sister and me, she changes her tone. “Get dressed, girls. We’ll go with him.”

I’ve never gotten dressed so fast in my life. Mama has made herself pretty. She’s holding a parcel in case Papa needs it. She goes out with Henriette without closing the door. Then she comes back and gets me. She walks very fast and Henriette follows us. When we get outside, they’re still there. Phew! We’re going to see Papa again! We’re still wearing our slippers. He’s talking with Dr. David, Dr. Weisman the dentist, Monsieur Salonès and some other people.

“Moisheleh... Moisheleh!” Mama calls. He turns around. He’s seen us! I’m so excited! He takes a big step forward. “Stop! Don’t move!” says a nasty man.

The three of us walk toward him. With one leap, my sister and I are in his arms. He holds me so tightly I can hardly breathe but I don’t get angry. I cling to his body and look hungrily at his face. I won’t let him go without me. I kiss him in spite of the bristles of his beard. He looks into my eyes. I’ll never let go of him.

What’s this racket? A car has just pulled up and the policemen are pointing their guns. “My dear little girls, Henriette and Marguerite, we have to part now. But it won’t be for long. Be good with Mama, don’t give her any trouble. Promise?” We nod in agreement.

Someone opens the beautiful gate to the courtyard and they start lining the men up. Papa bends down, releases us from his embrace and sets us both on the ground. I refuse to let go of him. “Come on, children, it’s Mama’s turn now.” I hold on even tighter to him. I’m the youngest, after all. “You have to let me go. I need to talk to her.” He gives me a gentle push. My mother is crying and he comforts her instead of me. In my distress, I’m jealous. He takes her tenderly in his arms. “Calm down, Rokheleh, calm down, please!” They whisper things into each other’s ears.

“We’ve got everybody. It’s time to go, ladies and gentlemen!” The officers call out the names, one by one, and roughly separate the women from the men. “David. Éliash. Solanès. Weisman.” The men are packed like sardines into the khaki Citroën. Papa leans out and shouts, “Courage, Rachel! Courage, children! I’ll see you soon!” I’m so miserable. Mama murmurs under her breath, “Courage, Moishinkeh, courage!”

I have a stomachache. I have to go home. The cars pull quickly away. We wave to the one Papa is in as it disappears in the distance. The sun is rising and with it, my hatred. My heart is so heavy.

Cachée

L’arrestation de Papa

Papa a mis son chapeau de travers, le col de son paletot est à l’envers. Maman lui tend sa petite valise : « Voilà quelques vêtements… » précise-t-elle avec tristesse.

Ils descendent en débandade. Je les regarde éberluée, du haut de l’escalier, puis je suis maman, comme une somnambule, jusqu’à la fenêtre de la cuisine. Papa veut entrer aux cabinets, ils l’en empêchent ! Ils l’empoignent par le bras et le traînent comme un forçat !

La concierge trouve ça rigolo, à l’abri derrière sa fenêtre. Elle m’énerve celle-là ! « À bientôt ! » hurle papa, penchant sa tête en arrière. Il n’est pas bête, mon père, elle verra quand il reviendra ! Les agents et papa vont si vite que, lorsque nous arrivons à la fenêtre sur la rue, ils sont déjà loin. « Il ne s’est même pas rasé et n’a rien mangé… » balbutie maman, affligée.

Nous voyant, ma soeur et moi, elle change de ton : « Habillez-vous, on va l’accompagner ! » Je ne me suis jamais tant pressée. Maman s’est joliment arrangée. Elle tient un paquet dans ses mains, au cas où papa en aurait besoin. Elle part avec Henriette, sans fermer la porte. Elle revient me prendre et fonce à toutes jambes, Henriette nous suit.

Nous voici dehors. Ouf ! Ils sont encore là ! Nous allons revoir papa ! Nous sommes chaussées de nos pantoufles. Il est en conversation avec le Dʳ David, le Dʳ Waïsman qui est dentiste, M. Salonès et d’autres gens. « Moëshalé… Moëshalé ! » appelle maman. Ça y est! Il nous a vues ! Il se retourne, bras tendus. Je suis émue. Il fait un grand pas en avant. « Halte-là ! Bougez pas de là ! » fait un homme méprisant. Nous nous approchons toutes les trois. Et d’un bond, ma soeur et moi sommes dans ses bras. C’est incroyable ce qu’il me serre, je ne m’en fâche pas, au contraire! Je m’attache à son corps et je dévore son visage. Il ne partira pas sans moi ! Je l’embrasse malgré les piquants de sa barbe. Il me regarde droit dans les yeux. Je ne pourrai plus le lâcher…

Qu’est-ce que c’est que ce vacarme ? Une voiture vient d’arriver. Les policiers braquent leurs armes! « Mes chères petites, Henriette et Marguerite, il faut se quitter maintenant, mais pas pour longtemps! Soyez gentilles avec maman, évitez les tracasseries inutiles, c’est promis ? » Nous faisons signe que oui.

Quelqu’un ouvre la belle grille et on place les hommes en file. Papa relâche son étreinte en se baissant pour nous faire descendre toutes les deux. Je ne veux rien entendre. « Voyons mes enfants, c’est au tour de maman ! » Je m’agrippe encore plus, j’ai le droit à mon âge. « Il faut se quitter, je dois parler avec elle. » Il me repousse doucement. Elle pleure, il la console et la cajole à mes dépens. Dans ma douleur, je suis jalouse.

Il enlace tendrement son épouse : « Calme-toi, Rokhalé, calmetoi, s’il te plaît ! » Ils se chuchotent des choses à l’oreille… « La liste est complète ! On embarque, messieurs dames ! » Les agents font l’appel, séparent brutalement les femmes des hommes : « David ! Eliash ! Solanès ! Waïsman ! …» On les entasse comme des sardines dans la traction kaki. Papa s’incline et crie : « Courage, Rachel! Courage, mes enfants! À bientôt!»

J’ai trop de peine. Maman marmonne entre ses dents : « Courage, Moïshinké, courage ! » J’ai mal au ventre, il faudrait que je rentre. Les tractions démarrent à vive allure. Nous faisons des signes de la main vers la voiture, qui disparaît dans le lointain.

Le jour se lève, avec ma haine. J’ai le coeur si lourd…

Desperate Efforts

Behind the Red Curtain

At dawn one morning in mid-September 1941, a neighbour raised the alarm, informing us that screams had been heard at the boundary streets of the Old Town. The Germans were seen going from door to door, taking Jews. We thought they were taking young men and women to work, as they had done the week before. My mother asked Nyusya to take me to her rooms and rushed to the garden with Grandfather and Adya, Aunt Sonya’s husband. Aunt Sonya stayed at home with her granddaughters because everybody thought that the Germans would not take old people and children for work. Nyusya put me in the same bed where her three children were sleeping. At that moment, the Germans came in, accompanied by a Ukrainian policeman. They asked Nyusya what nationality she was. Frightened to death, with her hands shaking, she showed them her Ukrainian passport. As the Germans pointed to the children Nyusya told them, “These are my children.” With that decisive statement, this brave woman saved my life. The Germans left, heading to the house extension where Aunt Sonya and her granddaughters were. In a few minutes, they were brought out. I could see through the window that they hadn’t been allowed to put on proper clothes. Sonya carried the younger girl, Vita, who was wearing only a short nightgown.

That day, Nyusya took her children and me and we all moved to her mother’s house. Knowing nothing about my mother’s fate, I stayed with Nyusya for two or three days more. Meanwhile, the news spread across Vinnitsa that the Germans had taken at least ten thousand Jews out of town to the nearest forest, where a huge trench was dug; all of them were executed there. There were many wounded, as well as children, who were thrown in the trench alive, buried together with the dead. People said that for several days it looked like the earth was moving.

Bits and Pieces

The War

My first encounter with Nazi cruelty came very soon. I was standing near the window of our apartment watching my father cross the street to get to a store to change some money. To my horror, I saw two German soldiers approach him, push him and order him to walk in front of them. I immediately ran out and begged the soldiers to let him go. I pleaded with them, telling them that he was my daddy and that they could not do this to him. They laughed, pushed me away, collected a few more Jewish men and marched them off toward the city centre. I marched beside them, together with my mother and some other Jewish women. The men were forced to dig trenches in the middle of the city until late that night. When my father was released, we ran home through the empty streets. My sister, Chava, was waiting for us with a hot meal. From that moment on, my father never left the apartment. We were constantly on the lookout and when we would see German soldiers rounding up Jewish men and dragging them from their homes, we would run home and lock my father in the apartment. They never took my father again.

