Memoirs

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

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

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Sur les traces du passé

L’Aktion des enfants et la liquidation

Nous étions à la fin du mois de mars 1944. C’est par une journée froide, claire et ensoleillée, au début du printemps, le temps du renouveau, que les SS sont venus prendre les enfants. Ceux qui ont survécu au camp connaissent cet événement sous son nom allemand : Die Kinderaktion. Ce mot semble avoir une connotation si bienveillante, comme « jardin d’enfants » ou « jeu d’enfants ». Mais en ce jour ensoleillé, c’est pour massacrer les petits que les SS sont venus. Pourquoi ? Parce qu’ils n’étaient d’aucune utilité à l’effort de guerre allemand. Il fallait nourrir ces enfants, mais ils ne produisaient rien en retour.

Nous n’avions pas été avertis, mais dès que l’opération a débuté, la rumeur s’est répandue comme un feu de forêt. Les mères et les pères se sont précipités pour trouver des endroits où cacher leurs enfants. Ma mère connaissait quelqu’un qui avait construit une cachette et nous avons couru pour nous y abriter, mais il n’y avait plus de place.

On entendait le fracas en bas – les nazis fouillaient le moindre recoin. Que faire ? Où se cacher ? Nous nous tenions dans le couloir tandis que les gens passaient devant nous en courant. Ma mère serrait fort Monik dans ses bras, et Miriam s’accrochait à la jupe de Fruma. J’ai alors révélé à ma mère et à Fruma l’existence de notre cachette au grenier et nous nous sommes aussitôt dirigés vers la cage d’escalier, puis nous avons gravi les marches. Il y avait du monde. Certains filaient vers le grenier, d’autres en descendaient.

À l’étage suivant, nous avons croisé un petit garçon que je connaissais mais dont j’ai oublié le nom. Il était plus petit que moi alors qu’il avait à peu près mon âge. C’était un artiste. Il faisait des merveilles avec du papier et un crayon, des dessins étonnants de personnes, d’objets et de paysages. Plutôt solitaire, il ne courait pas avec notre bande et n’était pas au courant de notre cachette. Je lui ai demandé de venir avec nous, mais il est resté là, au coin du palier, pétrifié. Il fallait que j’avance. Je l’ai appelé encore une fois depuis le haut de l’escalier, mais il n’a pas bougé, me fixant de ses grands yeux sombres.

Au grenier, quelques personnes étaient déjà cachées avec leurs enfants derrière la poutre. Ma mère, Miriam, Monik et moi nous sommes empressés de nous faufiler à l’intérieur avant de remettre en place la partie sciée. Fruma est restée dehors pour s’assurer qu’elle ne dépassait pas du reste de la poutre, puis elle est partie. Nous avons rampé aussi loin que possible, jusqu’à l’endroit où le toit en pente rejoignait le plancher, puis nous avons attendu en silence. Pendant longtemps, tout est resté très silencieux, puis nous avons entendu quelqu’un dans le grenier. Il marchait lentement, se rapprochait. Ma mère a serré fort mon petit frère. Personne n’a bougé. J’ai retenu mon souffle. Ce soldat verrait-il l’entaille dans la poutre ? Non, il ne l’a pas vue. Il est bientôt parti. Nous sommes restés pendant un long moment immobiles, à l’écoute, mais personne d’autre n’est venu au grenier. Lentement et en silence, nous avons commencé à nous dégager de ce lieu exigu. J’ai pu regarder à travers l’étroite fente qui séparait le toit du sol. Je voyais le portail et la zone alentour, un camion couvert d’une bâche vert sombre à l’intérieur des barrières et un homme en uniforme qui se tenait à l’arrière du véhicule face à une femme avec un foulard sur la tête et un jeune enfant dans les bras.

Le soldat s’est emparé de l’enfant, mais la femme refusait de le lâcher. Elle a fait mine d’entrer dans le camion avec son petit, mais l’homme l’a repoussée brutalement avant de lui arracher l’enfant des bras pour le placer à l’arrière. Voilà ce que j’ai vu. Voilà ce dont je me souviens.

Combien d’enfants juifs ont-ils emmenés pour les anéantir, sans qu’on sache ce qu’ils auraient pu devenir ? Le petit garçon sur le palier aurait pu être un grand peintre, mais je ne l’ai jamais revu.

Arrival at Auschwitz

Dignity Endures

We were pulled down from the cattle cars and the selection began. On the platform, excellent music played by inmates in striped uniforms welcomed us. By the fence, Nazi soldiers were waiting for the sick and feeble, promising to take them to the hospital right away. Another lie. They were thrown into what looked like ambulances, and we found out later that they had been immediately taken to the gas chambers and gassed instantly. Next came the mothers with small children. The Jewish inmates warned the mothers with children to give their children to their elderly relatives to try to save themselves but hardly anyone listened and almost all of them were killed. A few minutes later, my father disappeared with my brother Shimon, and I never saw them again.

As I was standing huddled with my mother and little brother, along came a high-ranking SS officer, who we later found out was Dr. Josef Mengele, the Nazis’ infamous Angel of Death, and he started the selection among the women. He sent all of the older women to one side, separating them from the young, healthy-looking younger women. All those in the latter category went to the other side where they lined up, five in a row.

Her maternal instinct must have inspired my mother to do what she did next. In front of us stood four tall, good-looking girls, whom we knew from the ghetto. They were holding hands with three children, their little nieces and nephew, whose parents were hiding in Budapest. My mother pulled the children to her side and pushed me to be the fifth in the row with the four girls. “I will take care of the children” she told them, “and you take care of Judith.”

I started to protest and turned around to go back to her, but within a minute my mother had disappeared with the three small children and my little brother. That was the last time I saw her.

The End of My Childhood

In Search of Light

After the Nazis took power, they confiscated part of our house and gave it to German army officers, including a number of SS. Once, a German officer told my father, “Herr Doktor, wir haben das Krieg verloren.” (Doctor, we have lost the war.) My father was absolutely terrified. He couldn’t say yes and he couldn’t say no; he didn’t know how to react because it could have been a provocation. Remember that this was 1944, late in the war, so some soldiers might have realized that the war was not going all that well. But Hitler’s propaganda was extremely powerful and effective nonetheless.

At one point, the German officers told my mother and father that they wanted to have a party in our house and that my mother should cook for them and my father should help with the cleaning. My parents were not allowed to leave, and they were very afraid that the soldiers might get drunk, and then God knows what might happen. My parents told me to leave the house and stay overnight with some friends, and they also told me that if the officers killed them that night, I should go to a certain person who would help me. I still remember vividly that, at ten years old, I did not cry; at this point I felt like I was an adult looking at the world the way it was, not the way it had looked in my childhood dreams.

In early May, the second of the month, a high school teacher, an ethnic German, came and knocked on the window of our house and told my father that the next morning we were going to be taken away. There was nowhere to go, there was nowhere to hide, and so we just got up and packed during the night. But before getting to this point, the preceding months had been so terrifying that I don’t actually remember when I grew up. I just knew that over a period of a few months, I was no longer a child.

Indeed, on the morning of May 3, 1944, members of the Hungarian csendőrség (gendarmerie) came to our house, forced us to unpack and take less than we had planned — allowing for only one change of clothes — and put us in a truck to be carried away. In the truck, an officer noticed that my parents still had their wedding rings on and said that they were not allowed to keep them. My dad then took off my mother’s wedding ring and his own and threw them on the road. Interestingly, and very touchingly for me, these are the only things that survived from all our belongings. Everything else disappeared, but my parents found the two wedding rings in an envelope at the city hall when we got back.

The gendarmes took us to a ghetto in a brick factory some distance out of town, where, among the Jews, they were two of three medical doctors. When we got there, an SS officer took out his gun and, holding it against my parents’ heads said, “Well, if somebody escapes, I am going to shoot you, or you, or you.” I watched that, and the image is still vivid in my mind. But nobody had a chance to escape. It was just another way to terrorize us.

Never Far Apart

In the Dark

Ellen:

One day I no longer had to go to school and I no longer had to be afraid of the neighbour lady. In June 1944, a law was passed that all people who were Jewish had to move into segregated apartment buildings that were only for Jews. My mother had already sewn a yellow star on my coat, and we walked to another building, where to my great delight I found my uncle Latzi’s wife, Serena, and my cousins Hedi, Imre and baby Gyurika. Hedi, like her two brothers, had blue eyes and blond hair. She and I had lots of fun playing together every day. Every so often my aunt Margaret came over with some food, and one day she even brought my sister, Kati, who was never as much fun to play with as Hedi and Imre. My mother looked so happy when she saw her, and I was happy too.

What more could anyone ask for? I had my best friends playing with me every day, I never had to go to school and my mother was always at my beck and call if I needed her, because living in this new place she never had to go out, so she never left me alone in the apartment. It was a dream come true.

Soon enough, the dream turned into a nightmare. All the grown-ups became very upset. They started to pack everything they had into one suitcase. My aunt Serena sent word to her husband that our building was to be evacuated and everyone who lived there was going to a new location. My mother, too, was troubled. She did not say anything, but I could tell. To my surprise, my uncle Latzi showed up, bringing my sister with him. He said that he would take us children with him and keep us safe. I was torn from my mother and we left, walking in the darkness to a place where children were supposed to be safe.

Uncle Latzi took us to a building that had a sign with a red cross. I knew about the Red Cross. They helped people. After my uncle left us there, our heads were shaved so we wouldn’t get lice, and we were shown where we could sleep on a mat in one of the large rooms, with lots of other children. We were also given something to eat, though I don’t recall what. All I remember is being hungry. But I wasn’t too scared, because my sister was with me, and I knew that she would make sure that I was safe. We must have been there for at least a few months. Hedi looked after her brothers, and I stayed by Kati’s side all the time. It was cold there, but not as cold as outside. When it was dark, and even in the daytime, we huddled next to each other on the mat to keep warm. I don’t recollect anyone playing or singing, but some of the children made scary sounds from their throats because they were deaf. I had warm enough clothes on, but my shoes had holes in them, which my mother had covered up on the inside with cardboard. This didn’t matter to me until we were made to walk outdoors when men with guns came to the building. They were angry looking and had sharp bayonets attached to these guns, so they could both shoot and stab with them. The sight was threatening and frightful.

We all lined up outside in the dark. A Red Cross nurse told Hedi that she could hide our baby cousin because he had blue eyes and blond roots, he wasn’t circumcised and he hadn’t yet learned to talk. Hedi trusted this lady, who seemed kind, although she was a stranger to us and we never even knew her name. The lady went away with Gyurika before the soldiers could see her. Then we were marched away from the building of safety, going where, we didn’t know. I held on to Kati because I had a hard time walking. The cardboard covering one of the holes in my shoes let in the slush, and when the snow stuck to it and froze, it made that shoe higher than the other. We could not stop to scrape off the ice. Hungry, scared and freezing, I marched alongside my sister, limping as if I had one leg longer than the other.

Kitty:

It seems that members of the Nazi-approved Arrow Cross Party had decided to march us children into an enclosed area called the ghetto. The Budapest ghetto was established on November 29, 1944, in the last months of the war, when Germany and Hungary were in a life-and-death struggle with the Allies. Nevertheless, even in those desperate times the Nazis were still determined to finish the job of killing all the Jews of Europe in a process called the “Final Solution.” To that end, they collected all the remaining Jews of Hungary, those not in hiding or protected by some neutral government like Sweden, and placed them in an area separated from the non-Jewish population. Guarding them with armed soldiers, enclosing them within stone walls and fences, the Nazis made sure that no food could go in and nobody could come out. By keeping the Jews completely cut off from the world, it was easy for the Nazis to continue moving large, defenceless groups of people from this holding tank of misery to slave labour camps, where the Jews were used, if capable, for providing much needed labour that would free up men in the general population to be soldiers.

The people remaining inside the ghetto received no humanitarian services. Surrounded by garbage and excrement, crowded together, the starved and weakened children and the elderly easily fell sick from typhoid and other diseases. Many died horribly. They were left out in the streets, or in areas not as plainly seen.

After Ilonka and I were shown to an apartment in a building, we stayed inside with one group of children, huddling because of the cold. Hedi and Imre were separated from us and put into another apartment, and I lost sight of them. Years later, I found out that my cousin Imre had decided to explore his unfamiliar surroundings. As he walked into a bombed, half-destroyed stairway, he stumbled and fell on top of a dead man. I don’t think he ever got over it.

I was aware of the scary situation we were in, but unlike Ilonka, I did not feel scared. In fact, I did not feel much of anything at all, except cold and hungry. As I lay beside Ilonka, I thought of all the food I had refused to eat when my sweet and caring mother had tried to get me well, but I did not think of my father or my mother or my aunt Margaret being marched away, possibly to their deaths. I just daydreamed about food and wished that it could be warmer in the apartment in the middle of a harsh December.

I hunted around the apartment and found a closet full of abandoned clothes. Since we had no blankets, I put on layers of them and went to sleep. In the middle of the night, I awoke with a terrible itch all over my body. When daylight came and I looked at the clothes I had found, I saw they were full of bugs and eggs. That is when my feelings broke through. On my own, without adults, degraded by the filth and by the bugs that attacked my body, I bowed my shaved head in despair and started to sob uncontrollably. Then I had to stop so as not to frighten my already terrified sister.

