There are several opportunities for the local community to commemorate Yom Hashoah this year.
On Wednesday, April 7, 3 p.m., the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC) is partnering with the Montreal Holocaust Museum for an online program focusing on the importance of remembrance and the intergenerational transmission of memory. The program will include survivor testimony clips and comments from members of the second and third generations about their families’ experiences during the Holocaust. Attend live via facebook.com/events/188237616165702. For more information, visit museeholocauste.ca/en/news-and-events/yom-hashoah.
On Thursday, April 8, 3:30 p.m., community members can join Premier John Horgan for a Holocaust Memorial Day service livestreamed from the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, in a gathering organized with the VHEC and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. Holocaust survivors are invited to a private pre-ceremony reception with Horgan at 3 p.m. – survivors may RSVP to receive a Zoom link by emailing [email protected] or phoning 604-622-4240.
Also on April 8, at 4 p.m., the VHEC, together with the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre, Azrieli Foundation, Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, Facing History and Ourselves, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal, March of the Living Canada and UIA present a Canada-wide Yom Hashoah program featuring survivor testimony from cities across the country, a candlelighting ceremony and other components that share stories of resiliency, faith and hope. Register via holocaustcentre.com/2021-cross-canada-yom-hashoah.
On Sunday, April 11, at 11 a.m., the Victoria Shoah Project is inviting the community to attend a virtual Yom Hashoah with the theme of “Preserving and Honouring Voices from the Shoah.” The program features a tribute to a survivor originally from Hungary, George Pal, who will speak about his book, Prisoners of Hate, which was published in 2018. The service will also include an historian speaking about the Holocaust in Hungary, a recitation of the Kaddish of the Camps, commemorative music, and a message from Rabbi Harry Brechner of Congregation Emanu-El, Victoria. For the Zoom link, visit victoriashoahproject.ca.
Without interpretation, the world’s greatest art is little more than a lot of pretty pictures. Similarly, absent interpretation and thoughtful reflection, history is not much more than a litany of names and dates.
This month, we are marking many anniversaries. The end of the Second World War in Europe. The liberation of the last Nazi concentration camps. The beginning of Soviet-versus-Western tensions and proxy wars that lasted decades.
In some ways, we cannot begin to comprehend the Holocaust, or the world’s reaction to it, without reflecting on a different anniversary we mark this month. It was 60 years ago this week – May 11, 1960 – that Mossad operatives captured Adolf Eichmann, a prime architect of the Holocaust. The astonishing operation, which amazes observers even today with its bizarre twists and chutzpah on an international scale, stands out as a turning point in the way the world – Jews especially – view Holocaust history.
Holocaust survivors themselves understood the particularity of the Holocaust, while much of the world perceived the millions of Jewish lives lost as a part of the larger war casualties, not qualitatively different from the deaths of citizens of Dresden or Coventry or Stalingrad. It should need not be said that every human life lost is a tragedy. But, from the perspective of historical meaning, the murder of Jews, Roma, people with disabilities, homosexuals and others targeted for identities unrelated to the national conflicts, must be understood apart from the tragic consequences of war.
This is the consensus position today – that the Holocaust paralleled the Second World War but was substantively and morally different from broader contemporary events. This consensus emerged to a great extent from the Eichmann capture and trial.
Eichmann was living in Argentina, so confident in his security that, in retrospect, his subterfuge was minimal. Once tipped off, the Mossad had little trouble locating him.
Eichmann’s legendary defence, that he was merely following orders, was dismissed by the Israeli court. Whatever moral or military defence that argument posited was defied by the facts. Eichmann, according to eyewitnesses and documentary evidence, did far more than follow orders. He enthusiastically fulfilled directives beyond the letter or spirit of the command.
When the trial began, in 1961, it was said that one could walk through Tel Aviv and hear the proceedings on radio through every open window. The implications of the Eichmann trial for the world’s understanding of this history, and for Israeli and Jewish consciousness, was revolutionary.