On the ground floor of our house was a bakery owned by an elderly German couple. During the first days of the war, they would sell loaves of bread to their neighbours. They did it before opening the store, so that neighbours would not have to queue up a whole night in order to get bread. This helped us a lot. We would buy four loaves of bread and could exchange some for eggs and butter. Food was already scarce, and what was available was quite expensive. Even before the war began, people were discussing food shortages.

My father told us that he had taken our winter shoes to the shoemaker to make hiding places in the shoes’ heels for money and for my mother’s golden watch, her only valuable piece of jewellery. He wanted each of us to have some money in case we were separated. I do not know how much money we had, but I am sure it was not a lot. Nor did we know how long the war would last.

After a while our German neighbours stopped being generous to their Jewish neighbours and we had to line up like everyone else. The store opened in the morning, but people began to line up the evening before. One evening, we went down to join the line. My father stayed behind, locked in the apartment. I stood behind my mother, with my sister, Chava, behind me. Early the next morning, the doors opened and the line advanced in a slow but orderly fashion. I was not far from the door when suddenly a German soldier appeared with a little Polish boy not more than five or six years old. The little boy pointed at me, telling the soldier, “Jude! Jude!” (Jew! Jew!) The soldier kicked me out of the line. I ran home and said nothing to my father. I threw myself on the bed, tears streaming from my eyes. I could not stop crying. My world was collapsing and nothing was the same anymore. I was bewildered and could not understand what had just happened. I was humiliated and angry. I could not control my rage. My mother came up and tried to console me. “Don’t cry. You see, I have two loaves. I took one and hid it under my shawl and then went to the other salesman and got another one, for you. Don’t cry.” The finger of that little Polish boy pointing at me, telling the German soldier that I was a Jew, pierced my twelve-year-old heart. To this day, I still feel this hurt.

Fragments de ma vie

La Guerre

Ma première rencontre avec la cruauté nazie ne s’est pas fait attendre très longtemps. Je me tenais près de la fenêtre de notre appartement et je regardais mon père traverser la rue pour aller faire de la monnaie dans un magasin. C’est alors que j’ai vu avec horreur deux soldats allemands l’approcher, le pousser et lui ordonner de marcher devant eux. Je suis immédiatement sortie en courant pour supplier les soldats de le laisser partir. Je les ai implorés, en leur disant que c’était mon papa et qu’ils ne pouvaient pas lui faire ça. Ils ont ri, m’ont poussée sur le côté, ont rassemblé d’autres hommes juifs au passage et les ont tous emmenés de force jusqu’au centre-ville. Je marchais à leurs côtés, accompagnée de ma mère et d’autres femmes juives. Ils ont forcé les hommes juifs à creuser des tranchées au beau milieu de la ville jusque tard dans la nuit. Quand mon père a été relâché, nous avons couru jusque chez nous en traversant les rues désertes. Ma soeur Chava nous attendait avec un repas chaud. À partir de ce moment-là, mon père n’a plus jamais quitté l’appartement. Nous étions constamment sur nos gardes et lorsque nous voyions des soldats allemands rassembler des hommes juifs et les tirer hors de chez eux, nous rentrions à la maison en courant pour enfermer mon père à l’intérieur. Ils n’ont plus jamais emmené mon père.

Au rez de chaussée de notre maison se trouvait une boulangerie tenue par un vieux couple d’Allemands. Les premiers jours de la guerre, ils vendaient des pains à leurs voisins. Ils le faisaient avant d’ouvrir la boutique pour leur éviter de faire la queue toute la nuit, ce qui nous a beaucoup aidés. Nous achetions quatre pains et nous en troquions certains contre des oeufs et du beurre. Les produits d’alimentation se faisaient déjà rares et les articles disponibles étaient assez chers. Avant le début de la guerre, les gens parlaient déjà d’une pénurie de vivres. Mon père nous a annoncé qu’il avait apporté nos chaussures d’hiver chez le cordonnier pour fabriquer des cachettes dans les talons où nous pourrions dissimuler de l’argent et la montre en or de ma mère, le seul objet de valeur qu’elle possédait. Il voulait que chacun de nous ait de l’argent sur soi au cas où nous serions séparés. Je ne sais pas combien d’argent nous avions, mais je suis sûre que ça ne représentait pas grand-chose. Nous ne savions pas non plus combien de temps durerait la guerre.

Quelque temps plus tard, nos voisins allemands ont arrêté de se montrer généreux avec leurs voisins juifs et nous devions attendre comme tous les autres. La boutique ouvrait ses portes le matin, mais les gens commençaient à faire la queue la veille au soir. Un soir, nous sommes descendues pour rejoindre la file d’attente. Mon père est resté enfermé dans l’appartement. Je me tenais derrière ma mère et devant ma soeur Chava. À l’aurore le matin suivant, la boulangerie a ouvert et la file a commencé à avancer lentement et dans le calme. Je n’étais pas loin de la porte lorsque, soudain, un soldat allemand accompagné d’un petit garçon polonais, qui n’avait pas plus de cinq ou six ans, est apparu. Le petit garçon a pointé un doigt sur moi en disant au soldat : « Jude ! Jude ! » (Juif ! Juif !). Le soldat m’a fait brutalement sortir de la file d’attente. Je suis rentrée en courant sans rien dire à mon père. Je me suis jetée sur le lit, le visage inondé de larmes. Je ne pouvais pas m’arrêter de pleurer. Mon univers s’effondrait et plus rien n’était comme avant. J’étais déconcertée et je n’arrivais pas à comprendre ce qui venait de se produire. J’étais humiliée et en colère. Je ne parvenais pas à contenir ma rage. Ma mère est arrivée et a essayé de me consoler. « Ne pleure pas, regarde, j’ai deux pains. J’en ai pris un et je l’ai caché sous mon châle, puis je suis allée voir l’autre vendeur et j’en ai acheté un autre pour toi. Ne pleure pas. » Le doigt de ce petit garçon polonais pointé sur moi, disant au soldat allemand que j’étais juive, a transpercé mon coeur de jeune fille de douze ans. Aujourd’hui encore, ce souvenir reste douloureux.

Little Girl Lost

Encountering the Truth

I packed a knapsack, as I had on my journey out of Poland, but now I was on my way back. This time, though, my knapsack was larger and nicer. I also took a suitcase small enough to drag along with me since I had some nice clothes that were precious cargo. I was lucky to be travelling with Joseph – in times of hardship, it is nice to have a good companion and he was good to me.

By this time it was late March 1945 and spring was approaching. The trip wasn’t as bad as we had anticipated; maybe it was because I was getting used to all kinds of adventures. This time we at least had enough money to buy food, no matter how expensive it was. This hadn’t been the case when I was travelling south to Georgia from Arkhangelsk. Now, although we slept on railway station benches, we had some blankets with us to make them a little softer, and to our great surprise we were always able to find seats on the trains. We even managed to stop a few times in small towns and find a local public bathhouse to wash up. The only terrible encounters we had were with groups of men who had left labour camps and were also trying to get back to Poland. They were like walking ghosts, human skeletons. Big, staring eyes, tautly drawn skin, faces full of fear. We tried to talk to them and they barely answered; they only mumbled in Polish or Yiddish.

At first, I couldn’t understand why those people hadn’t been taken care of, as my group had been. We asked them where they had been and eventually pieced together the information that they had been sent to extremely hard labour camps, where very few had survived. I had been lucky to be in Arkhangelsk. We also saw some Soviet citizens who had survived labour camps, but we couldn’t understand them very well. They all seemed too dazed and bewildered to communicate; we couldn’t figure out why they had been freed or where they were going. The sight of them remained engraved in my memory for a long time.

After six weeks or so of travelling we reached the city of Lvov…

We came across some Jewish people and started hearing rumours about what had happened to the Jews during the war, but I wasn’t yet prepared to listen to what they were saying. I closed my mind. I tried to postpone the encounter as long as possible. For the rest of the trip, the few days it took to reach Lodz, the two of us were very quiet, each buried under the weight of our inner fears, almost embarrassed to face each other so as not to show the agony we felt. My thoughts were so mixed up, jumping from one member of my family to the next. The years I had spent away had been completely erased. All I could think was, what if? Suddenly, I didn’t want to go home. If only I could use some magic trick and disappear, or become somebody else. I was torturing myself to the point that Joseph later told me that he thought I had lost my mind.