Unies dans l’épreuve

Dans les ténèbres

Ellen :

Du jour au lendemain, je ne suis plus allée à l’école et, de ce fait, je n’ai plus été victime des intimidations de la voisine. En juin 1944, une loi a obligé tous les Juifs à emménager dans des immeubles qui leur étaient exclusivement réservés. Ma mère avait déjà cousu une étoile jaune sur mon manteau et nous sommes allées à pied jusqu’à un autre bâtiment où, à ma grande joie, nous avons retrouvé la femme de mon oncle Latzi, Serena, et mes cousins Hedi, Imre et Gyurka, le bébé. Hedi avait les yeux bleus et les cheveux blonds, comme ses deux frères. Elle et moi nous amusions beaucoup lors de nos jeux quotidiens. De temps en temps, ma tante Margaret venait nous apporter de la nourriture et, une fois, elle a même amené ma sœur Kati, mais je ne m’amusais pas autant avec elle qu’avec Hedi et Imre. Ma mère semblait très heureuse quand elle l’a vue et je l’étais aussi.

Que pouvait-on demander de plus ? Chaque jour, je jouais avec mes meilleurs amis, je n’allais jamais à l’école et ma mère était toujours à ma disposition. Elle n’avait jamais à sortir depuis qu’elle vivait dans ce nouvel endroit, et elle ne me laissait donc jamais seule dans l’appartement. C’était le rêve !

Mais bientôt, le rêve a tourné au cauchemar. D’un coup, les adultes sont devenus très inquiets. Ils ont commencé à empiler tout ce qu’ils avaient dans des valises. Ma tante Serena a envoyé un message à son mari pour lui dire que notre immeuble allait être évacué et que tous les occupants déménageaient. Ma mère aussi se faisait du souci. Elle ne disait rien, mais je le sentais. À ma grande surprise, mon oncle Latzi s’est présenté chez nous avec ma sœur. Il a déclaré qu’il allait mettre les enfants en sûreté. J’ai été arrachée à ma mère et nous sommes partis à pied dans les ténèbres, vers un endroit où nous serions à l’abri.

Oncle Latzi nous a emmenés dans un immeuble qui portait un grand symbole de la Croix-Rouge. Je connaissais cette organisation, elle aidait les gens. Après le départ de mon oncle, on nous a rasé la tête pour que nous n’attrapions pas de poux et on nous a indiqué où nous allions dormir : sur des matelas dans une des grandes pièces où se trouvaient déjà beaucoup d’autres enfants. On nous a aussi donné quelque chose à manger, mais je ne me rappelle pas quoi. Je me souviens essentiellement d’avoir eu faim. Mais je ne vivais pas dans la crainte, car ma sœur se trouvait avec moi et je savais qu’elle veillerait sur moi. Je suis demeurée dans cette habitation quelques mois au moins. Hedi s’occupait de ses frères et, pour ma part, je ne quittais pas ma sœur Kati d’une semelle. Il faisait froid, mais pas autant qu’à l’extérieur. Quand la nuit tombait, et même pendant la journée, nous nous blottissions les uns contre les autres sur le matelas pour nous tenir au chaud. Je ne me souviens pas que quiconque ait joué ou chanté, mais certains des enfants émettaient des sons de gorge bizarres et effrayants, car ils étaient sourds. J’avais des vêtements assez chauds, mais mes chaussures étaient trouées et ma mère les avait « réparées » en mettant du carton à l’intérieur. Les chaussures trouées ne m’avaient pas affectée, mais quand on a dû aller dehors, elles ont posé problème. Car des hommes armés sont venus à l’immeuble pour nous demander de sortir. Ils avaient l’air en colère et ils portaient des baïonnettes acérées à leurs fusils, ce qui fait qu’ils pouvaient aussi bien tirer que poignarder. Ils étaient aussi effrayants que menaçants.

Dehors, nous nous sommes mis tous en rang dans la nuit obscure. Une infirmière de la Croix-Rouge a chuchoté à Hedi que ce serait facile de mettre le bébé à l’abri et qu’elle s’en chargerait, car il avait les yeux bleus, les cheveux blonds, n’était pas circoncis et ne savait pas encore parler. Hedi a fait confiance à cette femme qui semblait bienveillante, bien qu’en réalité nous ne la connaissions pas du tout. D’ailleurs, nous n’avons jamais appris son nom. Elle a emporté Gyurika pendant que les soldats avaient le dos tourné. Ensuite, on nous a donné l’ordre de marche et nous avons quitté l’immeuble où nous avions été en sécurité, en route vers une destination inconnue. Je m’accrochais à Kati, car j’avais du mal à marcher. Le carton couvrant un des trous de mes semelles est devenu mouillé dans la boue, puis la neige s’y est attachée et a gelé, rendant la semelle de cette chaussure plus épaisse que l’autre. Nous ne pouvions pas nous arrêter pour racler la neige accumulée. J’avais faim, j’avais peur et j’étais transie de froid ; je marchais à côté de ma sœur en boitant comme si j’avais une jambe plus courte que l’autre.

Kitty :

Les membres du parti des Croix fléchées, d’inspiration nazie, semblaient avoir décidé de conduire les enfants dans l’enclave fermée du Ghetto. À Budapest, le Ghetto a été établi le 29 novembre 1944, durant les derniers mois de la guerre, alors que l’Allemagne et la Hongrie étaient engagées dans un affrontement sans merci contre les Alliés. Néanmoins, malgré une situation désespérée, les nazis étaient toujours aussi décidés à achever de détruire les Juifs d’Europe, selon la ligne directrice de leur projet d’annihilation, la tristement célèbre « Solution finale ».

Dans ce but, ils rassemblaient tous les Juifs de Hongrie qui restaient, ceux qui ne s’étaient pas cachés ou qui n’étaient pas protégés par un gouvernement neutre, comme celui de la Suède, et ils les parquaient dans une zone qui les tenait séparés de la population non juive. Les nazis avaient placé des soldats armés pour les garder, et clôturé l’endroit au moyen d’une enceinte en brique et en bois. Ils s’assuraient en outre qu’aucune nourriture ne pouvait y entrer et que personne ne pouvait en sortir. Les Juifs étant complètement coupés du monde, les nazis pouvaient plus facilement rassembler de grands groupes d’individus sans défense, pris dans ce réservoir de misère, et les envoyer comme esclaves aux camps de travail. Ces détenus, du moins ceux qui en étaient capables, accomplissaient les travaux essentiels, permettant ainsi aux non-Juifs de servir dans l’armée.

Les gens à l’intérieur du Ghetto ne recevaient aucun secours. Entourés de déchets et d’excréments, entassés les uns sur les autres, affamés et affaiblis, les enfants et les personnes âgées attrapaient facilement la typhoïde et d’autres maladies. Beaucoup sont morts de façon horrible, abandonnés dans les rues et recoins du Ghetto.

Ilonka et moi avons été conduites à un immeuble, dans un appartement où nous sommes restées avec un groupe d’enfants, blottis les uns contre les autres pour nous protéger du froid. Hedi et Imre ont été séparés de nous et emmenés dans un autre logement, et j’ai perdu leur trace. Beaucoup plus tard, j’ai appris que mon cousin Imre avait décidé d’explorer son nouvel environnement et, en montant un escalier à moitié détruit par les bombardements, il avait trébuché et était tombé sur le corps d’un homme mort. Je crois qu’il ne s’en est jamais remis.

J’avais conscience de la situation effrayante dans laquelle nous nous trouvions, mais contrairement à Ilonka, je n’avais pas peur. En fait, je ne ressentais pas grand-chose, à part le froid et la faim. Étendue auprès d’Ilonka, je pensais à toute la nourriture que j’avais refusé de manger quand ma douce mère si attentionnée essayait de me faire recouvrer la santé, mais je ne pensais ni à ma mère, ni à mon père, ni à ma tante Margaret qui avaient été emmenés, et très probablement assassinés. Je ne rêvais que de nourriture et d’un peu plus de chaleur, au cœur de ce mois de décembre si rude.

J’ai fouillé le logement et j’ai trouvé un placard rempli de linge abandonné. Comme nous n’avions pas de couvertures, j’ai enfilé plusieurs couches de ces vêtements pour dormir. Je me suis réveillée au milieu de la nuit parcourue de terribles démangeaisons. Quand le jour s’est levé, j’ai pu observer les vêtements de près et constater qu’ils étaient couverts de poux et de lentes. C’est à ce moment-là que j’ai craqué. Toute seule, sans adultes, réduite à vivre dans la crasse et les punaises qui m’attaquaient, j’ai baissé ma tête rasée et pleuré à gros sanglots irrépressibles. Mais j’ai vite dû prendre sur moi afin de ne pas effrayer ma sœur déjà suffisamment terrifiée.

Escape from the Edge

Coming soon

Going Underground

Dangerous Measures

One morning, as I was having my usual coffee and roll in the kitchen of the hotel, a fascist militiaman approached me. He told me who he was and advised me not to leave the hotel that day. I was completely bewildered. My mind raced as I considered whether or not he was deceiving me — what were his motivations? Was he stating the truth? I calmly responded that I didn’t see any reason why I should not leave the hotel. I did leave and walked about sixty to eighty metres when I was stopped and directed to go to a certain spot. The people assembled there were then taken in groups to a movie theatre nearby. We stood in line to be interrogated by a member of the French fascist militia. There were Jews in front of me in the line. Some were afraid to make use of their false papers or could not withstand the questioning, and when they were recognized as Jews, the beatings started without delay. The fascist thugs were relentless with their fists and boots. The louder the screams of protest, the more frenzied and monstrously violent they became.

It was my turn. The questioning went along in a quiet manner, though they insisted that I must have a Jewish parent or grandparent. My steadfast denial and insistence on the identity in my documents gave them some doubts, and they took me to a well-guarded bus with several others. I was taken to a jail where I was placed in a small cell. It was well into the evening when a priest was placed in my cell too. The priest immediately befriended me and started to curse the fascists. He also had some food with him and he offered me some; since I was very hungry, I accepted. We sat there together while he incessantly cursed the fascists. I smelled a provocation, so I interjected, defending them with the justification that they were only doing their job. He slept in the same cell as me that night, and in the morning he was removed. Once again I was questioned, but this time on the subject of anti-Vichy and anti-German activities. I applied my well-practised character of stupidity, and they feigned interest in my opinions on this topic. I had to sleep one more night in the solitude of the cell but was steadfast not to slip out of character.

Survival Kit

Searching for Safety

Before these tragic times, Jewish life in Humenné was vibrant and had three places of worship. The Orthodox synagogue where my father had worshipped was the most widely attended, with an impressive new building that had been constructed in the early 1930s. Long before the war, when the Jewish community was thriving, the synagogue had commemorated all of the Czechoslovak national holidays and invited local dignitaries, including the mayor and even the colonel of the local military squadron, on significant national occasions.

When Jozef advised me of what had happened, I dressed quickly, asked him to stay with my anxious mother and ran looking for the Jewish Council representatives, hoping for assistance. I located one man whom I knew fairly well, but he was very discouraging. He told me that a transport was due again and the police needed to fill a quota of one hundred people by that evening. He concluded that it was pointless to go after my father. I left for the police headquarters alone.

I arrived at the headquarters at seven a.m. The building was still, as if in a deep sleep. The main office would not be open for another hour. I searched through the few hallways and finally found the officer on call, a man who was not familiar to me. His face was expressionless and he appeared to be totally disinterested in me or my dilemma. I urged him to release my father so that he might go home to his sick wife. I could not have pleaded more passionately if I had been down on my knees. I heard myself claiming that he had been taken mistakenly, that he was a Christian and his presence at the synagogue was a mistake. I promised it would never happen again. The policeman looked closely at the clock hanging on the wall. By this time it was seven fifteen. Without saying a word he left the office and with his finger indicated that I should follow him. I waited outside the office on the stairs.

When I finally saw my father almost half an hour later, he looked shattered, still clutching his navy-blue velvet bag that held his prayer book, tallis – prayer shawl – and tefillin – phylacteries. In my father’s pocket was the certificate of conversion. The officer made no comment about the bag, or its contents, and paid no attention to my expressions of gratitude either. Maybe his thoughts were elsewhere, or maybe he was nervous. Lucky for us, he didn’t seem particularly dedicated to the requirements of his job. I only wish that more officials in his position had behaved similarly. Eventually, he said, “Go. And go fast!”

On the way home my father and I held hands tightly as we silently approached our apartment. We arrived to find Jozef still there, waiting, with my mother. They stared at us, unable to believe their eyes.

When I re-examine this event, and the many others associated with my eventual survival, I wonder what force pushed me. What prompted me to go to the police headquarters? Did I lack the instinct for self-preservation? Maybe I wasn’t smart enough to see the danger I was in. Maybe, like most young people, I overestimated my invincibility. I could barely endure the places in which I was forced to hide, yet when my father was taken, I threw myself into the lion’s den!