Even among families that included survivors, or who had lost entire branches of the family tree, the historical context of the Holocaust was nebulous until this time. The small amount of survivor testimony that had emerged immediately after the war had largely dissipated, in part because the public did not want to face the most grotesque evidence of human depravity and because, in many cases, the survivors chose to sublimate their experiences and attempt to rebuild and move on with their lives.
It was only in the minutiae of the evidence at trial, the mind-boggling precision, industrial-style execution of diabolical plans and indescribable sadism of the Nazi war against Jews that people began to understand both the quantitative and the qualitative nature of the Shoah.
In addition to gaining insights into what their parents or other survivors might have experienced, younger Jews and Israelis intuited from the evidence a larger realization about their people. According to some historians, an idea persisted in the years after 1945 that the Jews of Europe had gone silently – “like sheep,” in the dehumanizing terminology too often employed – to their deaths.
Gaining an understanding of the inescapable precision and indefatigable determination of the Nazis to identify and murder every single Jew in their realm, younger Jews and Israelis came to know that their lost civilization did not go willingly. Indeed, among the earliest memorializations of the Holocaust – including here in Vancouver – were commemorations of the bravery and resistance of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. The nuances of the historical record were enriched by this knowledge, with implications for the self-identity of Jews everywhere. The extent of the cataclysm was a result of the homicidal tenacity of the Nazis and their collaborators, not of the responses of their victims.
The Eichmann trial opened a floodgate. The contemporary era of Holocaust history, including survivor memoirs and public discussion of that time, really began then. A decade later, this new understanding led to a backlash of Holocaust denial and revisionism which, in turn, inspired yet more survivors to speak out to correct and add to the record.
Today, we struggle to keep this history alive and to challenge its diminishment and misuse. Even among well-intentioned people who would never mean to belittle this history, there is a tendency to invoke it in situations that by no measure are comparable.
Additionally, especially in Europe, public opinion polls reveal that there is a fatigue around the subject. In many countries, pluralities or even majorities say that too much attention is paid to the Holocaust. Incongruously, the same polls indicate that it is in countries where ignorance of this history is most pronounced that citizens contend there is too much focus on it. Try to square those results.
We always view the past through the changing lens of the present. We have seen transformations in the understanding of and responses to Holocaust history for 75 years now. One of the challenges of our generation and successive ones is to be active in addressing these changing perceptions and interpretations. Our desire to continue to delve into this difficult experience and our people’s enduring trauma cannot depend on other people’s ignorance or assessment of what’s considered “too much” or “too in the past.” Our obligation, as carriers of this knowledge and witnesses to the survivors, is to glean the lessons of the past that improve the future and help strengthen our community and our societies. We will continue to do this work and to honour our ancestors. And we will continue to share what we know to be true, as we search for ways to make “Never again” a reality.
An important event took place in Vancouver last weekend, as hundreds of child survivors of the Holocaust convened at a downtown hotel for the conference of the World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Descendants. A Shabbat dinner, moving speeches, presentations and other events were attended by survivors, their children and grandchildren, with specific programs organized with the interests and needs of each group in mind.
Attendees felt the heavy presence of time, as some reflected that these conferences are seeing fewer survivors and that the firsthand knowledge of these events will soon be carried only by the second and third generations. (See next week’s paper for coverage of the event.) Attendees, who fortunately witnessed Vancouver over a few days of autumn sunshine, raved about the welcome they received from locals and the quality of the program and the achievements of the organizers. But it is Vancouverites who should be most honoured to have been able to meet and experience the spirit and resilience of these remarkable individuals. Each survivor has a very different survival story and life history, yet they come together in part because of a need to connect with others who are most likely to understand not only the facts of their Holocaust experiences, but the unique hurdles – and, notably, the many, many achievements – of having survived and thrived after an early life of often-unimaginable challenge.
We are now amid a week of solemn remembrance – the 81st anniversary of Kristallnacht, on the night of Nov. 9-10, followed by Remembrance Day, Nov. 11. These weighty commemorations are an opportunity to reflect on the past and to rededicate ourselves to a world free of hatred, war and genocide.
