Martin Seltzer was born Mordechai (Motke) Penczna in Klimontów, Poland on February 2, 1917 to an observant Jewish family. At the onset of the war, Martin had three older sisters who were married, a younger brother and a younger sister. Neither his parents nor any of his sisters survived the Holocaust. The Germans came into Klimontów ten days after the September 1st occupation of Poland. A Judenrat was established, all Jews were ordered to wear an armband with the yellow star, and the Germans began requisitioning resources every second week. The family business was taken over by a Volksdeutch - they could still live in their home, however. In 1940 all Jews from surrounding villages were ordered into the center of Klimontów. In 1942, the Jews in Klimontów received a deportation order. Martin's father asked a Polish farmer, a friend of his, to hide Martin until the war ended. It was understood that he would be compensated for this. One morning the town was full of Ukrainian police - people started to run, Martin included. The Ukrainians were shooting at the fleeing Jews - many of them were killed, but Martin was lucky to make it out of the city unharmed. The rest of his family went together to Auschwitz and were murdered there. Martin hid in a forest until night fell, and then made his way to the farmhouse, where he hid in the stable as arranged. He stayed on the farm for over two years; he would go to the forest if the Germans were near - the farmer's wife was very frightened of being caught hiding a Jew. Martin tells a story about almost being caught in a cellar trying to dig up his family's hidden valuables. In 1944 the Russian army advanced into Klimontów - when Martin heard this, he left his hiding place and went into the city. He took over his family's flour mill and employed some other Jewish survivors; the Russians requisitioned him to make flour to feed the Russian army. After four or five months he was warned by a Russian Jewish soldier that they were moving on and that he should leave the city. Martin wasn't feeling well - he went to Lodz to see a doctor (there were none in Klimontów). He was operated on for appendicitis, and when he left the hospital he learned that the Armia Krajowa had come into his hometown at night and killed all the Jewish survivors living there. He learned that his cousin was living nearby in Opatów; he knew that the AK were active all over Poland and that she was at risk as well. He took the train there and convinced her to leave with him; they lived together in Lodz for about six months. They got in contact with the Bricha, who smuggled them into Czechoslovakia by bribing Russians. From there they crossed into Austria and lived in Linz for a few months in a Jewish refugee camp - it was after May 1945 - the war was already over. Martin and his cousin went to Stuttgart and lived there until 1947. She got in contact with her brother in Canada - he wanted to bring her over but she insisted that Martin had to come as well. The immigration laws at the time dictated that only parents, children and siblings could be sponsored from DP camps, not cousins. Martin took the name of his cousin's brother who had died the previous year in order to immigrate to Canada. Once in Canada, he kept the Seltzer name out of fear that he would be suspected of being a Russian spy in the age of McCarthyism. He arrived in Canada in November 1947 and began to work as a custom peddler. He married and had two children; he has one grandson. He decided to make his testimony because of his age and to counter Holocaust denial.
George Reinitz was born April 16, 1932 in Szikszo, Hungary. He and his younger sister Marie were raised in a working class religious home. George had a Jewish education until grade five when he attended a secular school. With the German invasion of Hungary in 1944, all the borders had been closed off and antisemitic restrictions were in place. By April 1944, rumours of deportations were spreading. George’s family was taken to the police station with whatever belongings they could gather. The following day, April 20, 1944, they were taken by train to a deportation centre in Kosice, Slovakia (Kassa, Hungary). Within two months, they were taken to Auschwitz on a three-day train ride in cattle cars holding approximately 70-75 people per box car. During selections upon arrival at Auschwitz, George said goodbye to his mother and sister, whom he never saw again. In another selection, George wanted to remain with his father, so at age 12, he stayed in the adult line by saying that he was 18. He and his father received a number tattooed on their arm; they were told they were lucky to have this number as opposed to burning in fire. Determined to survive, George made three friends that helped each other out whenever possible. In the camps, George worked in the stockrooms, washing and fixing pitchforks and shovels. After contracting pneumonia, George was taken by his father to the emergency hospital in Auschwitz. That was the last time George saw his father who had been shot on a death march. A day or two later, George met a Jewish doctor named Greunwald from Kusheta; he helped his patients to get on their feet, giving them extra food. The doctor gave George injections raising his fever so that he could stay in the hospital longer. In January 1945, they were liberated by the Russians. George was taken to a DP camp in Katonitz where he stayed for a month. He was then taken to another camp in Chernivtsi, Ukraine (Chernowitz, USSR). This delay was to make sure that they were not political prisoners. The war ended on May 8, 1945. George was taken by train to Slutzk, Belarus (USSR) where he remained until December. Papers were soon cleared and George was put on a train to Budapest, Hungary. At age 13, he found an uncle who took him in. George enrolled into school. His uncle left and George was again on his own; he found his cousin who was ten years older and who took care of George as if he were his own son. George was later transferred to an orphanage where he had better chances of survival. The orphans tried to get into Palestine but it was difficult to get in. In 1948, Israel was reclaimed and George found a way to get out of Budapest through a Canadian Jewish agency that helped him get to Montreal. They found him a foster home with 35 other kids and a social worker. At the age of 16, George had various trades and lived on his own. He got a job with a furniture company and after seven years of work, he left into his own business and became the employer of over 200 employees. He never left to live in Israel. He married a Canadian Jewish woman. They have children and grandchildren.