Trousse de survie

Trouver un lieu sûr

Avant cette période tragique, Humenné abritait une communauté juive dynamique et florissante. Nous avions trois lieux de culte, dont le plus fréquenté était la synagogue orthodoxe où se rendait mon père. Il s’agissait d’un nouvel édifice impressionnant, construit au début des années 1930. Bien avant la guerre, on y célébrait toutes les fêtes nationales tchécoslovaques et lors d’événements nationaux, on y invitait les notables locaux, dont le maire et même le colonel de l’escadron militaire de la région.

Après avoir écouté les explications de Jozef, je me suis habillée en vitesse, je lui ai demandé de rester auprès de ma mère inquiète, puis je me suis lancée à la recherche des membres du Conseil juif en espérant qu’ils pourraient m’aider. J’en ai trouvé un que je connaissais assez bien, mais il s’est montré très pessimiste. Il m’a révélé qu’un autre convoi se préparait et qu’il fallait que la police puisse remplir son quota de 100 personnes pour le soir même. Selon lui, il était inutile d’aller porter secours à mon père. Je me suis donc rendue seule au poste de police.

Je suis arrivée sur place à 7 heures. Tout était calme ; l’édifice était plongé dans un profond silence. Le bureau principal n’ouvrait qu’à 8 heures. M’aventurant dans les rares couloirs, j’ai fini par trouver l’officier de service. Le visage impassible, l’homme, qui m’était inconnu, semblait totalement indifférent à ma présence et à mon problème. Je l’ai supplié de libérer mon père pour qu’il puisse retourner auprès de sa femme souffrante – c’est tout juste si je ne me suis pas jetée à ses genoux. J’ai déclaré sans marquer d’hésitation qu’il s’agissait d’une erreur, que mon père était chrétien, qu’il n’aurait jamais dû se trouver à la synagogue. J’ai promis que cela ne se reproduirait jamais plus. Le policier a regardé l’horloge : elle affichait alors 7 h 15. Sans mot dire, il a quitté le bureau en me faisant signe que je sorte aussi, puis il m’a fait patienter dans les escaliers.

Quand j’ai aperçu mon père près d’une demi-heure plus tard, il avait l’air anéanti, pressant toujours contre lui son sac en velours marine qui contenait son livre de prières, son tallis (châle de prière) et ses tefillin (phylactères). Son certificat de conversion se trouvait dans sa poche. L’officier n’a fait aucun commentaire concernant le sac ni son contenu et n’a prêté aucune attention à mes expressions de gratitude. Ses pensées étaient peut-être ailleurs, ou peut-être avait-il peur. Heureusement pour nous, il ne semblait guère soucieux de se plier aux exigences de son travail. Si seulement plus de fonctionnaires dans sa situation avaient agi comme lui ! Finalement, il a lancé : « Partez, et ne traînez pas ! »

Sur le chemin du retour, alors que nous approchions silencieusement de notre appartement, nous nous serrions la main très fort, mon père et moi. À notre arrivée, Jozef était toujours là qui attendait avec ma mère. Ils nous ont dévisagés, n’en croyant pas leurs yeux.

Lorsque je repense à cet événement et aux nombreux autres épisodes liés à ma survie, je me demande quelle force me poussait. Qu’est-ce qui m’a incitée à me rendre au poste de police ? N’avais-je pas l’instinct d’assurer d’abord ma propre protection ? Peut-être n’étais-je pas assez futée pour percevoir le danger qui me menaçait. Peut-être surestimais-je mon invincibilité, comme le font la plupart des jeunes gens. Moi qui supportais à peine mes cachettes forcées, je me suis précipitée dans la fosse aux lions dès que j’ai su que mon père avait été arrêté !

The Violin

The Ghetto

On the morning we were forced to leave our home, our farm and our animals, we awoke to silence. We had locked the doors and windows securely the night before and Bobby, our dog, had been sleeping outside. But Bobby was not barking that morning – I never heard or saw him again. At the crack of dawn, the Germans had surrounded our house and were waiting for us to get up. When Bubbie Frida stepped outside, her greatest fear was realized. “Get out, you filthy Jews.”

German police stood in our yard, pointing guns at us and shouting in German. My bubbie, who knew a little German, asked if I could go up the mountain and say goodbye to my friend. Strangely, they agreed. My bubbie whispered to me, “Stay up there. Don’t come back.” So I ran up the mountain to say goodbye. When I was ready to leave Mecio, his mother told me she would come down with me and ask permission to keep me with her family. The answer she got from the Germans was short and to the point. “No. Get out of here.” Hurriedly, my bubbie put a few of her dresses into a small suitcase and we were chased out of our home, forced to leave everything else behind.

As they pushed us into the road, my zeyde, who had remembered to take his prayer book, realized he had forgotten his eyeglasses on the windowsill. He started back to the house to get them. One of the Germans kicked him and he fell to the ground. As he lay on the road, another German pulled as hard as he could at his beard. My zeyde, moaning in pain, began to lose consciousness. With what appeared to me to be enjoyment, the German police continued to pull at each strand of my zeyde’s beard. When they had pulled out almost all of his long beautiful beard, they cut with a knife what they could not pull out with their hands. I closed my eyes and hid myself between my mother and my bubbie.

Hungry, thirsty and stunned, we were ordered to walk in the direction of Kołomyja. As we stumbled toward the town, we were joined by other Jewish families. If anyone stepped out of line or tried to escape, they were immediately shot. My uncles took turns carrying me. At the time, it seemed a miracle that we all made it to Kołomyja alive. There, we were reunited with friends from the surrounding areas and with Aunt Mina and Luci. I was six years old.

The Kołomyja ghetto was located in the central part of the city, near the farmers’ market where peasants from the surrounding villages used to gather to sell their goods. This particular area and some of the nearby houses were ringed by a gate that separated it from the rest of the city. The non-Jewish families who lived there had been evacuated and given the vacated houses of Jews outside the ghetto walls. The Jewish families who lived inside the gated ghetto remained in their homes, but had to share them with Jews who were brought in from elsewhere.

Armed with rifles, the soldiers stood at the gateway, policing the Jews in the ghetto. We were forced to wear armbands with embroidered Stars of David on them. Our shoes were taken away and a strict curfew was imposed. Those who disobeyed were shot on the spot. For the first time in my life I knew what fear really was.

Le Violon

Le Ghetto

Le matin où nous avons été obligés de quitter notre maison, notre ferme et nos animaux, tout était silencieux à notre réveil. Nous avions cadenassé les portes et les fenêtres la veille au soir et Bobby, notre chien, dormait dehors. Mais ce matin-là, Bobby n’a pas aboyé et je ne l’ai jamais plus revu ni réentendu. Dès l’aube, les Allemands avaient cerné la maison et attendaient que nous nous levions. Lorsque boubè Frida est sortie, sa plus grande crainte s’est réalisée.

« Sortez de là, sales Juifs ! »

La police allemande se tenait dans la cour, nous menaçant de leurs fusils et criant des ordres en allemand. Ma boubè, qui parlait un peu cette langue, leur a demandé si je pouvais me rendre chez mon ami qui habitait à flanc de montagne pour lui dire au revoir. Curieusement, ils ont accepté. Ma boubè m’a ordonné à voix basse : « Reste là-haut. Ne reviens pas. » J’ai donc grimpé le chemin de montagne en courant pour aller faire mes adieux. Alors que je m’apprêtais à quitter Mecio, sa mère m’a déclaré qu’elle allait me raccompagner en bas et demander la permission de me garder avec elle et sa famille. La réponse des Allemands a été brève et nette : « Non. Fichez le camp. » À toute vitesse, ma boubè a rangé quelques-unes de ses robes dans une petite valise et nous avons été chassés de chez nous, obligés d’abandonner tous nos biens.

Les Allemands nous ont poussés vers la route et mon zeydè, qui avait veillé à emporter son livre de prières, s’est tout à coup aperçu qu’il avait oublié ses lunettes sur le rebord de la fenêtre. Il a fait quelques pas en direction de la maison pour aller les chercher ; mais un des Allemands lui a assené des coups de pied et il est tombé. Alors qu’il gisait sur le chemin de terre, un autre Allemand a tiré de toutes ses forces sur sa barbe. Mon grand-père, gémissant de douleur, était sur le point de s’évanouir. Avec un réel plaisir, m’a-t-il semblé, les policiers allemands ont continué à arracher la barbe de mon zeydè, poignée par poignée. Lorsqu’ils ont eu quasiment fini de lui arracher sa barbe, si longue et si belle, ils ont pris un couteau pour couper ce qu’il en restait. J’ai fermé les yeux et me suis cachée entre ma mère et ma boubè.

Souffrant de la faim et de la soif, totalement hébétés, nous avons reçu l’ordre de nous mettre en marche en direction de Kołomyja. Tenant à grand-peine sur nos jambes, nous sommes partis pour la ville et avons été rejoints en route par d’autres familles juives. Si quelqu’un sortait du rang ou essayait de s’enfuir, il était aussitôt abattu. Mes oncles se sont relayés pour me porter. À l’époque, nous avons vraiment eu le sentiment que c’était un miracle d’être tous arrivés vivants en ville. Nous y avons retrouvé des amis des alentours, ainsi que tante Mina et Luci. J’avais 6 ans.

Le ghetto de Kołomyja était situé au centre de l’agglomération, près du marché agricole où les paysans des villages environnants se rassemblaient régulièrement pour vendre leur marchandise. Cet espace et certaines maisons voisines étaient entourés d’un mur qui les séparait du reste de la ville. Les familles non juives qui habitaient dans la zone ainsi délimitée avaient été évacuées, recevant en échange les maisons, désormais libres, des Juifs vivant à l’extérieur du Ghetto. Les familles juives ayant toujours vécu dans l’enceinte du Ghetto ont été autorisées à rester chez elles mais ont dû partager leur logement avec les Juifs relocalisés. Armée de fusils, la Gestapo se tenait aux portes du Ghetto et surveillait les Juifs à l’intérieur. Nous avons été contraints de porter un brassard marqué de l’étoile de David. On nous a privés de nos chaussures et un couvre-feu strict a été instauré. Ceux qui y contrevenaient étaient abattus sur-le-champ. Pour la première fois de ma vie, j’ai réellement connu la peur.

"You Are the Only Hope"

Chaos to Canvas

I remember my mother repeated to me many times, “Try to save yourself.” And then, “I don’t know how. I can’t help you, as I myself don’t know what to do. I know we are doomed to die. Try to walk away when you’re outside. If there is any opportunity you might have outside, just try to save yourself. Just be strong, my son, and take a chance, and God will be with you. If you won’t take this chance, you will not survive. Try, my son. I am helpless, but I know that you’re capable. You can do it. Just try. There is probably nobody left from our family except for us. If you follow me, it will be the end of our family. You are the only hope.”

My mother made me feel important. She made me feel like an adult, a person on whom you could depend, like a man and not a child. She continued talking quietly and constantly. She was sure that if I walked away, I would survive, and if I remained with her, I would die. She urged me to save myself and gave me the courage I needed to continue living. During the entire war, and throughout all the unimaginable hardships I endured, her words were my hope, my security and my strength to continue living. Her advice made me strive to save myself and gave me the inspiration that I needed.

Later, when I was alone in the woods, I used to talk to God. I screamed at him in my mind. When I was in a horrific situation and needed to express my pain, I appealed to God. I wanted him to help me when I needed help: when I was cold and hungry, when I was wet and living outside in the open during winter, when I was sick with a cold or a fever or when I was injured. Who was there for me to complain to? Most people have their mother, father, a member of their family or a friend. I had no one. I had only God. Sometimes I spoke loudly, hoping he would take notice. I would raise my voice as I would with my mother when I was angry. The difference was that my mother used to listen and help. God simply listened, but I felt that at least I had someone to cry to about my pitiful existence. I was extremely angry with God when I was wearing rags and was alone and starving in the cold. God is a witness to my suffering.

The next day, my mother and sister and I were forced to walk to an awaiting truck — like cattle being transported for slaughter. Not knowing where we were going, we were panicking. Hundreds of people and children were there, and the police were shouting and shooting. People were hysterical as they were falling over each other and were being separated from their families. We could not climb onto the trucks quickly enough, so we were violently pushed, kicked and beaten with clubs. I witnessed two policemen pick up a child by an arm and a leg as she struggled to climb onto the truck and throw her in like a bag of garbage.

I clearly remember Zonia’s arms around our mother. Then my mother pushed me away from boarding the truck and insisted, “Now is your chance to run.” I knew I could not run because if I did, I would be shot. But I stripped off my armband and began walking slowly toward the nearby bridge. The bridge over the Strypa, so familiar to me, split the city in half. It was not a large bridge, possibly fifty or sixty feet long. It was made out of wood and was only wide enough for people, horses and wagons to cross. I started to walk across and was approximately halfway when I saw an SS officer walking from the opposite side. Immediately, I froze and thought, What do I do now? Should I continue walking?

