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Holocaust Symposium 2011 Draws 2100 Students - Elly Gotz Keynote Speaker

by Rhonda Spivak, June 9, 2011

Survivor Elly  Gotz who lives in Toronto was the  keynote speaker at the May 12th Freeman Family Foundation Holocaust Education Centre’s 10th Annual Holocaust Education Symposium for high school students, at the Duckworth Centre, University of Winnipeg (U of W). also click here to read Rebecca Kuropatwa's article in the Jewish Tribune:

Gotz, a survivor of the Kovno (Kaunas) Ghetto and Dachau Concentration Camp, told his story to some-2,100 students, as well as educators and others, from more than 30 Manitoba schools.

"This was by far the largest Holocaust education program ever held in this city, to my knowledge," said Belle  Millo, chair of the  Freeman Family Foundation HolocaustCentre. " The speaker [Gotz] was amazing... The response from the students, from educators and from representatives from Manitoba Education and Training, as well as from professors who were present was tremendously positive."

Millo is also a member of the Advisory Board of the National Holocaust Task Force Advisory Board (the members of this Board are listed at

Millo said she " was asked by Ruth Klein [of B'nai Brith Canada] to join the task force as the representative of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada." The task force brings together the expertise of preeminent Holocaust-era scholars, educators, as well as some major Jewish community stakeholders," she added.  

"Some of the members of the Advisory Board of the NTF have been involved in developing programming on... Holocaust education and I  hope to convene a training program next year for teachers in Manitoba regarding a new text book called, Welcome to Canada which was commissioned by of the Advisory Board of the NTF.  Many copies of the text, including a teaching guide have already been distributed in Manitoba, in both French and English," Millo noted. 

Millo's opening remarks at the symposium for high-school students, which referred to current-day antisemitism around the world and its roots in the 2000 year old history of antisemitism, were followed by greetings from Dr. Lloyd Axworthy, U of W president and vice-chancellor. Axworthy noted that "speaking-out" against prejudice, antisemitism and racism is one of the most important responsibilities we have as human beings.

Millo  thanked local survivors for participating in the afternoon breakout sessions at the University of Winnipeg so that students could hear first-hand their stories of survival and ask questions in smaller settings. Barbara Goszer, Betty Kirshner, Morris Kirshner, Carmela Finkel, Henny Paritsky, Isaac Gotfried, Morris Faintuch, Rachel Fink, Saul Fink, Sigi Wassermann, Walter Salzberg,  Edith Kimelman, and Joe Riesen were all local survivors who participated.

"Elly Gotz... filled in for a survivor who was too ill to attend, and Marty Slyker, who, with her family, saved the lives of three Jewish women during the Shoah, told her story to another group of students," noted Millo. 

Elly Gotz was born in Kaunas, Lithuania in 1928, the only son to Jewish parents. His father worked in a bank and his mother was a nurse who later learned dress designing and worked from home as a dressmaker. Elly attended a Jewish private school and pursued his interests in science, history and literature.

Before the Holocaust, Elly's hobby was building model aeroplanes and he dreamt of being a pilot one day.

In June 1941, German forces entered Lithuania and Gotz's life changed dramatically. After living three years in a Ghetto in Kaunas – later declared a concentration camp by the Nazis, in the summer of 1944 he and his parents were taken to Germany by cattle car train.

His mother was unloaded with all the women at Stutthof concentration camp. He and his father were taken to Dachau, Camp Number 1, in Bavaria, where they were forced to work as slave labourers in twelve- hour shifts constructing a giant bombproof aircraft factory.

Gotz's’s skill as a metal worker saved his life and that of his father. He was assigned to a workshop as a machine minder and managed to get his father work there too.

Right at the end of the war, in April 1945, they were taken from that camp to the Central camp of Dachau, where they were eventually liberated on  April 29, 1945 by the American army. Elly had just turned 17 and weighed 70 lbs.

Gotz told the audience that by April 1945, Germany was losing the war and he knew it was coming to an end. "...I knew they’d either kill us or we’d be liberated at any moment. " He learned of his liberation as he heard people screaming "The Americans are here. We're free," just as he was bringing his father a piece of bread.

In 1958, Gotz married his life’s companion Esme, and lived in Norway, Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia) and South Africa where he went to school and eventually became an engineer. In 1964 he emigrated to Canada where he set up a highly successful plastics manufacturing company.

Gotz tells students that when he came out of Dachau he was "full of hate" and hatred was "consuming" him. In order to re-build his own life, he learned to overcome this hatred.   

Elly became dedicated to educating the next generation about the Holocaust. He has served as President of his synagogue and participated in the fledgling Holocaust Remembrance Committee of Toronto. Elly was involved in the building of the Holocaust Centre of Toronto and has served on the Executive committee for the last 30 years. He continues to speak about the Holocaust to schools and universities, sharing his remarkable life experiences and spreading a message of tolerance


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.