Charles Kotkowsky was born in Piotrkow Trybunalski, Poland on August 8, 1920. He says that he encountered significant antisemitism growing up. After the German invasion in September 1939, he was made to wear an armband identifying him as Jewish and became afraid to go outside. A ghetto was constructed almost immediately in Piotrkow Trybunalski. Charles worked in a glass factory and was in communication with a Jewish Resistance group. In 1942, he and his brother Shlomo were taken to a nearby labour camp. In November 1944, they were again transferred, first to the HASAG Pelzery, near Cz?stochowa, Poland, and then to Buchenwald in January 1945, where Charles was tormented and humiliated by being forced to strip naked in the freezing cold. Charles was taken on a death march to Floeszberg - a subdivision of Buchenwald - in Febuary 1945. The camp was incomplete, and Charles had to help in its construction. In April the camp was evacuated and the prisoners were placed on a train headed for Czechoslovakia. Along with seven other people, including his brother, Charles jumped off the train and successfully escaped. The group was hidden by sympathetic Czechoslovaks in Plzen, Czech Republic (Czechoslovakia). They were there hiding in a barn when they were liberated by the American Army on May 8, 1945. After the war, Charles mentioned that he was invited to what he described as a “séance,” where he witnessed captured S.S. men being beaten - one of whom was killed. His brother contracted tuberculosis and needed to be moved to a hospital in another town. Unfortunately, Charles could not stay with him in Czechoslovakia for long. He soon moved to a series of DP camps in Italy, working in a doctor’s office. In 1951, he was refused entry into the United States, but was accepted into Canada, arriving there that same year.
Jacob Frost was born on November 15, 1909 in Gera, Germany. He worked in a carpet factory after finishing Volksschule (primary education) and graduating from a non-Jewish high school. As soon as the Nuremberg laws were passed, he and his family were well aware of the dangers of the Nazis. By 1934, they had begun the process of trying to emigrate. Jacob witnessed Kristallnacht and was rounded up and taken to Buchenwald. He calls the experience at Buchenwald a “concentration” camp rather than an “internment” camp. He witnessed many brutalities, including a well-respected man of the community “losing his marbles” and a doctor tending this man’s self-inflicted wounds. Jacob spent five weeks at Buchenwald and could return to Gera as long as he had proof of papers to emigrate. With the advice and help of several kind gentiles along the way, Jacob made the voyage to Israel. He traveled by boat via Vienna to Salina, Romania, arriving in Israel in 1940. He immigrated to Canada in 1950.
