Lou Hoffer was born in the northern province of Bukovina, Romania in a small town called Vijnitz. His exact date of birth is uncertain; however, it was around 1927. In 1939, the Russians and the Germans had invaded Poland making the neighbours to the north no longer under Polish rule but Russian. A year later Russia gave Romania an ultimatum to withdraw from the two northern provinces, Bukovina and Bessarabia, within 24 hours and they did. The town of Viznitz in which Lou was growing up was now under Russian occupation. By 1941, everyone in the town of Viznitz was deported and sent across the Dniester River to the territory of Transnistria. On the way to the death camp to Transnistria, at the age of 12, Lou had seen the messages left behind by people who were taken prior to his deportation; that day he took an oath that he would make sure to share the truth with the world if he survived. The conditions in the camps were so terrible that approximately 300,000 Jews died. In March of 1944, Lou and his family were liberated by the Soviet Army. With no place to go, he was fortunate enough to be allowed into Canada. He endured many hardships when he first arrived to Canada but at the end, he succeeded and met his wife Magda with whom he raised a beautiful family.
Lou was interviewed for this project at Baycrest in January 2018 by a delegation of CHC2D students.
Oral History Project April 6th, 2018
Shary Fine was born in Romania in 1927. She is currently 90 years old and is the youngest out of all of the girls in her family. As she was growing up, she lived in a small town in Transylvania. She was a gymnast, mountain climber, and an actor. Shary’s family was Jewish. To Shary and her family, religion was the most important thing. Everything revolved around religion. Even though her family was very religious, they never had big celebrations because they were poor. They celebrated big life events by going to Shul. Shary did not have many Jewish friends, but rather Christian and Catholic, and most of the population where she lived was German.
Oral History Project March 30th, 2018
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.
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
Helen Roth was born towards the end of the Great Depression. Helen was only in elementary school when World War 2 began. She had 2 sisters and four brothers and out of all of them only her and her brother are still alive today. Helen’s father passed away when she was 3, so he did not have to go through the Holocaust, but her mother and siblings did. They were first sent to a ghetto, and later to the camps. Right away when Helen arrived in Auschwitz, she was separated from all of her family except her sister. Helen went through everything from working so long in the winters she would get frostbite to physically watching people be shot right in front of her on the death marches at war’s end. She was resilient, and made a life for herself after the war, getting married and having a child. When the communist grip settled over Romania, she and her husband escaped, making their way to Israel and eventually Canada.
Helen Roth was referred to us by the Azrieli Foundation, and she was interviewed in February 2015 at Baycrest’s Cafe Europa by Maddie Elman, Sam Katz, Rachael Pape, and Alex Sanders.
Oral History Project April 13th, 2015
Erica Nirenberg was born in 1931 in a small town in Romania. She had 3 siblings but they passed away at a young age. When she was 12 years old, her father was rounded up by the Russian Army and never returned. She and her mother fled to a large Romanian city called Czernovitz to escape capture. A close family friend was instrumental in ensuring her survival during the war.
Mrs. Nirenberg immigrated to Toronto when she was 18 years old. She attended a business program and eventually found work as a bookkeeper. She later worked with her husband in their clothing store. At the age of fifty, she decided to go back to school and earned a degree in bookkeeping from George Brown College.
Mrs. Nirenberg was married to her husband Arnold (Adash) for 52 years until he passed away. She has two sons –Joel who lives in Florida and David who lives in Toronto. She has five grandchildren. She is very close to her family.
Mrs. Nirenberg enjoys knitting and reading and is very interested in history and politics. She likes to keep physically active and enjoys chair exercise, swimming and walking. She loves to spend time with family and friends.
She was interviewed for this project in March 2015 by Marina Morris, Liam Mayer, and Blair Gwartzman.
Oral History Project March 30th, 2015
Paul Seiler is the grandfather of Crestwood student Ben Sharer, who interviewed him for this project in February 2014. Paul grew up against the backdrop of wartime Romania, where he and his family were fortunate to survive the Holocaust. Paul remembers wearing the yellow star, and the deportation of many family and friends to the labour camps. He personally survived a harrowing train journey where he and his family were able to survive a German attack. Following the war Paul stayed in Romania for a time, later making his way to Israel, where he fought in the Yom Kippur War. He and his wife later came to Canada, where their children and grandchildren live.
Oral History Project April 23rd, 2014
As you know, Crestwood’s Mr. Scott Masters won the National Award for Excellence in Holocaust Education late in 2013 for an oral history project he developed with Crestwood students.
The section on Holocaust Survivors now holds almost 100 testimonies.
As a result, Mr. Masters has been asked to take part in a National Film Board Virtual Classroom, which will take place on Jan. 27 – Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Mr. Masters has also been actively working with a joint research team in Romania and Great Britain; they have developed a project centred around a Toronto Survivor by the name of Hedy Bohm, who they have interviewed on several occasions.