Surviving the Unbearable

My Heart Is at Ease

SS men shouted at us to line up, yelling, “Go! Go! Go!” to move us forward. There was a huge factory chimney releasing thick smoke into the air. Some of the female inmates told us that people were being gassed, sometimes just lightly, before being thrown into ovens. There were bodies burning day and night. A barbed wire fence charged with electricity surrounded the camp. Later, a few times, I saw women jumping to embrace the wires, wanting to end their misery. We were given summer clothing, each piece marked with a huge X on the back, socks and Dutch wooden shoes. It was October and the sky was grey, the wind strong; it was freezing cold. The inmates who were there already were unfriendly – I think they envied us arriving later than they had. The constant shouting of uniformed SS women accompanied by large dogs was terrifying. We knew we were facing a horrible fate. This was Birkenau, a death camp.

We were ordered to line up to be tattooed. On my inside left arm I was given the number A 27635. Less than a week later, we underwent one of the now well-known selections done by physicians like Dr. Mengele and Dr. König. I was very thin and undernourished and with one wave of the doctor’s hand, my mother and I were separated. I saw my mother’s desperate face trying to follow me, but she was pushed back. I was alone.

Like cattle we were pushed into trucks, hundreds of us heading to, I was sure, the gas chamber to end as dust in the chimney. They took us into a large room and told us to undress. It must have been late, as it was dark outside. Women started to scream hysterically that we were going to be gassed. We may have actually been in one of the delousing barracks, not the gas chambers at all, but I was in a daze and, as I remember it, I moved to a window. I looked around; no one was watching me. Everyone was in her own strange world of despair. I pushed my small head through an opening in the window, and then my shoulders and the rest of my body went through like butter. I didn’t hear or see any dogs. I jumped down and ran. I had nothing to lose. I knew I had to get into a barracks. I found one and tried to get onto a bunk but they were all filled. It was pitch dark. In the middle of the barracks was something like a huge steam boiler. I climbed up on it to sit down. It was quiet. Suddenly, I got a terrible toothache. Then something heavy and alive fell on me and jumped away – rats!

Life started at 5:00 a.m. in the camps and the next morning I heard shouts from the block elders, ordering us to get out and line up for the Appell, the head count. I had survived the night, but I knew I had to go out and line up. I remember standing in line, stiff, freezing, but don’t remember anything after that. I must have fainted.

I woke up on a top bunk in the hospital with another girl next to me. It was the least safe place to be because it was the first place they went to collect people to send to the gas chamber. But I was weak and couldn’t go anywhere. When my neighbour saw that I had opened my eyes, she said, “You have probably survived typhus.”

The New Normal

The Last Time

Above all, I remember feeling fearful. The police and gendarmes wore terrifying uniforms with rooster plumes in their hats. I would literally shiver when I saw them coming. We watched what we said and tried not to make our presence obvious. Still, how could we hide? The Hungarians, and later the Germans, did not need a reason to make trouble for Jews; our mere existence seemed to give them the justification to hurt and torture us.

We were humiliated and dehumanized each day. The Hungarian gendarmes followed Nazi orders, rampaging through our streets, picking up people and demanding our valuables. They built a torture chamber in what used to be a beer factory. They would grab Jewish men, take them to be tortured and force them to reveal where their possessions were hidden. One morning, they grabbed my father and tortured him.

The gendarmes came to our house and demanded our valuables. They pulled my mother’s wedding ring from her finger; she had been too proud to hide it. They also ruined a treasured gift that my sister and I had recently received. Our birthdays were in the same month, and in 1943 our parents had given us our first watches. When the guards banged on our door in the ghetto, we pulled off the lovely watches, smashed them hard and threw them into the fire. There was no way that I would give them up to the antisemites. After the war, my relatives gave me a photograph of us wearing the watches.

Our schooling had ended when the ghetto started. We were deprived of education, while our parents and all Jews were denied the right to run businesses and stores. I don’t know how we bought food – perhaps the grocery stores were able to sell whatever was left. My parents did not want to burden us with frightening details. My father was sensitive and cried all the time when he saw what was happening to us. He had no answer. Nobody did. It was a tragedy that we had not expected. But who could have known that despite our current conditions, worse things were still to come?

Vanished Boyhood

Life Changes Overnight

Some time near the end of May 1944, my father found a gentile man who was willing to sell us three documents – his son’s Christian birth certificate, school report card and Boy Scout membership card. The documents were appropriate for me because the boy was around my age. His name was József, or Józsi, a common name in Hungary, and his family name was Kovács, a typical Christian Hungarian name. So my new name was Józsi Kovács; I had to learn the name well and forget my real name. It took me days to learn my new name, where I was born and my new birthday. My father bought documents for my mother too, but she still didn’t want to escape without my sister.

Although my mother wouldn’t leave my sister, she was in favour of me escaping the ghetto. I think she could foresee the future and the danger of staying. I prepared a small suitcase of clothing and the next morning I said goodbye to my mother and kissed her. She was crying as I left the house to get the streetcar to Budapest. That was the last time I saw her.

That morning, my destination was not my school, as it had always been in the past, but an apartment in a small complex in Madách Square where Aunt Aranka, Uncle Frici and my cousins Vera and Tomàs were temporarily living with Frici’s brother. Their family had left Újpest right after the Germans arrived, which had been easier for my uncle because he was blond with blue eyes and didn’t look Jewish to the Germans. He could go outside without the yellow star and not worry too much about being caught.

I stayed with them for two or three weeks, talking about where to go and hide. By now, Polish Jews in Budapest who had escaped from other ghettos or camps were spreading the word of what was happening in the death camps in Poland and Austria. We all knew it was only a matter of time until the Nazis started to kill the Jews in Budapest, too. We discussed the possibility of escaping to the countryside to hide, but we knew that we could not all stay together. My aunt and uncle and Tomàs, who was only ten, had a place they could stay on a farm close to Budapest, but my cousin Vera, who was twelve, and I, now thirteen, had no place to go.

Une jeunesse perdue

La nouvelle réalité

Peu avant la fin mai 1944, mon père a trouvé un non-Juif qui était prêt à nous vendre trois documents : l’acte de naissance de son fils chrétien, un bulletin scolaire et une carte d’adhérent pour les boy-scouts. Ces documents me correspondaient tout à fait, car ce garçon avait à peu près mon âge. Il s’appelait József, ou Józsi, prénom commun en Hongrie, et son nom de famille était Kovács, patronyme typiquement chrétien. Je devais désormais devenir Józsi Kovács : il fallait que j’ancre ce nom dans ma mémoire et que j’oublie ma propre identité. Mais j’ai pris plusieurs jours pour y arriver, et il en a été de même avec le lieu où j’étais né et ma nouvelle date de naissance. Mon père a acheté des papiers pour ma mère aussi, mais elle ne voulait toujours pas fuir sans ma soeur.

Si réticente que soit ma mère à partir sans sa fille, elle était néanmoins favorable à ce que je m’échappe du Ghetto. Je crois qu’elle pressentait l’avenir, et le danger qu’il y avait à rester. J’ai préparé une petite valise de vêtements et le lendemain matin, j’ai embrassé ma mère pour lui faire mes adieux. Elle pleurait au moment où j’ai quitté la maison pour prendre le tramway pour Budapest. C’est la dernière fois que je l’ai vue.

Ce matin-là, je ne me suis pas rendu à l’école, contrairement à mes habitudes, mais à un appartement dans un petit complexe situé place Madách où tante Aranka, oncle Frici, mes cousins Vera et Tomàs habitaient temporairement chez le frère de Frici. Leur famille avait quitté Újpest juste après l’arrivée des Allemands, ce qui avait été plus facile pour mon oncle qui était blond aux yeux bleus et ne ressemblait pas à un Juif, selon les critères allemands. Il pouvait sortir dépourvu de son étoile jaune sans se soucier de se faire appréhender.

Je suis resté chez eux pendant deux ou trois semaines, à discuter d’abris possibles où nous serions en sécurité. À présent, les Juifs polonais échappés de camps ou de ghettos et qui vivaient à Budapest répandaient la rumeur de ce qui se passait dans les camps de la mort en Pologne et en Autriche. Nous savions tous que les nazis ne tarderaient pas à massacrer aussi les Juifs de Budapest. Nous avons envisagé de fuir à la campagne pour nous y cacher, mais nous savions que nous ne pourrions pas demeurer tous ensemble. Mon oncle, ma tante et Tomàs, qui n’avait que 10 ans, disposaient d’un endroit où habiter : il s’agissait d’une ferme, située non loin de Budapest. Cependant, ma cousine Vera, âgée de 12 ans, et moi-même, âgé de 13 ans, n’avions nulle part où aller.

The Shadows Behind Me

Occupation and Loss

Shortly after the war began, the Soviet government opened its borders and many Jewish people tried to save themselves by crossing into the Soviet Union. But a lot of Jews didn’t go. Some disliked the Communist regime and others didn’t want to leave their homes and everything else behind. Older Jews, who remembered how well the German soldiers who occupied Poland in World War I had treated them, couldn’t imagine the German evil that would emerge in World War II. And many Jews couldn’t go to the Soviet Union because they had large families with small children. In our family, my mother was ill with arthritis and there were seven children, the youngest only five years old. It was impossible for all of us to go to the Soviet Union. In early spring 1940, my good friends Leon Monderer and Jozef Szarp went to Lwów in Soviet-occupied Poland. They went through the open Soviet border and found freedom from Nazi oppression. After they had found jobs in Lwów, they got a chance to come back to Krakow for a few days to see their families and friends. Before they left Krakow to return to the Soviet-occupied area, Leon and Jozef came to my house and asked me to go with them. They told me that they had a good job for me and that I should seize this opportunity to save myself from the Nazis. I had an impossibly painful decision to make. Should I leave my dear family in such a terrible time? I couldn’t be of much help to them and I had the chance to be better off in Lwów with my friends. So I decided to be free and save myself. With pain in my heart, I decided to go.

My parents agreed with my decision; they wanted me to save myself from what was happening in Poland. My mother packed a suitcase for me with shirts, pants, socks and a jacket. I was ready to go. I said goodbye to my family and my parents pushed me to go with my friends, who were standing near the door. “I hope to see you soon,” I said to them, but then looked back and saw my whole family holding onto one another. My younger sisters were crying. It was such a distressing image that I couldn’t leave. I put down my suitcase and told my friends to go without me. “I hope someday we will see each other as free people,” I said, “but I will not leave my family.”

Leon and Jozef were sorry to hear my decision, but they understood my feelings. We all said goodbye and hoped to see one another after the war. It was difficult for me to say goodbye to my best friends because I couldn’t shake the feeling that I would never see them again. But if I had gone with my friends, I would never have forgiven myself. I was so glad that I decided to stay with my family. I knew then that I could never leave my family behind and that I didn’t care what happened as long as I was with my loved ones. It was the only way. I was only sorry that I couldn’t be more helpful to them.

I still think about that time when I could have gone to the Soviet Union to save my life and escape the Germans. In Krakow, we were hunted by the Nazis as animals are hunted in the jungle. We suffered from hunger, terror and humiliation. It was exhausting to get through each day and it was unbearable to watch my family suffering. Not being able to help them made me feel helpless, angry and miserable. If only my family could have gone to the Soviet Union.

Les Ombres du passé

Trouver un lieu sûr

Peu après le début de la guerre, le gouvernement soviétique a ouvert ses frontières et de nombreux Juifs sont passés en Union soviétique pour échapper aux nazis. Mais beaucoup sont aussi restés sur place. Certains refusaient d’aller vivre dans un pays communiste et d’autres ne voulaient pas quitter leur maison et leurs biens durement acquis. Les anciens, qui se souvenaient de la politesse de l’occupant allemand pendant la Première Guerre mondiale, ne pouvaient imaginer les crimes dont ces soldats allaient se rendre coupables. Et beaucoup de Juifs n’avaient pas les moyens de partir car ils avaient des familles nombreuses avec des enfants en bas âge. C’était le cas de mes parents, avec sept enfants à charge, dont une fillette de cinq ans. Pour compliquer la situation, ma mère souffrait d’arthrite. Il nous était impossible de nous rendre tous en Union soviétique. Au début du printemps 1940, mes bons amis Leon Monderer et Jozef Szarp sont allés à Lwów, en Pologne sous occupation soviétique.

Ils ont passé la frontière soviétique alors ouverte et ont été libérés du joug nazi. Après avoir trouvé du travail à Lwów, ils ont pris le risque de revenir à Cracovie quelques jours pour revoir leurs familles et leurs amis. Avant de retourner en zone d’occupation soviétique, Leon et Jozef m’ont rendu visite et m’ont demandé de les accompagner. Ils m’ont affirmé qu’ils avaient un bon travail pour moi et que je devrais saisir l’occasion d’échapper à l’oppression nazie. Quel tourment que cette décision ! Pouvais-je quitter ma chère famille à un moment aussi critique ? Mais je ne leur étais pas d’une grande utilité à Cracovie et j’avais la possibilité de bien m’en sortir à Lwów avec mes amis. J’ai décidé d’opter pour ma liberté. Le coeur gros, j’ai choisi de partir.

