The Witness to History program consists of a growing collection of interviews (as of January 20, 2014). The collection counts 536 testimonies:
511 Holocaust survivors (A Holocaust survivor is anyone who suffered and survived persecution for racial and religious, reasons while under Nazi or Axis con…
The Witness to History program consists of a growing collection of interviews (as of January 20, 2014). The collection counts 536 testimonies:
511 Holocaust survivors (A Holocaust survivor is anyone who suffered and survived persecution for racial and religious, reasons while under Nazi or Axis control between 1933 and May 8, 1945; or who was forced to live in hiding; or to flee Nazi or Axis onslaught before and during World War Two in order to avoid imminent persecution.);
15 World War Two veterans;
6 Holocaust survivors who are also World War Two veterans;
Testimony has been taken from survivors of the ghettos, hidden children, labour camp, concentration camp and death camp prisoners, partisans, liberators, and rescuers. The records accurately reflect the personal history of each of the interviewees, and become a priceless resource for further research and teaching related to Jewish life before, during, and after the Holocaust.
The Witness to History project was developped by the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre. The first interviews were conducted in the spring of 1994.
The Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre’s objective in inaugurating this programme was to record and document as many of the survivors’ histories and experiences as resources permitted. Videotaped interviews are conducted by trained interviewers with emphasis on the survivors’ Holocaust experiences as well as their pre-war lives and their often remarkable post-war efforts to reconstruct normality into their lives in Canada. The Centre’s objective is to continue the Project and provide the facility for those of the Montreal area survivors still willing to come forth and record their experiences towards the education of future generations.
Peter Goldberg was born on May 12, 1919 in Paberze, a village approximately 20 km from Vilnius, Lithuania (Vilna, Poland), where he and his nine siblings were raised in an orthodox Jewish home. The Russian Army occupied Vilnius in 1939 until the Germans took over in 1941. Peter recalls the many restrictions placed on Jews, including the wearing of yellow stars, forced labour, and the establishment of the Jewish ghetto. Peter and his wife had to stay in the ghetto for about seven months. They remained there, often in hiding, until it was liquidated by the German Gestapo. Then, for ten months, they paid to live in a Polish house approximately 10 km from the Ghetto. Peter was taken to do forced labour as a coal digger in Bielawaka ? concentration camp. Once the camp was liquidated, he and his wife had to return to the ghetto in Vilnius for a second time until it closed in 1943. They spent about eight months in the Vilnius HKP-562 concentration camp where Peter was forced to work as a mechanic. The Germans liquidated the camp in July 1944. After liberation by the Russian Army, he and his wife returned home. He knew that most of his family had been killed immediately upon arrival in the ghetto in Vilnius (Vilna). After the war, Peter worked as a baker and a stock keeper of food for the Russian Army. When the borders opened in 1957, Peter, his wife and their daughter immigrated to Poland. They lived there until December 1958 when they decided to immigrate to Canada, as Peter’s sister was living in Montreal. Once here, Peter worked as a butcher and manager of a meat store.
Chiam Rosen was born on December 7, 1918 in the small Polish town of Tomaszow Mazowiecki, to a father who was a ritual slaughterer/cantor/Hebrew teacher and a mother who was a housewife. When he was two, he moved to Magdeberg, Germany. His two brothers were born there, one in 1920 and the other in 1924. He began school in Madgeberg and finished, after another move, in Braunschweig, where he lived until the war broke out.
In 1933 he and his brother were kicked out of school. His father took him to a cabinet-maker, where he became an apprentice. He worked there for 3.5 years. When he turned 18 he realized Germany was not the place for him and he obtained a Pioneer Certificate. He was given a certificate to go to Palestine. When he left in July 1937 he was seeing his parents for the last time.
He made his way to Palestine via Italy. When he arrived he joined a kibbutz, building defense walls before working as a mounted police defending the towns. Eventually he joined the Palestinian army, was trained under the British army, and served in artillery groups. He was sent to Italy and there he received news of his brothers, both of whom had also joined the army, and his parents, who had been transported to the Warsaw (or Lodz) ghetto.
Once the war was over Chiam went from Italy to Austria to Germany and Belgium, helping prisoners from DP camps, bringing food, transporting supplies and trying to help orphaned children. He visited Bergen-Belsen, not as part of the army but with a group of people who wanted to help. Eventually he was discharged and returned to Palestine. On the way he was reunited with one of his brothers.
In Palestine he helped in preparation for the Israeli War of Independence, but did not fight in it. He and his brothers contacted their uncle who was living in Montreal, Canada. They were granted visas and emigrated to Montreal. Eventually they moved to Quebec City to work in the scrap metal business. Chiam married in 1954 in Canada. They separated after 40 years with no children.
Stella Kipman (née Ginsburg) was born on January 14, 1918 in Slomniki, Poland. Her family moved to Krakow where she completed her education. After marrying, Stella and her husband moved to Sosnowiec. In 1939, about a year and a half after marrying and moving to Sosnowiec, the war broke out and Stella returned to her father in Krakow. She went back to Sosnowiec where she got a job in social service. Stella and her husband were forced to live in the Sosnowiec ghetto; she speaks of how difficult life was during this time, including the many restrictions and being forced to wear a band and yellow star. Between 1943 and 1944, Stella was sent to Katowice labour camp. In January 1944, Stella and her older sister obtained false papers and went to Berlin where she stayed with a housekeeper. However, she was soon discovered and put into prison by German Gestapo to work for several months. Afterwards, they sent her to Birkenau-Auschwitz to clean rooms and cook. In January 1945, Stella and many other camp inmates were sent by transport to a Polish barrack in Ravensbrück. Six weeks before liberation by the French Army, Stella lost consciousness due to a terrible fever – the Polish women in her barracks took care of her because she was the wife of a Polish officer. After liberation, she was taken to a hospital to recover and later returned to Sosnowiec by train. In December 1945, she was flown by a military plane to Paris and from there went to Freiburg for 18 months. Stella and her husband immigrated to Canada in 1951, followed by her only surviving sister.