Hedy is from Romania, though based on the changes to the prewar national borders she was deported to Auschwitz as a Hungarian Jew. Hedy’s story, like so many others, is a compelling one, and one that she is able to illustrate through surviving photos and a remarkable document called the Memory Book, which is the focus of their efforts. The Romanian and English teams have built many remarkable resources, which have recently been launched. To see all their materials for Holocaust Memorial Day 2014, please click on this link:
For a lesson plan based on her experiences please click here: http://www.hmd.org.uk/sites/default/files/HMD_files/lesson_plan_-_hedy_and_her_memory_book.pdf
There is an accompanying PowerPoint presentation which can be accessed at that site. There are also some resources written for students with special educational needs which can be accessed from the main link above.
It would be fantastic if you were able to be involved and Mr. Masters would greatly appreciate your sharing this information within your network of educators, colleagues and associates helping him to get the word out about these important topics and events.
Ala Gamulka is a Holocaust Survivor from Bucharest, Romania. She and her family were fortunate to escape the city as the German invasion closed in around them, making their way to a boat which took them on a harrowing journey through the Adriatic Sea. Like many wartime refugees, they were intercepted and placed in a detention camp before making their way to Israel.
Ala was interviewed for this project by Jasmin Katz in the winter of 2013.
Oral History Project September 18th, 2013
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
Allen Weiss was born in Romania in 1929. Allen had loving parents along with two sisters and a brother. He grew up in a small village where his family owned a grocery store. Allen was 14 years old when the Nazis forced him out of his village. Allen was taken to Auschwitz – Birkenau with his father . In 1945, he was sent on a death march. Lucky to escape, Allen and his friends were walking when they came across the Russian army. They accidentally shot him! He was immediately sent to a Russian hospital where he remained for six months. After the war, he moved to Canada where he met his wife, Grace. He and his wife had four children, and he now has six grand children. Allen has been involved in numerous Holocaust remembrance projects, including this one where he was interviewed by Crestwood student Tiffany Tanz.
Ernie Meister was separated fom his family and sent to a work camp for the majority of World War Two, first in Transylvania and later in the Ukraine. He was forced into slave labour, digging ditches and other defenses for the German military. In late 1944 he escaped the camp and made his way back to Romania, where he was able to survive the final months of the war. From there and following his recovery, he returned to his athletic roots and worked for the Romanian Olympic Federation. He did the same for Canada after his emigration.
We interviewed Ernie as part of the Baycrest Cafe Europa series in February 2011. Crestwood students Gabi Sandler and Jackie Herschenhorn took the lead on Ernie’s interview. We were able to visit Ernie again in February 2014, when he sat down with Isabel Cravit, Jade Assaraf, Stephanie Erdman, and Steven Feng.
Tova Grifeld is a child survivor of the Holocaust. She grew up in Romania, and she shared with us her memories of the restrictions of the ghetto and of the increasing weight of the Nazi persecution. Tova was able after the war to make her way to Italy and then to Israel, where the survivors from her family were able to reunite. We met Tova at Baycrest’s Cafe Europa, where she sat down with Hailey Friedrichsen and Jessica Seger for this interview in May 2012.
Irene Csillag was born in 1925 in Satu Mare, Romania. Irene was living a good life, but when the Germans occupied Hungary in 1944, everything changed. In April 1944 Hungarian Jews were moved into ghettoes. The Hungarian authorities worked with the SS and began deporting Jews starting in the middle of May. 440,000 Jews were deported from Hungary, most going to Auschwitz. After four weeks of living in the ghetto, Irene’s family was deported . When the train finally stopped, they had arrived at a place that no one recognized. The gate read “Arbeit Macht Frei” . After being sent to the right, Irene, her sister and her mother had their hair shaved off, and their belongings and clothes were taken away and replaced with uniforms. Next, they were marched to their barracks in camp “C” . They stayed there for around 6 weeks, later shipped off to another camp called Stutthof. After liberation, Irene met her husband Teddy at a DP camp and they got married in January. They joined a Zionist group and ended up in Austria, then in Budapest They lived in Budapest for ten years, and had their daughter Judy there. Because of the Hungarian revolution starting in 1956, they moved to Canada.
Irene was interviewed for this project by Katherine Charness and Emma Myers in January 2012.
Paul Rosner was born into a Jewish family in Bucharest, Romania in the interwar years. His family was leading a comfortable life, something that changed with the arrival of the Nazis and WW2. As the discrimination and violence escalated, Paul’s parents made the decision to leave Romania. Two efforts to go to France were unsuccessful, so the family made the decision to go to Palestine. There they participated in the creation of Israel, also a difficult experience. Eventually the Rosners made it to Canada, where Paul continued to both work and study, and to build a life for his own family.
Paul was interviewed for this project by his grandson Jordan in 2007; this is one of the first projects completed for Crestwood’s Oral History Project.
Born in the 1920’s in the city of Sighet, Romania to a family of seven children, my grandmother, Adrian Karp was a member of a large, comfortable, religious home. In 1939 Romania was taken over by Hungarian forces. Soon normal life became impossible. Under the command of Germany, these forces began to treat their Jewish citizens as slave laborers. During the war she and her family were sent to ghettoes and then to the camps, where many of them perished.
Thanks to an UNRRA social worker, all three surviving sisters were encouraged and sent as immigrants to Canada where they worked and lived and met and married fine men and thankfully had children and once again were able to enjoy large, warm and caring families.
Adrian Karp was interviewed by her grand-daughter Stephanie early in 2009.