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.
The Reesers were born in what is now Czech Republic, formerly known as the Czechoslovakia, in a small town provincial town of about 30,000 people, located about 60 km west of Prague. Karl’s life in Rakovnik was very pleasant and luxurious. He and his family lived in a very large house facing the pretty main square, called Husovo namesti.
When the German invasion happened, things changed quickly though; and with the implementation of the Nuremberg Laws, the Reesers made their way from Prague to Paris.
In Paris, life for the Reeser family consisted largely of meeting with members of the small Czech community and pursing arrangement to emigrate to Canada. After a week or so, they received word that their visas to Canada were ready to be picked up; at the Canadian Consulate they received all documents required to Enter Canada as permanent immigrants. Moving to Canada was a very difficult process for the Reeser family because of the barriers encountered by European Jews, but they made it, and Karl remains thankful for that.
Karl was interviewed for this project in January 2014 by Crestwood student Joanna Estey.
Oral History Project April 6th, 2014
Vera Schiff was born in 1926, in Prague, Czechoslovakia, to a middle class family. After the Nazi invasion of the country in 1939, her family became marginalized at home until 1942, when they were deported to the concentration camp, Theresienstadt. She would be the lone survivor from her family. Theresienstadt is also where she met her future husband, Arthur Schiff. They both survived the camp and eventually moved to Israel for 12 years, before settling in Toronto, Canada. She has 2 sons, 6 grandchildren, and 3 great-grandchildren.
Vera came to visit us at Crestwood in December 2013, when she shared her story with Ms. Winograd’s class, followed by an oral history interview with Sifana Jalal and Hailey Friedrichsen.
Oral History Project January 20th, 2014
On Tuesday, December 10, Crestwood invited Vera Schiff to come speak to Mrs. Winograd’s grade 8 class about her experience in the Holocaust.
Vera Schiff was born in 1926, in Prague, Czechoslovakia, to a middle class family. After the Nazi invasion of the country in 1939, her family became marginalized at home until 1942, when they were deported to the concentration camp, Theresienstadt. She would be the lone survivor from her family. Theresienstadt is also where she met her future husband, Arthur Schiff. Vera has written 2 books about her experiences during the Holocaust:Theresienstadt: The Town the Nazis Gave to the Jews and Hitler’s Inferno: Eight Personal Histories from the Holocaust.
Crestwood is grateful that Mrs. Schiff could share her knowledge and experiences with us.
Hedy Bohm grew up in prewar 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.
Hedy has visited Crestwood many times now. She brought with her some remarkable photos, including an old school drawing book, where many of her friends made sketches. She has spoken to students from YARRD (Youth against Racial and Religious Discrimination) as part of their ongoing initiative to interview community members about human rights causes, and she also brought this message to our first Human Rights and Diversity Symposium in November 2012. For this project Hedy was interviewed by Jake Pascoe and Natalie Krause in the fall of 2012, with supplements added in 2016 based on an interview with History 8, 10 and 11 students.
Oral History Project January 10th, 2013
Rachel Weisz was living in Budapest when the war began. Both Rachel’s mother and father were originally from Poland. Her father and uncles owned a textile factory, though Rachel’s family was the only one with Hungarian citizenship. When Rachel was in grade 6 her family hit hard times. Her father and uncles were arrested because the Hungarian wanted to take control of their textile factory. He was eventually released just as the war was becoming a reality in Hungary.
Rachel’s parents were aware of what was happening in other parts of Europe through people escaping from Poland to Budapest . Rachel ended up with another family hiding in a truck that was supposed to take them to Prague, but they were caught. Rachel was taken to a camp, from which she was fortunate to be released. She went home to her parents, who sent her to work in another factory so she wouldn’t have to go to a ghetto.
Rachel ended up working in a Swiss consulate . There she would make fake papers and certificates so that other Jews could escape persecution . She joined a Zionist organization and wanted to go to Israel, but eventually she moved to Canada to join her family .
Rachel spoke to Crestwood students Madison Brown and Sam Wasserman in May 2010. This was Rachel’s very first time sharing her story with an audience and we’d like to thank her for choosing us and taking her time to tell us about her experiences during WW2.
admin July 9th, 2012
Judith Hamburger was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia on January 12th1935. She was split from her mother around 1942 and spent her time in living with her grandparents, in ghettoescamps and in hiding until April 1st1945. In 1945 she was re-united with her mother, who was released from the worst of the Concentration Camps, Auschwitz. In 1946, together with her mother they moved to England to join her father. In 1955, her whole family immigrated to Santiago, Chile, where her son was born. In 1971, they all left Chile for Toronto, Canada.
Judith was interviewed for this project by her gradson, Yannick.
admin July 9th, 2012