Mes parents n’ont pas remis en question ma décision ; ils voulaient que j’échappe à ce qui se passait en Pologne. Ma mère m’a préparé une valise avec des chemises, des pantalons, des chaussettes et une veste. J’étais prêt à partir. J’ai d’abord dit au revoir aux miens puis mes parents m’ont poussé vers mes amis qui attendaient près de la porte. « J’espère vous revoir bientôt », ai-je murmuré avec émotion à mes parents. Mais ensuite, je me suis retourné et j’ai vu tous les membres de ma famille côte à côte. Mes soeurs cadettes pleuraient. Cette image a été si pénible que je n’ai pas pu partir. J’ai posé ma valise par terre et j’ai dit à mes amis de s’en aller sans moi. Je leur ai déclaré : « J’espère qu’un jour nous nous retrouverons libres, mais je ne quitterai pas ma famille. »

Leon et Jozef ont été déçus, mais ils ont compris ce que je ressentais. Nous nous sommes dit au revoir et avons exprimé le souhait de nous revoir après la guerre. J’ai eu du mal à quitter mes meilleurs amis, parce que je ne pouvais m’empêcher de penser que nous ne nous reverrions jamais. Mais si j’étais parti avec eux, je ne me le serais jamais pardonné. J’étais très heureux d’avoir décidé de demeurer avec les miens. J’ai su alors que je ne les quitterais jamais et que nous ferions face ensemble aux épreuves à venir, quelles qu’elles soient. C’était là mon point de vue, le seul possible pour moi. Je regrettais seulement de ne pas être d’une plus grande utilité pour ma famille.

Je pense encore à l’époque où j’aurais pu me rendre en Union soviétique pour sauver ma vie et échapper aux Allemands. À Cracovie, nous étions pourchassés par les nazis comme des animaux dans la jungle. Nous subissions la faim, la terreur et l’humiliation. Chaque journée était une épreuve et je ne supportais pas de voir ma famille souffrir. Je me sentais impuissant, en colère et malheureux de ne pas pouvoir les aider. Si seulement nous avions tous pu fuir en Union soviétique !

Album of My Life

When it All Changed

A week of uncertainty ended when German troops marched into Lodz on Friday, September 8, 1939. It was a warm, sunny day and I walked toward Plac Wolności to watch the arrival of the occupiers. They came on foot and in trucks, looking immaculate in their uniforms, boots shining. Many of them carried flowers from the German population of the city. City Hall and other buildings were decked out with huge flags with swastikas. In other words, the city rolled out the red carpet to welcome the invaders, whom some regarded as liberators. The large German population of the city opened their arms for their brethren, even though the community had lived in Poland for generations. There weren’t many sad faces in the throngs, and there were fewer Jews.

Signs of things to come appeared almost immediately. I witnessed a soldier pulling an elderly Jewish man’s beard and kicking him to the ground because he wasn’t working fast enough to fill the trenches that had been dug only a few days before to stop the German tanks. I remember how enthusiastic and patriotic we had felt when we dug those trenches.

At the end of September, after weeks of siege and relentless bombing, Warsaw capitulated and the triumphant German army occupied the city on October 1, 1939. In the conquered capital city, burned out, demolished buildings bore witness to the results of modern warfare. A beautiful, cultural city was reduced to rubble. Most of Warsaw’s defenders were dead, and while the valiant survivors could resist no longer they were still full of spirit.

My sister’s store faced the Zielong Rynek, the Green Market. On one Sunday soon after the Germans arrived, the stalls in the market were closed and some boys were playing soccer there when a truckwith German soldiers went by. They stopped and joined the boys in the game, which frightened everybody. Another time, when I took my niece for a stroll in the park – this was before the harsh laws banning us from parks were passed – an older soldier next to me started playing with Miriam. With tears in his eyes, he told me that he had left a baby the same age back in Germany. I don’t remember any other demonstrations of kindness. Maybe the same soldier would think nothing of bashing a Jewish baby’s head against a wall to kill it. These examples are just too minor when you consider what was about to happen to us.

...

Before long, all kinds of decrees and restrictions started appearing, each one more dehumanizing than the last. There were so many of them that it’s hard to remember them all, although a few stand out in my memory. No Jews were allowed to attend school or institutes of higher learning, regardless of age, which brought my formal education to an end at fourteen. We were banned from using public transportation and from entering any park, theatre or cinema. A curfew was imposed from seven at night until seven in the morning. We had to get off the sidewalk when a German soldier approached. Most shameful of all, we had to wear an armband as a sign of our Jewish identity on our sleeves. Disobeying this rule was punishable by death.

L’Album de ma vie

Quand ma vie a basculé

Les troupes allemandes sont entrées dans Łódź le vendredi 8 septembre 1939. C’était un bel après-midi ensoleillé et je me suis dirigée vers la place Wolności pour voir arriver les occupants. Ils sont arrivés à pied et en camions, impeccables dans leurs uniformes et leurs bottes bien astiquées. Plusieurs d’entre eux portaient des fleurs offertes par la population allemande de la ville. L’hôtel de ville et d’autres édifices étaient pavoisés d’immenses drapeaux arborant des croix gammées. Autrement dit, la ville déroulait le tapis rouge pour accueillir les envahisseurs que certains considéraient comme des libérateurs. L’importante population allemande de la ville ouvrait les bras à ses compatriotes et ce, même si la communauté était installée en Pologne depuis des générations. On ne voyait pas beaucoup de visages tristes dans la foule et les Juifs se faisaient rares.

Les signes avant-coureurs de ce qui allait se passer sont apparus presque immédiatement. J’ai vu de mes yeux un soldat tirer un vieillard juif par la barbe et le jeter à terre à coups de pied parce qu’il ne remplissait pas assez vite les tranchées creusées quelques jours auparavant pour arrêter les chars d’assaut allemands. Je me souviens comme nous nous étions sentis enthousiastes et patriotes en les creusant.

Varsovie a capitulé vers la fin du mois de septembre, après des semaines de siège et de bombardements continus, et l’armée allemande victorieuse a occupé la ville le 1ᵉʳ octobre 1939. Dans la capitale conquise, des immeubles incendiés et détruits montraient les ravages causés par l’armement moderne. Cette belle ville qui avait été un foyer culturel important a été réduite en cendres. Presque tous les défenseurs de Varsovie étaient morts et même s’ils ne pouvaient résister plus longtemps, les courageux survivants gardaient le moral.

Le magasin de ma sœur était situé en face du Zielony Rynek, le « marché vert ». Un dimanche, peu de temps après l’arrivée des Allemands, alors que les échoppes du marché étaient fermées et que quelques gamins jouaient au football, un camion de soldats allemands est arrivé. Il s’est arrêté et les soldats ont commencé à jouer avec les garçons, ce qui a terrifié tout le monde. Une autre fois, avant l’adoption des lois impitoyables nous interdisant l’accès aux parcs, je me promenais dans le parc avec ma nièce quand un soldat un peu plus âgé s’est mis à jouer avec Miriam. Les larmes aux yeux, il m’a confié qu’il avait laissé un bébé du même âge en Allemagne. Je ne me souviens pas d’avoir été témoin d’autres manifestations de gentillesse. Ce même soldat n’aurait peut-être pas hésité à tuer un bébé juif en lui fracassant la tête contre un mur. Ces exemples sont tout simplement trop insignifiants quand on pense à ce qui allait nous arriver.

À peine entrés dans Łódź, les Allemands ont aussitôt dynamité le monument du héros polonais Tadeusz Kościuszko au centre de la place Wolności. Je me souviens de l’avoir vu gisant par terre un jour où je me promenais. La tête était séparée du torse. Un soldat allemand triomphateur se faisait photographier, un bras autour de sa petite amie, un pied sur la tête de Kościuszko.

Peu de temps après, toutes sortes de restrictions et de décrets sont entrés en vigueur, tous plus déshumanisants les uns que les autres. Il y en avait tant qu’il est difficile de se les rappeler tous, mais certains me sont restés en mémoire. Les Juifs, quel que soit leur âge, n’avaient plus le droit de fréquenter des écoles ou des instituts d’études supérieures et c’est ainsi que mes études ont pris fin quand j’avais 14 ans. Il nous était interdit d’utiliser les transports en commun et d’entrer dans un parc, un théâtre ou un cinéma. Un couvre-feu était imposé de 19 heures à 7 heures. Nous devions changer de trottoir à l’approche d’un soldat allemand. Le comble de l’humiliation, c’était que nous devions porter un brassard comme signe de notre identité juive. Désobéir à ce règlement était passible de la peine de mort.

But I Had a Happy Childhood

Hiding and Surviving

People were dying like flies in the ghetto, not only in the daily Aktionen but also in mass executions at the Jewish cemetery, where the victims had to dig their own graves before being shot. Others were taken away in carts to trains bound for the death camp at Belzec. There were also those who died from disease, primarily typhus, due to the complete lack of sanitation. And then, of course, there was always starvation. Bodies in the streets became a regular fact of life, even though carts came around to remove them.

The liquidation of the ghetto was imminent. By the end of February, the Stanisławów ghetto was declared judenrein, cleansed of Jews.

Prior to that fateful time, however, my mother had sensed that she had to do something before it was too late. By December 1942, she had lost most of her family and her baby looked sadder and thinner every day. I was almost two and I couldn’t walk yet. I barely talked. One cold overcast morning, she wrapped a comforter tightly around the two of us and approached the main Schleuse, or gate to the ghetto, where she saw her cousin Jakob Mandel in charge. He was a tough, stocky man who had had business dealings with the Germans before the war. His position of authority was a reward for loyal service. Later he too was executed by the Nazis. On this particular occasion, there was a quick exchange as the eyes of the cousins met before he turned away, allowing my mother and her precious bundle to slip behind his broad back.

Once outside the ghetto walls, my mother ripped off her blue-and-white Star of David armband and ran down the cobblestone street, fully expecting a bullet in the back. By this time I was well trained to be quiet. Just being so close to my mother was enough to make me happy. We reached the safety of the apartment of a former neighbour, who pulled us in quickly, no doubt fearing for her life. That night I was nestled in between my mother and Pani (Mrs.) Poliszowa on her bed.

My happiness didn’t last long. The next day, my mother handed me over to Józia, who had been a maid in her brother’s house, to take me to her widowed sister in Pozniki, a neighbouring village. Marynia and her two young sons were my new family for the next eighteen months. With my blond hair, blue eyes and button nose, I fit in easily as the baby sister. Suffering from malnutrition and one childhood illness after another, it took a while for me to become a healthy normal toddler.

Souvenirs de l’abîme/Le Bonheur de l’innocence

Survivre en clandestinité

Les gens mouraient comme des mouches autour de nous, que ce soit durant les Aktionen quotidiennes ou lors des exécutions en masse perpétrées au cimetière juif, après que les victimes avaient été forcées d’y creuser leur propre tombe. D’autres étaient emmenés en charrettes vers les trains à destination du camp de la mort de Bełzec. Et certains mouraient des suites de maladies, principalement du typhus, en raison des conditions d’hygiène abominables. Puis, évidemment, il y avait la faim. Les corps gisants dans la rue étaient chose courante, malgré le passage régulier de charrettes destinées à les ramasser.

La liquidation du ghetto de Stanisławów était imminente. De fait, à la fin du mois de février 1943, les Allemands l’ont déclaré « judenrein », nettoyé des Juifs.

Mais avant ce moment fatidique, avant qu’il ne soit trop tard, ma mère avait senti qu’il fallait faire quelque chose. En décembre 1942, elle avait perdu presque tous les membres de sa famille et son bébé lui semblait plus triste et plus maigre de jour en jour. J’avais près de 2 ans, mais je ne marchais pas encore. Je parlais à peine. Par un matin froid et couvert, elle m’a prise avec elle, nous a emmitouflées étroitement dans un édredon et s’est approchée de la Schleuse (porte) principale du Ghetto, où son cousin Jakob Mandel était de service. Cet homme solide et trapu avait fait des affaires avec les Allemands avant la guerre, mais bien que ses loyaux services lui aient valu une place d’autorité dans la communauté, il a tout de même été exécuté plus tard par les nazis. Ce jour-là, les deux cousins ont échangé un regard furtif, puis Mandel s’est retourné, permettant ainsi à ma mère de passer derrière son large dos avec son précieux paquet.

Une fois sortie du Ghetto, ma mère a retiré son brassard bleu et blanc portant l’étoile de David et s’est mise à courir dans la rue pavée, s’attendant à tout moment à recevoir une balle dans le dos. À cette époque, j’avais appris à me tenir tranquille, et être si près de ma mère suffisait à me rendre heureuse. Nous nous sommes réfugiées sur le seuil de l’appartement d’une ancienne voisine qui, craignant sans doute pour sa vie, nous a vite tirées vers l’intérieur. Cette nuit-là, j’ai dormi dans le lit de Pani (Mᵐᵉ) Poliszowa, blottie entre elle et ma mère.

