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Si, par miracle

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

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

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

If, By Miracle

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

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

Confronting Devastation: Memoirs of Holocaust Survivors from Hungary

The Light in a Dark Cellar by Susan Simon

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

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

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

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

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

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

At Great Risk

Eva Lang

Three Stars in the Sky

The children’s homes were becoming targets of the Vichy authorities, so OSE (OEuvre de secours aux enfants) decided to try a more radical way to hide French Jewish children. They would change their identities. They would make the children accept that — although it was totally incomprehensible — they would have to become someone else until the end of the war. We were little girls, but we were expected to become grown-ups. We had to play a double game, to completely adopt this new personality and to act normal in spite of everything. The leaders of OSE made us promise never to reveal our true identities, and I never heard of anyone inadvertently revealing their real identity, even though there were little girls in our group who were barely five years old.

I wish I could meet the administrative geniuses who came up with the brilliant idea of hiding the Jewish children in the government’s own children’s homes run by the Entr’aide d’hiver du maréchal, the “Marshal’s Winter Mutual Aid Society!” Life in these homes was not necessarily simple, and after the war some of my friends told me that they had been very unhappy there. A certain number of children were not taken to these hiding places. Some girls were smuggled into Switzerland, some became domestics in private homes and others were sent to convents or farms. Thanks to a few good people, innocent children were saved from the Germans’ clutches.

One evening, Chief Cabri told me, “Starting tomorrow morning at dawn, your name will be Yvonne Drapier, and your sister’s, Raymonde Drapier. You’ll be part of a group of big sisters with little sisters under your protection. Here’s a short history of your family: Your father was born in Ménilmontant. He drank a lot and didn’t remember anything. He was inducted into the army and taken prisoner in Germany. No one knows where your mother is at the moment. She left you and your sister, and you were found in the streets and taken into the government children’s homes. Say nothing, absolutely nothing, unless somebody asks, and try not to attract notice.”


David Korn

Saved by Luck and Devotion

We left Spišská Stará Ves in the middle of the night. We went to live on a farm in a nearby village. We would spend the whole day inside the farmer’s house, only allowed to go out during the dark evenings when we were sure we could not be seen by anyone who might betray us. After about a month, the farmer told my parents that it was too dangerous for him to hide us any longer; sheltering a Jew was punishable by death, and we had to leave.

But we had been extremely lucky to have left our town when we did. On May 26, 1942, all the remaining Jews from our town and the nearby villages were ordered by the local police to come to the synagogue. Men, woman, children and the elderly were rounded up and loaded on trains with the enthusiastic support of the Hlinka Guard. Their final destination was one of the Nazi death camps.

When we left the farm, my parents took us to the nearby town of Stará Ľubovňa, where my aunt Malka lived. She had married Joseph Taub, who was from there, in 1941, in a wedding ceremony I still remember so well, even though I was only four years old then.

Through the Taubs, who we stayed with for some time, we had a connection with the local Lutheran Evangelical priest, who was sym­pathetic to Jews. This priest issued my brother and me false identity documents that stated we had been born as gentiles in a village near Stará Ľubovňa: Jacob was given the name Kubo, and mine stated that my name was Šano Alexander. After receiving these documents, I remember walking past a sign in the entrance to a garden that read “Jews and dogs not allowed,” and saying, “Now we are allowed to en­ter the garden.” I was five years old.

Eventually, the priest from Stará Ľubovňa communicated with an orphanage that the Lutheran Evangelicals operated in Liptovský Svätý Mikuláš, a town about a hundred kilometres away. We arrived at the orphanage on October 2, 1942, and my parents asked the pas­tor, Vladimir Kuna, who managed the orphanage, to take in their two Jewish kids and keep them until the end of the war. They must have been thinking that if something happened to them and they did not make it, at least we, their children, would survive. Otherwise, all of us would perish. In hindsight, it must have been an agonizing decision for our parents to let their children be in a different place, separate from them. But the decision proved to be the smart one, the right one. My parents were very resourceful, and we were very lucky.


