Wednesday | December 13, 2017

Zhao Zong Ren is a Chinese citizen who was a victim of Japan’s system of forced labour during the Second World War.  He is actively seeking justice for the ways in which he was exploited and harmed during that distant conflict.  Mr. Zhao  – only 14 at the time – recalls being tortured by the Japanese, and he remembered a powerful incident where the many slave labourers stood up to the Japanese, threatening to go on strike to improve their situation.  As the war was drawing to a close, the Japanese agreed to their terms, a recognition of the wrongness of their system.  Still, Mr. Zhao feels that he and the other victims deserve more, something he continues to fight for as the Vice President of the Chinese Slave Laborer Association.

Mr. Zhao spoke to participants on the Alpha Education Peace and Reconciliation Tour in July 2017, with the hope that his story carries a message of social justice to future generations.  Translation was facilitated by Shelby Song, one of the tour participants.

In July 2017 Crestwood teacher Scott Masters took part in Alpha Education’s Peace and Reconciliation Tour.  Seventeen educators, activists, lawyers, and documentarians toured China and Korea, learning about the Asian perspective on the Second World War, and exploring ways to raise awareness of this side of the war to a non-Asian audience.  The tour was organized by Don Tow, as part of his ongoing efforts to stimulate social justice education and to improve Asian-American understanding and relationships.

Please note that this interview is in Chinese, with the English translation at the end of each segment.

October 11th, 2017

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Gao Xiongfei and Li Liangjei are Chinese citizens who were victims of Japan’s system of forced labour during the Second World War.  Both of them are actively seeking justice for the ways in which they were exploited and harmed during that distant conflict.  Mr. Li is currently the President of the Chinese Slave Laborer Association, and he is using his position to advocate for himself and so many others whose claims are still not being acknowledged by the Japanese.  Mr. Gao was a child during the war, whose parents were used as slave labourers, and he was grievously wounded during a bombing attack, where he and his mother both lost their arms.  He has filed suit against the Japanese government, and remains committed to getting a settlement, not only for himself but in his parents’ memory.

Mr. Gao and Mr. Li spoke to participants on the Alpha Education Peace and Reconciliation Tour in July 2017, with the hope that their story carries a message of social justice to future generations.  Translation was facilitated by Shelby Song, one of the tour participants.

In July 2017 Crestwood teacher Scott Masters took part in Alpha Education’s Peace and Reconciliation Tour.  Seventeen educators, activists, lawyers, and documentarians toured China and Korea, learning about the Asian perspective on the Second World War, and exploring ways to raise awareness of this side of the war to a non-Asian audience.  The tour was organized by Don Tow, as part of his ongoing efforts to stimulate social justice education and to improve Asian-American understanding and relationships.

Please note that this interview is in Chinese, with the English translation at the end of each segment.

October 11th, 2017

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Jenny Pietrzyk was born in 1920s Poland, and she was a teenager by the time the war came.  Finding herself in eastern Poland, Jenny and her family were in the Soviet zone, based on the Molotov-von Ribbentrop Pact.   While the early years brought deprivation, the real onslaught for Jenny and her family came in 1941, after the German commenced Operation Barbarossa.  Like many Poles, Jenny’s family became victims of the Nazi territorial readjustment.  While Jews and others were massacred in her village, Jenny’s mother stepped forward to help, and Jenny recalls the haunted survivors who would come to her farm at night.  Most local Jews hiding in the forests were turned in by collaborators, principally Ukrainians.  Jenny’s mother and sister too fell victim, as the Nazis manipulated collaborators in various eastern European nations.  Jenny managed to escape the horror of that night, though she was later detained and sent to germany as a slave labourer, where she spent the balance of the war.  Jenny’s story reminds us of the complex ethnic realities in wartime Europe.

Jenny came to us courtesy of a Crestwood parent, and she was interviewed by Mr. masters in March 2017.

May 4th, 2017

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Michael Mason was born in Czechoslovakia in 1928 and grew up in Hungary, with the name Miklos Friedman.  He has three siblings, Laci, Magda and Freddi.  His life was interrupted by the reality of World War Two, when Germany’s occupation saw his family lose its business and its rights of citizenship.  A tough kid, Michael endured the hardships of deportation, and he was able to survive the rigours of Birkenau and a series of other camps, where he was forced into slave labour.  In 1948, he immigrated to Canada taking on the identity of Miklos Moskovits,  later changing his name to Michael Mason.  In Canada, Michael worked in a variety of businesses before becoming a denturist in 1973.   Michael Mason lives in Toronto, and he came to Crestwood via the Azrieli Foundation.
Michael was interviewed twice in the fall of 2016, first at Crestwood and later at his home.  The students who took the lead on this project were Yoshie Ishikawa, Hailey Blum, Peter Keane, Jacob Newman and Nary Zhang.