When we finally arrived in Lodz, I was so mentally exhausted that I really was afraid that I was having a breakdown. “I can’t do it now, but I went through so much, how can I give in now? I must stop this; I must go on.” I kept talking to myself and poor Joseph didn’t know what to do with me. Somehow I got a hold of myself – after all, I was a survivor.

Lodz had been liberated some time ago – it had taken the Red Army a few months to march from there to Berlin – so we did encounter some Jewish survivors in the streets, a group of young people who looked so normal compared to those we had seen on the train. We couldn’t figure them out at all. We told them we had come back from the Soviet Union and asked if they would tell us where to go, what to do. They gave us all the necessary directions as to where to go first – to the Jewish Committee, where we could get assistance in various social services. We walked into a room in a building located on a main street of Lodz, which was buzzing with people and had lists posted on the walls. There was a whole army of people to help us, speaking almost every language, but I looked around and felt like a trapped animal. This was it. This was the end of the road. I understood that the fate of my family was posted on the long lists that covered all the walls. The Jewish Committee had made the task of searching easier by listing only the names of survivors.

At this point, we still didn’t know anything. I walked away from Joseph. I didn’t want him to be near me when I learned about my family. I needed to pull together all the inner strength I had and force myself to walk toward the lists, to look under the letter K. I was shaking. I didn’t see anybody around me. I was all alone, alone with my pain. My eyes moved down the list of Ks. I stopped at the end, closed my eyes for a minute and started all over again. Maybe I had missed our name…. The letters became very hazy. My head was spinning. Neither of my parents nor any of my brothers’ names were there – could it be that they didn’t have all the survivors’ names yet? It’s only the beginning, I told myself. They might still show up. Somebody had to have survived. My two parents. My four brothers. In my great shock, I forgot that my sister’s name wasn’t Kohn – her husband’s name was Laziczak. I quickly looked under L. There she was! She was alive! I was overjoyed to see that she had survived, but what about the rest? Was she the only survivor? I looked at Joseph, pale and shaken. He leaned against the wall and announced in a faint voice, “No one from my people is on the wall.”

Seule au monde

Confrontée à la vérité

J’ai rempli mon sac à dos, comme lors de mon départ de Pologne. Mais j’étais maintenant sur le chemin du retour : cette fois, je disposais non seulement d’un sac beau et grand, mais aussi d’une valise, assez légère pour que je puisse la garder avec moi, car j’y avais mis mes vêtements les plus beaux. J’avais de la chance de voyager avec Joseph – dans les périodes difficiles, c’est réconfortant d’avoir un bon compagnon et c’est ce qu’il était.

Nous étions à fin du mois de mars 1945 et le printemps commençait à s’installer. Le voyage s’est mieux déroulé que nous ne l’avions prévu. L’habitude des aventures de toutes sortes y était peut-être pour quelque chose. Nous avions assez d’argent pour acheter de la nourriture, quel qu’en ait été le prix – ce qui n’avait pas été le cas durant mon odyssée vers la Géorgie. Nous dormions certes sur des bancs de gare, mais nous avions maintenant des couvertures qui les rendaient un peu plus confortables. Et, à notre grand étonnement, nous réussissions toujours à dénicher une place assise dans les trains. Nous nous sommes même arrêtés à quelques reprises dans des petites villes pour trouver des bains publics où nous avons pu faire notre toilette. Notre plus grande épreuve a été de croiser des groupes d’hommes qui revenaient des camps, eux aussi en chemin vers la Pologne. On aurait dit des fantômes, des squelettes ambulants : de grands yeux hagards, les traits tirés, le visage marqué par la peur. Nous avons bien tenté de les questionner, mais ils n’émettaient pour toute réponse qu’un marmonnement en polonais ou en yiddish.

Au début, je ne comprenais pas du tout pourquoi ces gens n’avaient pas été pris en charge comme nous l’avions été. Nous leur avons demandé d’où ils venaient et nous avons fini par comprendre qu’ils avaient été envoyés dans des camps extrêmement durs, où très peu avaient survécu. J’avais eu de la chance de m’être retrouvée à Arkhangelsk. Nous avons également rencontré des rescapés soviétiques, mais nous ne les comprenions pas très bien. Tous semblaient trop hébétés et confus pour communiquer. Nous ne savions rien, ni de la raison de leur libération ni du lieu où ils se rendaient. La vue de ces gens est restée gravée dans ma mémoire pendant longtemps.

Après presque six semaines de voyage, nous sommes arrivés à Lvov. Cette ville, polonaise avant-guerre, était passée aux mains des Soviétiques après le partage du pays entre eux et les Allemands en 1939. Elle figurait parmi nos centres urbains comptant le plus grand nombre de sites historiques, culturels et architecturaux, mais je n’y avais jamais mis les pieds. C’est là que, le 15 mai 1945, nous avons pris connaissance de la grande nouvelle : la capitulation de l’Allemagne. Naturellement, l’annonce de la fin de la guerre a donné lieu à une grande fête populaire : les foules ont envahi les rues en criant leur joie et en entonnant des chants patriotiques. Comme le voulait la coutume en Union Soviétique, des haut-parleurs diffusaient la musique dans toutes les rues.

Pour ma part, il s’agissait d’une victoire douce-amère. Convaincue que cette guerre n’avait épargné à peu près personne, il m’était impossible de participer aux réjouissances. Mon esprit était ailleurs, tout comme celui de Joseph. Nous parlions à peine – la tension était palpable, nous n’osions pas aborder le sujet tabou de nos familles. Plus nous approchions de notre destination, Łódź, plus j’avais peur. J’ai songé à fuir de nouveau, mais pour aller où ?

Nous avons croisé des Juifs et des rumeurs sont arrivées jusqu’à nous concernant le sort de nos coreligionnaires pendant la guerre. Mais je n’étais pas encore prête à entendre ce qu’ils avaient à dire. Sur ce point, j’écartais toute pensée, tentant de repousser le moment de vérité le plus longtemps possible. Tout au long du trajet qu’il nous restait à parcourir jusqu’à Łódź – quelques jours de voyage encore – Joseph et moi sommes demeurés très silencieux, recroquevillés sous le poids de nos appréhensions ; nous évitions presque de nous regarder pour ne pas montrer l’angoisse qui nous dévorait. J’étais désorientée. Mes pensées s’embrouillaient, passaient de mes parents à mes frères et à ma soeur. Les années d’exil lointain que je venais de vivre avaient complètement disparu. Une seule question me hantait : « Et si ma famille…? » Soudain, je n’ai plus souhaité ce retour. Comme j’aurais aimé user de magie pour disparaître ou devenir quelqu’un d’autre… Je me torturais tant que Joseph m’a avoué plus tard avoir craint pour ma santé mentale.

Lorsque nous sommes enfin arrivés à Łódź, j’étais si épuisée que j’ai vraiment cru sombrer dans la dépression. Je me parlais sans cesse à moi-même : « Je ne peux pas me laisser aller… J’ai traversé tant d’épreuves… Comment pourrais-je abandonner maintenant ? Je dois me ressaisir… Je dois continuer. » Le pauvre Joseph ne savait plus que faire. Mais j’ai réussi à surmonter mon désarroi, je ne sais trop comment – j’étais une survivante, après tout.

Après la libération de Łódź par l’Armée rouge, il avait fallu longtemps aux Soviétiques pour atteindre Berlin et faire tomber le Reich, marquant ainsi la fin de la guerre. Cela faisait donc plusieurs mois que l’Armée rouge avait reconquis la ville polonaise et on y croisait de nombreux survivants juifs dans les rues. Nous avons rencontré un groupe de jeunes qui nous semblaient plus normaux que les gens que nous avions vus dans le train. Mais, là encore, nous n’arrivions pas du tout à les comprendre. Nous leur avons dit que nous revenions d’Union soviétique et leur avons demandé s’ils pouvaient nous indiquer où aller, que faire… Ils ont fini par nous expliquer que nous devions d’abord nous rendre au Comité juif, où nous recevrions l’aide de divers services sociaux et ils nous en ont montré le chemin. Nous sommes parvenus à un immeuble sur la rue principale : c’était une vraie fourmilière avec des listes affichées partout. Il y avait là toute une armée de gens prêts à nous aider, dans pratiquement toutes les langues possibles. Mais, en jetant un regard autour de moi, je me suis sentie comme un animal pris au piège. Cette fois, ça y était. C’était le bout de la route. J’ai compris que le destin de ma famille était inscrit sur ces longues listes qui tapissaient tous les murs. Pour faciliter la recherche, le Comité juif n’avait mentionné que les noms des survivants.