The past cannot be undone, but restitution and reconciliation can help to take that past and, in some small ways, find meaning that restores honour and dignity to the victims and those who carry their legacies. That is one of the themes of the new exhibit just opened at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre (VHEC).
Treasured Belongings: The Hahn Family and the Search for a Stolen Legacy opened Thursday, launched at the annual Kristallnacht Commemoration with a presentation by Dr. Michael Hayden, a renowned Vancouver medical researcher. Hayden’s grandparents, Max and Gertrud Hahn, who were murdered in the Holocaust, had one of Germany’s most significant collections of Judaica. The story of the survival of parts of that collection – and the ongoing efforts to locate and restitute other items – is not so much, he says, about the artifacts themselves, but about reclaiming the individuality and dignity of his grandparents and the lives that were stolen from them. (Again, next week’s paper will feature coverage of this event.)
For Hayden, the process has been emotional, sometimes rewarding, sometimes disheartening. But it is an act of dedication to restore the individuality of two of Nazism’s victims. Sheer numbers of genocide victims are almost incomprehensible, especially to young minds, which are the most critical target of contemporary Holocaust education. Intergenerational narratives like those of the Hahn-Hayden family, illuminated with tangible artifacts, are a vital means to bring this history in a meaningful way to the generations who will not have the opportunity to meet and hear testimony from those who witnessed and experienced that cataclysmic history themselves.
Those of us who have had the privilege of being entrusted with the stories of survivors, or the experiences of veterans of the wars against tyranny, must appreciate the importance of being witnesses to the witnesses. We should take a moment over this weekend to consider how we can act in our daily lives to advance a world that does justice to their memories and experiences.
The Schara Tzedeck Shoah Survivors Tribute Wall was created for the congregation by John Nutter. The sculpture, which includes the names of 230 survivors, was dedicated May 3. (photo from John Nutter)
Congregation Schara Tzedeck has a new art installation in its main sanctuary. The Schara Tzedeck Shoah Survivors Tribute Wall – a Tree of Life rendered in sandblasted glass – includes the names of 230 survivors. It was dedicated May 3.
Full of shared memories and friendship, the pre-Shabbat dedication ceremony featured several speakers: the synagogue’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Andrew Rosenblatt; its executive president, Howard Kallner; younger family members of the survivors; Ed Lewin, co-chair of the project with Hodie Kahn; and the man who started the entire project, Dr. Robert Krell, a child survivor.
“We wanted to honour the Holocaust survivors who found their way to Canada, before and after the war, and wound up as members of this shul,” Lewin told the Independent. “Most of them came here in 1948. Their names are all there, on the wall. My parents’ and grandparents’ names are among them.”
Explaining how the project started, Lewin said, “We had this empty space, and Krell suggested a tribute to Holocaust survivors. It was several years ago. It took us awhile to find the talented glass artist, John Nutter, who transformed our ideas into a sculpture.”
The synagogue is publishing a commemorative book about the installation, as well. While the Tribute Wall features survivors’ names only, the book also contains photographs of the survivors; there are family and group photo pages. Together, the book and the wall serve as a memorial to those who not only survived the Shoah but contributed greatly to Schara Tzedeck and to the development of Greater Vancouver and the province over the past seven decades.
One page of the book is dedicated to Nutter, who has created numerous art installations for churches and synagogues, mostly in New York. His works decorate many institutions in the United States and Canada: hotels, museums, hospitals. He collaborated with local artist Bill Reid on a glass sculpture at the Vancouver International Airport. A few years ago, Glass Magazine named Nutter one of the top three architectural glass artists in the country.
About how he came to design the Tribute Wall, Nutter said, “A few years ago, I did a small glass sculpture for the Louis Brier Home, a collaboration with a wonderful artist and friend, Diana Zoe Coop. Camille Wenner, Diana’s daughter, works for Schara Tzedeck. I’ve known Camille since she was a young child. She contacted me about this project and, of course, I said, yes.”
