The Hot Mammas – left to right, Mary Ella Young, Julie Brown and Georgina Arntzen – with Tom Arntzen. (photo by Dee Lippingwell)
The Hot Mammas – Mary Ella Young, Julie Brown and Georgina Arntzen – with Tom Arntzen perform a Remembrance Day Revue on Nov. 10 and 11 at the Corner Stone Bistro in North Vancouver. With careers spanning decades, they have done it all, from folk to jazz, radio to musical theatre, Vancouver to New York; these women know how to work a room. Long-time friends Arntzen, Brown (who is a member of the Jewish community) and Young formed the Hot Mammas in 2004 and they entertain audiences with the kinds of stories and harmonies that can only come from such a friendship. For reservations, call 604-990-3602 or visit thehotmammas.com.
The following article was published in the Globe & Mail, as “A Dutch family hid me from the Nazis: I owe them my life,” in advance of Remembrance Day, Nov. 11, 2020. It is reprinted here with permission, in recognition of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Jan. 27.
I can never pass Remembrance Day without reflection. This year, we marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands. It meant freedom for Dutch men, women and children after a brutal five-year occupation by German military forces. More than 5,000 Canadian soldiers rest in Dutch soil and are mourned and remembered there annually. They were our liberators and will never be forgotten, for Canadians and Canada are seared into the collective memory of the population. I myself saw Canadian tanks chasing German half-tracks down the streets of The Hague. On May 4, 1945, I was looking out the window of my mother’s small apartment, where she had been hiding. A man across the street opened his door one day too early. He was shot by a retreating German soldier. I was dragged away from the window. I was not yet 5 years old.
Unlike most Dutch children who began their lives anew after the war, I was a Jewish child hidden with Albert and Violette Munnik and their daughter, Nora, from November 1942 to May 1945. I became Robbie Munnik and was returned to my parents, who had miraculously survived, the only survivors of their families of origin. My grandparents, aunts, uncles and numerous cousins had all been murdered. For Jews, the postwar world offered precious little solace or hope: it was a world of death and of mourning. Liberation did not feel particularly liberating. Within that depressing atmosphere, I made the transition from Robbie Munnik back to Robbie Krell.
For this Remembrance Day 2020, I want to honour the memory of my Christian Vader, my second father.
When my mother passed me on to Moeder (Mother), who agreed to take me for a few weeks while she secured a hiding place, Vader accepted me without hesitation. Did he know of the risk to his family, hiding a Jewish child? If not in 1942, certainly he did by 1943. But, unlike many in this situation, he did not dwell on possible consequences. He simply set about loving me.
Early in my hiding, they allowed Nora to take me out, but that was a mistake. A woman recognized me. She happened to know my mother and asked Nora why she was looking after me. Vader contacted her immediately to ensure she remained silent. From then on, I was housebound. He read to me and made toys for me. His brothers and a sister all kept the secret of my presence. One slip could lead to betrayal. I was beyond lucky. Vader worked hard, loved deeply and enjoyed his hobbies, which included playing the piano by ear and carving wood and shaping metal. He was talented.
The danger increased. Only after the war would we learn that more than 80% of Dutch Jews were deported and murdered, primarily in Auschwitz and Sobibor. Of 108,000 souls sent to the death camps, only about 5,000 returned. And of about 14,000 children in hiding, more than half were betrayed, as was Anne Frank and her family in Amsterdam.
Because of his modest nature, Vader stands in danger of being forgotten. Of course, not by me. Unlike so many, including princes and popes, presidents and prime ministers, industrialists and intellectuals, he defied the Nazis and accepted the risk of my presence. So, while the names of the Nazis that murdered us linger on, as do the names of leaders who either did not lift a finger, or worse, actively prevented Jews from reaching safe havens, he might have been forgotten. So, I choose to remember him. In the hour of need, he included me in his life then and thereafter. His only reward was that I called him “Vader” and that he had, in addition to his daughter, a son.