Fishel Philip Goldig

The Survival Story of a Six-Year-Old Boy

At first, we stayed in the attic of the farmer’s house. But this was very dangerous because the children, who at first did not know we were there, would occasionally go up to the attic to bring down some toys or play. Some of the neighbours’ kids often came to play, especially in winter, and if even one person had said anything about us being there, we’d all be dead. We had to find another place to hide.

The farmer’s yard extended back to a small hill, and, years before we arrived there, he had dug into that hill and constructed a cellar, which was like a cave, with walls and a ceiling made of stones. He stored his supply of potatoes there over the winter.

We thought that we could hide in this cave, but people were coming and going, buying the farmer’s potatoes, and the kids played near there as well, and we were afraid that the children would hear us. And so, in the middle of the night, my father, uncle and the farmer removed a few large stones at the base of the wall of the potato cave and dug further into the side of the hill to make another bunker for us to hide in. The opening of the cave was small and narrow, just wide enough for us to crawl through. We then made it wider, longer and higher to accommodate my parents, me, my aunt and uncle, and my three-year-old cousin Eva. When we were inside the cave, we would replace the stones, so that it could not be detected by anyone who might come inside the potato cellar.

The cave was not very high. When I stood up, I had to bend my head. It was warm and dark, and we had kerosene lanterns and some candles for light. There was a wire mesh over the window that was in the door to the cave, and so we also had some air. Kravchuk gave us a small table, blankets to put on the ground and to cover ourselves with, as well as some old clothing that had belonged to his children.

Once a day, early in the morning, Kravchuk would bring us some food and remove the waste. He would also bring us a big pitcher of water to wash with and for drinking. Once in a while he would spend some time talking to us. He was a nice, gentle man, though he and his wife were afraid of hiding us — they were often afraid to even come into our hole because they were worried neighbours would see them. There was always the fear of betrayal.

Un si grand péril

Eva Lang

Trois étoiles dans le ciel

Les maisons d’enfants étant devenues la cible des autorités de Vichy, l’OSE avait décidé d’avoir recours à un moyen plus radical de cacher les enfants juifs français : il fallait changer leur identité, leur faire accepter – même si c’était incompréhensible pour eux – qu’il leur faudrait prétendre être quelqu’un d’autre jusqu’à la fin de la guerre. Nous étions des petites filles, mais on nous demandait de nous comporter comme des adultes. Nous devions jouer double jeu, adopter complètement cette nouvelle personnalité et nous conduire normalement malgré tout. Les responsables de l’OSE nous ont fait promettre de ne jamais révéler nos vraies identités, et je n’ai jamais eu vent de qui que ce soit qui l’ait fait par inadvertance, même si notre petit groupe comptait des enfants de 5 ans à peine.

J’aimerais pouvoir rencontrer les quelques merveilleux administrateurs qui ont eu cette idée géniale de cacher des enfants juifs dans les maisons d’enfants du gouvernement, administrées par le programme Entr’aide d’hiver du Maréchal. La vie dans ces maisons n’a toutefois pas été simple. Quelques-unes de mes amies m’ont raconté, après la guerre, y avoir été très malheureuses. Par ailleurs, un certain nombre d’enfants n’ont pas bénéficié de ces cachettes. Des filles ont été exfiltrées en Suisse, certaines sont devenues bonnes à tout faire dans des maisons privées, d’autres ont été envoyées dans des couvents ou des fermes. Grâce à quelques braves gens, des enfants innocents ont ainsi pu être sauvés des griffes allemandes.