He explained his work process. “They knew exactly what they wanted – a Tree of Life, made like a Vancouver cherry tree in bloom. Usually, I start with a small draft, show it to my clients, make changes until they’re satisfied, before I transfer the design to glass. But the people from Schara Tzedeck were very nice. They approved my first draft of the design.”
The first step in making the sculpture was creating a life-size drawing out of the small-scale draft. “I hire a company for that,” said Nutter, “give them my small drawing, and they blow it up to the size I want.”
Once he has the full-size paper draft, he starts working on the glass. For this sculpture, he used nine separate glass panels. The three bottom panels are roots. “The words ‘Schara Tzedeck’ are carved among the roots, to symbolize the Jews who had set their roots with the congregation,” Nutter explained.
The middle panel is the trunk, and the five panels around it are carved with leaves and flowers. “I sandblasted each petal of each flower individually,” Nutter said. “It gives more depth to the sculpture.”
The work is made of 15-millimetre laminated glass; two layers joined together. The carving is on the back, and the names of the survivors are written on the front, in black, which adds to the visual depth.
Nutter has been working with architectural glass for decades. “I started as an architecture student at the University of Manitoba,” he recalled. “A couple years into my studies, I took a summer job with a stained glass company. I loved it so much, I left my schooling and stayed with the company for several years, before I founded my own company. I never finished my architectural degree, but I taught stained glass making at the same faculty years later.”
He loves architecture, and most of his works are large-scale glass. “Sometimes,” he said, “my background in architecture helps me to win the contracts. I often build small-scale models of my proposed installations when I bid for a job. I like the details and hardware used in the models. I learned that during my years of architectural studies.”
Frequently, Nutter’s sculptures and windows tell a story, like the one he created for Schara Tzedeck. “In the past, when artists made glass installations in churches and other religious institutions, it was always to tell a story, as most of the population were illiterate,” he said. “Now, people can read, so the art became more decorative, but it still tells a story.”
Dr. Robert Krell with Grade 12 King David High School students Gali Goldman, left, and Edden Av-Gay. (photo by Shula Klinger)
On May 2, King David High School marked Yom Hashoah at its annual assembly commemorating those lost in the Holocaust. This year, for the first time, the school hosted Grade 10 students from Alpha Secondary School in Burnaby.
The morning began with prayers for the victims of the recent Poway shooting in San Diego. After a minute’s silence, the assembly commenced with a procession led by child Holocaust survivor Dr. Robert Krell. Each of the five KHDS students in the procession carried a candle.
Originally from The Hague, Krell is founding president of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre and an educator and advocate for the centre’s programs. He is also professor emeritus, department of psychiatry, University of British Columbia, and distinguished life fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He was introduced by KDHS students Estie Kallner and Mattea Lewis, his granddaughters. They spoke of their grandfather, thanking him for the “privilege” of hearing firsthand stories of the Holocaust.
Krell began his talk holding up a black and white photograph of himself as a baby. “Who was the enemy of the Third Reich?” he asked the audience. “This,” he said.
Krell was born when Holland was already occupied by Nazi forces. Indeed, the hospital he was born in was already partially confiscated by the Gestapo. He described how restrictions were imposed rapidly, every mundane aspect of Jewish life being placed under more and more stringent rules. Deportations began in 1942. Speaking of the local Jewish population being assembled for the euphemistically named “resettlement in the east,” he said, “No one panicked sufficiently.”
Krell went on to describe how, as family friends began to disappear, his “rather astute” parents fled their home, taking few possessions. “What would you grab?” he asked. His parents abandoned their photo albums because, in enemy hands, they would give away too much personal information.
Placed in the care of a local Dutch Christian family, Krell learned to call the parents Mother and Father. He described them as “the most wonderful people on earth.” With them, he said, his life was “comparatively normal.” That said, with the ever-present risk of betrayal, as a dark-haired child in a sea of blond heads, he was very noticeable. He was not allowed to look out of the apartment windows; there were Dutch Nazi sympathisers living within sight of his adoptive home.
