For the past few months my grade 8 English class has been reading a book called, The Boy In The Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. The novel takes place during the Holocaust, so on a related note, last Tuesday, our class had the honour of meeting Holocaust survivor Sally Wasserman, who came to talk to our class about her experience as a hidden child in Poland.
When Mrs. Wasserman was 6 years old, the Nazis occupied Poland, and she, along with her family and thousands of others, were herded from their homes and into a ghetto. She remained in the ghetto for 14 months, where she faced extreme hunger and deprivation. Sensing extreme danger, her mother had her smuggled out of the ghetto into the home of Mr. and Mrs. Turken, a Christian family who lived nearby. This couple took her in and gave her a home, food, clothing, and an education. Mr. and Mrs. Turken did this knowing that if caught, they could be sentenced to death for aiding a Jew: just one of the horrible laws that were put in place at the time. Tragically, Mrs. Wasserman was orphaned by war: the remainder of her immediate family were murdered in Auschwitz. At the age of 12, she travelled across war-torn Europe, and eventually made it to Toronto. She did not settle well into life in Toronto, but in March of that year, Mrs. Wasserman told us that luck struck her for the second time in her life: a teacher at Dewson Public School worked with her one-on-one, instilling in her a love of reading and English. This teacher remained Mrs. Wasserman’s mentor, teacher, and friend until she passed away.
Mrs. Wasserman explained to us that the Holocaust taught her that people have the capacity for unthinkable evil, but also for great kindness and goodness. She showed us how just one person can have a dramatic influence on the course of another’s life. Mr. and Mrs. Turken, her rescuers, were examples of two people who had an influence on her life. What is important is not that we strive to change the entire course of history, but that we strive to make a small, but profound, difference in the life of another human being.
Ms. Young’s grade 8 English class thanks Mrs. Wasserman for sharing her story with us. Her presentation was truly moving, and I am not alone in saying that we were inspired by her strength and perspective.
This week Crestwood was visited by Faye Kieffer who spoke to Mrs. Winograd’s Grade 8 class about her experiences during the Holocaust. Faye is a hidden child survivor and she was born in Binyacorna, Poland in 1928. When the war broke out, Faye and her family were quickly moved to Ghettos. Her mother and siblings were taken away to Auschwitz. Faye decided to run and went to a Gentile’s house who let her hide in the attic of their farmhouse. From there, she was with the partisans for 8 months before being liberated. After that, she moved away from Poland to Russia and later emigrated to Canada in 1948. We are thankful for her time and sharing her courageous story with us.
This week Crestwood was visited by Hedy Bohm and Leonard Vis, who spoke to Ms. Young and Mrs. Winograd’s respective grade 8 classes about their experiences during the Holocaust. The grade 8 classes have been studying the novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and discussing the social and historical frameworks surrounding the Holocaust. While Hedy is a survivor of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, Leonard is a hidden child survivor. Both Hedy and Leonard’s emotional stories are likely to remain with the students for their entire lives.
Hedy Bohm grew up in pre war Romania, in a region that later came under Hungarian control. As the war escalated, she and her family increasingly came under the influence of the Nazis, and the family was deported to Auschwitz in the summer of 1944. Hedy was able to survive Auschwitz-Birkenau for three months; at that time she was relocated to a work camp, where she spent the remainder of the war as a forced labourer, producing military equipment for the Germans. After liberation by American troops, Hedy went home, where she was able to meet up with cousins, and where she married her husband, Imre. They were able to escape to Prague, where an aid organization arranged for this group of Hungarian orphans to get visas to Canada, where she arrived in 1948.
More recently, Hedy Bohm travelled to Germany from Canada to testify at the trial of Oskar Gröning, a 93-year-old former SS guard known as the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz”, who stands accused of 300,000 separate counts of accessory to murder. Last April, she testified as a witness about her Auschwitz experience. She was one of some 60 Holocaust survivors or their relatives from the U.S., Canada, Israel, and elsewhere who joined the prosecution as co-plaintiffs.
Leonard Vis was born in 1930, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, into a traditional upper- middle-class Orthodox household; with a family tree going back to before the French Revolution.
After the attack on the Netherlands by Germany, in 1940, the family thought it prudent to move to a smaller town, Bussum, some 25 kilometers from Amsterdam. Discrimination against the Jews started almost at once. In August 1941, Leonard was forced to change to a separate school, staffed exclusively by Jewish teachers. In May 1942, there follow the prescribed wearing of the yellow star, and in June 1942, the family was forced to resettle in Amsterdam. With the help of some family friends, Leonard was able to go into hiding in August 1942. His brother and sister had gone before him in July. His parents followed, a week later, when raids and round-ups of Jews became an almost daily occurrence in the city.
When the Netherlands was liberated by Canadian forces in May 1945, the whole family had, thankfully, survived the war. There remained very few families intact in Holland, where more than 80% of the Jewish population had perished at the hands of the Germans and their antisemitic helpers.
We are so thankful to both Hedy Bohm and Leonard Vis for taking the time to share their courageous stories with us.
Today Crestwood was visited by Faye Kieffer who spoke to our Grade 8 class about her experiences during the Holocaust. The grade 8 class has been studying The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and discussing the notion of the “hidden child.” Faye is a hidden child survivor. Her emotional story is likely to remain with the students for their entire lives.
Faye Kieffer was born in Binyacorna, Poland in 1928. When the war broke out, Faye and her family were quickly moved to Ghettos. Her mother and siblings were taken away to Auschwitz. Faye decided to run and went to a Gentile’s house who let her hide in the attic of their farm house . From there, she was with the partisans for 8 months before being liberated . After that she moved away from Poland to Russia and later emigrated to Canada in 1948.