April 12th, 2017

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Reny Friedman is a child survivor from the Netherlands.  She and her twin brother were born in 1937, just as prewar tensions were building up.  Reny’s mother was from germany, and sensing what was to come, she looked for ways to protect her family.  The family managed to secure the help of the underground, going into hiding in the countryside, in the Ardennes region, as well as in Brussels.  In both cases they were discovered and forced to run, but not all family members escaped.  Reny’s mother was deported to Auschwitz, where she was able to survive the brutality of slave labour at the hands of the Nazis.  She returned at the end of the war, and Reny poignantly described her mother’s emotional state in the months and years after the war.  Reny’s father knew he had to get his children to safety when his wife was taken away, so her turned to the underground, who took Reny’s brother to a monastery and Reny to a convent.  Reny passed the remainder of the war there, where she learned how to live in this new, alien environment.  As time passed, she began to enjoy the rituals and trappings of the Catholic faith.  When her father came to get her at the end of the war, Reny remembers that he allowed her time and was patient with her return to her Jewish roots.  Reny made her way to Canada in the 1950s, where she married Henry Friedman, also a Holocaust Survivor, whose story appears in this project as well.  Reny was interviewed in her home in July 2016 by Scott Masters and Savannah Yutman.

August 24th, 2016

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Freda (Franka) Kon is from Lodz, Poland. Freda and her family had been a nice, normal life  when the tragedy of the Holocaust descended upon them.  They were put into the Lodz Ghetto, where they would stay for the next four year, condemned to slave labour and starvation.  But as a young woman, in a community with so many other young Jews, Freda was resilient, and she recalled how they managed to find ways to bring at least some joy into their lives.  Freda’s insights there are compelling, and they speak to the resistance that went on, even in the darkest moments.  In 1944, the tragedy of the Shoah persisted, and Freda and her family were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau; Freda subsequently was sent to Stutthof, and was forced on a death march at the war’s end.

She attributes her survival to her mother’s spirit, as the two were together through the duration of the Shoah. At war’s end Freda married and had a child before emigrating to Canada. We first met her at Baycrest’s Cafe Europa, and she was kind enough to invite us to her home, where Crestwood students Sy Greenberg, Alix Postan, Lindsey Swartzman, and Katherine Charness interviewed her in May 2011.  In 2014 Freda and her daughter travelled to Lodz, where Freda participated in ceremonies commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the ghetto.  Savannah Yutman and Scott Masters visited Freda in July 2015, where she updated her interview and shared the story of her recent travels to Poland.

September 4th, 2015

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Magda Hilf was born in Maly Kevesd, Czechoslovakia, in 1921. Her early years consist of many fond memories, with family and friends and books, all in a rural setting.  After 1938’s Munich Accord, the situation changed:  when the Hungarians took over her region, the restrictions began.  Her father lost his business, and he and so many other men were conscripted into the labour battalions, with many dying on the eastern front.  Even so, Magda and her family lived in their village; life had become more harsh, but they could endure.  After Nazi occupation in 1944, not even that was possible anymore:  her family was driven to the nearby ghetto in Sátoraljaújhely, Hungary. Shortly after, they were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where all were killed except for Magda, who was sent for slave labour in a succession of camps. Magda survived that terrible time, but in April 1945, she was forced onto a death march, where she and four friends managed to escape. One month later, they were liberated. Magda made her way back home to Czechoslovakia; she married and had a daughter, and later immigrated to Israel, and then Canada in 1953.

Magda was interviewed for this project by Scott Masters, who visited her at her home in July 2015.

August 7th, 2015

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Fela Schwemer is a Holocaust Survivor from Poland.  Fela lost most of her family during the war, as she made her way through a series of camps, where she was used as a slave labourer.  Fela is a powerful storyteller, and her memory for the little details – the bobby pin that she desperately wanted to hold on to – gives students deep insights into the nature of the Shoah, right down to the level of the individual.  When the war came to an end, Fela struggled to put the pieces back together; she married, but lost her first baby.  Time spent in Israel was also difficult, as her husband’s military service continued her anxiety.  Canada would prove to be her salvation there, and she tells the story of her arrival in Montreal with great fondness.

