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
Sid Handler was born In Vilnius, Lithuania in 1934 (at the time it was part of Poland and he was born with Polish citizenship) as Samuel Rezjewski. Through his childhood, he had lived close to lots of family, and was always surrounded by them. When the Holocaust Began and they were forced into the Vilna Ghetto and they moved his grandmother’s apartment in the Ghetto. At the end of the Holocaust Sid and his mother, the only two surviving members of the family, escaped from HKP labour camp. Sid now lives in Newton, Massachusetts with his wife, two children, and 5 grandchildren. He is now 82 years old and living happily. Sid Handler’s Oral History Project Interview, conducted by Zach Halpern, took place on the 25th. Nov, 2016.
Oral History Project March 24th, 2017
Etti Miller is a child survivor of the Holocaust. Born just as the war was beginning, Etti and her family were forced into the Vilna Ghetto. They were lucky to escape the liquidation of the ghetto, as they managed to find their way into the forests. They remained there the duration of the war, living among the partisans and with the local farm,era who were brave enough to offer them shelter. Even though she was just a child, Etti sees this as a formative period in her life, something she shared with Crestwood students Alex Hobart and Savannah Yutman at a Cafe Europa interview in February 2013.
Oral History Project May 1st, 2013
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.
admin July 9th, 2012
Norma Dmitry is a Survivor who came to us courtesy of Baycrest’s Cafe Europa, where we met her in May 2012. Norma grew up in Vilna, where so much of the horror that makes up the Holocaust began. She remembers the restrictions of ghetto life as the walls closed in around them, and she compellingly remembers the killing fields of Ponary, not far from Vilna. Norma remembers the collaborators of the Nazis, and she reconstructs here the story of one life – and that of her family – as the Shoah escalated around them.
Norma was interviewed for this project by Katherine Charness, Ellen McPhadden and Alice Lee.
admin July 9th, 2012