Lea Penney (née Prilutzky) was born on February 17, 1922 in Berlin, Germany. Her parents were of Ukrainian origin and had immigrated to Germany during the pogroms in Russia. Her father worked for a large insurance company. Lea describes her father as "ultra-orthodox," and accordingly family life was very observant. They did not live in a particularly Jewish part of Berlin and Lea began by going to a German public school. It was only later that she joined a Jewish school. The day Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor, Lea remembers the tremendous fear and excitement that entered into the lives of her family and the Jewish community. In her own family, the situation was never discussed because her father wanted to shelter his children as much as possible. About every six months, new antisemitic restrictions were enforced. Because of these laws, her father eventually lost his job as an insurance salesman laws and began to deliver coal instead. The family had to move to a smaller and cheaper apartment. It was then that Lea felt the poverty and hunger which began to dominate family life. Rumours about concentration camps began to circulate within the community. Lea was part of a Jewish group that was training youths to go to Palestine and work on a Kibbutz. On November 9, 1938, the day of Kristallnacht, she was taking part in a preparatory camp near Hamburg, when everyone was told by the monitors to be quiet and turn off the lights. The next day the youths found out what had happened in the rest of Germany. As she discovered later, the Jewish Association had paid the Nazis to protect the children. In February 1939, at 17 years old, Lea was brought to Palestine by the organization. There she lived on Kibbutz for two years until 1941. Even though work was very hard, she felt a great sense of relief at the freedom she had there. In the beginning, she was still able to write and receive letters to her family in Germany. Later on all communication ceased. She describes that there was a great amount of pressure for young people in Palestine to join the British army. After having worked cleaning and ironing for some time, she decided to do so, and eventually became an English, German, and typing teacher in the army. She was stationed in Egypt and during the last years of the war was contacted by the Red Cross to send financial assistance to her mother, who had been found in Paris. As she later found out, her father had made it to Paris too, after hiding for some time in Germany. From a Paris labour camp, however, he was eventually deported to Auschwitz, where he perished. All her siblings had been able to leave Germany, some to England, others to Palestine. Lea met her husband in the army and they married in Cairo in 1946. The couple moved to England where they stayed until 1953. Her husband was a civil servant, and received a job offer in Geneva, where they lived from 1953 to 1965. After staying a year in Germany, they eventually moved to Montreal in 1969, where they have lived ever since. Lea and her husband have two sons and one daughter.
Sam Schryver was born on May 7, 1922 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Sam describes pre-war Amsterdam as the “most beautiful Jewish area ... so warm ... [the] most beautiful place to live for a Jew ... this is gone and will never, never come back." Sam went to public school, but also attended religious school where he learned Hebrew. He had a traditional Jewish upbringing.His father was on a committee to help clothe the poor; and the entire family belonged to various synagogues and Jewish organizations. Most of the Jews in Amsterdam were concentrated in the centre of the city. Sam explains that he never experienced any antisemitism growing up and that many of his close friends were non-Jews.
The Germans entered Amsterdam in May 1940. The Dutch Nazis began to organize more openly. One night 150 Dutch Nazis approached the Jewish quarter of the city. They were met, however, by 1 500 Dutch gentiles who came to defend the Jews. One Dutch Nazi was killed in the skirmish. As a reprisal, the German Nazis rounded up 400 Jewish boys and took them to concentration camps, either Mauthausen or Buchenwald. The Jewish neighbourhood was demarcated and all Dutch, Jews and non-Jews, had to register with the Nazis. Sam was able to get a job at a hospital, allowing him to be exempted from work camp. In September/October 1942, his father was taken to a concentration camp. Sam joined the resistance - he obtained false I.D. and ration cards for fugitives. During the great raid of May 1943 the Germans emptied all the hospitals and senior's homes - all patients (including his mother) and hospital employees were thrown into trucks to be taken to concentration camps. Sam managed to survive the great raid by going into hiding in The Hague. He spent 18 months in an attic until he was discovered and taken to a gestapo jail, "The Orange Hotel," where he was held from January 22 to February 2, 1945. He was then taken to Westerbork concentration camp. At Westerbork he worked in a factory that recycled batteries. He escaped and was picked up by the Orange Brigade - the allies thought Westerbork was a German army camp and was going to bomb it. Due to Sam's intervention, they delayed the bombing and sent a reconnaissance mission which confirmed his report that this was actually a concentration camp. The Canadian forces liberated Westerbork. Sam immediately joined the armed forces and volunteered to guard the German soldiers. He was relieved of his duties on June 22, 1945. He returned to Amsterdam where he joined a Zionist organization. Sam found out his parents had both been killed in Sobibor. One sister survived. Then he travelled the country looking for "Hidden Children,” preparing them for Aliyah. He did this until the State of Israel was proclaimed in 1948. He went into the textile industry and got his B.A. in Holland. In 1954, Sam immigrated to Canada because he had been liberated by Canadian forces. He did not want to create a family after seeing what had happened to his parents. His girlfriend was persuasive, however, and they have been married for 42 years.