We met Fela at the Baycrest terraces in February 2015, where she was interviewed by Siena deCuia, Isabella Pinto, Andrew Northey and Sidra Fisch.

May 6th, 2015

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Mr. David Jacobs was born in Tomaszów, Poland. He grew up within the small town, and soon joined his father in working at their family tailoring shop. At age 18, when the war broke out, Mr. Jacobs was sent to Buchenwald concentration camp, where he served as a slave labourer. Mr. Jacobs traveled across Europe to various concentration camps, including Blizyn and Auschwitz Birkenau, where he served as a cook for his fellow prisoners. After being liberated by Eisenhower and the American Armed Forces in 1945, Mr. Jacobs was soon given the opportunity to work. Soon after, he travelled to the Bergen-Belsen DP camp, where he and his brother were able to reunite with their sister. He began working for the American Joint Distribution Committee in order to help displaced Jews across Europe. Mr. Jacobs later moved to Toronto, Canada to continue working in the clothing industry, where he still resides today.

Mr, Jacobs was interviewed for this project in January 2015 by Sabrina Wasserman and Blair Gwartzmann.

February 25th, 2015

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Leslie Meisels was born in Nádudvar, Hungary in1927. He lived with his parents, two brothers, and both sets of grandparents. He survived the ghetto in Debrecen, slave labour and eventual deportation to Bergen-Belsen. He was liberated in April1945 by the US Army. His mother, father and both brothers also survived. Leslie immigrated to Canada in 1967.

He and his wife Eva, whose story is also featured here, visited Crestwood in October 2013, where Leslie was interviewed by Cassie Wasserman, Alex Hobart, and Sifana Jalal.

October 27th, 2013

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Lenka Weksberg was born in Tacovo, Czechoslovakia, in 1926. In 1944, the entire family was deported to the Mathesalka Ghetto in Hungary and then to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where her mother and brother were murdered. Lenka survived a slave labour camp in Geislingen, and Alach, as well as a death march. Lenka was liberated by the US Army in April 1945. After the war, Lenka returned to Czechoslovakia, then moved to Israel, and finally immigrated to Canada in 1953.  She is the grandmother of Crestwood alumnus Jamie Weksberg.  Lenka visited us in 2012, sharing her story with Mr. Masters’ history class.

July 12th, 2013

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Before the war, Henry Gancman was living a comfortable life in a middle class Polish family.  He had two sisters and a brother, was learning to be a carpenter, and he enjoyed playing soccer.  All that came  to a quick end after Sept. 1939 – like so many Polish Jews, Henry dealt with the restrictions that the new life imposed.  That meant wearing the yellow star, life in the ghetto, and eventually deportation to the camps and slave labour.

Henry was interviewed for this project by his grandson Blair Gwartzman in March 2013.

April 25th, 2013

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On Tuesday, February 12th, a television crew from CBC News visited Crestwood Preparatory College to film Howard and Nancy Kleinburg speak to students as part of the Oral History Project.

Howard was born in Poland, in 1926 and was the youngest brother of ten.— in 1941 his entire family had to pack up their things and move into the ghetto. They had to leave everything behind. Every Jew within the perimeter of the Ghettos was marched in and this became their home for the next few months. From there Howard was used as a slave labourer and was moved through a succession of camps, ending up in Bergen Belsen – it was there that Nancy saved his life. They reconnected and married after the war and built a life in Canada.

Howard and Nancy’s story will be featured on CBC News on Thursday, February 14th at 5pm. The title of their segment is “A Romance that grew from the Camps of WWII”. Take a moment and tune in to an incredible Love story during your Valentine’s Day.

February 13th, 2013

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Judy Cohen is a Holocaust survivor from Hungary. When Hungarian Jews were deported in 1944, she and many members of her family were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where Judy became a slave labourer. She was later sent to other camps in the Nazi system and was fortunate to survive the death marches at the end of the war. Today, Judy is committed to Holocaust and human rights education, and she has set up a website “Women and the Holocaust” to further this end. She has spoken to classes at Crestwood and was interviewed for this project by student Megan Rudson in 2009, and again by Lauren Chris and Lauren Weingarten in 2010.  In 2012 Judy invited Sarah Mainprize, Savannah Yutman and Kristin Stribopoulos into her home, and she spoke at Crestwood’s first Human Rights and Tolerance Symposium.