In 1965, he and Moeder were brought to Vancouver by my parents to attend my graduation from medical school. My fellow graduates were drawn to him especially. He spoke no English, but the twinkle in his eyes spoke volumes. He was a people magnet. When they returned for my wedding in 1971, he fell ill shortly after and was briefly hospitalized at St. Vincent’s in Vancouver. There, he enchanted the nurses. When I came to visit, everyone on staff already knew him. They flocked to him. He radiated good humour and optimism. He did not know from anger, fear or bitterness. He hoped that I would not be consumed with anger over the Holocaust of my people, and that I would not turn away from Judaism or from Israel. And then, in 1972, he died. I do not know what he would have thought about the resurgence of antisemitism, the BDS movement and the antipathy toward Israel. But I can guess. And so can you.
But Vader will be remembered because Albert, Violette and Nora Munnik have been inscribed among “the Righteous” at Yad Vashem, the official site of Holocaust remembrance in Jerusalem. A tree planted as a seedling in 1981 grows at the site of the plaque bearing their names. And, in Vancouver, at Vancouver Talmud Torah Jewish day school, a sanctuary has been named in their memory and the entire story of their heroism lines the walls.
So, this year my memory is not consumed by what took place in Auschwitz and Sobibor, where so many of my family perished; this year, I will concentrate on remembering Albert Munnik, my Christian Vader, on Remembrance Day, and the Canadian troops that freed us.
Dr. Robert Krell is professor emeritus, department of psychiatry, University of British Columbia, distinguished life fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and founding president of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre.
An item from the Nov. 10, 1938, newspaper in Helen Waldstein Wilkes’ mother’s hometown, Cham, Bavaria. It reads: “In Brief. Jews Taken into Protective Custody. As was the case everywhere in Germany, news of the death of the German Councilor von Rath in Paris unleashed a storm of bitterness and fury against the cowardly Jewboys who are now threatening the lives of Germans abroad because they can no longer unleash their terror and hatred within the Reich. Since, by the Grace of God, we no longer have any Jewish shops in Cham, anti-Jewish action did not take place as it did in so many other German cities. However, for their own safety, those Jews still living here had to be taken into custody yesterday morning.” (Translation by Waldstein Wilkes.)
As we have sat waiting to hear who will be president of the land that was once the beacon of hope for so many, we have asked ourselves, “What can I do? Are there meaningful avenues for action?”
Election day Nov. 3, Kristallnacht Nov. 9 and Remembrance Day Nov. 11 form a cluster. For Jews who became refugees or who lost family in the Holocaust and for all their descendants, Nov. 9 has particular resonance. Peter Gay was there. Here’s how he describes it:
“Synagogues were severely damaged or totally burnt out, sacred scrolls desecrated with the peculiar elation and ingenuity that the plunderers brought to their work. Businesses were destroyed, private houses and apartments were reduced to piles of rubble, with furniture, pictures, clothing and kitchen equipment thrown around so that they were barely recognizable. There was some looting…. But for the majority, the thrill lay in destruction for its own sake.
“The world watched, disapproved, and did almost nothing. In the United States, the public’s attention was still focusing on the midterm congressional elections of November 8, and the press was busy assessing the results.” (From Gay’s My German Question: Growing Up in Nazi Berlin, Yale University Press, 1998.)
For me, the parallels to today send shivers down my spine. The world must not be allowed to forget the depths to which humans can sink.
Awareness of the Holocaust is shrinking. In the United States, a 2018 survey showed that 66% of millennials could not identify what Auschwitz was. A recent survey revealed that about a third of 7,000 European respondents across seven countries knew “just a little or nothing at all” about the Holocaust.
Knowing about the Holocaust can provide a necessary understanding of how an entire population was bullied and manipulated by demagogues before succumbing to hate and fear-mongering. It can also serve as a blueprint for recognizing the dangers of demonization and incitement and help guard human rights and strengthen core democratic values.