À ce moment-là, nous ne savions toujours rien. Je me suis éloignée de Joseph : je ne voulais pas l’avoir près de moi lorsque je découvrirais ce qui était arrivé à ma famille. J’ai rassemblé toutes mes forces et me suis obligée à approcher des listes, pour regarder à la lettre K. Je tremblais. Je ne voyais personne autour de moi. J’étais seule, seule avec ma douleur. J’ai parcouru la liste des K de haut en bas. Je me suis arrêtée à la fin, j’ai fermé les yeux quelques instants et j’ai recommencé à partir du début. J’avais peut-être sauté notre nom… Les lettres s’embrouillaient. La tête me tournait. Ni les noms de mes parents ni ceux de mes frères et de ma soeur n’y figuraient. Peut-être n’avaient-ils pas encore recueilli tous les noms ? Ce n’est que le début, me disais-je. Il y avait encore une chance qu’ils y apparaissent. Quelqu’un devait bien avoir survécu ! Mes deux parents. Mes quatre frères. Ma soeur. Dans l’état où j’étais, j’avais oublié que cette dernière s’appelait désormais Laziczak, comme son mari. J’ai vite examiné la liste des L. Elle s’y trouvait ! Elle était en vie ! J’étais submergée par la joie ! Mais qu’était-il arrivé aux autres ? Était-elle la seule survivante ? J’ai regardé Joseph, qui était pâle et bouleversé. Il s’est appuyé contre le mur en annonçant d’une voix faible : « Aucun des miens ne figure sur la liste. »

E/96: Fate Undecided

Invasion

That night we bedded down on whatever was available and, being ten years old and tired, I just stretched out on the ground next to the truck and slept. We didn’t have much to eat, only the remnants of what we had managed to gather over the previous two days. The next morning, my parents woke me up at sunrise and we were on the move again. The driver had somehow managed to get some gasoline and bread from either the farmer or the hamlet down the road. It seemed that even in that chaos, you could still find the essentials – for a price.

We wanted to cross the River Somme, thinking that we would be safer on the other side, but we never reached it. The German army had gotten there before us and had been only temporarily stopped by a blown bridge. They were turning back refugees, urging people to go home, telling them that the war was finished for them. This was all done in a very nice way by the smiling young German soldiers exulting in their success in battle. They offered us bread, canned foods and Leberwurst, the famous liver sausage. When they heard that we were short of oil and gasoline, they climbed down from their armoured car, crawled under it and drew some oil from their engine and handed it to us. This was a particular relief because the old truck was badly leaking oil. Still with big smiles, they also gave us gasoline, all the while repeating that the war was over for us and we should go home. Unable to do otherwise, we turned around and headed back north, to Belgium, Antwerp and home.

The Jewish World War I veteran who had joined our group in De Panne didn’t hide his dislike of the Germans and, despite warnings from all the adults, persisted in declaring his status as a Belgian veteran and Jew. When we stopped for gasoline in the town of Amiens, we pulled up in front of the Kommandantur – the German military headquarters – to find the tall, grey-haired commandant standing out in front. Somebody may have alerted him to the presence of the Jewish veteran or perhaps the old man did so himself with his insistence on so proudly declaring his identity and his opinion of the Germans. Whichever it was, the officer ordered the man off the truck, threatening that unless he did, he would not give us gasoline. “Jew,” he said. “You walk.”

We continued on our way with heavy hearts. On our journey back to Antwerp, we saw much evidence of the rout of the Allied troops and the overwhelming power of the German army. Tanks and more tanks – small, medium and large – thundered down the road, pushing the column of refugees to the side. Everywhere we looked in the meadows beside the road we saw German soldiers cleaning their weapons and machines. Above all of this, the sun shone brilliantly and incongruously from a clear blue sky.

Matricule E/96

L'Invasion

Cette nuit-là, nous avons dormi sur ce que nous avons trouvé et comme j’avais dix ans et que j’étais épuisé, je me suis juste étendu sur le sol à côté du camion et je me suis endormi. Nous n’avions pas grand-chose à manger, seulement les restes des provisions que nous avions réussi à recueillir les deux jours précédents. Le lendemain, j’ai été réveillé à l’aube par mes parents et à nouveau, nous avons repris notre route. Le chauffeur s’était arrangé pour obtenir de l’essence et du pain dans une ferme ou dans le hameau que nous avions traversé. Il semblait que même dans cette confusion, on pouvait trouver l’essentiel – en y mettant le prix.

Nous voulions traverser la Somme, pensant être plus en sécurité de l’autre côté, mais nous ne l’avons jamais atteinte. L’armée allemande y était arrivée avant nous et avait été temporairement stoppée par la destruction d’un pont. Il y avait des réfugiés qui rentraient chez eux, incitant les gens à s’en retourner et leur disant que la guerre était finie pour eux. Tout se passait de façon fort civile, avec de jeunes soldats allemands souriants se réjouissant de leur victoire dans la bataille. Ils nous ont offert du pain, des conserves et des Leberwurst, les fameuses saucisses de foie. Quand ils ont su que nous manquions d’huile et d’essence, ils sont descendus de leur voiture blindée, ont rampé dessous et ont siphonné de l’huile de leur moteur qu’ils nous ont remise. C’était un soulagement pour nous car le vieux camion perdait dangereusement son huile. Toujours avec de grands sourires, ils nous ont aussi donné de l’essence, répétant sans arrêt que la guerre était finie pour nous et que nous devions rentrer à la maison. Incapable de faire autre chose, nous avons fait demi-tour et nous sommes repartis vers le nord, vers la Belgique, Anvers et notre maison.

Le vétéran juif de la Première Guerre mondiale qui avait rejoint notre groupe à La Panne ne cachait pas son aversion pour les Allemands et malgré les avertissements de tous les adultes, persistait à se déclarer vétéran belge et juif. Nous nous sommes arrêtés à Amiens pour prendre de l’essence à la Kommandantur – le quartier général militaire allemand – et nous y avons trouvé le commandant, un homme de grande taille, aux cheveux gris, qui se tenait juste devant. Quelqu’un l’avait peut-être averti de la présence du vétéran juif ou peut-être est-ce à cause de l’insistance de ce dernier à affirmer si ostensiblement son identité et son opinion des Allemands. Toujours est-il que l’officier a ordonné au vieil homme de descendre du camion, menaçant de ne pas nous donner d’essence s’il n’obtempérait pas. « Vous, le Juif, vous marchez » a-t-il dit. Nous avons continué le coeur gros. Tout au long de notre voyage de retour vers Anvers, nous avons constaté les marques de la défaite des troupes alliées et l’écrasante domination de l’armée allemande. Toujours plus de chars – petits, moyens et gros – grondaient sur les routes, repoussant les colonnes de réfugiés sur les bas-côtés. Où que nous regardions dans les champs au-delà de la route, il y avait des soldats allemands nettoyant leurs armes et leurs machines. Et au-dessus de tout ce spectacle, le soleil brillait de façon incongrue dans un ciel parfaitement bleu.

Tracks in the Snow

Silent Refuge

Our stay with the Granlis came to an unexpected and abrupt end. In March 1942, the lensmann paid us a visit with some very disturbing news. A German raid of the villages in his district was imminent, and he urged us to leave for Buahaugen immediately. Travelling to Buahaugen at this time of year and with no advanced planning was a terrifying prospect. We did not know how we would manage all by ourselves or how we would get all the necessary provisions. Nils promised to look for someone to bring us what we needed at regular intervals, and we had no choice but to believe him. So on a bright, sunny day, we set out on skis with one of our neighbours, each of us carrying as many supplies as we could.

It took several hours of skiing through deep and heavy snow to reach the seter, but since there were four of us, we made deep tracks in the snow. We hardly recognized Buahaugen when we arrived — the landscape looked like it was frozen in time. Our neighbour helped us carry wood inside and start a fire in the fireplace and the stove to warm up the cottage. And then he left. We were all alone in the great expanse of snow and ice.

The brook was frozen, too, except for a small opening, where we were able to fetch drinking water — on skis, of course. When we needed water with which to wash ourselves and our clothes, we melted snow in a large pot. At night, the cottage got freezing cold, and it was usually my mother who got a fire going before my father and I arose in the morning. We could not go outside without putting our skis on. It was almost inconceivable that we could stay here all alone until the farmers came up for the summer. But that was what we did — at least that was what my parents did.