January 18th, 2013

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Arnold Friedman was born in the Carpathian region of the Ukraine. When the prewar border adjustment known as the Anschluss occurred, he and his family suddenly found themselves living in Hungary. As such, they were offered a temporary respite from the Holocaust. While Polish and Ukrainian Jews were confronted by the Nazi onslaught in 1939-40, Hungarian Jews did not experience deportations until 1944. Arnold’s own story tells of the build-up to this, as well as his own experiences as an inmate and slave labourer.

Arnold has spoken at Crestwood several times now. He was interviewed for the Oral History project  in 2009 and 2010 by members of Crestwood’s YARRD club, and he sat down for this interview with Emma Myers and Katherine Charness in the fall of 2012. He came to us courtesy of Crestwood grandparent Roma Buchman, whose own wartime story is told on another page of this project.

January 10th, 2013

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Rose Zimmerman comes from Poland, where she and her family were living a normal life before 1939. The advent of the war saw all of that turned upside down; she and her family experienced the full weight of the Shoah, and Rose herself ended up a slave labourer in Auschwitz, before ending the war in the Bergen Belsen death camp.

We met Rose at Baycrest’s Cafe Europa in February 2012, where she sat down with Jenny Wilson, Cathy Kim, Ryan Seigel, and Cam Teboekhurst for a interview about her experiences.

July 9th, 2012

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David Rybowski is a survivor from Lodz, Poland. He experienced the full weight of the Holocaust, living in the ghetto before being deported to a series of camps and subjected to slave labour before surviving death marches at the war’s end. He spoke to Crestwood students Gabi Sandler, Sam Wasserman, So Hee Pyo, and Dov Houle at Baycrest’s Cafe Europa in May 2011.  In February 2013, he agreed to a second interview, this time with Isabelle Pinto, Sidra Fisch, and Gabi Sandler.

July 9th, 2012

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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.

July 9th, 2012

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Judy Lysy came to Crestwood with her husband George. Both are Hungarian Survivors of the Shoah, and they shared their stories with Chase Farbstein, Kyle Seigel, and Zack Martin in a dual interview. Judy grew up in wartime Hungary, and when many Jewish men were taken to the Russian front, she and other women fended for themselves in the ghettoes, and later in the camps. Judy was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she survived several months before being relocated to a work camp. At that time, she finished out the war as a slave labourer, at which time she was liberated by American troops. Soon after she met her husband George and came to Canada to begin a new life.

July 9th, 2012

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Ella Kuritski is from Lithuania. After the German invasion in 1941, her father was taken and murdered by the Nazis, and she and her family were relocated to the Kovno ghetto. She was fortunate to survive the deportations and ultimate liquidation of the ghetto and was sent instead to a work camp, where she forced into slave labour. As the Soviet Army advanced, she and many other camp survivors were sent further west into other camps, where she was able to survive further selections. When the war was at its conclusion, she and many others were forced onto ships which the Germans intended to sink; fortunately for Ella, the liberation occurred just as this was about to take place. After the war Ella went to Israel and later emigrated to Canada.

She was interviewed for this project by Lauren Engeland and Emma Myers, as part of our Bayycrest Cafe Europa series.

July 9th, 2012

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Mr. and Mrs. Kleinberg are survivors of the Holocaust. They have witnessed the terror, the tears, pain; emotions that are inexplicable. They lost their friends, their family and have opened their hearts to each other.

Nancy comes from a small town in Poland where she grew up with five brothers and two loving parents as well as her large extended family. She lived a wonderful childhood where she would play in the parks and every summer visit her Grandparents on the farm.— Nancy’s parents owned a shoe store; however as time passed, one afternoon Nazi soldiers stomped into their store and told them they had no more rights as owners. Her parents life long business, and most shocking, their freedom was taken away. Nancy’s family was forced into the ghettos. Her entire family had to leave everything behind; their house, their store, their belongings. They had to back up a small bag with as little things as possible. When the ghetto was liquidated, nancy was separated from much of her family. She was deported to Auschwitz and became a slave labourer. As the war ended she found herself in Bergen Belsen, where she saved a teenaged boy on the verge of death.

July 9th, 2012

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Mr. and Mrs. Kleinberg are survivors of the Holocaust. They have witnessed the terror, the tears, pain; emotions that are inexplicable. They lost their friends, their family and have opened their hearts to each other.

Howard was born in Poland, in 1926 and was the youngest brother of ten.— in 1941 his entire family had to back up their things and move into the ghetto. They had to leave everything behind. Every Jew within the perimeter of the Ghettos was marched in and this became their home for the next few months. From there Howard was used as a slave labourer and was moved through a succession of camps, ending up in Bergen Belsen – it was there that nancy saved his life. They reconnected and married after the war and built a life in Canada. They came to us courtesy of the Holocaust Centre of Toronto, and their inspirational story received great attention this year when they appeared on the Regis and Kelly show.

