Eugene Katz was born in Dyszna, Poland in in 1927. He was one of five children, growing up in a Jewish family not too far from Vilna; he recalls a difficult life, beset by hunger and poverty, but also filled with family and friends. When war came in 1939, Eugene’s family was in eastern Poland, the part of the country assigned to the USSR in the infamous 1939 Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. The family suddenly found itself under Soviet domination; as big a change as this was, life continued, though clear signs of Soviet communism began to enter their lives. 1941 saw the real change though…Germany initiated Operation Barbarossa, and within a matter of days Eugene’s family was under the heel of the Nazi regime. The family was quickly put in a ghetto, and Eugene’s oldest sister Sophie was murdered. Life became increasingly difficult in the ghetto, as the young Eugene and his family struggled to survive. Then the darkest of days arrived, with the liquidation of the ghetto by the Einsatzgruppen. Most of Eugene’s family was taken to a killing site and murdered. Eugene was there, witnessing these terrible events, but he and his brother escaped, taking advantage of the fog and running into the forest. Now a teenager, Eugene joined the Russian partisans, and he managed to survive four intense years of warfare, often the victim of political intrigue and anti-Semitism in the Red Army. Very crafty and clever and willing to do what he had to, Eugene made it, the only member of his family to survive the war and the Shoah. He began to rebuild his life, marrying and working in Riga, and in the 50s he made it to Poland, and from there Canada. Every step of the way his survival instinct kept him afloat, and he went on to create a prosperous business in postwar Canada, helping to build the country we know today.
Eugene Katz was interviewed at his home in July 2017, by Crestwood teacher Scott Masters. The interview was set up courtesy of the Jewish War Veterans Association of Toronto.
Oral History Project October 11th, 2017
Norman Cohen was born in the east end of Toronto in 1923. Growing up Jewish in the Beach neighbourhood, Norman dealt with the anti-Semitism of the era, as well as the economic pressures that led him to quit school at age 16. Norman found work around the neighbourhood, and he fondly remembered working for Charlie’s Bakery on Queen Street. But then the war came, and shortly after Pearl Harbour Norm and his friends enlisted. Norm opted for the air force and after his in Canada training had been completed, bombardier Norman Cohen set off for England, joining his older brother in Bomber Command. Norm was there for just under year, when rumours of the fates of Jewish airmen led him to seek a change, and he was shipped to Burma. His journey would prove to be an odyssey: along the way Norm ended up in Montecassino, where he joined the battle. Then he found himself in Benghazi, Libya and Tehran, Iran among other places, as he effectively hitched rides in the direction of Burma. Norm finally arrived in Ramree Island, and he joined the Canadians at their base, when he discovered that they had been looking for him and that a court-martial had been considered. Norm spent a year there, where his role was to search out lost and captured soldiers. When the Pacific War ended, Norm made his way back to Europe, and then in 1946 he finally made his way back to Canada, and his family in Toronto.
Oral History Project August 30th, 2016
Oral History Project August 24th, 2016
Chava Sloma was born in Otwock, Poland in 1925. Though she recalled incidents of anti-Semitism, she said her prewar life was for the most part good. All that changed dramatically in September 1939 though; the family initially fled to Warsaw, but as the German army advanced, the decision was made to separate, and Chava and her sister headed for the Russian border. After being smuggled across the border, Chava and her sister Frania were shipped to Siberia, where they spent most of the war, working in the gulags deep in the wilderness. While conditions were rough, Chava remembered the kindness of a few people who kept her going, through disease and deprivation. When the war came to an end, she made her way back to Poland, to discover that her family had been murdered in the gas chambers of Treblinka. Chava found the will to go on, and she married and began a family, soonafter heading to Canada, where she arrived at Pier 21.
Chava visited Crestwood in February 2016, where four generations of the Lerner family came together one afternoon to listen to and to document her story, and to become witnesses to their own family history in this difficult period of history.
Oral History Project March 6th, 2016
Felicia Carmelly is a Romanian Holocaust survivor currently residing in Toronto. Born in 1932 amidst European anti-Semitism, Felicia faced persecution at the hands of the Green Shirts in Romania. Felicia and her family were taken from their hometown to Transnistria, an area under Romanian governance where Romanian Jews were forced into mass ghettos. Here, she and her family suffered with little food and resources for survival. Through the help of child partisans, Felicia survived Transnistria and was liberated by the Soviet Army. Following the war, Felicia and her family travelled to Vienna and Israel before finally arriving in Canada in 1962.