Mon bonheur a été de courte durée. Dès le lendemain, ma mère m’a confiée à une ancienne domestique de son frère, Józia, qui m’a emmenée chez sa soeur Marynia à Pozniki, un village voisin. Cette veuve et ses deux petits garçons de 3 et 6 ans ont été ma nouvelle famille durant 18 mois. Avec mes cheveux blonds, mes yeux bleus et mon petit nez, je passais facilement pour la petite soeur. Ayant souffert de malnutrition et de nombreuses maladies infantiles, j’ai tout de même mis un certain temps à jouir d’une bonne santé.

If Only It Were Fiction

Elsa Joins the Resistance

In the middle of the summer of 1942, we were coming in from the fields one day when someone said that Leah wanted to see me. She was in the kitchen with another woman, chatting. Leah introduced her to me as Irena Adamowicz. Irena was a leader in the Polish scouting organization. Outraged by the injustice done to the Jews, she helped out however she could. Irena travelled across the country, making contact with chalutzim in the major ghettos and telling them about how the underground resistance operated. Although travel was dangerous for Jews, a few chalutzot, like Lonka who had come to the farm earlier, successfully fulfilled their mission as messengers too. The messengers were purchasing weapons, which then were smuggled into the ghettos through the sewers. Most people in the ghettos couldn’t communicate with others about what to do in case of a massacre but through Irena, they knew how the others were preparing for such a time.

Irena talked to me for a while. She told me that I was being sent to Krakow. She asked how I felt about resistance work and whether or not I knew Christian prayers. I told her I knew many of them by heart after so many years of hearing Catholic students saying the prayers every morning at school. She seemed satisfied with my answers. Irena gave me the address of a convent and told me to send a letter to the Mother Superior on the seventh day of every month as a sign that I was still alive. Whenever the underground needed me, they would let me know. She handed me a prayer book and said only, “Be careful and good luck.” That was the only advice I was to receive. The rest of my training would come from real-life situations. I would have to trust my intuition to keep me out of danger, just as animals do. They don’t think about it, they simply know when danger is near.

The next day, the resistance had organized for Hela and I to go to the village to have pictures taken for our identification documents. Dvora lent me a pretty blouse and combed my hair, so I would look my best. We walked through the village, afraid that someone would recognize us as Jews. The photographer took me by surprise when he asked me my surname. In shock, I didn’t think but just said the first name that came to my mind, a surname connected to the aristocracy. That name, Elżbieta Orlanska, was the one that was used in my forged documents. This was a stroke of luck because later it was useful in getting other documents required by the German authorities.

A few days later, with a forged document that stated that I was from Rzeszów and a letter from Leah for Laban, the leader of the resistance movement in the Krakow ghetto, I was sent to Krakow on the morning train. Hela was sent to another city in the afternoon.

After the war, I discovered that the rest of my group back on the farm in Czerniaków were sent to the Warsaw ghetto about four months after I left for Krakow. In April 1943, when an order came from the Nazis to concentrate all Jews in the ghetto for a massive deportation, some of the group, who were living at 18 Mila Street and belonged to the underground Jewish Fighting Organization, rebelled. Others simply dispersed. Most of them did not survive.

To my friends from Czerniaków who were killed while taking part in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, as well as to those on missions who were caught outside the ghetto, dragged to the Umschlagplatz – the assembly point inside the Warsaw ghetto – and killed indiscriminately, I offer my eternal homage.

Que renaisse demain

Elsa entre en Résistance

Au milieu de l’été 1942, nous revenions des champs un jour lorsque quelqu’un m’a dit que Leah demandait à me voir. Je l’ai donc rejointe aux cuisines, où elle bavardait avec une femme. Il s’agissait d’Irena Adamowicz, l’une des dirigeantes du mouvement scout polonais. Indignée par les injustices commises envers les Juifs, elle faisait son possible pour aider. Elle parcourait le pays, établissant des contacts avec les ẖaloutzim dans les grands ghettos, les informant du travail de la Résistance. Bien qu’il ait été dangereux pour les Juifs de se déplacer, quelques aloutzot – comme Lonka, qui était passée à la ferme auparavant – parvenaient également à mener à bien leurs missions de messagères. Ces agents et agentes de liaison achetaient des armes qui étaient ensuite introduites dans les ghettos par les égouts. Il était très difficile de communiquer d’un ghetto à l’autre, pour discuter notamment des actions à prendre en cas de massacre, mais grâce à Irena, on savait comment les autres se préparaient.

Irena s’est entretenue avec moi un moment pour m’annoncer qu’on m’envoyait à Cracovie. Après m’avoir demandé ce que je pensais de la Résistance, elle a voulu savoir si je connaissais des prières chrétiennes. Je lui ai répondu que j’en avais appris beaucoup par coeur, car à l’école catholique que j’avais fréquentée durant des années, les élèves récitaient leurs prières tous les matins. Irena semblait satisfaite de mes réponses. Elle m’a ensuite donné l’adresse d’un couvent où je devais envoyer une lettre à la mère supérieure le septième jour de chaque mois pour faire savoir que j’étais toujours en vie. Toutes les fois que la Résistance aurait besoin de moi, on me ferait signe. Elle m’a également remis un livre de prières en disant simplement : « Sois prudente et bonne chance. » C’est le seul conseil que je recevrais. Le reste de ma formation, je l’acquerrais par moi-même sur le terrain. Je devais m’en remettre à ma seule intuition pour me sortir de situations dangereuses, tout comme le font les animaux ; ils ne réfléchissent pas au danger, ils le sentent proche et tâchent de l’éviter.

Le lendemain, des membres de la Résistance se sont organisés pour que Hela et moi nous rendions au village afin de nous faire photographier en vue de la préparation de nos papiers d’identité. Dvora m’avait prêté une jolie blouse et m’avait coiffée pour l’occasion. En traversant le village, Hela et moi craignions à tout moment qu’on nous reconnaisse comme Juives. Puis le photographe m’a surprise en me demandant mon nom de famille. Prise de court, j’ai lancé le premier nom qui m’est venu à l’idée : Elżbieta Orlanska. Et c’est ce nom à consonance aristocratique qui est apparu sur mes faux papiers. C’était un coup de chance, car il m’a été très utile par la suite pour obtenir d’autres documents requis par les autorités allemandes.

Quelques jours plus tard, j’ai pris le premier train à destination de Cracovie, munie d’un faux document stipulant que je venais de Rzeszów, ainsi qu’une lettre de Leah adressée à Laban (Abraham « Laban » Leibowicz), le chef de la Résistance du ghetto de Cracovie. Hela a été envoyée dans une autre ville l’après-midi même.

J’ai appris après la guerre que tous les membres de notre groupe restés à la ferme à Czerniaków avaient été envoyés au ghetto de Varsovie environ quatre mois après mon départ pour Cracovie. En avril 1943, quand les nazis ont donné l’ordre de rassembler tous les Juifs du Ghetto en vue d’une déportation massive, certains membres du groupe, qui habitaient au 18 rue Mila et appartenaient à l’Organisation juive de combat se sont rebellés. D’autres se sont simplement dispersés. La plupart d’entre eux n’ont pas survécu.

À mes amis de Czerniaków tombés au combat lors de l’insurrection du ghetto de Varsovie et à ceux qui ont été pris en mission hors de l’enceinte, emmenés à la Umschlagplatz – le lieu de rassemblement à l’intérieur du ghetto de Varsovie – puis tués sans pitié, je rends un hommage éternel.

Sur les traces du passé, Steve Rotschild

Steve Rotschild, âgé de 10 ans, apprend à se cacher, à se taire, à rester immobile. Il reconnaît le claquement des bottes nazies et sait retenir sa respiration jusqu’à ce que s’éloignent les soldats. Rotschild nous entraîne dans un voyage captivant au cœur de son enfance à Vilnius durant la guerre, juxtaposant avec éloquence ses sorties d’autrefois hors du Ghetto avec ses longues promenades libératrices dans Toronto, 50 ans après l’Holocauste. Sur les traces du passé raconte la survie du garçonnet et l’amour inébranlable de sa mère, laissant une marque indélébile dans l’esprit du lecteur.

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

152 pages

About the author

Photo of Steve Rotschild

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

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Dignity Endures, Judith Rubinstein

When the train from Hungary to Auschwitz brings Judith face-to-face with death, her mother’s quick actions save her. At twenty-four years old, separated from her family, she struggles to stay alive in a system bent on humiliation and degradation, where surviving the daily violence is a matter of luck. Judith endures the destruction of her family, holding close the memories of those she loved. Feeling hopelessly alone after the war, she must figure out how to put her life back together and where to find home. Weaving together her story with those of cherished friends and family, Judith’s poetic reminiscences show how Dignity Endures even through the worst of human tragedies.

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At a Glance
Hungary
Deportation
Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp
Auschwitz-Birkenau Uprising
Concentration camps
Postwar Italy, displaced persons camp
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Adjusting to life in Canada
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
English

192 pages

About the author

Photo of Judith Rubinstein

Judith Rubinstein was born in Mezőcsát, Hungary, in 1920. After the war, she spent more than two years in displaced persons camps in Italy. Judith immigrated to Canada in 1948 with her husband, Béla, and their new baby, Robert Eli. She lived a full life in Toronto, as mother of Robert and her daughter, Rochelle, grandmother of seven and great-grandmother of eleven, as well as being a writer of short stories and memoir, a voracious reader and a popular speaker at the Neuberger Holocaust Centre. Judith Rubinstein passed away in 2013.

In Search of Light, Martha Salcudean

Martha Salcudean is ten years old when her childhood comes to an abrupt end. The war has been raging around her for years, but in Northern Transylvania, now a part of Hungary, the atrocities intensify with the Nazi invasion in 1944. Suddenly, Martha and her family are imprisoned in ghettos and surrounded by incomprehensible cruelty. As she and her family are lined up in front of a cattle car train, a split-second decision her father makes changes their fate in an instant — instead of heading to almost certain death in Auschwitz, Martha and her family become destined to be saved by Rudolf Kasztner, a man riskily negotiating with the Nazis. After the war, Martha returns home, only to be caught in the grip of a new Communist dictatorship. Martha’s journey In Search of Light takes her through the darkness of two oppressive regimes to the beginning of freedom in Canada, where she is finally able to choose her own path.

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At a Glance
Romania (Northern Transylvania); Hungary; Switzerland
Postwar Romania
Ghettos
Kasztner’s train
Bergen-Belsen concentration camp
Life under Communism
Arrived in Canada in 1976
Adjusting to life in Canada
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

232 pages

About the author

Photo of Martha Salcudean

Dr. Martha Salcudean was born in 1934 in Cluj, Romania, and immigrated to Canada in 1976. She was a professor at the University of Ottawa before becoming head of mechanical engineering at the University of British Columbia. She received three honorary doctorates and a number of prestigious awards and honours for her extensive contributions to science and engineering. Martha Salcudean passed away in July 2019.

Never Far Apart, Kitty Salsberg, Ellen Foster

Kati and her younger sister, Ilonka, arrive in Canada with painful memories from the Holocaust, which has taken both of their parents. Their harrowing time alone in the Budapest ghetto is fresh in their minds, as are their fragile hopes to be adopted. But their lives in Toronto are far from what they expected, and full of broken promises. As the sisters navigate their new surroundings, they each grow fiercely strong and independent, while holding onto the comfort that they will be Never Far Apart.

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At a Glance
Hungary
Budapest ghetto
War Orphans Project
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Adjusting to life in Canada
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

208 pages

About the author

Photo of Kitty Salsberg

Kitty (Kati) Salsberg was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1932. She immigrated to Canada in 1948, where she enjoyed a long and fulfilling career as a teacher. Kitty lives in Toronto.

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Photo of Ellen Foster

Ellen (Ilonka) Foster was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1935. She immigrated to Canada in 1948. Ellen moved to Los Angeles in 1952, where she worked and raised a family. Ellen still lives in LA.

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Unies dans l’épreuve, Kitty Salsberg, Ellen Foster

Kati et sa jeune sœur, Ilonka, arrivent au Canada marquées par l’Holocauste qui les a privées de leurs deux parents. La période éprouvante qu’elles ont passée seules au ghetto de Budapest est encore fraîche dans leur mémoire et elles ont l’espoir fragile d’être adoptées. Mais leur vie à Toronto est bien loin de ce qu’elles avaient imaginé et pleine de promesses non tenues. Au fur et à mesure que les deux sœurs s’adaptent à leur nouvel environnement, elles deviennent fortes et indépendantes, se raccrochant à l’idée qu’elles resteront toujours Unies dans l’épreuve.

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At a Glance
Hungary
Budapest ghetto
War Orphans Project
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Adjusting to life in Canada
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
French

232 pages

About the author

Photo of Kitty Salsberg

Kitty (Kati) Salsberg was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1932. She immigrated to Canada in 1948, where she enjoyed a long and fulfilling career as a teacher. Kitty lives in Toronto.

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About the author

Photo of Ellen Foster

Ellen (Ilonka) Foster was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1935. She immigrated to Canada in 1948. Ellen moved to Los Angeles in 1952, where she worked and raised a family. Ellen still lives in LA.

