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This chapter examines the Holocaust through a survivor’s story retold by a close relative. The horror of this historical crime is revealed as we encounter the events in the life of Evie Abeles. This is followed by a timeline of the events leading up to the Holocaust, and a summary of the Jewish population in the countries involved in the Holocaust.
by Joan O'Callaghan
Permission: from author
The china cabinet in my dining room houses a collection of delicate little dishes. Made of porcelain and hand-painted with colorful scenes reminiscent of fairy tales and the innocence of childhood, they are intended to be used by little girls hosting tea parties for dolls and for friends. The dishes come from Bohemia, where they were made, probably in the 1920s or 1930s.
A photograph of the owner of the dishes sits nearby. It is an old photograph, taken in 1939. She is a pretty little girl, twelve years of age. Her hair, the color and texture of corn silk, is pulled back from her forehead, and cut evenly below the ears. She is squinting a little into the sun. But there is something unusual about the photograph, a note which jars the senses. It is the dress she is wearing. An ordinary dress in every respect—except for the large Star of David stitched on the front.
Her name was Evie and she was Jewish. In the Czechoslovakia of 1939, there was no place for little girls with corn silk hair and hand-painted dolls' dishes, if they happened to be Jewish. Evie is dead. Branded by the insignia on her little dress, she was rounded up, along with her parents, and taken to Auschwitz, where she died. Evie was my first cousin, but I never knew her. She died before I was born. I don't know exactly when she died, or how. But I do know where she died. And why.
Rumors of Nazi war criminals and collaborators hiding out in Canada and living the good life here have abounded for years. Finally now the Canadian government has decided to move on some of these people and has stripped them of their Canadian citizenship. They will be shipped back to their countries of origin to confront their own pasts. Old sick men. Outraged family and neighbors. Leave them in peace. "What does it matter what happened seventy years ago?" is the indignant question posed by letters to the editor in newspapers across the country. “He’s not going anywhere,” Helmut Oberlander’s lawyer, Eric Hafemann huffed to the media.
There is a certain irony and double standard to these protests.
Here in Toronto, citizens are reeling after two weeks of violence. Torontonians were shocked by the cold-blooded murder of 15-year-old Jordan Manners in the hallway of C. W. Jeffreys High School and are calling for better security and other measures in our schools to prevent a repeat of this tragedy. When they turned on the news at night they saw footage of the trial of Daniel Sylvester, convicted of murdering his neighbour Alicia Ross because she called him a loser. Young people, both of them, Alicia Ross and Jordan Manners, with dreams and aspirations for a life they would never live.
Tragedies that outrage any human being with a sense of decency. The citizens of Toronto are right to take the Manners shooting and Sylvester trial to heart and to insist that justice be vigorously pursued. But trials and convictions will not bring back Jordan or Alicia, so vengeance can hardly be a factor in bringing their killers to trial. Then why bother?
Should we bother pursuing the murderer of Jordan Manners, and at the same time continue to cast a blind eye on those same old sick men, who for seventy years have succeeded in concealing their pasts and living the good life that Canada has to offer? The answer must be a resounding “yes”. We have an obligation to pursue the sick old men with the same vigor that we pursue the murderers of Jordan Manners and Alicia Ross.
Not because bringing them to justice will miraculously restore Evie and the other six million victims to life; or even from a sense of carefully nurtured vengeance. Not at all. We do this in the name of the kind of society that we as Canadians are trying to create, for ourselves, and more importantly, for our children.
Canadians want a society that is safe, decent, and just. But for whom? For some people and not for others? Is our society to be a twist on Orwell's Animal Farm, where some are held accountable but not others?
Is it right and proper to bring Daniel Sylvester to trial, but not to deport Nazi war criminals whose records bespeak deception and complicity in those heinous events? Is it right and proper to bring a suspect to trial for crimes committed three years ago, but if a suspect has succeeded in eluding justice for seventy years, should he be rewarded by being left in peace? Is a murder committed in Toronto more of a murder than a murder committed in a hell called Auschwitz many thousands of miles away? Is it acceptable to sit in the House of Commons and pass laws for the good government of this country, but apply them to some people and not others?
In other words, is justice some sort of a sliding scale or is it a constant? Our complacency; our distaste for making a fuss; our lace-curtain gentility and well-bred antisemitism are now being brought home to us in more ways than one.