Un soir, chef Cabri m’a dit : « À partir de demain matin, à l’aube, tu t’appelleras Yvonne Drapier et ta sœur, Raymonde Drapier. Vous ferez partie d’un petit groupe de grandes, avec des petites sœurs que vous protègerez tout le temps. Et maintenant ceci est la courte histoire de ta famille : ton père est né à Ménilmontant, il buvait beaucoup et ne se souvenait de rien. Il a été appelé sous les drapeaux et fait prisonnier en Allemagne. Ta mère, tout le monde ignore où elle se trouve. Après qu’elle vous a quittées, ta sœur et toi, vous avez été trouvées dans la rue et placées dans les maisons d’enfants du gouvernement. Si on ne vous demande rien, ne dites rien, absolument rien, et essayez de ne pas vous faire remarquer. »


David Korn

Sauvés par la chance et le dévouement

Nous avons quitté Spišská Stará Ves à la faveur de la nuit pour nous réfugier dans une ferme située dans un village voisin. Nous passions nos journées dans la maison de notre hôte et n’étions autorisés à sortir qu’au crépuscule, quand nous étions certains que ne nous courions aucun risque d’être vus et trahis. Au bout d’un mois environ, le fermier a expliqué à mes parents qu’il était devenu trop dangereux pour lui de nous cacher, car héberger des Juifs était passible d’une condamnation à mort. Nous avons donc dû partir.

Nous avions tout de même eu de la chance de quitter le village de mon père au moment où nous l’avions fait. Le 26 mai 1942, tous les Juifs se trouvant encore dans le secteur avaient reçu l’ordre de la police locale de se rendre à la synagogue. Avec le concours zélé de la garde Hlinka, hommes, femmes, enfants et personnes âgées avaient été arrêtés et déportés dans un camp nazi de mise à mort.

Lorsque nous avons quitté la ferme, mes parents nous ont emmenés dans la ville voisine de Stará Ľubovňa, où vivait ma tante Malka et où était né son mari, Joseph Taub. Ils s’étaient mariés en 1941, lors d’une cérémonie dont je me souviens encore très bien, même si je n’avais que 4 ans à l’époque.

Par l’intermédiaire des Taub, chez qui nous sommes restés un certain temps, nous avons pris contact avec un pasteur local, prêt à aider les Juifs. Ce pasteur évangélique luthérien nous a fourni, à mon frère et moi, de faux papiers d’identité selon lesquels nous étions des chrétiens nés dans un village non loin de Stará Ľubovňa : Jacob s’appellerait Kubo, et moi, Šano Alexander. Après avoir reçu ces documents, je me rappelle avoir lu « Juifs et chiens interdits » sur un panneau à l’entrée d’un jardin et m’être alors dit : « Maintenant, nous pourrons y entrer. » J’avais 5 ans.

Par la suite, le pasteur a contacté un orphelinat dirigé par les évangéliques luthériens à Liptovský Svätý Mikuláš, une ville située à une centaine de kilomètres d’où nous nous trouvions. Quand nous y sommes arrivés le 2 octobre 1942, mes parents ont demandé à Vladimir Kuna, le pasteur qui dirigeait l’orphelinat, de recueillir leurs deux enfants juifs et de veiller sur ces derniers jusqu’à la fin de la guerre. Si quelque chose arrivait aux deux parents et qu’ils ne s’en sortaient pas, leurs enfants, quant à eux, survivraient. Rester ensemble voulait dire courir le risque de tous mourir. Rétrospectivement, même si cela a dû être un véritable déchirement pour mes parents, leur décision de se séparer de nous s’est avérée la plus sensée, la meilleure. Ils ont été clairvoyants, et le hasard a joué en notre faveur.


Fishel Philip Goldig

Le récit de survie d’un jeune garçon

Les premiers temps, nous nous cachions dans le grenier de la maison du fermier. Cela s’est toutefois avéré dangereux, car les enfants, qui ignoraient alors que nous étions là, y montaient parfois pour chercher des jouets ou pour s’amuser. Certains enfants du voisinage venaient souvent aussi, surtout en hiver. Et si ne serait-ce qu’une personne avait révélé notre présence, nous serions tous morts. Nous devions donc trouver un autre endroit où nous cacher.