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Escape from the Edge, Morris Schnitzer

Narrow escapes and bold decisions define the life of young Morris Schnitzer during World War II. Fleeing from Nazi Germany after the violence of the Kristallnacht pogrom, with his father’s warning to never set foot in a concentration camp echoing in his mind, Morris resolves to fight — and survive. As he assumes three different false identities and crosses countless borders in search of safety, Morris poses as a farmhand in the Netherlands, is arrested and turned away from safety in Switzerland, is jailed in France, joins the resistance in Belgium, and, ultimately, enlists in the American army, vowing to take revenge for all that he has lost.

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At a Glance
Germany; the Netherlands; France; Belgium
Kristallnacht
Kindertransport
Escape
Passing/false identity
Resistance
Postwar Netherlands
Arrived in Canada in 1947
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

196 pages

About the author

Photo of Morris Schnitzer

Morris Schnitzer was born in Bochum, Germany in 1922. In 1947, he immigrated to Montreal, where he earned both a BSc and MSc at McGill University, going on to earn his PhD in 1955. In Ottawa, Morris worked at the Canadian government’s Department of Agriculture as a principal researcher in the chemistry of soil organic matter. He won the prestigious Wolf Prize in Agriculture in 1995 and wrote three books and more than four hundred scientific papers over the course of his distinguished career. Morris Schnitzer passed away in Ottawa in 2020.

Dangerous Measures, Joseph Schwarzberg

Fleeing Germany after the violence of the Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938, young Joseph and his family find safety in Belgium, but all too soon they have to escape again — this time to France — when the Germans occupy Belgium in 1940. When the Germans then conquer France and Joseph’s family returns to Brussels, Joseph is forced to set out on his own, and at sixteen years old, he assumes a false identity and begins to live a dangerous double life. Joseph repeatedly eludes the Nazis’ grasp, eventually finding his way to the French Resistance and bravely fighting with the underground until France is liberated. But Joseph’s years of fighting are not over, and when he arrives in pre-state Israel, he continues to do every thing he can to secure his freedom.

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At a Glance
Germany; France; Belgium
Kristallnacht
Passing/false identity
Resistance
Wartime documents
Postwar Israel
Arrived in Canada in 1968
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

248 pages

About the author

Photo of Joseph Schwarzberg

Joseph Schwarzberg was born in Leipzig, Germany, in 1926. In 1945, Joseph and his family were part of the earliest legal Jewish immigrants to pre-state Israel. Joseph immigrated to Toronto in 1968, where he established his own business, Adina J. Fashions, in the garment industry. Joseph Schwarzberg lives in Toronto.

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Survival Kit, Zuzana Sermer

An only child, fifteen-year-old Zuzana Sermer does what she can to protect her father and ailing mother when the Nazis set up a fascist regime in her native Slovakia in 1939. Four years later, fleeing to the supposed safety of Budapest, Zuzana and her fiancé, Arthur, must instead navigate one treacherous situation after another when Germany occupies Hungary in March 1944. Survival Kit is both Sermer’s thoughtful reflections on the miracles of her survival and a testament to the power of courage, love and determination.

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At a Glance
Slovakia; Hungary
Hiding
Passing/false identity
Escape
Siege of Budapest
Postwar Czechoslovakia
Life under Communism
Arrived in Canada in 1968
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

192 pages

About the author

Photo of Zuzana Sermer

Zuzana Sermer was born in Humenné, Slovakia, in 1924. After the war, she married Arthur Sermer, and they raised a family in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia). In 1968, during the Soviet occupation of the country, Zuzana and her family fled to Canada and settled in Toronto, where Zuzana became a bookkeeper and enjoyed painting landscapes and writing about living under communism. Zuzana lives in Toronto.

Trousse de survie, Zuzana Sermer

Âgée de 15 ans au moment où les nazis imposent un régime fasciste dans sa Slovaquie natale, Zuzana Sermer fait tout en son pouvoir pour protéger son père et sa mère malade. Quatre ans plus tard, ayant décidé de fuir vers une Hongrie prétendument sûre, Zuzana et son fiancé, Arthur, devront plutôt affronter maintes situations dangereuses lorsque l’Allemagne envahira le pays en 1944. Dans ses mémoires, Zuzana Sermer offre un témoignage éloquent de ce qui a assuré sa survie durant ces terrifiantes années.

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At a Glance
Slovakia; Hungary
Hiding
Passing/false identity
Escape
Siege of Budapest
Postwar Czechoslovakia
Life under Communism
Arrived in Canada in 1968
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
French

208 pages

About the author

Photo of Zuzana Sermer

Zuzana Sermer was born in Humenné, Slovakia, in 1924. After the war, she married Arthur Sermer, and they raised a family in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia). In 1968, during the Soviet occupation of the country, Zuzana and her family fled to Canada and settled in Toronto, where Zuzana became a bookkeeper and enjoyed painting landscapes and writing about living under communism. Zuzana lives in Toronto.

The Violin/A Child's Testimony, Rachel Shtibel, Adam Shtibel

Two children, Rachel Milbauer and Adam Shtibel, elude almost certain death in Nazi-occupied Poland: Rachel, a vivacious music lover, lies hidden and silent in an underground bunker for nearly two years. Adam quietly “passes” as a non-Jew, forced every day to dodge the people who are intent on killing him. Saved by a combination of inner strength, luck and the help of courageous friends and strangers, Rachel and Adam meet and fall in love after the war and begin to build a new life together. Half a century later, a chance remark inspires Rachel to explore her memories and discover who she really is…

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At a Glance
Rachel Shtibel:
Poland
Ghetto
Hiding
Postwar Israel
Arrived in Canada in 1968
Adam Shtibel:
Poland
Ghetto
Hiding; passing/false identity
Testimony given in 1948
Arrived in Canada in 1968
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
English

276 pages

2008 Independent Publisher Gold Medal

About the author

Photo of Rachel Shtibel

Rachel (née Milbauer) Shtibel was born in 1935 in Eastern Galicia. She married Adam Shtibel in 1956, moving to Israel one year later. In Israel, Rachel obtained an MA in microbiology. In 1968, the family moved to Canada, settling in Toronto, where they still live.

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About the author

Photo of Adam Shtibel

Adam Shtibel was born in 1928 in Komarów, Poland. He met Rachel Shtibel after the war and they married in 1956, moving to Israel one year later. In Israel, Adam worked in the aircraft industry. In 1968, the family moved to Canada, settling in Toronto, where they still live.

Le Violon / Témoignage d’un enfant, Rachel Shtibel, Adam Shtibel

Deux enfants dans l’ombre de la mort en Pologne occupée échappent à leurs bourreaux nazis : Rachel, la petite fille enjouée qui adore la musique, et Adam, le garçon silencieux qui se fait passer pour un non-Juif. Sauvés par leur force intérieure, leur courage, la chance et la bienveillance de quelques amis et inconnus, Rachel et Adam se rencontrent après la guerre, tombent amoureux et décident de construire une nouvelle vie ensemble. Cinquante ans plus tard, une remarque inopinée incite Rachel à se replonger dans ses souvenirs – et à découvrir qui elle est vraiment. Toujours à ses côtés, Adam est lui-même amené à rompre le long silence qu’il s’est imposé…

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At a Glance
Rachel Shtibel:
Poland
Ghetto
Hiding
Postwar Israel
Arrived in Canada in 1968
Adam Shtibel:
Poland
Ghetto
Hiding; passing/false identity
Testimony given in 1948
Arrived in Canada in 1968
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
French

296 pages

2008 Independent Publisher Gold Medal

About the author

Photo of Rachel Shtibel

Rachel (née Milbauer) Shtibel was born in 1935 in Eastern Galicia. She married Adam Shtibel in 1956, moving to Israel one year later. In Israel, Rachel obtained an MA in microbiology. In 1968, the family moved to Canada, settling in Toronto, where they still live.

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About the author

Photo of Adam Shtibel

Adam Shtibel was born in 1928 in Komarów, Poland. He met Rachel Shtibel after the war and they married in 1956, moving to Israel one year later. In Israel, Adam worked in the aircraft industry. In 1968, the family moved to Canada, settling in Toronto, where they still live.

Chaos to Canvas, Maxwell Smart

In the town of Buczacz, Poland, eleven-year-old Maxwell plays in the ruins of old castles and enjoys a quiet life with his family until the summer of 1941, when the Nazis invade and destroy his childhood forever. Maxwell narrowly escapes deportation and certain death, and soon finds himself all alone in the frozen woods, hiding from roving groups of Nazis and Ukrainian collaborators. Lonely and in despair, afraid and starving, Maxwell must rely on the kindness of a farmer and on his own resourcefulness and imagination to survive. In the harrowing yet inspiring journey of Chaos to Canvas, Maxwell eloquently describes his transformation from a boy dependent on his family to a teenager fighting to survive and, ultimately, to a man who finds himself through art in a life beyond war.

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At a Glance
Poland
Hiding
Postwar Austria, displaced persons camp; Romania
War Orphans Project
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Adjusting to life in Canada
Art by author
Educational materials available: Maxwell Smart Activity
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

240 pages

About the author

Photo of Maxwell Smart

Maxwell Smart was born in Buczacz, Poland (now Ukraine), in 1930. After surviving the Holocaust on his own, seventeen-year-old Maxwell immigrated to Canada in 1948 through the War Orphans Project. Since his arrival in Canada, Maxwell has lived in Montreal, where he has become a successful painter, opening his own art gallery in 2006.

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My Heart Is at Ease, Gerta Solan

Gerta Solan’s passion for music began in her childhood, inspired by the chamber concerts her parents organized in their loving home in Prague. In June 1942, twelve-year-old Gerta is deported with her parents to the Theresienstadt ghetto – the Nazis’ deceptive “model Jewish settlement” – and both music and family help her cope with the devastation surrounding her. Later, alone in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Gerta gathers her strength and determination to survive the unbearable. Her intrepid spirit and keen observation guides her anew through postwar communism to freedom in Canada.

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At a Glance
Czechoslovakia
Theresienstadt ghetto/concentration camp
Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp
Death march
Postwar Czechoslovakia
Life under Communism
Arrived in Canada in 1968
Adjusting to life in Canada
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

208 pages

About the author

Photo of Gerta Solan

Gerta Solan was born in 1929 in Prague, Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic). After liberation, she returned to Prague, and in 1949 she married Paul Seidner (Solan). They lived under the Communist regime in Prague until the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968, when they fled and immigrated to Toronto with their son. In Toronto, Gerta worked for the Red Cross, tracing and reuniting families after disasters, until her retirement in 1995. Gerta Solan lives in Israel.

In Fragile Moments/The Last Time, Zsuzsanna Fischer Spiro, Eva Shainblum

Born two hundred kilometres away from each other and two years apart, the lives of both Zsuzsanna Fischer and Eva Steinberger are thrown into chaos when Germany occupies Hungary and destroys their peaceful homes. In the spring of 1944, as eighteen-year-old Zsuzsanna and sixteen-year-old Eva are forced into ghettos and then to Auschwitz-Birkenau, they each take refuge in the one constant in their lives – their older sisters. While Zsuzsanna frantically documents the end of the war in her diary, pages that she will return to when faced with the trauma of postwar revolution in Hungary, Eva barely escapes death and, shattered by so many tragedies, dreams of finding freedom and family. Two stories etched in pain and hope, In Fragile Moments and The Last Time mirror the remarkable differences in similar paths of survival.

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At a Glance
Zsuzsanna Fischer Spiro:
Hungary
Ghetto
Forced labour camps
Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp
Death march
Wartime diary excerpts
Postwar Hungarian Uprising
Arrived in Canada in 1957
Eva Shainblum:
Hungary
Ghetto
Forced labour camps
Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp
Death march
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

176 pages

About the author

Photo of Zsuzsanna Fischer Spiro

Zsuzsanna Fischer was born in Tornyospálca, Hungary, in 1925. After the war, she married Holocaust survivor Joseph Spiro. They lived in Budapest with their two sons until the 1956 Hungarian Uprising — an event that Zsuzsanna documented in a diary — and immigrated to Canada in 1957. Zsuzsanna Spiro passed away in 2016.

About the author

Photo of Eva Shainblum

Eva Shainblum was born in 1927 in Nagyvárad, Hungary (now Romania). She immigrated to Canada in 1948, settling in Montreal, where she worked as a bookkeeper, married and raised a family. Eva Shainblum lives in Montreal.

Vanished Boyhood, George Stern

One month before George Stern’s thirteenth birthday, Germany invades his native Hungary. Anti-Jewish edicts are passed and a ghetto is established. A rebel even then, George refuses to wear the Jewish star. “Passing” as a Christian boy, he survives the siege of Budapest as the Soviet Red Army presses closer, strafing the city while the fascist Arrow Cross continues to hunt for Jews. After the war, George leaves Europe for Israel and fights in the War of Independence. Over the next twenty years his family’s journeys take them from Israel to São Paulo, Brazil and finally to Toronto. Filled with determination and bravery, this is also the poignant account of George Stern’s Vanished Boyhood.

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At a Glance
Hungary
Ghetto
Passing/false identity
Arrow Cross regime
Siege of Budapest
Postwar Israel; Brazil
Arrived in Canada in 1970
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

184 pages

About the author

Photo of George Stern

George Stern was born on April 21, 1931, in Újpest, Hungary. After the war, he immigrated to Israel and fought in the War of Independence. In 1960, George and his wife, Judit, left Israel for São Paulo, Brazil; they immigrated to Canada in 1970. George Stern passed away in 2017.