Ernest Guter was born on April 7, 1917 in Toru?, Poland (Thorn, Germany). A year after his birth, his parents moved to Berlin then back to their hometown, Stolp. At a young age, Ernest joined the Maccabees and travelled across Germany preparing for the Jewish Youth Aliyah. In January 1938, he went to Berlin and became a social worker apprentice. One year later, he was transferred to the German Jewish Congress as a social worker. Ernest was in Berlin during Kristallnacht. A man helped him hide with other Jewish men in a store for several days, until it was calmer. Ernest stayed hidden in Berlin until he managed to get a visa to the United Kingdom. On the day that the German army entered Czechoslovakia, Ernest left for Great Britain. While working for the Rothschild’s, Ernest attended night-school at the College of Southampton, attempting to obtain a social science diploma. In 1940, all males with German passports living in England were interned. Ernest was originally interned in London, and then spent eight weeks interned on the Isle of Man. He was offered the choice of either staying on the Isle of Man for the duration of the war or going to either Canada or Australia. He chose Canada by chance and was sent to the Sherbrooke internment camp. Hymie Grover, a knitting-mill operator got Ernest out of the internment camp. He attended McGill University and graduated in 1945. He married a Jewish Canadian woman and has three children.
Jean Kutscher was born on January 24th, 1926 in Paris to Romanian parents. His parents had fled Romania because of antisemitism. Jean and his siblings attended a laic school and grew up in a secular home. In France, Jean and his relatives didn’t experience antisemitism before 1939. However, they knew what was going on in Germany, thanks to the news shown before movies in theatres. As a French citizen (not as a Jew), Jean was shocked by Germany invading France. At that point, several anti-Jewish laws were enacted. Jean and his siblings started to understand what it was to be Jewish. Although it was compulsory, Jean and his older brother decided not to wear the yellow star. Later on, Jews were frequently rounded up from the street. First, Jean’s father was sent to Drancy in 1941, and then his brother was arrested on the street and sent to Drancy. They were both taken to Germany to a destination unknown to their relatives. Jean’s girlfriend, who was a Gentile, helped the family and provided them with food. On September 23rd, 1942, French policemen arrested Jean, one of his brothers, his sister and his mother. At the police station, adults and children were separated. Jean lied about his age, enabling him to stay with his younger brother and sister. It was the last time they saw their mother. Jean’s sister was housed by the family of a friend while Jean and his brother left Paris. They planned to go to Lyon where one of their aunts lived. They managed to cross the line of demarcation by themselves, without a guide. Unfortunately, they couldn’t stay in their aunt’s apartment, and therefore joined the “Compagnons de France.” Jean couldn’t stand it so he returned to Paris without his brother. Jean worked as a salesman in a Parisian department store. One day, policemen came to the store and told the young men working there that they had to come back the next day with some personal belongings. They were to be sent to Germany to work in exchange for the liberation of French POW’s. This mandatory service was called “Le Service du Travail Obligatoire” (STO). The police specified that if the men did not obey, the store directors and their families would be sent to Germany. Jean was taken to Germany and worked on a barge for one year. He was treated well and people trusted him. When Jean first saw the Allies in March 1945, he was hiding in a bunker near Duisburg. He was liberated by Canadians and served as an interpreter between Canadians and Germans for one month. Upon his arrival in Paris in 1945, Jean discovered the existence of concentration and death camps. As a result, Jean enrolled in the army to go to Germany but his superiors refused to send him there. Instead, Jean was sent to Morocco in April of 1945, and later to Indochina. He returned to Paris in 1947. He married his girlfriend in 1949. Jean and his wife immigrated to Montreal where they discovered a Jewish life like they had never seen before. Since his mother’s arrest, Jean has never stopped feeling traumatized and guilty.