After a few days in the mountains, I did something that was probably the most selfish thing I have ever done in my whole life. My only excuse is that I was only thirteen years old. I told my parents that I wanted to go back to Rogne, to stay with Nils and Alma and to go to school. Their reaction was predictable. I was their only link to the village in the event that something happened to my father, and now I wanted to leave them completely on their own. In the end, they let me go, provided that I agree to return to the mountains every weekend with provisions.

So I set out on my skis, retracing the tracks we had made a few days earlier. I felt free as a bird — for a little while. Then I began to realize that I was now all alone in the great snowy expanse I had to cover. What would happen if I fell and could not get up?

Traces of What Was

Children’s Aktion and the Liquidation

It was at the end of March 1944, on a cool, bright and sunny day, the beginning of spring, the time of renewal of life, that the SS came to take the children. The survivors of the camp know it by its German name, Die Kinderaktion. It sounds so benevolent, like kindergarten or a children’s game, but on that sunny day they came to take the children to be killed. Why? Because they were of no use to the German war effort. The children had to be fed but produced nothing. There was little warning, but word spread like wildfire and mothers and fathers began searching for places to hide their children. Mother knew someone who had built a hiding place and so we ran there, but they had no place for us.

We could hear the commotion from downstairs – the Nazis were searching everywhere. What to do? Where to hide? We were standing in the corridor as people ran by us, with Mother holding Monik tightly in her arms, Miriam clinging to Fruma’s skirt. I told Mother and Fruma about the hiding place in the attic and we ran to the stairwell and up the stairs. There were people there, some rushing up, some down.

At the next landing was a little boy. I knew him. I don’t remember his name but he was about my age, but smaller. He was an artist. He made magic with a pencil and paper, producing amazing drawings of people, objects and landscapes. He mostly kept to himself, did not run with our gang and did not know about our hiding place. I asked him to come with us, but he just stood there in the corner of the landing, frozen. I had to keep moving. Once more I called to him from the top of the stairs, but he remained where he was, staring at me with his large, dark eyes.

Up in the attic some people with children were already hidden behind the beam. Mother, Miriam, Monik and I quickly crawled in and pushed the cut-out log back in place; Fruma remained outside to make sure it was even with the rest of the beam, then left. We crawled as far back as we could, all the way to where the slanting roof met the floor, and waited in silence. For a long time it was very quiet and then we heard the sound of heavy footsteps coming up the stairs, then the sound of someone in the attic, walking slowly, coming closer. Mother held my little brother tightly. No one moved. I held my breath. Would the soldier see the cut in the beam? He didn’t, and soon he was gone. For a long while we lay still and listened but no one else came to the attic. Slowly and quietly, we began moving from our cramped positions. I was able to look through the narrow space between the roof and the floor. I could see the gate and the area around it, a truck covered in dark green canvas inside the gate and a man in uniform standing at the back of the truck, facing a woman with a kerchief on her head who held a young child in her arms.

The soldier took hold of the child but the woman wouldn’t let go; she made as if to go in the truck with her child, but the man shoved her hard and wrenched the child from her and put the child in the back of the truck. That’s what I saw; that’s what I remember.

How many Jewish children did they take to be destroyed, their worth unknown? The boy on the landing might have been a great painter. But I never saw him again.

Un terrible revers de fortune, Fred Mann

Les fascinants mémoires de Fred Mann retracent le parcours d’une famille qui tente d’échapper aux nazis. Le thème biblique de l’Exode sert de fil conducteur au récit, retraçant l’exil forcé des siens depuis l’Allemagne à travers la Belgique, la France, l’Espagne, le Portugal, la Jamaïque pour finalement trouver refuge au Canada. Avec pour toile de fond la peur, la persécution et l’exil, Fred Mann partage les expériences d’un adolescent ingénieux, contraint de grandir trop vite.

Read an excerpt

Order the book

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

352 pages

About the author

Photo of Fred Mann

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

A Name Unbroken, Michael Mason

When Germany occupies Hungary in 1944, fifteen-year-old Miklos Friedman must draw on his wits to survive. Recruited into forced labour, sent to a ghetto and, ultimately, to the Nazi camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Mühldorf, Miklos never stops fighting to change his fate. After the war, he risks everything in order to leave his past behind. Decades later, a chance meeting in Toronto leads Miklos, now Michael Mason, to discover the power of his new name.

Read an excerpt

Order the book

+
At a Glance
Czechoslovakia; Hungary
Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp
Forced labour camps
War Orphans Project
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Adjusting to life in Canada
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

192 pages

About the author

Photo of Michael Mason

Michael Mason was born as Miklos Friedman in Beregszász, Czechoslovakia (now Ukraine), in 1928. In 1948, to immigrate to Canada, he took on the identity of Miklos Moskovits, later changing his name to Michael Mason in response to antisemitic hiring practices. In Canada, Michael worked in a variety of businesses before becoming a denturist in 1973. Michael Mason lives in Toronto.

Au fil d’un nom, Michael Mason

Lorsque l’Allemagne occupe la Hongrie en 1944, Miklos Friedman, alors âgé de 15 ans, doit faire appel à son bon sens pour survivre. Recruté pour exécuter des travaux forcés, envoyé dans un ghetto et enfin, déporté dans les camps nazis d’Auschwitz-Birkenau et de Mühldorf, Miklos ne cesse de se battre pour changer le cours de son destin. Après la guerre, il risque tout pour laisser son passé derrière lui. Des décennies plus tard, une rencontre fortuite à Toronto conduit Miklos, devenu Michael Mason, à une découverte étonnante, faite Au fil d’un nom.

Read an excerpt

Order the book

+
At a Glance
Czechoslovakia; Hungary
Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp
Forced labour camps
War Orphans Project
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Adjusting to life in Canada
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
French

216 pages

About the author

Photo of Michael Mason

Michael Mason was born as Miklos Friedman in Beregszász, Czechoslovakia (now Ukraine), in 1928. In 1948, to immigrate to Canada, he took on the identity of Miklos Moskovits, later changing his name to Michael Mason in response to antisemitic hiring practices. In Canada, Michael worked in a variety of businesses before becoming a denturist in 1973. Michael Mason lives in Toronto.

Suddenly the Shadow Fell, Leslie Meisels, Eva Meisels

All 17-year-old Leslie Meisels knows in June 1944 is that he must get his family out of the terrible conditions in the ghetto in Debrecen, Hungary. Over his mother’s objections, his decision to push their way on to a transport could have sent them all to a death camp. Instead, they join the roughly 20,000 “Jews on ice” whose lives are saved — temporarily — in Austria. After the war, when Leslie is finally starting a new life in freedom in North America, he meets Eva, who is also a Holocaust survivor from Hungary, and together they face their pasts and look forward to the future.

Read an excerpt

Order the book

+
At a Glance
Leslie Meisels:
Hungary; Austria
Debrecen ghetto
Forced labour
Kasztner’s train
Bergen-Belsen concentration camp
Arrived in the US in 1958, and in Canada in 1967
Eva Meisels:
Hungary
Budapest ghetto
Raoul Wallenberg
Arrived in Canada in 1957
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

176 pages

About the author

Photo of Leslie Meisels

Leslie Meisels was born on February 20, 1927, in Nádudvar, Hungary. His whole immediate family survived the Holocaust. He immigrated to the US in 1958, following the Hungarian Revolution, and to Canada in 1967. He married Eva Silber in 1961 and they lived in Toronto. Leslie Meisels passed away in 2018.

Explore this story in Re:Collection

About the author

Photo of Eva Meisels

Eva Meisels was born in Budapest, Hungary, on July 3, 1939. In November 1944, she and her mother ended up in the Budapest ghetto. They acquired false papers from Raoul Wallenberg and were liberated by the Soviet army in January 1945. After the Hungarian Revolution, the family immigrated to Canada.

Explore this story in Re:Collection

Soudain, les ténèbres, Leslie Meisels, Eva Meisels

En juin 1944, Leslie Meisels, 17 ans, ne songe qu’à sortir sa famille du terrible ghetto de Debrecen, en Hongrie. Malgré les objections de sa mère, il force sa famille à rejoindre un convoi à destination inconnue. Ils se retrouveront parmi les quelque 20 000 « Juifs en attente » dont les vies seront épargnées temporairement en Autriche. Après la guerre, alors que Leslie a émigré en Amérique du Nord pour y refaire sa vie dans une société libre, il fait la rencontre d’Eva, qui a elle-aussi survécu à l’Holocauste en Hongrie. Ensemble, ils devront affronter leur passé pour se tourner vers l’avenir.