La cour de Nikolai et Yulia Kravchuk s’étendait jusqu’à une petite colline, dans laquelle, des années avant notre arrivée, le fermier avait creusé un abri qui ressemblait à une grotte, avec des murs et un plafond de pierre. Il y stockait ses réserves de pommes de terre pendant l’hiver.

Nous pensions pouvoir nous cacher dans cette grotte, mais, hélas, les habitants des environs allaient et venaient pour acheter les pommes de terre du fermier, et nous craignions que les enfants, qui jouaient à proximité, nous entendent. Un jour, à la faveur de la nuit, mon père, mon oncle et le fermier ont déplacé quelques grosses pierres situées au pied du mur de la grotte et ont creusé davantage dans le flanc du coteau pour créer un abri où nous pourrions nous dissimuler. L’ouverture de la grotte, petite et étroite, était juste assez large pour nous permettre d’y entrer en rampant. Par la suite, nous l’avons élargie, rallongée et rehaussée pour pouvoir tous nous y cacher : mes parents et moi, ma tante et mon oncle, et Eva, ma cousine de 3 ans. Une fois à l’intérieur, nous remettions les pierres à leur place de telle façon que personne ne pouvait rien détecter en entrant dans l’espace où étaient stockées les pommes de terre.

La grotte n’étant pas très haute, je devais baisser la tête dès que je me levais. Il y faisait chaud et sombre, aussi disposions-nous de lampes à pétrole et de quelques bougies pour nous éclairer. Un grillage recouvrait la fenêtre insérée dans la porte d’accès à la grotte, ce qui nous permettait de respirer. Kravchuk nous a donné une petite table, des couvertures à disposer sur le sol et pour nous couvrir, ainsi que de vieux vêtements qui avaient appartenu à ses enfants.

Une fois par jour, tôt le matin, il nous apportait de quoi manger et récupérait les déchets. Il nous amenait également un grand pichet d’eau pour faire notre toilette et boire. Parfois, il prenait le temps de discuter. C’était un homme sympathique et agréable, même si sa femme et lui avaient peur de nous cacher. Ils hésitaient souvent à venir dans notre trou, car ils craignaient que des voisins les voient. Ils vivaient dans la peur constante d’être trahis.

The Weight of Freedom

The Slow Roar

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

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

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

Le Poids de la liberté

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

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

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

Under the Yellow & Red Stars

The Rokitno Massacre

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

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

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

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

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

Étoile jaune, étoile rouge

Le massacre de Rokitno

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

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

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

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

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

A Drastic Turn of Destiny

Growing Up Under Hitler

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

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

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

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.

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 ?

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?

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.

A Mother to My Mother

From Darkness to Light

As the weather warmed, I was yearning to get out of the darkness, into the light. The forests and the trees were starting to grow foliage, which would create shelter and hiding places. I was growing impa­tient of sitting in total darkness and isolation. Every day, starving, I was asking people for food and also hoping to gain some sympathy.

My young and exhausted soul was craving to meet the real peo­ple who served God in the true way, who would see, in our survival, God’s will. I met people who were talking favourably about Jewish people, expressing religious beliefs in the rebirth of the Jewish nation, about God’s mercy in the days to come. Those words inspired me and gave me strength to cope.

When spring was in full bloom, we moved into the grain fields between Yasnograd and Monastyrok. This was our new place, away from darkness, a place leading us in a different direction to a new vil­lage where we hoped to meet new people. Even then, when we left the darkness and moved into the light, making our home under the open sky in the field, I was bored and felt like going out to see life in the vil­lage and ask for bread. Connecting with others helped me cope with my stress. I would leave my mother as before and make my rounds in the village, which was two kilometres away.

