Jewish community documents survivors’ stories
THE crowd that packed the Berney Theatre at the Asper Jewish Community Campus on April 15 was comprised of two distinct groups — survivors of the Holocaust who immigrated to Canada after the war and made their homes in Winnipeg, and the adult children of these survivors, commonly referred to as second-generation survivors.
The occasion for the gathering was the formal book launch of Voices of Winnipeg Holocaust Survivors, a compilation of memories written by local survivors and their family members, and edited by Winnipegger Belle Millo, a volunteer with the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada (JHC).
Millo herself is a second-generation survivor. Her mother, Polish-born Sylvia Jarniewski, survived the Lodz Ghetto and Auschwitz as a teenager. Millo’s father, Samuel Jarniewski, also was born in Poland and survived the death camps of Majdanek and Dachau. He lost his first wife and first child in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
“My parents met in Canada and rebuilt their lives,” Millo explains, “but their memories and their nightmares haunted them all their days.”
“My mother’s emotional scars were deep,” adds Millo, “and even as a small child I knew that I had to take care of her, to protect her.”
This instinct to protect parents traumatized by the Holocaust is common among children of survivors and has been documented for decades in Carter in the book’s preface. Carter is a member of the JHC’s Holocaust Education Committee and is also one of the survivors featured in the book.
As a boy, Carter was interned in the Warsaw Ghetto and later was hidden outside the ghetto walls. In his testimony, he recalls being ordered to assemble in the ghetto Umschlagplatz, or collection point, in September 1942.
“At the entrance stood an SS man who motioned people individually to the left (to the area of the trains) or to the right, from where one would return to one’s workplace. My mother was motioned to the left and I to the right. We looked at each other and then had to move on. I never saw my mother again.”
Carter’s story is just one of 73 individual narratives featured in the book. While the memories recounted represent a wide range of experiences both before and during the war, each story is fascinating and each story resonates with a sense of grief, loss and pain that is heart-wrenching and unfathomable.
Morris Faintuch describes arriving as a teenager at Auschwitz-Birkenau and passing inspection in front of Dr. Mengele. Eugenia Kahan’s story recounts how she was forced to march barefoot in the snow every day for months on end. Jeanette Perlov’s story recounts how her two-year-old son admonished her not to cry as he was being torn from her arms.
Many of these stories have been documented before, primarily for Steven Spielberg’s Shoah (Holocaust) Foundation Visual History Project. Importantly, however, several of these memories have been recorded for the first time in the pages of this book. Typically, Holocaust survivors have fallen into two categories: those who either found it too painful to speak about their experiences or were unwilling to burden a new generation with the pain of their past, and those who spoke openly to their children, grandchildren and others about their trauma, losses, grief and guilt. Belle Millo’s parents were among the latter group, and because of this, many years after their passing, she volunteered to undertake this critical project.
“I am defined by my parents’ memories of what they went through in the Shoah,” Millo explains. “Who I am as a person and what I have done and do will always reflect our family’s personal history.
“As the years pass,” she adds, “we have fewer and fewer survivors left to share their stories, to bear witness. Their stories and the stories of all survivors must be heard and continue to be heard. The world must never forget.”
Belle Millo edited new book.
Sylvia and Samuel Jarniewski