Felicia was interviewed for this project in September 2015 by Crestwood students Sabrina Wasserman, Tina Wang, Daven Siu, Robert McHale and Spencer Arshinoff.
Oral History Project November 1st, 2015
Mark Lane was born in 1929 in eastern Czechoslovakia, in the village of Olenovo. In 1939, with the division of the country, the area was ceded to Hungary. The family began to struggle, dealing with the rising anti-Semitism and the restrictions that began to be imposed on their daily lives. In the spring of 1944, when Hungary came under direct fascist rule and Nazi occupation, he and his family were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where his mother, two brothers and sister were murdered. He remained in Birkenau until January 1945 when he was taken on a death march to Mauthausen and in Austria. He was finally liberated by the Americans in May 1945 from Günskirchen. Mark immigrated to Canada in 1951, where he began a new life with his wife Ruth, who also appears as part of this project in the Community Members section.
Both were interviewed by Scott Masters in July 2015.
Oral History Project July 29th, 2015
The German Federal Government and the Goethe Institute sponsored a weeklong seminar in Berlin and Dresden the week of Monday, October 20. Mr. Masters was invited to attend, along with eight delegates from the United States. The group included Grammy winners, board members of the Holocaust museums in Washington and Los Angeles, the Jewish telegraph Agency’s senior reporter, the Middle Eastern affairs analyst for the Anti-Defamation League, regional presidents from two different chapters of the American Jewish Congress. During a very busy week, the delegates explored the topic of “Jewish Life in Germany – Past, Present and Future”, looking at the various dimensions of the history of the Holocaust, as well as current trends in anti-Semitism in Germany and Europe. We were able to visit many sites of historical interest in Germany, including important Jewish sites in and around Berlin, notably the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. We also met with many members of the German government, as well as media and NGO representatives, including a young Israeli artist who has relocated to Berlin. We were able to witness firsthand the ways in which Germany is confronting its history, and we observed as well that this is not an easy transition, and is in fact ongoing.
Crestwood October 31st, 2014
Posted In: Crestwood News
Helen Rosenbaum was just under two years old when her family decided to escape the brutality of anti-Semitism in Poland by fleeing to the Soviet Union. Her family’s decision to flee would spare Helen the horrors of the death camps, but it wasn’t without struggles and terror. From the horrors of Nazi-occupied Poland, to the harsh conditions of Siberia, Helen’s story is a unique glimpse into one family’s struggle to survive.
Helen was interviewed by grade 10 student Hannah White, in early 2014.
Oral History Project May 26th, 2014
Mr. Leonard Levy was a pilot in the RCAF during WW2, where he completed 32 bombing runs with his Lancaster crew, including the raid on Dresden. A Jewish Canadian, Mr. Levy also gives students insights into the anti-Semitism of the period, both in Canada and in Europe. Mr. Levy is one of the original Memory Project veterans to speak at Crestwood, and we are fortunate that he continues to visit us each year. Mr. Levy was featured in the CBC Remembrance Day documentary filmed at Crestwood in November 2006
admin July 9th, 2012
Murray Jacobs grew up in prewar Toronto, where he saw some of the city’s growing pains in the 1930s. That included the infamous Christie Pitts Riots of the 1930s, in which he was involved and was forced to confront the reality of local anti-Semitism. He enlisted in World War Two, where he would serve in the engineering battalions. He was sent overseas and eventually went ashore at Juno Beach in the week after D-Day. His regiment fought through Normandy, the Netherland, and into Germany. Murray has since visted the Netherlands, where he is a proud member of Canada’s army of liberation. Today he continues to involve himself in the Royal Canadian Legion and the Memory Project. He was interviewed for this project by Matt D’Ambrosio and Brian Schwartz.
admin July 9th, 2012
Zin Svirsky is the grandfather of Crestwood student Jake Elin. Zin Svirsky lived in the Soviet Union for 40 years, from 1935 to 1975. Through events such as World War Two, the Cold War and Stalin’s reign, Zin went from growing up in a poor area of the Ukraine to getting an education and becoming one of the most respected and successful Jewish men in all of Moldova. Zin’s life in the Soviet Union shows the importance of oral history. His firsthand accounts of the poverty in the Soviet Union, World War Two, the Soviet university experience, anti-Semitism, and his time working in the Soviet Union are as accurate as can be possible. These experiences have not been tainted by a third party or romanticized. This was the real Soviet experience of the era.
admin July 9th, 2012