- Why are personal stories so valuable in considering and reconsidering history?
- Should we continue to search for leaders involved in past “crimes against humanity”?
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.
Max Eisen – Holocaust survivor
This really happened!
The Story of Evie Abeles
by Joan O’Callaghan
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.
When a child’s life is cut short
- No one knows where Evie’s body or ashes are buried. Given what you know about her, write a poem or an obituary, celebrating her short life and commemorating her death.
- Are there children elsewhere in the world whose lives are at risk not because of what they’ve done, but because of who or what they are? Suggest steps that can be taken to ensure that these children do not meet the same fate as Evie.
Prosecution of Nazi war criminals
- O’Callaghan maintains that Nazi war criminals should be deported and prosecuted for their crimes, regardless of their age and health, or how many years they have lived in Canada. Do you agree with her?
Can we create a just and moral society?
- Use words, phrases and graphics clipped from magazines to create a collage depicting the kind of society you think Canada should have. Write a paragraph to explain to what extent you think we have achieved this and what areas we still need to work on.
- Whose responsibility is it to inculcate the values of a just and a moral society: school? Home? Place of worship? Some combination of these? Write a paragraph explaining your thoughts.
History of the Holocaust – Timeline
|Year||Events in History|
Living Graph template
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.
Living Graph in your perspective
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?
Thinking in time and place
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|
Simon Wiesenthal, Nazi Hunter
Read about Simon Wiesenthal.
About Simon Wiesenthal
March of the Living
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.
12 Goals of the March of the Living
- To remember those who perished and to be a witness, thus denying Hitler a “posthumous victory.”
- To pay tribute to the courage of those who survived the Holocaust – who rebuilt their lives despite the haunting memories of the past – to be the bearers of their memories, the witnesses for the witnesses.
- To recognize and learn from the altruistic actions of the “righteous among the nations”, who teach us to never be a bystander in the face of oppression.
- To honor the heroic veterans of WWII who fought to liberate Europe from the hands of Nazi tyranny.
- To never again allow for the unchecked rise of the menace of antisemitism.
- To never again allow any kind of racial discrimination directed by any individual or group against another to gain strength. Though Jews have been primarily the victims of racism, this goal also relates to racism expressed by Jews towards others, emphasizing that all human beings are created btselem elohim (in the image of G-d), and deserve equal dignity and respect.
- To inspire participants to commit to building a world free of oppression and intolerance, a world of freedom, democracy and justice, for all members of the human family.
- To bolster the Jewish identity of the next generation by acquainting them with the rich Jewish heritage that existed in pre-war Eastern Europe. Included in this goal is a commitment to living our Jewish lives today in a way that reflects the diverse values and traditions of pre-war European Jewry.
- To understand the importance of the existence of Israel:
- as the spiritual center and homeland of the Jewish people.
- through the lesson that Jews will never again allow themselves to be defenseless.
- by developing a love for the people of Israel and an appreciation of the hardships and sacrifice endured by her citizens on behalf of Israel.
- through the understanding of the concept of Meshoah Le’tkumah (from destruction to rebirth). Despite the devastation of the Holocaust, the Jewish people never gave up their belief in building a better tomorrow. Rather they rose up, against all odds and established the State of Israel—the hope and future of the Jewish people.
- Jewish Unity – To instill in students a love for Am Yisrael, an appreciation for and connection to, the Jewish people in every land, throughout the ages and in contemporary times.
- Tikkun Olam – To remind the students of the Jewish peoples’ responsibility to be a Maor Lagoyim, a light unto the nations, by reaching to people of other faiths and cultures, and by mending our too often shattered world, through providing our help and assistance to those most in need.
- The final goal is not so much to learn from or about history – but to enter into history. By visiting Eastern Europe, young Jewish students are taking part in a commemorative act, which demonstrates to the world that the death of six million of our people has been marked and will never be forgotten by the Jewish people.
Copyright March of the Living Canada 2011-2012
A New Generation of Witnesses
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.”
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
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.
Hart-Green, Sharon Come Back for Me: A Novel, 2017
Artur Mandelkorn is a survivor from Hungary on a desperate quest to find his sister after they are separated during the war. Intersecting Artur’s tale is the story of Suzy Kohn, a Toronto teenager whose Hungarian Jewish family attempts to shield her from what happened during the war.
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.
Every effort has been made to gain permission from copyright holders to reproduce borrowed material. The publishers apologize for any errors and will be pleased to rectify them in subsequent reprints and website programming.