One of the most powerful aspects of the lecture were Krell’s insights on human memory and identity under conditions of extreme stress. He described his recollections as “fragmented, not fully formed” and, while his young mind didn’t appreciate the extent of the horrors being committed outside, he said, “I knew something was wrong because I was part of another family.” His mother, he explained, remembered nothing of that period. Having given her young son over to a Dutch Christian, he said, “She was in shock for three months.” He spoke in the present tense of how his real identity vanished in hiding. “I melt into the family.”
As an adult, his adoptive sister, Nora, also buried some memories, which led to a conflict with Krell. He recalled being taken to visit his mother by Nora but Nora said she had never done that. This was a way of “denying me my memory,” he said, adding that this denial causes grievous harm to the psyche. Even though we have fragmented memories, he said, “we don’t want to give them up because they are part of who we are.”
In the end, the disagreement was resolved. Nora had indeed taken Krell to see his mother. Twice, he was nearly discovered and twice he narrowly escaped, first by covering his head with a blanket and, the second time, by hiding under a bed.
His years in hiding were characterized by unease, a looming sense of fear and constant hyper-vigilance. After the war, his family moved to Vancouver, leaving behind Holland, which he said he viewed as “a place of death.” He described himself as “the most eager immigrant-in-waiting that ever existed.”
Once in Canada, Krell reinvented himself, hiding his shyness behind outward charm and sociability. He said he became resilient, ignoring illness and pain, striving to forge a new life, a family and career for himself.
He spoke of the medical advice he received when dealing with overwhelming feelings – “You should get rid of your obsession with the Holocaust.” Instead, he helped found the Holocaust Symposium for high school students and facilitated the recording of 140 testimonies from survivors.
Following the lecture at KDHS, Krell answered questions from students, concerning Holocaust education today, as well as why it is that some people hid Jews and put their own lives at risk. Krell referred to “common decency,” adding that his own rescuers “didn’t know the precise nature of the unfolding danger, but once they had me, they were committed.” He told the students that, in spite of the “showcase” of the Nuremberg trials, “there is no justice.” And, are we at risk today? “Massively.”
In his closing comments, Krell shifted from storyteller to teacher, using the narrative of his life to guide the students in theirs. “Learn your history,” he said. “In it lies everything to secure the safety of your children and grandchildren.”
He said, “Without engaging with the Holocaust, you are at great risk of becoming an under-educated person, and that makes you vulnerable. This mass murder took doctors, lawyers. Physicians were killing children in 1938. It was the doctors, engineers, architects. Each of the professions we trust for our safety. They all worked in the service of mass murder. Safeguard your professions from sliding into the abyss. It happens so quickly.”
Grade 12 students Edden Av-Gay and Gali Goldman spoke with Krell after his talk. Av-Gay was struck by how “one person could experience so many miracles in his life, especially someone born into such hardship” and said, “His story is truly amazing.”
Goldman, who had recently given a class presentation on youth movements during the Holocaust, had heard Krell tell his story before. She said she was still touched by how “he lost so much but he has devoted his life to teaching about what he went through, even though it was horrific. He can still find parts of his story that were miracles.”
Asked about Krell’s decision to speak about his past, Av-Gay said, “I think it’s not a matter of him being comfortable telling his story, I think he feels obligated to do it, to share his past, to show what happened to six million Jewish people.”
Alpha Secondary Grade 10 student Amy Ricker said she found Krell “motivating and inspiring.” Ricker, who hopes to become a humanitarian lawyer, said she “teared up because he showed me how in the dark I have been, and how much I want to help people.”
One perhaps surprising message in his talk was a warning about tolerance.
“If Jews were ‘tolerated’ in Holland, and the result was the deaths of over 80% of the Jewish population,” he said, “then we have to do much better than just tolerance.”
As he finished his lecture, he said, “Realize what you have. Thank your parents and tell your irritating siblings that you love them. I urge you – be kind.”
Shula Klingeris an author and journalist living in North Vancouver. Find out more at shulaklinger.com.
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.