The spring had reached its highest point, and the grains had grown higher. My mother prepared an area of the field as homelike as she could. In between the rows of planted grains, she dug a pit, spread green grass along the bottom and piled dirt into a pillow. This was our bed, which was hidden from view by the height of the plants.

It is difficult to imagine how we survived, starving, hunted and having no possessions at all; no change of underwear; no change of clothing; no blankets; no comb or toothbrush; no paper, no cup to drink from or any item to collect water in. None of the most basic things that people require for survival. Perhaps our ancestral history of persecution enabled us to act creatively in order to survive.

Si, par miracle, Michael Kutz

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

Préface de Anika Walke

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

208 pages, including index

2015 Living Now Silver Medal

About the author

Photo of Michael Kutz

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

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If, By Miracle, Michael Kutz

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

Introduction by Anika Walke

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

184 pages, including index

2015 Living Now Silver Medal

About the author

Photo of Michael Kutz

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

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

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

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

488 pages, including index

About the editor

Photo of Ferenc Laczó

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

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

In France, underground networks find refuge for eleven-year-old Eva Lang and her younger sisters, protecting them from internment camps. In an orphanage in Slovakia, a pastor shelters young David Korn and his older brother, saving them from deportation. In a village in Poland, a farmer hides nine-year-old Fishel Philip Goldig and his parents after they escape from a ghetto and certain death. When so many people stood by during the anti-Jewish atrocities of the Holocaust, others risked their lives to save their Jewish friends and neighbours, and often even strangers. The three feature memoirs in At Great Risk are accompanied by excerpted stories of rescue by thirteen previously published Azrieli Foundation authors, highlighting the diverse experiences of rescue during the Holocaust. Together, these stories emphasize not only the courage and moral strength of the rescuers but also the survivors’ remembrances of and gratitude to their rescuers after the war.

Introduction by Carol Rittner and Mary Johnson

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

416 pages, including index

About the author

Photo of Eva Lang

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

About the author

Photo of David Korn

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

About the author

Photo of Fishel Philip Goldig

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

Un si grand péril : mémoires de sauvetage durant l’Holocauste, Eva Lang, Fishel Philip Goldig, David Korn

En France, Eva Lang, 11 ans, et ses jeunes sœurs parviennent à trouver refuge grâce à l’aide de réseaux clandestins, évitant ainsi l’horreur des camps. Recueillis par un pasteur, le jeune David Korn et son frère aîné se cachent dans un orphelinat en Slovaquie et échappent ainsi à la déportation. Dans un village polonais, un fermier protège un garçon de 9 ans, Fishel Philip Goldig, et ses parents, qui, condamnés à une mort certaine, se sont enfuis d’un ghetto. Si tant de gens sont restés indifférents face aux horreurs dont les Juifs ont été la cible durant l’Holocauste, certains n’ont pas hésité à mettre leur vie en péril pour sauver des amis, des voisins et parfois même des inconnus. Les trois mémoires présentés dans l’anthologie Un si grand péril sont accompagnés d’extraits issus de treize récits publiés par le Programme Azrieli des mémoires de survivants de l’Holocauste. Ils mettent en lumière les expériences relatives au sauvetage durant l’Holocauste. Ce recueil de témoignages souligne à la fois le courage, la résilience des sauveurs et la reconnaissance des survivants à leur égard après la guerre.

Introduction de Carol Rittner et Mary Johnson

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

440 pages, including index

About the author

Photo of Eva Lang

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

About the author

Photo of Fishel Philip Goldig

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

About the author

Photo of David Korn

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

The Weight of Freedom, Nate Leipciger

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

Introduction by Debórah Dwork ©

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At a Glance
Poland
Ghettos and concentration camps
Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp
Postwar Germany
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Adjusting to life in Canada
Educational materials available: Nate Leipciger Activity
The Human Experience of Auschwitz
2019 honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Toronto
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
English

360 pages, including index

About the author

Photo of Nate Leipciger

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

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Le Poids de la liberté, Nate Leipciger

