Winnipeg Jewish Review  
Site Search:
Home  |  Archives  |  Contact Us
Features Local Israel Next Generation Arts/Op-Eds Editorial/Letters Links Obituary/In Memoriam

David Shentow. Photo by Rhonda Prepes.

Holocaust Symposium audience in Duckworth Centre at U of W


By Rhonda Prepes

Eighty five year old Holocaust survivor David Shentow, who was held in captivity in concentration camps between 1942 to 1945 when he was age 17 to 20, spoke to over 1300 high school students from across Manitoba at the 9th Annual Holocaust and Human Rights Symposium here for Grades 9 - 12 on Thursday, May 13, 2010.

Shentow spoke about how he experienced "hell on earth" at the packed event held at the University of Winnipeg Duckworth Centre, put on by the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada, with the participation of the University of Winnipeg.

Shentow told the youth that he feels it his obligation to speak about his experiences to educate them and to speak out against Holocaust deniers.

Shentow, who  was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1925,  moved to Antwerp, Belgium as an infant, as his family sought to escape anti-Semitism. In August of 1942, Shentow and his father were ordered by the Gestapo to report to the Antwerp railway station. This was the last time Shentow saw his mother and two sisters. Shentow was deported to a work camp at Dannes-Camiers near Dieppe in France and was later put on a train and sent to Auschwitz.

Shentow recalled  how after the four day trip, 3000 people disembarked from the train in Auschwitz in October 1942. There he saw people in striped pajamas, caps, and wooden clogs and did not know where he had arrived. The women, children, disabled, elderly and anyone wishing to join their wife were instructed to move to the left. While 1800 people now stood to the left, a doctor examined the remaining 1200 men and boys and determined whether each one would move to the left or to the right. Shentow was sent to the right with about 700 other males.

“This is the first time I was saved. I knew the fate that awaited the people that were standing on the left,” Shentow said.

He was then ordered to completely undress, forced to take a cold shower, and made to run naked to the other end of what he had determined to be a concentration camp. There he was tattooed with the number “72585”’,  which was how he would be referred to from then on. 

He recalled how asked the man giving him the tattoo what the significance of his number was.

The tattoo artist replied,” You are the seventy second thousand, five hundred and eighty fifth prisoner in this camp.”

Shentow asked, “How many people are there in this camp?”

The tattoo artist replied, “About 30,000.”

“Where is everybody else?,” asked Shentow naively. 

The tattoo artist pointed to the smoke stacks of the crematorium.

Shentow was then given a full body shave and every orifice of his body was searched.

“I knew I was in hell and this was just the beginning,” Shentow said.

His job in Auschwitz was to carry heavy stones from one end of the camp to the other. One day, when he saw someone carrying the same stone back to its original location, he knew he was not in a labour camp, but in a death camp.

Everyday 200 to 300 people perished. The living were given daily rations of black water meant to be coffee, watery soup and two pieces of bread,  which  was  the rations given for twenty four hours. Shentow was constantly hungry and unbearably cold.

He recalled how each month, the prisoners were given two cigarettes. He used his cigarettes to barter with the other prisoners for food. Wanting to see his two sisters and mother again gave him the will to want to live.

Once a month the prisoners did not have to work. This day was “Selection Day”. After all prisoners in the camp (30,000 to 35,000) stripped naked, a doctor scanned the crowd.

Shentow said, “If the doctor wrote your number down, you knew you were headed towards the gas chambers.”
In the year that Shentow spent at Auschwitz, the doctor never recorded his number. He considered himself saved once again over and over again.

Shortly before he left Auschwitz he was told by another prisoner that his mother and two sisters had perished. Shentow was heartbroken.

In July 1943, Shentow was transferred with a group of 2000 prisoners from Auschwitz to the remains of what had been the Warsaw Ghetto. Their task was to level the ruins of buildings shattered during the Ghetto Uprising. Shentow was responsible for loosening the bricks on the buildings for dismantling. He lived within the ghetto walls for one year among the lice, filth, dirt and typhoid.


In August 1944, anticipating the advancing Russian army, the Nazis sent 5000 Jewish prisoners on a death march to Dachau. They walked 50 – 60 miles each day. Those who couldn’t keep up were shot. During this trek, he experienced unbearable heat and thirst. Only 3000 prisoners were left when they reached a river. Pandemonium ensued when the prisoners clambered to enter the water to cool off and drink.  Order was restored when the Nazis began shooting the prisoners.

