Helena Adler, a valued contributor to Sustaining Memories, passed away in August 2014. Although Helena was quite ill in the year preceding her participation in the program, she managed to complete a lengthy manuscript, and she was extremely happy that she was able to attend our closing program ceremonies earlier in the year.
When I was approached by Elin Beaumont to participate in the Sustaining Memories project by helping Holocaust survivors write their memoirs, I immediately agreed to do so. As a child of Holocaust survivors, I was familiar with the suffering my parents and so many others had experienced during World War II. I thought it would be a rewarding experience to partner with Holocaust survivors and help them record and document their lives.
I was partnered with Lenka Kaufman, a survivor of Auschwitz. Listening to Lenka speak about her life growing up in Europe, her experiences in the camps and her subsequent life in Canada, I was struck with her amazing courage and resilience and I felt honoured to be involved in assisting her tell her story. As the population of Holocaust survivors dwindles, recording and saving their stories for future generations becomes even more important. It has been a privilege for me to be involved in such a worthwhile endeavour.
Being part of Sustaining Memories introduced me to survivors who had incredible stories to share. I was able to help a friend tell her story. I was challenged intellectually, researching and validating information survivors shared with me. I was challenged emotionally, listening to and hearing about the horrors experienced as well as witnessed by strong individuals who rebuilt their lives, continued to have families, careers, volunteer commitments and contributed to Canada. I learned a great deal — the importance of each person’s unique story and the importance of protecting our democracy and our rights.
I thoroughly enjoyed working with Mrs. Reny Friedman to preserve her story for future generations. Spending time with survivors, members of a special generation, is a truly rewarding experience. I am inspired by Mrs. Friedman and her story and admire her courage and resilience. Building a connection with Mrs. Friedman, as well as her husband, was a wonderful experience. It was an honour to be part of this incredible and important project.
Assisting Jozef Cipin in writing his memoir was one of the significant experiences of my life. I had been an interviewer on radio and television for many years, but this particular assignment was profoundly unique. Although I had known a few Holocaust survivors, I had never been privy to their stories.
When the Chang School of Continuing Education, in association with the Azrieli Foundation, presented this opportunity, my reaction was immediate. Yes. To bring to light the darkness was important. Jozef Cipin is a man of great intelligence, gentleness and kindness. The devastating story of what he and his family had suffered was not to be hidden, but exposed and shared for the world to remember.
To this day, ten years after our meeting and interview, he, his wife, Dr. Brenda Cipin, and I have remained good friends. I am grateful.
Contributing to the Sustaining Memories project has been my most rewarding volunteer role. After partnering with five survivors, I continue to be inspired by their wisdom, kindness and optimism. Working with them has been equally challenging and rewarding. It has given me the opportunity to come to know truly wonderful individuals as they have entrusted me with capturing their life’s experience and translating it into their own memoire that conveys the essence of their lives, losses and loves. It is said that volunteers gain more than they could ever give; that is certainly my experience with the Azrieli Foundation!
I signed up for the Sustaining Memories project for several reasons, one of which was to form a meaningful connection with a Holocaust survivor. I was fortunate to be paired with Joe Gottdenker. Joe is a fascinating person who lived a full and unconventional life. His continued zest for adventure has inspired me to step outside my comfort zone. Our families have bonded and I am certain that our friendship will last a lifetime. I am grateful to Joe for sharing his experience and trusting me with the process.
The Sustaining Memories project is a unique opportunity enabling the personal firsthand witness accounts of Holocaust survivors to be preserved for future generations to learn from the past. I had the opportunity to participate in this special program twice. The project enabled me to open the door to my own familial history, as I had the privilege of working with my grandmother to record her story. If it was not for this program, likely her experiences would have gone untold and been forgotten. With that, her vibrant childhood in Europe, the memories of her mother, father and little brother would never be known. This little piece of personal history plays a big role in my family’s future, as it will allow us to better understand who we are and where we came from. I am truly grateful for this written account of a person, a past and a lifetime of experiences that make up so much of whom I am today and who I will become tomorrow.
My writing partner, Sarah (Sala), provided details that were very difficult for her to acknowledge, and in turn painful to hear. None of my grandparents had been in Europe during the war. My maternal grandmother had been fortunate enough to have a brother send for her in London, and from there she immigrated to Canada. She had family, though, who had remained in Europe, and she lost most of this family in the Holocaust. My grandmother, who was from Vilna, would not talk about her family’s wartime history. A dark cloud would transform her face as she said, “Hitler killed them all.” To hear Sarah’s stories informed me in an intimate way what her family experienced, and by extension, what mine must have, as well, erasing that distance from me and providing a context for my understanding of the Holocaust.