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

Préface de Debórah Dwork ©

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At a Glance
Poland
Ghettos and concentration camps
Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp
Postwar Germany
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Adjusting to life in Canada
Educational materials available: Activité Nate Leipciger
Survivre à Auschwitz
2019 honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Toronto
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
French

384 pages, including index

About the author

Photo of Nate Leipciger

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

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Under the Yellow & Red Stars, Alex Levin

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

Introduction by Naomi Azrieli and Sara Horowitz

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

208 pages, including index

2010 Pearson Prize Teen Choice Award

About the author

Photo of Alex Levin

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

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Étoile jaune, étoile rouge, Alex Levin

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

Préface de Naomi Azrieli et Sara Horowitz

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

224 pages, including index

2010 Pearson Prize Teen Choice Award

About the author

Photo of Alex Levin

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

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A Drastic Turn of Destiny, Fred Mann

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

Introduction by Mark Webber

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

304 pages, including index

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.

Un terrible revers de fortune, Fred Mann

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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.

Préface de Mark Webber

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

352 pages, including index

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.

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.

Préface de Tim Cole

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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, including index

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.

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.

Introduction by Tim Cole

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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, including index

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.

Introduction by Anna Porter

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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, including index

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.

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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.

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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.

Préface de Anna Porter

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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, including index

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.

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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.

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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.

Introduction by Borbala Klacsmann

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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, including index

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.

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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.

Introduction by Susan Zuccotti

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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
Muguette Myers Activity
Recommended Ages
11+
Language
English

168 pages, including index

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.

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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.

Préface de Susan Zuccotti

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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
Muguette Myers
Recommended Ages
11+
Language
French

184 pages, including index

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.

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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.

Introduction by Kenneth Waltzer

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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, including index

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.

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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.

Introduction by Kalman Weiser

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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
The Warsaw Ghetto: From Persecution to Resistance
Arthur Ney Activity
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

240 pages, including index

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.

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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.

Préface de Kalman Weiser

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

264 pages, including index

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.

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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.

Introduction by Marlene Kadar

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

216 pages, including index

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.

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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.

Préface de Marlene Kadar

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

248 pages, including index

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.

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A Mother to My Mother, Malka Pischanitskaya

It is the summer of 1941, and Malka is ten years old. Her small town of Romanov, Ukraine, has just been occupied by the Nazis, and the life that Malka knew — her Jewish traditions, culture and community — is under attack. Soon, Malka is faced with unimaginable loss as the Nazis and their collaborators brutally destroy everything that she holds dear. Malka and her mother manage to escape, hiding in fields, forests and haylofts as danger forces them to continue moving. As Malka relies on her faith and instincts to keep herself and her mother alive, she finds them refuge with strangers who become like family along the way. After devoting her energy toward caring for her mother, Malka must grapple with the complexities of their relationship as she struggles to find her place in a world after war.

A Mother to My Mother is the culmination of Malka Pischanitskaya’s decades-long project to tell her riveting story of survival through writing and art.

Introduction by Nataliia Ivchyk

Foreword by Nina Krieger

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At a Glance
Ukraine
Pre-war Jewish life
Hiding
Postwar Soviet Union
Arrived in Canada in 1975
Includes nineteen artworks conceptualized by author
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
English

168 pages, including index

About the author

Photo of Malka Pischanitskaya

Malka Pischanitskaya was born in Romanov (now Romaniv), Ukraine, in 1931. She returned to her town in 1944, after liberation, and lived there until graduating from high school in 1950. Malka continued her education in Zhitomir (now Zhytomyr), earning her high school teaching diploma from Ivan Franko State University in 1954. She married and had two children, living with her family in Tashkent and Uzhgorod (now Uzhhorod), before immigrating to Vancouver, Canada, in 1975. Malka Pischanitskaya lives in Vancouver.

Free Books and Educational Materials

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