From there they were put on a cattle train, 120 people per box car, and taken to Dachau. 

“When we arrived after our 5 day journey without food or water, only 70 or 80 prisoners actually got out from each box car,” Shentow  recalled..

Shentow spent one year at Dachau and was liberated by the American army, on April 29, 1945, his twentieth birthday. He refers to this momentous day as “the day he was born again.”

Every day of his 3 year stay in the concentration camps was like “living hell”. As the only survivor from an extended family of 17, Shentow considers his survival “a miracle”.

Shentow admits to having feelings of guilt over why he survived and 6 million Jews did not. He credits his will to live as his saving grace, even after he found out that his mother and two sisters had perished. Shentow is not filled with hate. He appreciates life, enjoys living, and takes each day as it comes.

Shentow, who now lives in Ottawa, came to Canada in 1949 to restart his life. He got married, had children and considers it his mission to ensure that the Holocaust is never forgotten.

The symposium entitled “Ghettos” was supported by the Sam Grosberg Estate, the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba, and by Gail Asper and her husband Michael Paterson. The principal objective of the symposium is to educate students on the Holocaust, on anti-racism and on the consequences of hatred and intolerance.

Belle Millo, Chair of the Holocaust Education Committee, gave opening remarks on behalf of The Jewish Heritage Centre. She told the audience, “The Holocaust was a product of Anti-Semitism – hatred towards the Jewish people. Anti-Semitism was the Nazi party’s racial and political ideology between 1933 and 1945. Anti-Semitism is not a thing of the past, it is still happening today.” She then listed numerous recent documented incidents from around the globe. She asked the audience “to stand up against Anti-Semitism, speak out against racism, and to make a difference in the world.”

Dr. Lloyd Axworthy, President and Vice Chancellor of the University of Winnipeg, gave greetings on behalf of the University of Winnipeg.  Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz, the son of Holocaust survivors, brought greetings from the City of Winnipeg. He stated, “We can only fight racism and hate with education, wisdom, and faith.” He then urged the audience to be tolerant and accepting.

Roberta Malam, Assistant Program Director of the Rady Jewish Community Centre, introduced  David Shentow. Malam confronted the audience by saying, “It is up to you to challenge, chose, and change. It is up to you to never forget what happened 70 years ago. It is up to you to ensure that another tyrant doesn’t try to repeat similar actions. It is up to you to remember that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

There was a short question and answer period following the presentation, a moving candle lighting ceremony by March of the Living participants, and closing remarks by  Gail Asper, President of the Asper Foundation. In the afternoon, students were divided into groups to listen to 14 local survivors. In attendance were:  Morris Faintuch, Rachel Fink, Saul Fink, Carmela Finkel, Susan Garfield, Isaac Gotfried, Babara Goszer, Betty Kirshner, Morris Kirshner, Henny Paritsky, Walter Saltzberg, Sigi Wasserman, Erwin Weiszmann, and Judy Weiszmann. Each break–out session offered an opportunity for another more intimate first person Holocaust account and a question and answer period.

*Rhonda Prepes is an engineer, educator, mother, and writer in Winnipeg.

<<Previous Article       Next Article >>
Subscribe to the Winnipeg Jewish Review
  • Orthodox Union
  • Accurate Lawn & Garden
  • Coughlin Insurance Brokers
  • Munroe Pharmacy
  • Tel Aviv University Canada
  • Booke + Partners
  • Gislason Targownik
  • James Teitsma
  • Janice Morley-Lecomte
  • Obby Khan
  • Artista Homes
  • Fetching Style
  • Ronald B. Zimmerman
  • Chisick Family
  • Stringers Rentals
  • Winnipeg Beach Home Building Centre
  • KC Enterprises
  • John Wishnowski
  • JLS Construction
  • Ingrid Bennett
  • Gulay Plumbing
  • The Paper Fifrildi
  • Laufman Reprographics
  • Levene Tadman Golub
  • Taverna Rodos
  • Holiday Inn Polo Park
  • Bruce Shefrin Interior Design
  • Bridges for Peace
  • Bridges for Peace
  • CVA Systems
  • Chochy's
  • Lakeside Roofing
  • Ambassador Mechanical
  • Roseman Corp
  • Shoppers Drug Mart
  • Shoppers Drug Mart
  • kristinas-greek
  • The Center for Near East Policy Research Ltd.
  • Sarel Canada
  • Santa Lucia Pizza
  • Roofco Winnipeg Roofing
  • Center for Near East Policy Research
  • Nachum Bedein
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.