Une jeunesse perdue, George Stern

George Stern va avoir 13 ans quand l’Allemagne envahit sa Hongrie natale. Des mesures antijuives sont mises en place. George refuse de porter l’étoile juive et se fait passer pour un jeune chrétien. Il survit au siège de Budapest que l’armée soviétique bombarde tandis que les Croix fléchées pourchassent les Juifs. Après la libération, George part en Israël et participe à la guerre d’Indépendance. Par la suite, la famille s’installera au Brésil puis à Toronto. Ces mémoires retracent de manière poignante la Jeunesse perdue de George Stern.

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At a Glance
Hungary
Ghetto
Passing/false identity
Arrow Cross regime
Siege of Budapest
Postwar Israel; Brazil
Arrived in Canada in 1970
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
French

200 pages

About the author

Photo of George Stern

George Stern was born on April 21, 1931, in Újpest, Hungary. After the war, he immigrated to Israel and fought in the War of Independence. In 1960, George and his wife, Judit, left Israel for São Paulo, Brazil; they immigrated to Canada in 1970. George Stern passed away in 2017.

The Shadows Behind Me, Willie Sterner

For six desperate years, Willie Sterner’s skill as a painter saves him from death at the hands of the Nazis. Faced with inhumane conditions in slave labour camps, and grieving the brutal loss of his close-knit family of nine, Willie relies on his courage and ingenuity to hold onto his dignity. Showing how random luck could change the course toward almost certain death for Jews in the Holocaust, Willie finds himself transferred to Oskar Schindler’s Emalia factory, where he comes under the protection of the famed German businessman and becomes his personal art restorer. An unvarnished account of what he experienced and what he lost, The Shadows Behind Me also follows the story of Willie and Eva – the woman he meets on a death march – as they rebuild their lives and regain hope in Canada. Gripping and moving, this is a tribute to one man’s remarkable determination to survive.

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At a Glance
Poland
Krakow ghetto
Forced labour camps
Oskar Schindler’s factory
Mauthausen concentration camp
Postwar Austria, displaced persons camps
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Adjusting to life in Canada
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
English

256 pages

About the author

Photo of Willie Sterner

Willie Sterner was born in Wolbrom, Poland, on September 15, 1919. The eldest of seven children, he was the only one to survive the Holocaust. After the war, he lived in displaced persons camps in Austria, where he became chief of the Jewish police. He and his wife, Eva, immigrated to Canada in 1948 and settled in Montreal. Willie Sterner passed away in 2011.

Les Ombres du passé, Willie Sterner

Pendant six années, le talent de peintre de Willie Sterner parvient à le sauver de la mort aux mains des nazis. Willie doit faire face à des conditions inhumaines dans un camp de travaux forcés, ainsi qu’à la mort brutale de sa famille proche. Le sort a voulu qu'il soit transféré à Emalia, l’entreprise d’Oskar Schindler qui le protège et fait de lui son restaurateur d’art personnel. Les Ombres du passé relate aussi le parcours de Willie et d’Eva, sa femme, qui refont leur vie au Canada. Ce récit captivant témoigne de la détermination remarquable dont Willie Sterner a fait preuve pour survivre.

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At a Glance
Poland
Krakow ghetto
Forced labour camps
Oskar Schindler’s factory
Mauthausen concentration camp
Postwar Austria, displaced persons camps
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Adjusting to life in Canada
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
French

256 pages

About the author

Photo of Willie Sterner

Willie Sterner was born in Wolbrom, Poland, on September 15, 1919. The eldest of seven children, he was the only one to survive the Holocaust. After the war, he lived in displaced persons camps in Austria, where he became chief of the Jewish police. He and his wife, Eva, immigrated to Canada in 1948 and settled in Montreal. Willie Sterner passed away in 2011.

Album of My Life, Ann Szedlecki

Ann Szedlecki was a Hollywood-film-loving fourteen-year-old when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. Fleeing to the Soviet Union with her brother, she spent the next six years in a remote Siberian outpost, enduring loneliness, hunger and forced labour, but also savouring moments of warmth and friendship. Tender, tragic and also engagingly funny, Ann lovingly reconstructs her pre-war childhood in Lodz and offers a compelling and complex portrait of survival in the USSR and of the diversity of survivor experiences during the Nazi genocide. The reader is drawn to young Ann’s fierce determination, humour and decency as we accompany her on her coming-of-age journey without family and living largely by her wits. Full of rich detail and poignant observation, this is a beautiful rendering of the vicissitudes of one woman’s life in relation to the large-scale historical events that helped shape its course.

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At a Glance
Poland; Soviet Union
Escape
Soviet labour camps in Siberia
Arrived in Canada in 1953
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
English

240 pages

2009 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award Gold Medal

About the author

Photo of Ann Szedlecki

Ann Szedlecki was born Chana Frajlich in Lodz, Poland, in 1925. After the war, she returned to Lodz to find that every member of her family had perished. In 1950, she married and immigrated to Israel and then, in 1953, to Toronto. Ann Szedlecki passed away in 2005.

L’Album de ma vie, Ann Szedlecki

Ann Szedlecki adorait les films hollywoodiens. Âgée de quatorze ans lorsque les nazis ont envahi la Pologne, elle a fui en Union soviétique avec son frère et passé six années en Sibérie, affrontant la solitude, la faim, le travail forcé, mais appréciant aussi des moments de chaleur humaine et d’amitié. Dans ses mémoires, empreints de sensibilité, de tristesse, mais aussi d’humour, Ann reconstruit avec tendresse son enfance dans le Lodz d’avant-guerre et nous offre une description fascinante et complexe de sa survie en URSS. Le lecteur est touché par sa détermination et sa pudeur. Riches en détails et en observations émouvantes, ses mémoires rendent de belle manière les vicissitudes de la vie d’une jeune femme aux prises avec des événements historiques majeurs.

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At a Glance
Poland; Soviet Union
Escape
Soviet labour camps in Siberia
Arrived in Canada in 1953
Recommended Ages
14+
Language
French

288 pages

2009 Moonbeam Children’s Book Award Gold Medal

About the author

Photo of Ann Szedlecki

Ann Szedlecki was born Chana Frajlich in Lodz, Poland, in 1925. After the war, she returned to Lodz to find that every member of her family had perished. In 1950, she married and immigrated to Israel and then, in 1953, to Toronto. Ann Szedlecki passed away in 2005.

Memories from the Abyss/But I Had A Happy Childhood, William Tannenzapf, Renate Krakauer

Strong, savvy and intelligent, William Tannenzapf never wavers in his determination to survive and save his wife and baby girl from the clutches of evil gripping his hometown of Stanisławów. Blond, blue-eyed and cherubic, Renate Krakauer was a “miracle baby” born as the world descended into war and soon surrounded by misery and death. Starving and enslaved, Tannenzapf entrusts his daughter to a Polish family so that little Renate can live in “childhood oblivion” – yet still under the eyes of her loving parents. Later reunited and thrown into the trials of refugee and immigrant life, Krakauer’s thoughtful observations provide fascinating insight into the perceptions and feelings of a child survivor and offer a poignant counterpoint to Tannenzapf’s adult reflections on the same events. This gripping volume offers the reader the rare opportunity to read survival stories from two members of the same family.

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At a Glance
William Tannenzapf:
Poland
Forced labour
Hiding
Postwar Germany, displaced persons camp
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Renate Krakauer:
Poland
Hidden child
Postwar Germany, displaced persons camp
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Adjusting to life in Canada
Recommended Ages
12+ , 14+
Language
English

176 pages

About the author

Photo of William Tannenzapf

William Tannenzapf was born in Stanisławów, Poland, in 1911 and his daughter, Renate, was born in March 1941, during the Nazioccupation. The family immigrated to Canada in 1948, first settling in Montreal. William worked at Westinghouse Electric in Hamilton, where he had a successful career as an electrical engineer, inventing technologies and earning several patents. He passed away in 2011. Renate Krakauer made her home in Toronto, where she worked in pharmacy, adult education and human resources. She has written and published one book, numerous short stories and essays.

About the author

Photo of Renate Krakauer

Renate Krakauer was born in 1941 in Stanisławów, Poland (now Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine). She and her family came to Canada in 1948. Renate made her home in Toronto, where she earned a masters and a doctorate and worked in various professions. She has written and published one book, as well as numerous short stories and essays. Renate Krakauer lives in Toronto.

Souvenirs de l’abîme/Le Bonheur de l’innocence, William Tannenzapf, Renate Krakauer

William Tannenzapf est déterminé à survivre et à sauver sa femme et leur bébé des griffes des nazis. Renate, le « bébé miraculé », est née alors que le monde sombrait dans la guerre. Affamé, réduit en esclavage, il confie sa fille à une famille polonaise pour qu’elle vive dans l’« innocence de l’enfance ». Plus tard, parents et enfant sont réunis et jetés dans les tourments de la vie de réfugiés puis d’immigrés dont Renate Krakauer offre un aperçu fascinant de son point de vue d’enfant survivant. Ses descriptions sont un contrepoint émouvant aux réflexions d’adulte de son père sur les mêmes événements. Cet ouvrage offre ainsi au lecteur l’opportunité rare de lire les récits de survie de deux membres d’une même famille.

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At a Glance
William Tannenzapf:
Poland
Forced labour
Hiding
Postwar Germany, displaced persons camp
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Renate Krakauer:
Poland
Hidden child
Postwar Germany, displaced persons camp
Arrived in Canada in 1948
Adjusting to life in Canada
Recommended Ages
12+ , 14+
Language
French

192 pages

About the author

Photo of William Tannenzapf

William Tannenzapf was born in Stanisławów, Poland, in 1911 and his daughter, Renate, was born in March 1941, during the Nazioccupation. The family immigrated to Canada in 1948, first settling in Montreal. William worked at Westinghouse Electric in Hamilton, where he had a successful career as an electrical engineer, inventing technologies and earning several patents. He passed away in 2011. Renate Krakauer made her home in Toronto, where she worked in pharmacy, adult education and human resources. She has written and published one book, numerous short stories and essays.

About the author

Photo of Renate Krakauer

Renate Krakauer was born in 1941 in Stanisławów, Poland (now Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine). She and her family came to Canada in 1948. Renate made her home in Toronto, where she earned a masters and a doctorate and worked in various professions. She has written and published one book, as well as numerous short stories and essays. Renate Krakauer lives in Toronto.

If Only It Were Fiction, Elsa Thon

Strong-willed and ambitious, sixteen-year-old Elsa Thon is working as a photographer’s apprentice when the Nazis occupy her town of Pruszków, Poland, in 1939. Every ounce of her will and ingenuity is called into play as she moves from ghetto to ghetto, throws in her lot with a Zionist youth group and is recruited by the Jewish underground. Despite her deep belief that destiny is determining her fate, Elsa faces every fraught situation with self-possession and maturity. A vivid and beautifully written coming-of-age story, If Only It Were Fiction is enriched by Elsa’s family tradition of storytelling and her unerring eye for detail.

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At a Glance
Poland
Warsaw and Krakow ghettos
Resistance
Passing/false identity
Forced labour camps
Postwar Israel; Argentina
Arrived in Toronto in 1980
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
English

304 pages

About the author

Photo of Elsa Thon

Elsa Thon was born in Pruszków, Poland, in 1923. After the war, she married Mayer Thon, and they moved to Israel in 1948. In 1955, they immigrated to Argentina, where Elsa worked in a photography studio and raised a family. In 1980, Elsa and Mayer moved to Toronto to be closer to their family. Elsa’s memoir has also been published in Spanish and Polish. Elsa Thon passed away in 2019.

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Que renaisse demain, Elsa Thon

Ambitieuse et volontaire, Elsa Thon, 16 ans, travaille comme apprentie photographe dans sa ville natale, Pruszków, en Pologne, lorsque les nazis envahissent son pays en 1939. Elle mobilisera toute son intelligence et son énergie durant les terribles années d’occupation, durant lesquelles elle ira de ghetto en ghetto, rejoindra un mouvement de jeunesse sioniste et sera recrutée par la Résistance juive. Elsa Thon affrontera les multiples dangers avec une maturité hors du commun. Récit du passage de l’enfance à l'âge adulte, Que renaisse demain s’enrichit d’un art de conter hérité de la tradition familiale.

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At a Glance
Poland
Warsaw and Krakow ghettos
Resistance
Passing/false identity
Forced labour camps
Postwar Israel; Argentina
Arrived in Toronto in 1980
Recommended Ages
16+
Language
French

336 pages

About the author

Photo of Elsa Thon

Elsa Thon was born in Pruszków, Poland, in 1923. After the war, she married Mayer Thon, and they moved to Israel in 1948. In 1955, they immigrated to Argentina, where Elsa worked in a photography studio and raised a family. In 1980, Elsa and Mayer moved to Toronto to be closer to their family. Elsa’s memoir has also been published in Spanish and Polish. Elsa Thon passed away in 2019.

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