A still from Éléonore Goldberg’s animated short film My Yiddish Papi (Picbois Productions/NFB).
On Jan. 25, the National Film Board of Canada released Éléonore Goldberg’s animated short film My Yiddish Papi (Picbois Productions/NFB). It can be streamed free of charge across Canada on nfb.ca, as well as on NFB’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.
The online release of the film marked the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, which is observed on Jan. 27. With My Yiddish Papi, Goldberg has made a personal short film about filial love, duty and the transmission of memory by honouring a promise made long ago: that of illustrating the adventures of her grandfather, a resistance fighter during the Second World War.
Produced by Karine Dubois (Picbois Productions) and Julie Roy (NFB), the film was presented as a world première at the 2017 Ottawa International Animation Festival, and was also selected for the Sommets du cinéma d’animation de Montréal and the London International Animation Festival, among others.
Goldberg is an award-winning Franco-Canadian filmmaker, animator and cartoonist. In My Yiddish Papi, using ink-on-paper animation, she relates the story of her grandfather, Georges (Josek) Goldberg, who became a resistance fighter at age 20 during the Second World War. “He saved many lives and he and his family narrowly escaped Auschwitz,” said Goldberg in an interview on the NFB website. He died, in Paris, in July 2009.
“He would sometimes share his wartime memories when we dined together during the time I lived in Paris,” Goldberg told the NFB. “He never bragged; he was a humble, shy person. He would have liked me to make a graphic novel or film about his resistance adventures, and I had committed to doing it. But time passed and I did nothing. At his death, my promise came back to me.”
Rebecca Teitelbaum’s recipe book was compiled in Ravensbrück concentration camp, Germany, circa 1940s. It is from the Teitelbaum, Buckman family fonds, VHEC Collections.
This article is based on remarks delivered at the screening of the film Who Will Write Our History on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC) was honoured to partner with the Vancouver Jewish Film Centre and the Peretz Centre for Secular Jewish Culture for the screening of Who Will Write Our History (2018, directed by Roberta Grossman) that took place on Jan. 27 at the Peretz Centre.
Jan. 27 marked the 74th anniversary of the liberation of the death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. This date was first commemorated in 2005 by the United Nations General Assembly as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Around the world, thousands of individuals observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day to honour the six million Jewish victims of the Shoah and millions of other victims who were brutally murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. Many organizations worldwide take this day as an opportunity to raise awareness of the Holocaust and to offer educational programs to help prevent future genocides.
The VHEC also gathered with local survivors of the Holocaust a few days prior to the film screening to commemorate the victims of the Shoah. The survivors remembered their beloved mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and other family members who perished during the Shoah, as they lit candles and said prayers.
When students from all over the Lower Mainland visit the VHEC, they frequently ask about resistance against the Nazis during the Holocaust. We all know too well what the consequences of resistance were in the Nazi-occupied countries. But what exactly did resistance in the context of the Holocaust mean or look like? When people hear the word resistance, often, they think of physical, armed resistance, as it occurred, for instance, during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, or by brave partisan fighters, who fought the Nazis and their collaborators and blew up Nazi train tracks and other infrastructure. However, there were forms of defiance that were more subtle.
Let me give you two examples of defiance that one may call cultural or spiritual resistance during the Holocaust.
Rebecca Teitelbaum (born 1909), from Belgium, was kept in Ravensbrück, a concentration camp for women. In secret and at great risk, she stole small pieces of paper and a pencil from the Nazi office of the camp. She also traded food for a needle and thread. At night, together with other women from her barrack, she wrote down her favourite recipes and filled 110 pages with what reminded her of better times with her family. She then sewed together the pieces of paper into a book. Upon its completion, the women took comfort reading the recipes out loud.
Sarah Rozenberg-Warm (born 1923), from Poland, was a slave labourer at a Nazi munitions factory in Skarzysko-Kamienna, Poland. Living conditions in the camp were terrible. One day, a fellow inmate stole pieces of metal and, instead of creating munitions for the Nazis, he created a mirror, a ring and a comb for Sarah, risking his life to do so. Perhaps, he wanted to make Sarah feel like a human being again as she looked in the mirror, in times when she was treated in the most inhumane way imaginable. Perhaps, through the seemingly small gesture of creating these gifts for Sarah, the inmate succeeded in giving Sarah hope for better times, and strength to carry on.