Instead of endlessly fretting about social isolation and the threat of COVID-19, I’ve been seeking ways to make the gift of my days here on earth matter. I, a woman who calls herself “accidentally alive,” a woman who left her first home by horse and buggy, now count technology as among the miracles of my life. Recently, from out of the blue, the wife of a second cousin in New York, whom I’d met only once many years ago, decided to gather the extended family (all that’s left, thanks to Hitler and his efficient helpers) via Zoom. Welcoming me to this gathering of the mishpocha was a man in Israel claiming that his great-great-grandparent and mine had been siblings, and that he had read my book Letters from the Lost in connection with his volunteer work at a museum there. The museum used to be a kibbutz, founded by survivors from Theresienstadt, the concentration camp where both of my grandmothers perished and where most of my family suffered before being sent to their final destination, Auschwitz. Perhaps to distance itself from the German and to place upon it the stamp of renewal that Israel became for these lost souls, the kibbutz was named Beit Terezin.
Using artwork and graphics contributed by those early survivors in Beit Terezin, alongside the words of my beloved Uncle Arnold, who spent 17 months in Theresienstadt before enduring the hellfires of Auschwitz, we hope to create a book that will find a home in every Holocaust museum in the world. If finances permit, we will use technology to bring the contents to life in new ways so that those who cannot visit a Holocaust museum in person nonetheless can receive our reminder that it must not happen again. Never Again.
I urge you to visit our website. And if you’d like to do an additional mitzvah, please forward the link to contacts near and far whose family members may once have lived through the hell of Theresienstadt – or worse.
Born in a country that no longer exists at a time hopefully never to be repeated, Helen Waldstein Wilkes describes herself as “accidentally alive” because she, too, was marked for eradication. Now an energized octogenarian with a richly rewarding life, she is author of two award-winning books, The Aging of Aquarius, an uplifting book that encourages people to live their passion by striving to effect change for the better, and Letters from the Lost (also available in German and Spanish translation), a moving memoir of how a box of letters from prewar and postwar Europe changed everything.
Vancouver Peace Poppies co-founder Teresa Gagné at the White Poppy Memorial in 2018. (photo by Diane Donaldson)
A local group is hoping to broaden the scope of Remembrance Day as more than an occasion to honour the brave men and women who have died while serving for their country. Through the distribution of white poppies, the Vancouver Peace Poppies (VPP) movement strives to extend the focus on Nov. 11 to all those who have suffered as a result of military conflicts.
Teresa Gagné, who co-founded VPP with Denis Laplante in 2008, stresses that the group intends no disrespect towards soldiers. Instead, they wish to bring more awareness to the toll warfare has on the whole population, whether it be the loss of life or other trauma experienced. Beyond representing the victims of war, civilian and military, the white poppy, according to VPP, also challenges the beliefs, values and institutions that create the view that war is unavoidable.
“I have always had respect and sympathy for veterans, who put their life, health and family on the line to serve,” Gagné said. “I believe they deserve recognition and support, but, for years, I was uncomfortable wearing a red poppy, because of the undercurrent of promotion and recruitment for present and future wars that I detect in many public events around the topic of supporting veterans. The white poppy attracts questions, and gives me a chance to explain the nuances of my support.”
A 2016 study by Alexandre Marc, a specialist in conflict and violence for the World Bank, brought to light the overwhelmingly disproportionate number of casualties among non-combatants as opposed to combatants in recent decades. According to some reports, civilians constitute 90% of wartime fatalities, a ratio that has existed since the mid-1950s.
What’s more, Marc’s research points out that global poverty is increasingly concentrated in countries affected by violence and that prolonged conflict keeps countries poor.
Gagné and Laplante have been active in the peace movement since their teens. Their 2008 launch of VPP began by distributing handmade white poppies as a way to promote discussion and a broader focus for Remembrance Day. The following year, while still a “kitchen table” operation, they imported 500 cloth poppies from Britain. VPP now sends out more than 5,000 poppies across Canada annually.
Since 2016, VPP has partnered with the B.C. Humanist Association to host Let Peace Be Their Memorial, an annual Remembrance Day wreath-laying ceremony that includes peace songs, short presentations and poetry. This year, the Multifaith Action Society is also a co-host. The event poster highlights, “The time and location of the ceremony has been chosen to avoid any appearance of competition with, or disrespect for, veteran-focused events.”