Read an excerpt

Order the book

+
At a Glance
Leslie Meisels:
Hungary; Austria
Debrecen ghetto
Forced labour
Kasztner’s train
Bergen-Belsen concentration camp
Arrived in the US in 1958, and in Canada in 1967
Eva Meisels:
Hungary
Budapest ghetto
Raoul Wallenberg
Arrived in Canada in 1957
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
French

184 pages

About the author

Photo of Leslie Meisels

Leslie Meisels was born on February 20, 1927, in Nádudvar, Hungary. His whole immediate family survived the Holocaust. He immigrated to the US in 1958, following the Hungarian Revolution, and to Canada in 1967. He married Eva Silber in 1961 and they lived in Toronto. Leslie Meisels passed away in 2018.

Explore this story in Re:Collection

About the author

Photo of Eva Meisels

Eva Meisels was born in Budapest, Hungary, on July 3, 1939. In November 1944, she and her mother ended up in the Budapest ghetto. They acquired false papers from Raoul Wallenberg and were liberated by the Soviet army in January 1945. After the Hungarian Revolution, the family immigrated to Canada.

Explore this story in Re:Collection

A Tapestry of Survival, Leslie Mezei

Twelve-year-old Leslie Mezei, a lively, curious boy, doesn’t realize how precarious his life is as a Jew in German-occupied Hungary in 1944. His older sister Magda, aware of the growing danger from Nazis and Hungarian fascists, takes charge and bravely tries to direct the family’s survival, while his sister Klari, tough and determined, faces a brutal ordeal of her own. Confronting deportation, concentration camps and the constant threat of capture, the Mezei siblings carefully navigate the treacherous landscape of wartime Hungary. After the war, the family reunites briefly before setting out in different directions to start new lives, and in Montreal, Leslie meets his wife, Annie, who has a survival story of her own. In A Tapestry of Survival the voices of Leslie, Magda, Klari and Annie are woven together to reveal a larger tale of courage, resilience and the search for healing.

Read an excerpt

Order the book

+
At a Glance
Hungary; Poland
Hiding
Passing/false identity
Arrow Cross regime
Siege of Budapest
Ravensbrück concentration camp
Forced labour camp
Postwar Germany, displaced persons camp
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Adjusting to life in Canada
Educational materials available: Leslie Mezei Activity
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

192 pages

About the author

Photo of Leslie Mezei

Leslie Mezei was born in 1931, in Gödöllő, Hungary. In 1948 Leslie arrived in Canada, where he eventually became a professor at the University of Toronto. An early pioneer in the field of computer art, Leslie also developed two new graphic programming languages. Leslie lives in Toronto, where he is very involved in an interfaith and interspiritual movement.

Explore this story in Re:Collection

Where Courage Lives, Muguette Myers

From the bustling city of Paris to the quaint, countryside village of Champlost, France, Where Courage Lives follows ten-year-old Muguette Szpajzer and her family as they seek refuge from the war. Written in vignettes with child-like charm and innocence, Muguette’s memoir provides rich insight into rural life during wartime upheaval, honouring both her indomitable mother and the courage of the people of Champlost.

Read an excerpt

Order the book

+
At a Glance
France
Vélodrome d’Hiver roundup
Hidden child
Passing/false identity
Arrived in Canada in 1947
Adjusting to life in Canada
Educational materials available: Hidden Children
Recommended Ages
12+
Language
English

168 pages

About the author

Photo of Muguette Myers

Muguette Szpajzer-Myers was born in 1931 in Paris, France. In 1947, Muguette, her older brother and their mother immigrated to Montreal, where Muguette eventually started a family and worked as a translator. Muguette returned to Champlost, France, in 2005 for a ceremony to honour four members of the community as Righteous Among the Nations for hiding her and her family during the war. Muguette Myers lives in Montreal.

Explore this story in Re:Collection

Les Lieux du courage, Muguette Myers

Muguette Szpajzer, fillette de 10 ans, a quitté Paris avec sa famille pour aller se réfugier non loin de la capitale, dans le village de Champlost. Les mémoires de Muguette, présentés en une série de petits tableaux, ont l’innocence et le charme de l’enfance. Ils offrent un aperçu unique de la vie rurale en France durant la tourmente de la guerre, et rendent hommage à la fois à la force de caractère de sa mère et au courage des habitants de Champlost.

Read an excerpt

Order the book

+
At a Glance
France
Vélodrome d’Hiver roundup
Hidden child
Passing/false identity
Arrived in Canada in 1947
Adjusting to life in Canada
Educational materials available: Enfants cachés
Recommended Ages
12+
Language
French

184 pages

About the author

Photo of Muguette Myers

Muguette Szpajzer-Myers was born in 1931 in Paris, France. In 1947, Muguette, her older brother and their mother immigrated to Montreal, where Muguette eventually started a family and worked as a translator. Muguette returned to Champlost, France, in 2005 for a ceremony to honour four members of the community as Righteous Among the Nations for hiding her and her family during the war. Muguette Myers lives in Montreal.

Explore this story in Re:Collection

Hope's Reprise, David Newman

David Newman’s gifts as a musician and a teacher carry him through years of brutality during the war. Torn from his family in Poland and deported for forced labour at Skarżysko-Kamienna, David battles desperation and the mounting death toll by writing songs, poems and satires about life in the camp. Later, in the infamous Buchenwald camp, the resistance recruits him for a clandestine initiative to protect the Jewish children there. With his soulful songs and his lessons for the children, David is able to rouse a chorus of hope, both in himself and those around him.

Read an excerpt

Order the book

+
At a Glance
Poland
Forced labour camps
Buchenwald concentration camp
Wartime letters
Postwar Czechoslovakia; Poland
Arrived in Canada in 1951
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

192 pages

About the author

Photo of David Newman

David Newman was born in Chmielnik, Poland, in 1919. He immigrated to Paris with his wife, Anna, and son, Jack, in 1946. In 1951, the Newman family immigrated to Toronto, where they raised their children, Jack and Gloria. David was a performer in Yiddish theatre productions, taught Yiddish to countless students and co-founded the Kol Yisroel congregation at the Borochov Centre. David Newman passed away in 2002.

Explore this story in Re:Collection

W Hour, Arthur Ney

Twelve-year-old Arthur Ney hides outside the Warsaw ghetto walls as the ghetto uprising begins in the spring of 1943, then flees to the countryside with false papers that identify him as a Polish Christian. Returning to Warsaw months later, he must face the realization that his family is gone. He spends the rest of the war in a Catholic orphanage, struggling with loneliness, guilt, fear and indecision about living under a false identity. When the Warsaw Uprising – codenamed W Hour – begins on August 1, 1944, Arthur Ney joins the barricades and fights for liberation.

Read an excerpt

Order the book

+
At a Glance
Poland
Warsaw ghetto
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
Hidden child
Passing/false identity
Warsaw City Uprising
Postwar France
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Educational materials available: Hidden Children
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

240 pages

About the author

Photo of Arthur Ney

Arthur Ney was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1930. He came to Canada in 1948 and settled in Montreal, where he married Susan and raised a son. Arthur persevered in finding employment, eventually becoming self-employed selling furniture. After Susan’s death, he married Kathleen and had a second son. Arthur was dedicated to Holocaust education and frequently spoke to students about his wartime experiences. Arthur Ney passed away in 2016.

Explore this story in Re:Collection

L'Heure W, Arthur Ney

Juste avant l’Insurrection du ghetto de Varsovie au printemps 1943, Arthur Ney, 12 ans, parvient à s’enfuir à la campagne sous la fausse identité d’un Polonais chrétien. De retour à Varsovie des mois plus tard, il apprend que sa famille a disparu. Il passe le reste de la guerre dans un orphelinat catholique, luttant contre la solitude, la culpabilité et la peur. Le 1er août 1944, quand éclate l’Insurrection de Varsovie – désignée sous le nom de code Heure W –, il rejoint les barricades et combat pour la liberté.

Read an excerpt

Order the book

+
At a Glance
Poland
Warsaw ghetto
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
Hidden child
Passing/false identity
Warsaw City Uprising
Postwar France
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Educational materials available: Enfants cachés
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
French

264 pages

About the author

Photo of Arthur Ney

Arthur Ney was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1930. He came to Canada in 1948 and settled in Montreal, where he married Susan and raised a son. Arthur persevered in finding employment, eventually becoming self-employed selling furniture. After Susan’s death, he married Kathleen and had a second son. Arthur was dedicated to Holocaust education and frequently spoke to students about his wartime experiences. Arthur Ney passed away in 2016.

