Holocaust survivors share their stories in Toronto

Marguerite Elias Quddus shows illustrations from her book, In Hiding, before the launch

Marguerite Elias Quddus shows illustrations from her book, In Hiding, before the launch


A person born in 1939, the year that Hitler invaded Poland would be 74 on this day. The Holocaust was a major event in our world’s history and we may be the last generation with the privilege to hear survivors stories first-hand.

This week marks the 33rd annual Holocaust Education Week. The opening ceremony on Nov. 3 featured five recently published authors and survivors of the Holocaust.

Naomi Azrieli, CEO and chair of the Azrieli Foundation, told the room of more than 1,000 people on Sunday evening that, “The telling of a story itself can change the world.”

The Azrieli Foundation launched the Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Publishing Program to ensure that the stories of the survivors would live on. So far, they have published 40 personal memoirs.

The Holocaust Education Week is presented by the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre. This year they worked closely with the Azrieli Foundation to begin the week with book launches by five survivors, and the release of the short films that accompany them.

“This year’s theme is national narratives, so that we can present the individual story,” said Rachel Libman, head of programs and exhibitions for the Neuberger Centre. “We’re taking the story from a global standpoint and breaking it down into personal experiences.”

For the last three years, HEW has run on a theme. Volunteers can contribute in relationship to the theme from various platforms to spread further awareness of the Holocaust.

“Whether it’s artists, exhibits, survivors, international speakers, historians, they come together in new areas for entry,” said Libman about Holocaust education.

The primary objective of both associations is to bring Holocaust education to newer generations. Azrieli said that the memoirs published with the foundation are given free to educators and are being read in upper high-school classes across Canada.

Elsa Thon launched her book, If Only it Were Fiction, a memoir about her experience in Poland during the Nazi occupation. She says that it took her six months to write the book, “but I had to cook and clean the laundry, that’s why it took so long,” she said.

Vanished Boyhood written by George Stern, another book launched on the weekend, begins in Hungary during the occupation. His son, Paul Stern, spoke about having his father’s story made into a film. He says that they are currently writing a screenplay.

Holocaust Education Week runs across Toronto and the GTA until Nov. 9.