As in previous years, this year’s ceremony at Seaforth Peace Park on Nov. 11, 2:30 p.m., will include a special wreath laid in memory of Holocaust victims.
Two members of the Vancouver Jewish community, Marcy Cohen and Gyda Chud, are engaged in the local movement. In 2017, Cohen attended her first Let Peace Be Their Memorial and then sought to get others in the community involved.
“I was far more affected emotionally than I anticipated,” said Cohen of the occasion.
After learning of the history, values and focus of VPP, Chud recently joined the committee, and seeks to profile their work in the larger Jewish community. She represented Pacific Immigrant Resource Society (PIRS), a local refugee service group, in laying the refugee wreath in 2017 and 2018.
“The memorial serves as a powerful and compelling call to action for everything we can and must do to create a more peaceful world,” said Chud.
Last year’s Holocaust wreath was laid by Henry Grayman and Deborah Ross-Grayman, both children of Holocaust survivors. Having each experienced the intergenerational effects of trauma, the couple, both therapists, are facilitators for the Second Generation Group, an organization in Vancouver comprised of children of Holocaust survivors sharing their experiences among peers.
The people laying the Holocaust wreath at this year’s Let Peace Be Their Memorial have yet to be announced.
The red poppy widely worn today first appeared in 1921 on what was then called Armistice Day. In 1926, the No More War Movement, a British pacifist organization, came up with the idea for the white poppy and, in 1933, the Co-Operative Women’s Guild in the United Kingdom sold the first white poppies as a means of remembering that women had lost husbands, sons and fathers during wartime.
The wreaths that Vancouver Peace Poppies and other groups make, a mix of white and red poppies, highlight the amount of civilian suffering. VPP also distributes white poppies in schools in an effort to teach students that wars mostly kill non-military people, pollute the environment and send the message that violence as a means to settle disputes, even for adults, is acceptable.
VPP hands out its poppies by donation to increase awareness of its cause and not as a fundraiser. Poppies cost $1.25 each, of which 95 cents goes to the Peace Pledge Union, a pacifist organization based in London, England, which, since 1934, has advocated for nonviolent solutions to global problems. A $1 or $2 donation allows VPP to provide subsidized poppies for classroom use and free poppies to disadvantaged groups.
For poppies and more information, visit peacepoppies.ca or call 604-437-4453.
Sam Margolishas written for the Globe and Mail, the National Post, UPI and MSNBC.
On Remembrance Day, Nov. 11, a small group of Jewish community members gathered in the Jewish section of Mountain View Cemetery to commemorate Canadians who have served in the armed forces. Organized and led by Rabbi Steven L. Nemetz, a member of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 179, the ceremony was attended by more than 30 people, including children, nieces and nephews, and grandchildren of men and women who served in the Allied armed forces. Many attendees brought with them wartime photos of their uniformed family member(s).
The 100-bell Bells of Peace ceremony marked 100 years since the end of the First World War. Each person present at the memorial was invited to step forward to ring a ship’s bell after the announcement of their name and the name, relation and rank or service of their fathers, uncles, aunts, and other relatives.
Kaddish was recited. “Last Post” was played by a cadet trumpeter and a piper played the lament, which recalls the end of battle, and “Amazing Grace.” The commemoration opened with O Canada and concluded with Hatikvah.
Danny Redden places a poppy at a family grave. (photo by Shula Klinger)
With Remembrance Day falling on a Saturday this year, members of Royal Canadian Legion Shalom Branch #178 paid their respects on Monday, Nov. 13. They met at Schara Tzedeck Cemetery in New Westminster. Legion president Ralph Jackson was in attendance with vice-presidents Alan Tapper and Mark Perl, along with legion members.
The group sang O Canada and Hatikvah, and the Last Post was sounded, before poppies were placed at veterans’ graves. Danny Redden laid a poppy at the grave of a former neighbour. He later emailed the man’s son and daughter, who do not live locally. “I told them, we remembered him and laid a poppy at his grave. They were so appreciative. When you hear that, you need to continue doing it. It’s the honourable thing to do.”