Explore this story in Re:Collection

Gatehouse to Hell, Felix Opatowski

Felix Opatowski is only fifteen years old when he takes on the perilous job of smuggling goods out of the Lodz ghetto in exchange for food for his starving family. It is a skill that will serve him well as he tries to stay alive in Nazi-occupied Poland. With dogged determination, Felix endures months of harrowing conditions in the ghetto and slave labour camps until he is deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in the fall of 1943. Gatehouse to Hell is a candid and heart-rending account of a teenage boy who comes of age in desperate conditions, putting himself at risk to help others, forming bonds of friendship and holding onto hope for the future.

Read an excerpt

Order the book

+
At a Glance
Poland
Lodz ghetto
Labour and concentration camps
Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp
Auschwitz-Birkenau Uprising
Postwar Austria
Arrived in Canada in 1949
Adjusting to life in Canada
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
English

216 pages

2012 Independent Publisher Silver Medal

About the author

Photo of Felix Opatowski

Felix Opatowski was born in Lodz, Poland, on June 15, 1924. He was liberated in Austria by the US army on May 9, 1945, and worked at a US army base where he married his wife, Regina, in 1947. Felix and Regina arrived in Toronto in 1949; they were married for sixty-nine years. Felix passed away in 2017.

Explore this story in Re:Collection

L’Antichambre de l’enfer, Felix Opatowski

Felix Opatowski a 15 ans lorsqu’il entreprend de faire passer en fraude des articles du ghetto de Lodz en échange de nourriture pour sa famille. Sa débrouillardise lui sera essentielle pour rester en vie dans sa Pologne natale occupée par les nazis. Dans le Ghetto et, plus tard, dans un camp de travaux forcés, Felix supportera des conditions de vie très pénibles, puis il sera déporté au camp de la mort d’Auschwitz-Birkenau. L’Antichambre de l’enfer est le récit poignant d’un adolescent qui arrive à l’âge adulte dans un environnement atroce et qui tente d’aider les autres malgré les risques qu’il encourt.

Read an excerpt

Order the book

+
At a Glance
Poland
Lodz ghetto
Labour and concentration camps
Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp
Auschwitz-Birkenau Uprising
Postwar Austria
Arrived in Canada in 1949
Adjusting to life in Canada
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
French

248 pages

2012 Independent Publisher Silver Medal

About the author

Photo of Felix Opatowski

Felix Opatowski was born in Lodz, Poland, on June 15, 1924. He was liberated in Austria by the US army on May 9, 1945, and worked at a US army base where he married his wife, Regina, in 1947. Felix and Regina arrived in Toronto in 1949; they were married for sixty-nine years. Felix passed away in 2017.

Explore this story in Re:Collection

In Hiding, Marguerite Élias Quddus

"Goodbye children! Go, and don't look back…"

Two little girls, Marguerite and her older sister, Henriette, hear these last words from their mother and know that they must forget everything that is familiar about their former lives in Paris. With new Catholic identities, the sisters are taken from farm to farm and convent to convent where they learn how to remain silent, how to pretend, how to lie in order to survive. Beautifully illustrated by the author, In Hiding offers us rare and poignant insight into a young child’s view of her world at war.

Read an excerpt

Order the book

+
At a Glance
France
Vichy France
Roundups
Hidden child
Wartime documents
Arrived in Canada in 1967
Illustrations by author
Educational materials available: Hidden Children
Recommended Ages
12+
Language
English

256 pages

2008 Independent Publisher Gold Medal

About the author

Photo of Marguerite Élias Quddus

Marguerite Élias Quddus was born in Paris, France, on December 4, 1936. She and her husband, Abdul Quddus, married in 1965 and moved to Canada, first to Vancouver and then to Quebec, where Marguerite became very involved in volunteer teaching. Marguerite Quddus lives near Montreal, where she is extremely active in giving talks about her wartime experience.

Explore this story in Re:Collection

Cachée, Marguerite Élias Quddus

« Au revoir mes enfants ! Quand vous partez, ne vous retournez pas… »

Avec ces derniers mots de leur mère, deux petites filles, Marguerite et sa sœur aînée, vont commencer une longue errance qui durera deux ans. Munies d’une nouvelle identité, elles doivent se couper de tout ce qui constitue leur univers familier. Menées de fermes en couvents, elles apprennent à se taire, à faire semblant, à mentir, à s’adapter et surtout à garder espoir, envers et contre tout. Le récit magnifiquement illustré que nous livre Marguerite Élias Quddus nous prend à cœur et nous laisse entrevoir l’Histoire à travers les yeux d’une toute jeune enfant.

Read an excerpt

Order the book

+
At a Glance
France
Vichy France
Roundups
Hidden child
Wartime documents
Arrived in Canada in 1967
Illustrations by author
Educational materials available: Enfants cachés
Recommended Ages
12+
Language
French

308 pages

2008 Independent Publisher Gold Medal

About the author

Photo of Marguerite Élias Quddus

Marguerite Élias Quddus was born in Paris, France, on December 4, 1936. She and her husband, Abdul Quddus, married in 1965 and moved to Canada, first to Vancouver and then to Quebec, where Marguerite became very involved in volunteer teaching. Marguerite Quddus lives near Montreal, where she is extremely active in giving talks about her wartime experience.

Explore this story in Re:Collection

Behind the Red Curtain, Maya Rakitova

Maya Rakitova’s family has already faced innumerable obstacles and hardships together, having lived through the Communist Party purges that culminated in the disappearance of Maya’s father. But when the Nazis occupy their hometown of Vinnitsa, Ukraine, in 1941, new and terrifying threats surround them. Nine-year-old Maya quickly learns to hide her Jewish identity as her mother, with “uncommon courage,” fights to protect her, relying on the kindness of friends and strangers. A story of survival and victory over the dual terrors of the Stalinist and Nazi regimes, Behind the Red Curtain is Maya’s testament to her mother’s love and strong will.

Read an excerpt

Order the book

+
At a Glance
Soviet Union; Ukraine; Transnistria
Passing/false identity
Hiding
Postwar Ukraine; Poland
Life under Communism
Arrived in Canada in 1981
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

112 pages

About the author

Photo of Maya Rakitova

Maya Rakitova was born in Smolensk, Russia, on June 4, 1931. In 1954, she graduated from the Faculty of Radio and Television at the Bonch-Bruevich Leningrad Electro-Technical Institute of Communications. Maya, her husband and their youngest daughter immigrated to Montreal in 1981. There, Maya worked at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) for seventeen years. Maya Rakitova lives in Montreal.

Explore this story in Re:Collection

Bits and Pieces, Henia Reinhartz

Lodz, Poland, 1944. Teenaged Henia Rosenfarb sits with her family in a small, secret room, hiding from the Nazi soldiers who are looking for them. Little can the fiery redhead imagine the path her life would take, from wartime Poland to contemporary Canada. Hoping to elude the net that tightens around her as World War II advances, Henia makes two promises to herself: the first is that she will one day travel to Paris, and the second, that she will become a teacher. Supported by her family and by her commitment to the Bund, a political movement dedicated to social justice, Henia keeps her focus on those promises. These “bits and pieces” of her life give us a glimpse of a tumultuous past and a faith in the future.

Read an excerpt

Order the book

+
At a Glance
Poland
Lodz ghetto
Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp
Bergen-Belsen concentration camp
Arrived in Canada in 1951
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

112 pages

2008 Independent Publisher Gold Medal

2008 Canadian Jewish Book Award

About the author

Photo of Henia Reinhartz

Born in Lodz, Poland, in 1926, Henia Reinhartz endured the Lodz ghetto and survived Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. After the war, she moved to Paris, where she graduated as a Yiddish and Hebrew teacher and met her husband. Henia immigrated to Canada in 1951 and moved to Toronto in 1952, where she still lives.

Fragments de ma vie, Henia Reinhartz

Lodz, Pologne, 1944. Henia et sa famille se cachent des nazis qui les pourchassent. La jeune femme est loin d’imaginer le chemin que prendra sa vie, de la Pologne en guerre au Canada. Si elle survit, Henia se fait la promesse d’aller à Paris et de devenir enseignante. Plus tard, soutenue par sa famille et son engagement dans le Bund, un mouvement politique défendant la justice sociale, Henia réalise les promesses qu’elle s’était faites. Fragments de ma vie nous laisse entrevoir un passé tourmenté et une foi profonde dans l’avenir.

