Starting Over in Canada
After the war, most survivors wanted to leave Europe to start a new life. But that wasn’t easy. Countries had restrictions on how many refugees they would let in. Between 1939 and 1947, only five thousand refugees were allowed into Canada. But then Canada began to open up immigration to Jewish refugees from Europe. Among these were 1,123 war orphans, who were sponsored by the Canadian Jewish community.
Eva Felsenburg Marx at nineteen years old with her mother at Eva’s graduation from MacDonald College. Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec, 1956. Azrieli Foundation, courtesy of Eva Felsenburg Marx.
Jewish youth who arrived in Canada as refugees had to adjust to a new culture and a new language, as well as the routines of home and school life in Canada.
School was where they integrated into new communities or saw themselves as different, made new friends or experienced alienation. For some survivors, the skills they acquired in schools in Canada would help them begin new lives, although not all had such opportunities.
Approximately forty thousand Jewish refugees settled in Canada after the Holocaust. From Jewish youth who faced the challenges of starting over, here are some stories of struggle, resilience and renewal.
Passage to Canada
“In April 1948, we packed our meagre belongings, and we were on our way again. We crossed the ocean on a large Polish ship, the Sobieski. Here were more wonders that I had never experienced — decks with staircases to be explored and dining rooms where meals were served to us by waiters. Except for a little seasickness, it was a wonderful week. As we approached Halifax, we all hoped we would find a permanent home in Canada.”
The War Orphans Project
In 1947, the Canadian Jewish Congress persuaded the Canadian government to allow approximately one thousand young Jewish refugees to immigrate to Canada.
Most had lost their parents and had to start over all alone. Arriving in Canada, some of the young refugees had to step directly into adult life, going to work and paying rent. Others were adopted by a family and were able to resume their education.
A New Name and Language
“Bloor Collegiate was located near our house. I was first taken there by my foster mother, and was interviewed by the principal himself, Mr. Noble. I understood when he asked me my name and how old I was. I answered carefully, supplying the version of my name that had been newly given to me by the immigration authorities: ‘My name is Catherine Mozes-Nagy and I am fifteen years old.’ He responded, ‘You are?’ And I answered, ‘I are.’”
“Twenty-four pairs of eyes scrutinized me as I stood in front like an exotic insect impaled on the blackboard….
The scenes were as alien to me as the words pouring out of the teacher’s mouth. In Hungary, I could locate the rivers of the country, the Danube and the Tisza, and all the counties with their capitals on the classroom wall map. I could recite the poems of the famous Hungarian poets, Petőfi and Arany and Endre Ady. But what was the use? Nobody here would understand or care.”
“My heart pumped like mad with excitement and my knees were shaking. I had not been to school for nine years….
I was both fearful and excited. Before the war, I had finished only Grade 4. During the war, I had neither an opportunity for nor an interest in learning… I steeled myself as I entered the school building….
My high school graduation was a milestone that I had never thought I could reach.”
“At my graduation from law school on the McGill campus, which my mother attended, I told her that it was her doing and that she deserved all the credit, reminding her that my education had started with her…I know, had I refused to walk to those institutions of learning she was prepared to lift me up and carry me, just as she had across the muddy puddles when I was a spoiled child.”
Martha Salcudean came to Canada and had a distinguished academic career in the field of engineering.
A Cultural Education
“I had such a passion for performing ever since I was a teenager in the DP camp, but when we first arrived in Montreal…I had wanted to have a career as an opera singer….
The reality was that I simply could not afford to do this….
In 1971, my dearest friend Sidney Zoltak, who was a member of the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre, asked me to join this wonderful group, which put on Yiddish productions of musicals and dramas. I started a non-professional theatrical career that lasted some forty years and, to a lesser extent, is still continuing.”
“I had always wanted to pursue higher education but had left high school early to help support my family. I enrolled at York University as a mature student while Ricky was completing his first degree. I think he was embarrassed to have his mother there; every time he saw me coming, he hid behind a newspaper….
It was a pretty difficult time but very rewarding. Despite the challenges, when I think back on those years, I remember them as being the happiest.”
The Right to an Education
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 258 million children and youth were out of school in 2018. The disruption of education continues to be an issue for those living in regions that are unstable and affected by conflict.
Click on “Learn more” to view a timeline of efforts to protect and empower children and youth through education.
You have explored the role of education in the day-to-day lives of youth before, during and after the Holocaust. You have observed what happens when school becomes a place of exclusion. You have seen how much people are willing to risk to pursue learning, and the lengths they can go to receive an education.
Based on what you have read and seen in this exhibit, what do you think is the power of education?