After the service, attendees went on to lunch at Louis Brier Home and Hospital. Redden described it as “a lovely lunch, followed by live piano music and songs from the war years. They did a wonderful job.” Redden credited Rachel Worth at Louis Brier for coordinating the afternoon’s entertainment.
White Rock/South Surrey Jewish Community Centre Religious School kindergarten student Navi lays the WRSS JCC wreath at the cenotaph on Remembrance Day. (photo from WRSS JCC)
The Royal Canadian Legion Branch #008 hosts the annual Remembrance Day Parade and Wreath Laying Ceremony in White Rock on Nov. 11. White Rock/South Surrey Jewish Community Centre Religious School has been participating in the ceremony for more than 10 years.
The parade began at the corner of Roper Avenue and Johnston Road at 9:30 a.m., and concluded at First United Church on Fir Street. The wreath and memorial ceremony took place at the cenotaph beside White Rock City Hall.
Among the many community organizations laying a wreath was the White Rock/South Surrey Jewish Community Centre. As is the WRSS JCC tradition, the wreath was placed by a student from the centre’s religious school. This year, it was kindergarten student Navi and his father who placed the wreath.
For a great number of Canadians, particularly those too young to remember the Second World War, Remembrance Day is not the day of intimate commemoration it was for previous generations. Canadian engagement in Afghanistan, however, has once again bestowed on this solemn occasion more immediacy. That said, most young Canadians who file into school auditoriums for the recitation of “In Flanders Fields” and a moment of silence understandably may not experience the same emotional reaction as their parents or grandparents who participated in or lost loved ones in the world wars.
This Nov. 11 will probably have poignancy beyond the routine, though, because of the tragic events of recent days. Our country is mourning Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent, who was murdered last month in Quebec, and Corporal Nathan Cirillo, who was shot at the National War Memorial in Ottawa two days later.
The murder of Cirillo was immediately followed by a dramatic shootout at the heart of our democracy, the Parliament Buildings, in which the assassin and thankfully no one else was killed.
The symbolism of the latter shootings is unambiguous. A killer – maybe deranged, maybe driven by ideology, maybe a bit of both – kills a military official standing guard at the icon of Canada’s military sacrifices, then heads directly to the legislature of our country, apparently intending further destruction.
Reaction has varied intensely. American 24-hour news outlets treated the occasion with typical spectacle. Canadian media have been credited with exhibiting characteristic Canadian moderation. Canadians have not, evidence so far suggests, gone hog-wild in demanding the swapping of human rights for physical security. A typically Canadian assessment will be made about whether elected officials should have greater protection, but there has been minimal hysteria about an imminent invasion by terrorists.
These incidents, of course, raised the inevitable fears and allegations. Both crimes were perpetrated by men who were newly observant Muslims. Yet, there is minimal evidence that either was in any way connected to a larger Islamist network or that religious fanaticism was a greater driver than grave psychological or emotional troubles.
Still, there was reaction in the unlikeliest of places. In Cold Lake, Alta., a mosque – talk about a little mosque on the prairie – was a hate-crime target with, among other things, “Go home” spray-painted on its exterior. In what was the perfect Canadian response, locals showed up to clean off the graffiti and festoon the place with signs, including one with the message “You ARE home.”
There may be a place for hate-crimes legislation and certainly there are laws against vandalism, but the greatest reaction of all is individual members of a community coming together to undo – literally and figuratively – the hatred purveyed by a minority of bigots.
As we prepare to mark Remembrance Day Tuesday, members of our community also gather Sunday night to mark the 76th anniversary of Kristallnacht. This date marks the horrible moment when the incremental threats of the Nazi regime moved from words to deeds, and the intimidations of successive antisemitic laws moved toward the grisly realities of the Final Solution.
Kristallnacht also holds particularly fresh import in a world where Jewish shops and people this year have been subjected to attack in Europe and elsewhere. Both of these solemn days call on us to consider events of the past and to be vigilant in the present. Lest we forget.