The proliferation of racist incidents and the glorification of violence have forced schools to move these issues to the top of their agendas. This is a sad comment on our society. If racial tolerance and appropriate behaviors were taught in the home, it would not be necessary to address them in schools. But children learn from the example set by their parents.
Right wing groups, white supremacists, and Holocaust deniers have read the Canadian psyche very well. That is why they are flourishing here. They know full well that there is a significant number of Canadians who do not want these issues examined, because it might mean revelations that are unpleasant for themselves, their friends and families. And this poses a significant danger to us all.
And that is why we must pursue these sick old men. We need to wipe the slate clean for our children. We need to set an example for them. How hypocritical to teach tolerance in schools, but to turn around and let the sick old men off the hook, for no other reason than that they have succeeded in deceiving their neighbors for seventy glorious years!! We need to show our youth by our own actions that murder is not a sliding scale, that a truly just society continues to pursue and expose those who have blood on their hands, however well-hidden, regardless of where those crimes took place, and when. There are no rewards for deception or for longevity.
I have no pity for the sick old men. These same old men were once young men, strong, cruel, and unprincipled. They took advantage of their youth and strength to victimize the weak ones among them, the minorities, those who didn't "belong." They have lived long, full lives, here in Canada. But the piper must now be paid, and the past has to be confronted.
Had Evie lived, she would be in her seventies. Perhaps she would even now be watching her own grandchildren staging tea parties with the little hand-painted dishes. But Evie lies somewhere in Poland, in an unmarked grave with thousands of others like her. Her little dishes and a faded photograph are her only legacy.
History of the Holocaust - Timeline
|Year||Events in History|
|Year||Events in History|
›The Nazi party takes power in Germany. Adolf Hitler becomes chancellor, or prime minister of Germany. Nazis 'temporarily' suspend civil liberties. ›The Nazis set up the first concentration camp at Dachau. The first inmates are 200 Communists. ›Books with ideas considered dangerous to Nazi beliefs are burned.
›Hitler combines the positions of chancellor and president to become “Fuhrer” or leader of Germany. ›Jewish newspapers can no longer be sold in the streets.
›Jews are deprived of their citizenship and other basic rights. ›The Nazis intensify the persecution of political people who do not agree with their philosophy.
›Nazis boycott Jewish-owned business. ›The Olympic Games are held in Germany; signs barring Jews are removed until the event is over. ›Jews no longer have the right to vote.
›German troops annex Austria. ›On Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” Nazis terrorize Jews throughout Germany and Austria - 30,000 Jews are arrested. ›Books with ideas considered dangerous to Nazi beliefs are burned. ›Jews must carry ID cards and Jewish passports are marked with a "J." › Jews no longer head businesses, attend plays, concerts, etc.; ›Books with ideas considered dangerous to Nazi beliefs are burned. ›All Jewish children are moved to Jewish schools.› Jewish businesses are shut down; they must sell businesses and hand over securities and jewels. › Jews must hand over drivers’ licenses and car registrations. ›Jews must be in certain places at certain times.
›Germany takes over Czechoslovakia and invades Poland. ›World War II begins as Britain and France declare war on Germany. › Hitler orders that Jews must follow curfews; Jews must turn in radios to the police; Jews must wear yellow stars of David.
›Nazis begin deporting German Jews to Poland. ›Jews are forced into ghettos. › Nazis begin the first mass murder of Jews in Poland. › Jews are put into concentration camps.
›Germany attacks the Soviet Union. ›Jews throughout Western Europe are forced into ghettos. › Jews may not leave their houses without permission form the police. › Jews may no longer use public telephones.
›Nazi officials determine the “Final Solution”—their plan to kill all European Jews—with the government officials. ›Jews are forbidden to: subscribe to newspapers; keep dogs, cats, birds, etc.; keep electrical equipment including typewriters; own bicycles; buy meat, eggs, or milk; use public transportation; attend school.
›February: About 80 to 85 percent of the Jews who would die in the Holocaust have already been murdered.
›Hitler takes over Hungary and begins deporting 12,000 Hungarian Jews each day to Auschwitz where they are murdered.
›Hitler is defeated and World War II ends in Europe. ›The Holocaust is over and the death camps are emptied. ›Many survivors are placed in displaced persons’ facilities.
Look at the events of each year in the timeline. Place a dot on the above graph to represent the level of intolerance displayed. Link the dots to form a line graph.