July 9th, 2012

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Faye Wolpianska was born in Bieniekonie, Poland, in 1928. Her childhood came to an end in June 1941 when the Nazis came to her village. With the war underway, Faye and her family were quickly moved into a ghetto. As conditions worsened, the family made the decision to leave, ending up in the larger Vilna ghetto.  Their lives drifted into starvation and slave labour.  One day, Faye was laying railway ties in a labour camp and returned home to find that her family had disappeared.  Now on her own, Faye decided to run.
She spent months begging for food and shelter. She hid in barns, the woods, and fields, depending on the occasional farmer who would help her. As a young teen, she was brutalized, infested by lice, and forced to walk barefoot in the snow when her boots fell apart.  When she wandered into a swamp, the Partisans found her. Faye’s legs were frozen in the material that was wrapped around her feet, her skin peeling off with the material. Although there were no antibiotics or medicine, Faye miraculously survived.
After liberation by the Russians in 1944, Faye returned to her hometown and learned that of the 500 Jews who had lived there, only 14 survived. Her father was murdered in a camp in Estonia, and her brother and sister were gassed in Auschwitz.
Faye arrived in Canada in 1948 and was joined by her mother in 1949. She married Mortz Kieffer in 1952, and together they have two sons and two grandchildren.  We first met Faye at Baycrest’s Cafe Europa, where she has twice told her story to Crestwood students.  In December 2013 and again in 2015 she visited us at Crestwood, where she sat down with Ms. Winograd’s English 8 class.

July 9th, 2012

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Sylvia Katz is a Holocaust Survivor from Poland. She was living an ideal life, with a great family, when the war broke out; she was 13 at the time. Sylvia was placed in her first camp in 1941, where she was selected to work. She spent the remainder of the war as a slave labourer moving from one work camp to the next. Her memories and stories from that period are compelling and tragic. After liberation, Sylvia headed back to Poland, hoping to find family and to start over. She did not, however, and she was urged to move on by a neighbour who feared for Sylvia’s life. Sylvia returned to Germany, and then eventually made her way to Canada.

We met Sylvia at Baycrest’s Cafe Europa, where she sat for an interview with Stephanie Erdman, Sarah Mainprize, Caroline Birkenshaw, and Emma Myers.

July 9th, 2012

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In April, 1944, Bill was deported along with his entire family from his home town of Subotica, Serbia to Auschwitz-Birkenau. In June 1944, he was transferred to the Dachau concentration camp in Germany where he worked as a slave labourer, building the infamous Ringeltaube. He was liberated by the US Army on April 29, 1945. Bill came to Canada as an orphan in 1947. He has spoken at Crestwood several times now, including to his grandson Josh’s Grade 9 class.  He also participated in our 2012 Human Rights Symposium.  Since, he visited the school in February 2014, when he sat down with Asli Inan and Sabrina Wise, and again in 2017, when he was interviewed by Jonah Eichler, Jordy Lax and Sam Frigerio.

 

July 9th, 2012

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Max Eisen is a Hungarian Jew who was deported along with his family in the summer of 1944. While the other members of his family were murdered, Max was able to survive slave labour at Auschwitz-Birkenau as well as other camps, as well as the death marches at the end of the war. He is a passionate speaker and educator who works through the Holocaust Center, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre and the Center for Diversity. He has been coming to Crestwood for many years now, and his message of tolerance and respect has reached many Crestwood students.  We were happy to host Max on two occasions in 2017; he spoke with Justin Soberman at his home, and he visited Mr. Masters’ classroom, where Alexa Gibson took the lead on his interview.

 

July 9th, 2012

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George Brady was living a quiet and comfortable life in Czechoslovakia in the period before the war. With the arrival of the Nazis however, his circumstances changed dramatically. He and his family were subjected to the various degrees of Nazi brutality and they found themselves ostracized from their community. George’s mother and father were arrested and taken away; George and his sister Hana went to live with an uncle before they were themselves deported to the Terezin concentration camp. From there the children were sent to Auschwitz, where George survived the selection, slave labour, and the death march at the end of the war. George has since dedicated himself to the cause of Holocaust and human rights education, as seen in the well known story of his sister’s life, Hana’s Suitcase.

George was interviewed for this project in spring 2009 by Nick Marlowe.

July 9th, 2012

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