We are thankful for her time and sharing her courageous story with us.
Sally Wasserman is the only child survivor of the Dambrowa ghetto, which was located in southern Poland, not too far from Auschwitz-Birkenau. When her family was forced into the ghetto, her mother encountered Mr. Turken, a man who did work for the authorities in the ghetto. He and his wife agreed to take Sally in as a hidden child, and they kept her safe for the duration of the war, as the ghetto was being liquidated. Sally’s immediate family did not survive the Holocaust. After the war, Sally left the Turkens and Poland; she ended up in the Belsen DP camp before she made her way to New York City and eventually to her aunt in Toronto.
Sally is an entrancing speaker who works with both the Holocaust center and the Center for Diversity. She has shared her story with many Crestwood students over the years, including at our Human Rights and Diversity Symposium in November 2012. She was interviewed for this project by Stephanie Tanz and Kaily Wise. In 2015 Sally again visited us, speaking to Miss Young’s class and then doing an interview with Amanda, Minami and Tomer.
Oral History Project January 11th, 2013
Mia Frank survived the war as a hidden child in Belgium. Her stepmother’s quick thinking did save Mia, but both her stepmother and father were killed during the Holocaust. Mia was interviewed by Crestwood student Hayley Goldsand on a Baycrest field trip in early 2009.
Helene Kravitz is Crestwood student Sy Greenberg’s great-aunt. She was a hidden child in Belgium during the Second World War, along with her sister Rosa, whose story can also be found in this project. She was interviewed by Sy in the fall of 2009.
Rosa Cohen-Rubin is the grandmother of Crestwood student Sy Greenberg. She is a Holocaust survivor who was a hidden child during the war, along with her sister. Her parents Felix and Blima were able to save their daughters by leaving them in the care of a convent. Sy interviewed his grandmother about her experiences in March 2009, while taking Mr. Masters’ CHC2D class.
Rachel Shtibel, nee Milbauer, a vivacious and outgoing music lover, lay hidden and silent in an underground bunker in Nazi-occupied Poland for nearly two years. A young child, she managed to survive the war, through her determination and good fortune. After the war, a recovered violin, case and photos hidden away by Rachel’s beloved Uncle Velvel became cherished symbols of survival and continuity. With the darkest days behind her, Rachel met Adam Shtibel and fell in love, and they both set about building a new life together. Half a century later, Rachel decided to explore her memories and author her memoirs.
Rachel and her husband Adam shared their memories with us in September 2014, at Baycrest’s Cafe Europa. Rachel was interviewed by Crestwood students Danielle Gionnas, Izabella Osme and Viki Tao. We would like to thank Baycrest and the Azrieli Foundation for their ongoing support of Crestwood’s Oral History Project. In January 2017, Rachel visited Crestwood and spoke to Mr. DeFranco’s English 8 class, where she was interviewed by Arielle Meyer, Jadaia Reid, Selina Zhao and Jerry Chen.
Oral History Project January 11th, 2015
When Esther Fairbloom’s mother was pregnant she went to a ghetto in Tarnopol to deliver Esther. Her mother knew the Germans would come after them, so she sat down with her sister and made the choice to have her two children hidden. She had known the people at the local church and they agreed to hide 2 month old Esther. Esther was kept in the church for five years. She was living on very little food and water. As a result of this she became very weak and ill. The nuns treated her extremely well and cared for her, but whenever the Nazis would come into the town she had to stay in the basement hiding.
After the war was over her aunt and uncle came to the church and adopted her as their own. By this time she was very weak and needed to be hospitalized and taught to eat again. Her aunt and uncle were there everyday helping her and truly took her in as their own child, after they lost theirs.
After she got out of the hospital in Poland, her aunt and her uncle moved to Germany for three years. After Germany they were allowed to come to Canada as farmers. They moved to just outside of Ottawa and began a new life for themselves. Eventually, they made their way to Toronto and Esther is still there to this day.
After the war her sister was picked up by her uncle who was a doctor. He decided to send her to Israel to live with their relatives. When she was eleven years old she went to Israel and she did not know she had a sister and neither did Esther.
After finding the picture, Esther sent a letter to her sister. After communicating with each other, Esther was finally able to go to Israel and meet her. They eventually met and now they speak regularly and Esther travels once a year to Israel to see her and her family.
Esther was interviewed for this project in early 20114 by Kory White. She returned tio Crestwood in December 2014, when she spoke to Mrs. Winograd’s class.
Oral History Project June 3rd, 2014
Denise Hans was born June 21, 1938. She is the 4th of 6 children. Her father, Michel, and mother, Perla, came from Poland in the early 1920’s. When the war broke out, the round up of Jews first affected her family when her father received a “Billet Vert” asking him to go to the police station. But because of the birth of Denise’s sister Monique, her father was given a pass. When it was time to go back, he stayed hidden, until the Gestapo found him and several other family members, shipping them to Auschwitz. Denise’s mom went to the OSE to look for a place for all the children to stay. At first, all 8 kids were together on a farm, then they were separated into different families and eventually the 6 girls were sent to live in a convent. They lived there until their mother was able to take them back home in 1948. Denise’s story exposes the powerful emotions of an eloquent Child Survivor. She spoke to Crestwood students Katherine Charness, Lindsey Swartzman, and So Hee Pyo in early 2011, and in 2012 she visited us again, sitting down with Antony Cook and Sarah Mainprize. In 2017 Denise again came to Crestwood, speaking with Ms. Winograd;s Grade 8 class, and then doing an interview with Michael Zhang, Daniel Lax, Arielle Meyer and Julie Xiao.
Oral History Project January 7th, 2013