For each year displayed in the timeline, look at an event from around the world related to the theme of intolerance. Construct a living graph to compare levels of intolerance towards minority groups (Aboriginals, Blacks, Jews, etc.,) to the levels displayed towards Jews in Germany during the Nazi period. Can the rest of the world be proud or ashamed of this record during this period?
The timeline above concludes with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. Was this creation a direct result of the Holocaust or were there other reasons as well?
This is a list of the countries where Jews were living and therefore targeted during the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942. The conference was for the organization and implementation of the “Final Solution”. This document is taken from the book Nazism, edited by Noakes and Pridham. The book indicates that this list was included in the official minutes of the meeting, page 537.
Also look at: www.aish.com
|Altreich [Germany pre-1938]||131,800|
|Eastern territories [incorporated from Poland]||420,000|
|General Government [also in Poland]||2,284,000|
|Bialystok [White Russia]||400,000|
|Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia||74,200|
|ESTONIA—Free of Jews||—|
|France: occupied territory||165,000|
|Italy including Sardinia||58,000|
|Romania including Bessarabia||342,000|
|Turkey (European part)||55,500|
|White Russia excluding Bialystok||446,484|
Arato, Rona The Last Train, 2013
The true story of the Auslander family who, along with thousands of other Jews were trapped on a freight train in the middle of Germany, awaiting their ends at the hands of the Nazis.
Bennett, Cherie and Jeff Gottesfield Anne Frank and Me, 2002
Nicole Burns believes the Holocaust is ancient history and doesn’t grasp why she needs to learn about the period. Through time-travel, the young girl finds herself a privileged daughter in a Jewish family living in Nazi-occupied Paris during World War II.
Birnie, Lisa In Mania’s Memory, 2012
This novel is about the memories of a German woman caught up in the lunacy of the Third Reich in 1938. The author describes the relationship between the young teenager and a SS guard who looks out for her and gives her hope that she will survive.
Boyne, John The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, 2006
The novel is told from the point of view of a young boy, Bruno, who moves with his family to a place called “Out-With” (Auschwitz). When Bruno goes exploring, he meets Shmuel, a Polish Jewish boy who feels the first-hand suffering of life in a concentration camp.
Corell, Dana Fitzwater.My Mother’s Ring: A Holocaust historical novel, 2013
The Mathausen camp is brought to vivid detail as one survivor recalls the pain of subsistence in this story about a mother and seventeen year old son.
de Rosnay, Tatiana Sarah’s Key, 2008
A ten year-old girl is brutally arrested with her family by the French police, but not before she locks her younger brother in a cupboard in her family’s apartment, thinking she will be returning in a few hours.
Feldman, Ellen The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank: a novel, 2006
Peter van Pels and Anne Frank shared an awkward first love in the annex where they were hiding. In this novel, Peter attempts to bury his past, denying his persecution in the Holocaust and his identity as a Jew.
Gallaz, Christophe; Illus. Robert Innocenti. Rose Blanche, 1985
A young German girl watches the streets of her town fill with soldiers and tanks.
Spinelli, Jerry Milkweed, 2003
When Misha, a young Polish boy is taken in by a group of Jewish group of orphans, he must avoid the German troops while living in the streets
Voorhoeve, Anne. C. My Family for the War, 2012
Escaping Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport changes one’s girl’s life forever.
Watts, Irene N. Touched by Fire, 2013
A Jewish family escapes a pogram and moves to Berlin where they plan to eventually sail to America.
Zusak, Markus The Book Thief, 2006
Death is the narrator of the story of a young foster girl named Liesel living outside of Munich in Nazi Germany. When Liesel learns to read, she shares the books she has stolen from Nazi book burnings with her neighbours as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.
Be a witness. See for yourself. Go on a group program that tours Polish cities, towns and villages, and visit concentration camps. Then tour Israel to see exciting destinations and ancient spots around the country. Canadian high school students can join thousands of people from around the world for an experience that will last a lifetime.
Copyright March of the Living Canada 2011-2012
Few Holocaust Survivors are still living and soon there will be none left to give first-hand accounts. What can you do to preserve their memories?
Read the book “Witness - Passing the Torch of Holocaust Memory to New Generations.”
Compiled by Eli Rubenstein
Contributor - March of the Living
Published by Second Story Press. Sept 8 2015
Every effort has been made to copyright holders for permission to reproduce borrowed material. The publishers apologize for such omissions and will be pleased to rectify them in subsequent reprints and website programming.