Both Rebecca Teitelbaum’s recipe book and Sarah Rozenberg-Warm’s mirror are currently on display at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre as part of the exhibition In Focus: The Holocaust Through the VHEC Collection and serve as examples to students and the general public about cultural and spiritual defiance.
Jewish defiance was also expressed through efforts to perpetuate Jewish culture and maintain humanity in the face of attempted annihilation. Spiritual resistance in ghettos and camps included clandestine prayers and the creation of artistic works and books. In some ghettos, underground schools were formed, and secret archives were established to document the Holocaust.
The film Who Will Write Our History gives us the opportunity to learn more about an extraordinary example of Jewish defiance during the Holocaust through the attempt of preserving diaries, documents and papers in the secret Oyneg Shabes Archive created by Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum and his fellow inmates. It is a film worthwhile seeing.
Dr. Ilona Shulman Spaar is the education director at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre and the curator of the exhibition In Focus: The Holocaust Through the VHEC Collection, on display at the VHEC until June 2019. Find out more at vhec.org.
Library and Archives Canada recently acquired this 1944 book previously owned by Adolf Hitler. (photo from Library and Archives Canada)
Library and Archives Canada recently acquired a rare 1944 book previously owned by Adolf Hitler. The 137-page German-language report Statistik, Presse und Organisationen des Judentums in den Vereinigten Staaten und Kanada (Statistics, Media and Organizations of Jewry in the United States and Canada) was compiled by Heinz Kloss. The data contained within it provides details on population statistics in certain cities, as well as key organizations and presses of Canadian and American Jewish communities. The bookplate bears a stylized eagle, swastika, and the words “Ex Libris Adolf Hitler,” indicating it came from Hitler’s personal library.
Kloss, who visited the United States in 1936-1937, was a noted German linguist whose specializations included German speakers living in the United States. He was the head of the Publikationsstelle Stuttgart-Hamburg, which dealt with research on nationality issues, particularly in the United States, and this book was part of a confidential series and for official use only.
The work hints at the story of what might have happened in Canada had the Allies lost the Second World War. It also demonstrates that the Holocaust was not a purely European event, but rather an operation that was stopped before it reached North America. The book adds many insights worthy of reflection for Canada about the Second World War, and is an important tool to fight Holocaust denial.
“It is fundamental for a national institution like Library and Archives Canada – and other memory institutions around the world – to acquire, preserve and make available documents no matter how controversial or contentious they could be,” said Guy Berthiaume, librarian and archivist of Canada. “It allows us to educate and to advocate for the most complete historical record possible. The truth of history is woven from many sources, and it is only when history is presented in its entirety that it can support the free exchange of ideas that lies at the heart of a democratic society.”
This book by Kloss was likely brought to the United States as a war souvenir, as thousands were taken by American soldiers from the Nazi leader’s alpine retreat outside Berchtesgaden in the spring of 1945. The library acquired it from a reputable Judaica dealer who had obtained it as part of a collection owned by a Holocaust survivor, and it will be preserved in the Jacob M. Lowy Collection, where other important items related to Holocaust remembrance reside.
The acquisition of this book highlights the library’s mandate to acquire material that reflects the published record of Canada, as well as to preserve the memory of the Holocaust. It is also a way to let us reflect on what would have happened in Canada had the Second World War ended differently.
“This invaluable report offers a documented confirmation of the fears felt so acutely and expressed by so many Canadian Jews during the Second World War: that the Nazis would land on our shores and, with them, the annihilation of Jewish life here,” said Prof. Rebecca Margolis, department of modern languages and literatures and Vered Jewish Canadian Studies Program, University of Ottawa, and president, Association for Canadian Jewish Studies. “While these fears may seem unfounded given the geographic distance of Nazi Europe to Canada, this handbook offering detailed statistics of Jewish populations across North America underlines their nightmarish potential.”
Robbie Waisman and Dr. Uma Kumar
spoke Jan. 24 at UBC’s Hillel House. (photo from Hillel BC)
History’s resonance in the present was a
recurring theme at a commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day
The event at Hillel House on the University of
British Columbia campus, featured Holocaust survivor Robbie Waisman speaking
about his experiences in Buchenwald concentration camp and his life before and
after the Shoah.
