Jewish com­mu­nity doc­u­ments sur­vivors’ sto­ries

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - FAITH - By Sharon Chisvin

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

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