Read an excerpt

Order the book

+
At a Glance
Poland
Lodz ghetto
Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp
Bergen-Belsen concentration camp
Arrived in Canada in 1951
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
French

128 pages

2008 Independent Publisher Gold Medal

2008 Canadian Jewish Book Award

About the author

Photo of Henia Reinhartz

Born in Lodz, Poland, in 1926, Henia Reinhartz endured the Lodz ghetto and survived Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. After the war, she moved to Paris, where she graduated as a Yiddish and Hebrew teacher and met her husband. Henia immigrated to Canada in 1951 and moved to Toronto in 1952, where she still lives.

Little Girl Lost, Betty Rich

Sixteen-year-old Basia Kohn (now Betty Rich) escapes the invasion of her small hometown and, crossing the border into Soviet-occupied Poland, she begins a journey that takes her thousands of kilometres from a forced labour camp in subarctic Russia to subtropical Soviet Georgia. Always optimistic and ready to take on new adventures as she struggles to survive in exile without family, Rich’s memoir, Little Girl Lost, is a “montage of graphic snapshots and moments in motion….” Wherever she finds herself, whatever she has lost, Betty is determined to survive on her own terms.

Read an excerpt

Order the book

+
At a Glance
Poland; Soviet Union
Escape
Soviet labour camp in Siberia
Wartime postcards
Postwar Poland
Life under Communism
Arrived in Canada in 1949
Adjusting to life in Canada
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

256 pages

About the author

Photo of Betty Rich

Betty Rich was born Basia Kohn in Zduńska Wola, Poland, on June 10, 1923. After the war, Betty lived in Lodz, where she married her husband, David Recht. They fled the Polish Communist regime in January 1949 and arrived in Toronto later that year. Betty worked in mortgages and investments until her retirement. Betty Rich passed away in 2017.

Seule au monde, Betty Rich

À 16 ans, Basia Kohn (aujourd’hui Betty Rich) fuit l’invasion de sa ville natale. Elle passe en Pologne occupée par l’urss et se lance dans un périple de plusieurs milliers de kilomètres qui va la mener d’un camp de travaux forcés en Russie subarctique vers la Géorgie soviétique subtropicale. Exilée et sans sa famille, la jeune Basia garde pourtant son optimisme et n’hésite pas à se lancer dans l’inconnu pour survivre. Betty Rich compose ses mémoires sous la forme d’un « montage d’instantanés graphiques et de moments en mouvements… » Son style, introspectif et personnel, fait de ces mémoires un précieux témoignage.

Read an excerpt

Order the book

+
At a Glance
Poland; Soviet Union
Escape
Soviet labour camp in Siberia
Wartime postcards
Postwar Poland
Life under Communism
Arrived in Canada in 1949
Adjusting to life in Canada
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
French

288 pages

About the author

Photo of Betty Rich

Betty Rich was born Basia Kohn in Zduńska Wola, Poland, on June 10, 1923. After the war, Betty lived in Lodz, where she married her husband, David Recht. They fled the Polish Communist regime in January 1949 and arrived in Toronto later that year. Betty worked in mortgages and investments until her retirement. Betty Rich passed away in 2017.

E/96: Fate Undecided, Paul-Henri Rips

The son of a diamond merchant in Antwerp’s famous diamond exchange, Paul-Henri Rips was ten years old when the Nazis invaded Belgium in May 1940 and ended what he calls his “golden childhood” forever. Vividly told from a child’s perspective, this fascinating account explores the diverse inhabitants of Belgium and France during the Nazi occupation and the experiences of one family against the backdrop of large-scale events. Guided throughout by his father’s words of wisdom – “A klapt vargayt, a wort bestayt” (A blow will go away again, but a word lasts forever) and “Sei a mensch” (Be a decent human being) – Rips conveys his unwavering belief in the importance of holding on to one’s own humanity in the face of unfathomable inhumanity.

Read an excerpt

Order the book

+
At a Glance
Belgium; France
Deportations and roundups
Hidden child
Internment and transit camps
Wartime documents
Arrived in Canada in 1997
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

160 pages

2009 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award Gold Medal

About the author

Photo of Paul-Henri Rips

Paul-Henri Rips was born in 1929 in Antwerp, Belgium. He left Antwerp in 1950 and moved to the Belgian Congo and then to South Africa, where he married his wife, Lily. In 1997, the couple immigrated to Toronto to join their children and grandchildren.

Matricule E/96, Paul-Henri Rips

Paul-Henri Rips, fils d’un diamantaire de la célèbre bourse du diamant d’Anvers, était âgé de dix ans lorsque les nazis ont envahi la Belgique en mai 1940, mettant un terme définitif à ce qu’il appelle sa « jeunesse dorée ». Ses mémoires donnent à voir à travers ses yeux d’enfant ce qui se déroule autour de lui et les personnages nombreux et divers qui ont jalonné son parcours en Belgique et en France sous l’occupation nazie. En définitive, ce que Paul-Henri Rips gardera des terribles expériences qu’il a dû traverser se résume à deux recommandations de son père : « A klapt vargayt, a wort bestayt » (Un coup reçu peut s’oublier, mais un mot reste pour toujours) et « Sei a mensch » (Sois quelqu’un de bien). Son histoire rend hommage à la conviction de son père pour qui une profonde humanité reste la seule réponse à l’inhumanité absolue.

Read an excerpt

Order the book

+
At a Glance
Belgium; France
Deportations and roundups
Hidden child
Internment and transit camps
Deportations and roundups
Wartime documents
Arrived in Canada in 1997
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
French

176 pages

2009 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award Gold Medal

About the author

Photo of Paul-Henri Rips

Paul-Henri Rips was born in 1929 in Antwerp, Belgium. He left Antwerp in 1950 and moved to the Belgian Congo and then to South Africa, where he married his wife, Lily. In 1997, the couple immigrated to Toronto to join their children and grandchildren.

Silent Refuge, Margrit Rosenberg Stenge

In 1940 in the remote village of Rogne, Norway, eleven-year-old Margrit Rosenberg and her parents believe that they have finally found the safety that has eluded them since fleeing from Germany two years earlier. What could go wrong in a tiny village? But after war breaks out in Norway and anti-Jewish persecution escalates, the Rosenbergs must spend their winters in an even more secluded refuge – a small, rudimentary cabin in the mountains accessible only on skis. At first, in a landscape frozen in time, the isolation offers relative security and tranquility. But two years later, as the Nazis begin to arrest and deport the Jews of Oslo, the Rosenbergs are forced to make a fateful decision to trust the Resistance and plan a dangerous escape from Nazi-occupied Norway to neutral Sweden.

Read an excerpt

Order the book

+
At a Glance
Germany; Norway; Sweden
Escape
Hiding
Postwar Norway
Arrived in Canada in 1951
Educational materials available: Margrit Stenge Activity
Recommended Ages
12+
Language
English

272 pages

About the author

Photo of Margrit Rosenberg Stenge

Margrit Rosenberg Stenge was born in Cologne, Germany, on December 27, 1928. After the war, Margrit moved back to Oslo with her family and got married. She and her husband, Stefan, immigrated to Canada, settling in Montreal, in 1951. Margrit worked in administration for forty years, after which she translated six books from Norwegian to English, including Counterfeiter: How a Norwegian Jew Survived the Holocaust by Moritz Nachtstern (2008). Margrit lives in Montreal.

Explore this story in Re:Collection

Traces of What Was, Steve Rotschild

Ten-year-old Steve Rotschild learns to hide, to be silent, to be still – and to wait. He knows the sound of the Nazis’ army boots and knows to hold his breath until their footsteps recede. Rotschild takes us on a captivating journey through his wartime childhood in Vilna, eloquently juxtaposing his past, furtive walks outside the ghetto with his long, liberating walks through Toronto fifty years after the war. Vividly evoking his experiences, this story of survival and a mother’s tenacious love leaves the reader indelibly marked by Traces of What Was.

Read an excerpt

Order the book

+
At a Glance
Poland; Lithuania
Vilna ghetto
Labour camp
Hiding
Arrived in Canada in 1956
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

144 pages

About the author

Photo of Steve Rotschild

Steve Rotschild was born in Vilna, Lithuania, in 1933. After the war, his mother remarried, and their new family immigrated to Israel. In 1956, Steve married Lillian in Montreal, where their two daughters were born. After moving to Phoenix, Arizona, for a few years, they made Toronto their final home. Steve wrote several short stories and painted wilderness scenes throughout his lifetime. He also enjoyed fishing in Algonquin Park, using lures that he crafted himself. Steve Rotschild passed away in 2020.

Explore this story in Re:Collection

// copy from old site and modified // memoirs-old/craft/templates/resources-for-educations/index // line 67-149