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Sharon Chisvin

THE READ HEAD (BOOK COLUMN): Reflections on Voices of Winnipeg Holocaust Survivors

By Sharon Chisvin

There is no question that Voices of Winnipeg Holocaust Survivors is an important book. Edited by Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada volunteer Belle Millo, the book features the stories, photographs and documents of 73 Winnipeg Holocaust survivors. Every one of these stories is different, every one of these stories is heart wrenching, and every one of these stories reminds readers of both the depth of man’s inhumanity to man and the extraordinary resilience of the human spirit.
These stories, gathered by the JHC over a period of 20 years, reflect an array of experiences. They are the stories of hidden children, Jews passing as Gentiles, Auschwitz inmates, ghetto fighters, partisans and slave labourers. They are the stories of men and women from the small towns and big cities of Poland, Germany, Hungary, Roumania, France and Holland. They are the stories of people we all know, our neighbours, friends’ parents, former teachers, and co-workers.

No matter how much you read about the Holocaust, no matter how many stories you hear, it is impossible to grasp that these people went through what they did, endured the losses that they did, and still went on to live reasonably normal lives. You cannot read this volume without trying to imagine, and realizing that you simply cannot, what it must have felt like to crouch silently day after day under a loose floorboard, be crammed into a cattle car without food or water, watch your child being marched off at gunpoint, or learn that everyone you know and love has disappeared up in smoke. It is impossible to imagine what it was like, as in Rose Slutsky’s case, to learn that you are one of only 148 Jews to survive from your pre-war community of 18,000.

The stories contained in this volume were written by the survivors themselves, their family members or JHC volunteers. Some are several pages long and replete with detail, while others are limited to single pages of dates and place names. Most of the longer pieces are thoughtful and well structured, although a few are repetitive and meandering. Many of the stories have been told before, either for the JHC oral history project that predated this book or for the Shoah Foundation interviews conducted in the 1990s. As well, many of those who contributed their stories to the book are active in local Holocaust awareness and education initiatives. 

Unfortunately, the book does not contain the story of every Holocaust survivor who lives in Winnipeg. Whether some chose not to participate or others were unable to, or unaware of the project, it is imperative that the JHC now make every effort to also record these missing stories.

Doing so, of course, becomes increasingly important with each passing year, not only so that generations to come will know what occurred and will ideally learn from it, but also so that all those who did not survive – the children, spouses, parents, siblings, and cousins of the survivors – will also be remembered.

Stefan Carter clearly appreciates the importance of this. While he  eloquently shares his story of survival in this book, he also does much more than that. In separate entries he briefly tells the story of seven other family members who did not survive, including his young  cousin Tadeusz Edward Rosenhauch, a medical student and member of the Polish underground. Tadeusz was killed during a German aerial bombing while trying to save a woman’s  life. Dead for almost 70 years, through Stefan’s telling and through this book, he now lives on in some small measure. It is really for these stories that Voices of Winnipeg Holocaust Survivors  is to be most valued.  For those who left behind no spouses, no children, no neighbours and no headstones to mark their graves. For those who did not survive. 

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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.