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Max Borenstein's story

Judy Abrams

Felix Opatowski

Azrieli Foundation Launches Three Holocaust Memoirs At Event in partnership with Bnai Brith

The goal of the Azrieli Series of Holocaust Memoirs is to put a personal face on what was lost –one story at a time.

By: Shaked Karabelnicoff [with files from Rhonda Prepes and Rhonda Spivak]


I attended a wonderful evening of remembrance and renewal where three Holocaust survivors, Max Bornstein, Felix Opatowski and Judy Abrams, celebrated the Winnipeg launch of their memoirs through the Azrieli Foundation’s Series of Holocaust Survivor Memoir Book Launch and Film Screening. The books launched were Tenuous Threads by Judy Abrams, If Home Is Not Here by former Winnipeg resident Max Bornstein and Gatehouse to Hell by Felix Opatowski. They were launched at an event attended by a multi-ethnic crowd of 125 guests sponsored by B'nai Brith Midwest Region and Faith Temple at the Fairmont Hotel with a dessert reception following.

Dr. Naomi Azrieli, CEO and Chair of the Azrieli Foundation spoke at the event explaining that the Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program was established by the Azrieli Foundation in 2005 to collect, preserve and share the memoirs and diaries written by survivors of the twentieth-century Nazi genocide of the Jews of Europe who later made their way to Canada. By preserving the stories written by survivors and making them widely available to a broad audience, the program seeks to sustain the memory of all those who perishedat the hands of hatred, abetted by indifference and apathy.

"These are Jewish stories of survival and Canadian stories of rebirth" said Dr. Azrieli .

"Thirty five thousand Holocaust survivors came to Canada after the war. Today there are only 4000 alive. We felt that these personal stories could bring history to life, that they could put a face on what was lost, and allow readers – especially those unfamiliar with this history - to grasp the enormity of what happened — one story at a time.

What we have heard from readers and students educators from across the country, people of diverse backgrounds, has confirmed our initial hopes. They have told us that first-person witness accounts are vital to our understanding of history, and that the stories of people who survived adversity and went on to rebuild their lives as immigrants to Canada speak to people from very different backgrounds. They have told us is that they have been inspired by the courage of the authors.," Azrieli said.

"We have created short films to accompany the stories being launched this evening. This is to reach a larger audience and to increase the accessibility of the stories. The personal accounts of those who survived the Holocaust against all odds demonstrate the resilience of the human spirit and show how even small acts can sometimes make a large difference," she added.

I had an opportunity to speak to Naomi Azrieli who told me that the idea for the series was born out of the fact that her father David Azrieli, an architect, designer and real estate developer, who is now age 90, is a holocaust survivor .[David Azrieli, who has developed shopping malls is very well known in Israel-The Azrieli towers are a very famous landmark in Tel-Aviv].

"It took my father ten years to write his story which was published through Yad Va Shem," Naomi Azrieli explained. "After publishing his story he wondered how many other holocaust survivors would be interested in publishing their stories. 100? 200? 1000?. We sent out a call for submission to see how many unpublished memoirs of survival existed in Canada. That’s how it started. At present, we have over 170 manuscripts and more come in all the time as remaining survivors find the courage to write or as family members discover lost memoirs from relatives that had passed away. "

The Azrieli Foundation decided that its mission to try to publish as many of these memoirs as possible.

In an interview with the Editor of the Winnipeg Jewish Review the preceding evening at McNally Robinson where a standing room only crowd came to hear the authors of the Holocasut memoirs, Azrieli explained that one of the reasons that Yad Vashem chose to publish her father's story was that "he 's so well known in Israel such that they thought his story would sell well."

However, she noted that Yad Vashem does not generally publish survivors memoirs."'In general, Yad Vashem looks to publish memoirs only if they deal with a part of the Holocaust that is generally not well known. A survivor who writes about the Warsaw ghetto therefore, is not likely to be published by Yad Vashem as this aspect of the Holocaust is well-known."

Azreli aslo indicated that "commercial publishers are not interested in survivors memoirs as they are very labour intensive and you can't make money publishing them."

She continued, " When we publish them we do extensive fact checking such that if necessary archival documents are examined to verify that historical accuracy of the survivors' memories. When a survivor tells his or her story, of course, they are telling the truth as best as they can recall. But we make sure that we check everything possible before going to print, which means that these projects are very labour intensive. The Azrieli Foundation also has an editing team, headed up by managing editor Andrea Knight and editor Arielle Berger, that work extensively on the each memoir.

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