Thirteen survivors of the Holocaust lit
yahrzeit candles, after which Hillel’s Rabbi Philip Bregman chanted the
Before Waisman’s presentation, the audience
watched a 1985 video from CBC television’s national program The Journal,
which followed Waisman as he traveled to Philadelphia to meet Leon Bass, the
American soldier who had liberated him from the camp 40 years earlier.
Bass, an African-American, was the first black
person Waisman had ever seen. At the age of 13, Waisman thought Bass and his
fellow American soldiers must be angels.
“Indeed, they were,” he said.
At the event Jan. 24, which was co-sponsored by
the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, Hillel BC, the Centre for Israel and
Jewish Affairs and UBC’s department of Central, Eastern and Northern European
Studies (CENES), Waisman said the thing that kept him and his fellow survivors
alive was the hope of being reunited with family.
“The enormity of the Holocaust was not yet
known to us,” said Waisman. When it did become known, he said, “we had to find
a way to deal and cope with the huge loss of all our loved ones.… How are we
going to live with all these horrors?… Has anyone survived? If not, what is the
point of my own survival?”
He and his father had seen one of Waisman’s
brothers murdered, and his father died later in the same camp. He would learn
that his mother and his other three brothers were also murdered, as were his
uncles, aunts, cousins and friends. Of the family, only Waisman and his sister
“I search for answers,” he said. “I only find
more questions. How could anyone remain sane and functioning as a human being
when humanity was destroyed in front of our eyes? Worst of all, how do you come
to terms with the tragic loss of all our loved ones, fathers, mothers,
brothers, sisters, friends that we grew up with, all innocent – everything gone
– how is it possible? We started questioning the existence of God. How could
this happen to us?… Before the war, we all came from Orthodox homes, rich in
heritage and traditions. After coming out of the terrible abyss, the darkness,
we questioned angrily. But what we learned in the home, from our parents, was
not lost. The sense of humanity slowly returned to us. Our faith was shaken
yet, in spite of it all, we remained true to it.”
Waisman said his experience in the Holocaust,
and the experience of other survivors, has taught that “evil must be recognized
and that we all have a responsibility to make sure that it never happens again
to anyone. And yet … what is the world doing about it now?”
He reflected on the concept of “Never again.”
“Noble, thought-provoking words, but only if we
act upon them,” he said. “Today, over 70 years after my liberation, the promise
of never again has become again and again. There have been a number of
situations that have tested the world’s resolve, in Cambodia, the former
Yugoslavia, in Darfur and in Syria – I could go on and on.
“When I speak at high schools, I try to convey
to students the pain of my experience in order to inspire them to prevent such
events from occurring again,” he said. “The world must learn from the past in
order to make this a better place for now and the future. We must teach
compassion, we must eradicate racism and religious persecution. We must teach
ourselves, teach our children, each generation must learn.”
Also at the Jan. 24 event, Dr. Uma Kumar, a
lecturer with CENES, noted recent reports that indicate many Canadians and
others are ignorant of the most basic facts of the Holocaust.
“Nearly half of Canadians cannot name a single
concentration camp or ghetto that existed in Europe during the Shoah,” she
said. “However, there is a positive point: 85% of the respondents of the study
said that it was important to keep teaching about the Holocaust so that it does
not happen again. Hence, there is a pressing need for more and better Holocaust
education at schools and universities in Canada. We, as Holocaust educators,
still have a lot of work to do.”
Joyce Murray, member of Parliament for
Vancouver Quadra, brought greetings on behalf of the federal government and
also reflected on her visit last year to Auschwitz.
“The Holocaust reality, for me, shifted from
being a part of history that I thought I understood and regretted to a reality
that I feel in my body and in my heart,” she said. “Commemorating mass atrocity
and genocide in the continued sharing of the story of survivors is a vital part
of prevention. These stories serve as a reminder of the dangers of hate,
prejudice and discrimination, the dangers of seeing human beings as ‘us’ and
‘them,’ the dangers of excessive nationalism to the detriment of others that is
stalking so many nations today.”
Murray also mentioned the Canadian government’s
recent apology for refusing admission to passengers on the MS St. Louis in 1939
and reminded the audience that Canada is not immune to bigotry.
Michael Lee, member of the B.C. legislature for
Vancouver-Langara, was also present.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day was
officially marked worldwide on Jan. 27, the date when Allied forces liberated
the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps in 1945. Another ceremony and a film
screening took place Sunday at the Peretz Centre.