Ester Yaros was born on January 23, 1932 in Brussels, Belgium. She grew up in a non-religious home but felt Jewish anyway. When Germans started bombarding Belgium, the family decided to flee to France, thinking that it wouldn’t yet be invaded by the Nazis. When they saw German trucks coming to France, they returned to Brussels. Several antisemitic laws were enacted; Esther couldn’t attend school anymore for instance. In 1942, her parents sent her to live with farmers in the outskirts of Brussels. They visited her every Sunday until one day they didn’t show up. She learned that they had been denounced and that they died in Auschwitz. A woman from Solidarité Juive came to hide her in a convent. She got a new name, Alice Raymonders. One day, she told a friend she was Jewish. The priest had to call her a liar in front of everyone to save her and everybody’s life. The living conditions were so poor that lots of children became sick, including Esther who was sent to a hospital in Brussels. She was then sent to another convent, in Sugny, where she stayed until 1944. At that point, the entire convent ran towards Brussels, fleeing the front. After the war, Esther was taken to the orphanage Les Hirondelles in Brussels. She stayed there until a man came to propose that the orphans immigrate to Palestine. Esther and her friends refused and immigrated to Canada instead. Esther arrived in Winnipeg in 1947 and later settled in Montreal in 1950.
Ron was born on June 7, 1935 in Budapest, Hungary, an only child. While his father's religious background was very orthodox, his mother's family was less religious. This led to tensions in the marriage, and they divorced in 1938. Ron's mother began a relationship with another man, Mor Makover, who later became Ron's stepfather. Ron still went to synagogue and had Sabbath dinners with his father's family every Friday night. He attended a neighbourhood Jewish elementary school, where he learnt to speak Hungarian and Hebrew. Ron remembers the day when German troops invaded Hungary and the fear that entered into his family's life from then on. Soon they were forced to wear the yellow Star of David. As Ron's father was a Polish citizen, his mother had become Polish too, and was now forced apply for residence documents. On May 1, 1944, she was arrested while waiting at the Polish embassy. She was taken into an old rabbinical college, where many Jews were held before being deported to Auschwitz and Dachau. After about two months, Raoul Wallenberg arrived at the college and, setting up a chair and table, proceeded to hand out Swedish passports to the captives. Ron's mother asked for additional passports for Ron and his father. Having been made Swedish citizens, they were now permitted to leave, and Ron's mother came home again. Soon after, in August 1944, Ron and his mother were moved into a designated "Swedish house," which was only for Swedish citizens. By this time Ron's stepfather, Mor, had been taken to a forced labour camp. Ron's mother took great risks to bring him food several times a week, passing as a Hungarian gentile by not wearing the yellow star. One time, when she went to bring him food as usual, she found out that he had been put on a train for deportation. Rushing to the train station, she found Wallenberg standing on the platform in front of the train. At her request, Wallenberg told the officials that there was a Swedish citizen on the train, and Ron's father's name was called out. Mor recognized it, and was able to pass as his mother's ex-husband. He was taken off the train and reunited with Ron and his mother. Only four inmates were to survive that particular deportation. By December 1944, all Jewish residents, irrespective of their Swedish nationalities, were ordered to line up in front of their houses and were sent to the ghetto. Ron thinks that by this time Wallenberg had lost some of his influence and was not able to stop the ghettoization of the Swedish citizens. By sneaking away from the line, Mor managed to save Ron's mother's wedding ring, which he was later able to trade in for a sack off flour. During their stay in the ghetto, there was heavy bombing of the houses and their own building was hit, completely destroying their living quarters on the top floor. A falling cross beam injured Ron and his mother. After having been treated at the hospital they were forced to move into the basement, which was extremely filthy and unhygienic.
In January 1945, the Russian troops arrived and the ghetto was liberated. Mor found a cart, and took Ron and his mother back to their old apartment. A Christian woman had moved in, and Mor had to threaten that he would denounce her as a Nazi sympathizer before she finally moved out voluntarily. Mor and Ron's mother finally married in August 1945. After some years in Hungary under Communism, the family decided to leave in 1954. In order to save a man who had been selling arms to Israel from Hungary, as a cover-up, the Israeli government issued passports to Polish Jews in Hungary. Ron's family was among the lucky ones and was able to leave to Vienna and then Lim, Austria. There they waited for papers to enter the United States or Canada. Ron remembers being extensively questioned by the CIA on their lives in Communist Hungary. Finally their papers for Canada arrived and the family emigrated in November 1954.