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Belle Millo

Launch of Book, “Voices of Winnipeg Holocaust Survivors” – Thursday, April 15

By Rhonda Spivak

Millo dedicates her efforts to honour memory of parents who were survivors

On Thursday, April 15, 2010, at 7 p.m. at the Berney Theatre, there will be a launching of “Voices of Winnipeg Survivors” sponsored by the Freeman Family Foundation Holocaust Education Centre of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada, along with the Holocaust Awareness Committee of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg.
The book represents the culmination of several years of work, which began more than a decade ago with the Manitoba Holocaust Heritage Project. The book was edited by Belle Millo and designed by former Winnipegger, Gustavo Rymberg, who will be in attendance the night of the launch.

In the mid 1990s, the Manitoba Holocaust Heritage Project began, led by Evita Smordin, Shelley Faintuch, Carla Divinsky and Dr. Stefan Carter. At that time, questionnaires were sent out to Holocaust survivors living in Manitoba. In addition to the questionnaire, the survivors were also given the opportunity to provide a narrative, outlining their experiences before, during and after the Holocaust and to submit photographs and documents. The purpose at the time was to create a database which would be used for research.  Nothing  further was done with the hand-written questionnaires until a few years ago. At that time, Belle Millo and Gustavo Rymberg transcribed the approximately forty questionnaires into electronic format. Rymberg left Winnipeg during that time, moving to Ottawa.

Approximately a year and a half ago, one of the survivors approached Millo with the idea of taking the material in the questionnaires and producing a book. As Millo told the Winnipeg Jewish Review, “Without thinking too much about the work involved, I agreed.”

Millo and the Holocaust Education Centre decided to give survivors who had not completed the questionnaires in the 1990s a chance to tell their stories. From the original 40 stories, the content for the book grew to 73 stories. Some survivors who had not written a narrative, decided to do so at this time, or to provide more details.

“Some of the stories in the book are being told for the first time, as survivors decided that it was time to put their story down on paper for future generations,” Millo said, noting that the task of editing the stories was “challenging.”

Millo says she was concerned about preserving the “voice” of the survivor, while ensuring that every detail--dates, spelling of place names, -- was correct.

“At the same time,  I wanted to produce a book that would ‘read well,’ so a degree of editorial work was essential, varying from story to story, depending on the submission of the survivors,” she said.

Samuel Jarniewski, Belle Millo’s father.
Samuel Jarniewski, Belle Millo’s father.

Samuel Jarniewski (far right) in the Polish army.
Samuel Jarniewski (far right) in the
Polish army.
There were photos and documents to sift through and choose, interviews with survivors and of course fundraising.
“Many of the photos were in bad shape, due to their age,” said Millo, who had to work with them to improve resolution and remove scratches.

The task became a “more than full-time” job for Millo, who did not take any remuneration for her work.

A fundraising event for the book took place on May 17, 2009, spearheaded by Joe and Ruth Riesen.

“Survivors continued to come forward with their stories, right up until the last possible moment before the book went to Friesens Printers. We are extremely grateful for the two grants which we received – from the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba as well as the Claims Conference (New York),” she said.

The book went to press fully funded and all profits will be used to fund the digitization of survivor audio and video tapes which are approaching a critical state due to age.

Millo, who is also the chair of the Freeman Family Foundation Holocaust Education Centre, agreed to take on this enormous task, to honour the memory of her parents, Sylvia and Samuel Jarniewski, who were both survivors and whose stories appear in the book.

Her late father, Samuel Jarniewski z”l, had been conscripted into the Polish army and was captured during the first three weeks of the war.

“My father was taken to a POW camp and was subsequently transferred to the first of several concentration camps. He survived six years of captivity and six concentration camps including Plaszow, Majdanek, and Dachau from which he was liberated at the end of the war. He was the only one in his entire extended family to survive the war. His wife and infant son were murdered in Auschwitz; the rest of his family perished at Treblinka on November 22, 1942. Following the war – in 1946, he wrote his memoir of what he had gone through,” she said.


Millo’s mother, the late Sylvia Jarniewski, also has her story told in the book. Although she had not put pen to paper during her lifetime, Millo heard her mother’s horrific story, from the time she was a young child. Her mother witnessed her parents’ death in the Lodz Ghetto in 1942 and then, as an orphan, survived the final days of the Ghetto and was sent to Auschwitz.

“Their stories and the stories of all survivors must be heard and continue to be heard. The world must never forget,” said Millo.

The principle purpose of the book is to preserve the stories of local Holocaust survivors. With an aging survivor population, fewer and fewer survivors are available for educational presentations. Many of the survivors whose stories are in the book are not able to present their stories in front of an audience. With that in mind, the Minister of Education, Citizenship and Youth will be distributing copies of the book to all 450 senior high schools in the province.
Sylvia Jarniewski, Belle Millo’s mother.
Sylvia Jarniewski, Belle Millo’s mother.

The launch on April 15th will also include a special musical performance by Eli Herscovitch and his band, “Yiddish Memories”, who will be presenting a composition written especially to honour our survivors, marking 65 years since the liberation and the end of Hitler’s war. The launch will be followed by a reception in the Sol and Florence Kanee Foyer.

“Voices of Winnipeg Holocaust Survivors” will be available for purchase - $36 including GST. Please RSVP to Belle Millo: [email protected] or by phone at 489-3520. 

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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.