Anna Hiess (née Fliesser) was born in Vienna, Austria on April 12, 1914. Her family moved to Lemberg in 1918, after Anna’s father’s death. They were an assimilated family and did not experience discrimination before 1938, with the exception that they could not study wherever and whatever they wanted. Anna married in 1938. She left Lemberg with her husband in 1941, shortly after the German invasion. They went to Hrubieszow where they stayed a few months under false identity, leaving when people started to suspect they were Jews. They moved to Garwolin by train where they were helped by Stanislaw Piaskowski and the underground that provided them with a place to live and ration cards. Anna’s job was to conceal the forbidden radio while her husband worked in the income tax department. After the war, they moved to Lodz and started a new life with their son. The family immigrated to Israel in 1950 because Anna’s husband was in danger since he got involved in politics. They were disappointed when they arrived in Tel-Aviv and felt hostility coming from Jews who had lived in Israel since before the war. They decided to immigrate to Montreal in 1952, sponsored by a Canadian family they never met.
Karl-Georg Roessler was born in Crimmitschau, Germany on September 1, 1923. He and his sister grew up in a secular home; only his mother was Jewish. After the Nazis passed the restrictive Anti-Jewish Nuremberg laws in 1935, his father divorced his mother. Karl and his older sister stayed with their mother and were considered as Jews. In September 1940, Karl's maternal grandmother was deported to Plauen where she had to live in the Jewish ghetto. Karl and his mother joined her there. His grandmother and mother were later sent to Theresienstadt. On April 4, 1944, Karl was deported to a labour camp in Valognes, France, to do heavy manual labour at a construction site. In June 1944, Karl escaped the camp and stayed in hiding in the outskirts of Paris. He returned to Germany where he continued living in hiding with a family whose daughter would later become his wife. Karl returned to his home town but was arrested by the German police and placed in solitary confinement in the district prison for eight weeks. Shortly after, the American Army arrived. After liberation, Karl traveled to Theresienstadt by motor bike to reunite with his mother and together they returned to Plauen. After the war, Karl became politically active against Communism; as a result, he was blacklisted and had to escape from East Germany to West Germany where he was employed by the American Military Government. Karl and his family came to Canada in 1960 as he was offered a position in Montreal as the president of a company. He was later transferred to California for ten years.
Leon Calderon was born in 1926 in Salonika, Greece, to a family of Yugoslavian origins. He had four siblings who, along with his parents, perished in Auschwitz in 1943, except for one brother who died in the Warsaw ghetto. After the war broke out in Greece, he lived in Salonika in the ghetto until April 1943, when he was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was there for about six months. In October 1943, he was transferred to the Warsaw ghetto, where he had to clean up and collect bricks after the uprising. In June 1944 the Russians were approaching, and after a five-day death march, he was transferred by train to Dachau, where he remained for a week. Then he was transferred to the Mildorf labor camp in Germany, where he worked on the construction of a tunnel until April 1945. With the American Army approaching, they were put on a train, which was also bombed, and were finally liberated on April 30, 1945 by the Americans. Leon stayed for a week in a DP camp near Munich, then for a month in the Landsberg DP camp. He returned to Salonika until the Greek civil war began in 1949. He moved to Israel, returning to Salonika in 1953 to obtain visas for Canada. In August 1955, he came to Canada by boat. He got married and he had two daughters. He worked as a salesman and manager of a store, and owned his own company until 1975.
Eva Gillatt (née Oppenheim) was born on May 21, 1920 in Charlottenburg, Berlin, Germany. Her father died of leukemia when she was a child. Eva recalls having had a privileged childhood. Despite having no religious education, she was conscious of her Jewishness, especially with increasing political upheavals and the passing of the antisemitic Nuremberg laws of 1935. After a year at an orthodox Jewish boarding school, Eva spent a year as an employee at a Deaf and Dumb hall in Weinssensee, Germany. In 1937, she went to Harzburg to work. From there she left for Neuendorf in April 1938, where she trained on a farm run by a Jewish organization. Eva recounts that on Kristallnacht about 12 Nazis came on motorbikes and threatened to burn the farm down. They took everybody over the age of 20 to Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
Eva’s brother was sent to England on the Kindertransport in May 1939. On July 4, 1939, Eva went by ship to the United Kingdom to live with her uncle in London; she recounts an unhappy and isolated period, working hard under her uncle and being poorly treated. The war was just beginning at this point. For 16 weeks, Eva was stationed in an air raid shelter. When Eva turned 21, she left her uncle to train as a cook, and in May 1941, began working in this capacity for the British Army in Lancaster. It was there that she met and ultimately married the Sergeant of the 4th Allied Volunteer Platoon. They lived in Manchester for over 16 years and had three children. During the last years of the war, Eva found out that her mother had been sent by transport to Auschwitz where, Eva believes, she was killed within a day or two.
Between 1954 and 1960, Eva worked in various clerical positions. For over twenty years she was an ad representative for several newspapers in Manchester and then moved on to become a hospital car driver. She currently works as a cook for an agency that helps less fortunate people. While Eva does not talk about her experiences during the war to friends, she was pleased to have had the opportunity to tell her personal story.
Ursula Feist (née Erber) was born on June 2, 1921 in Berlin, Germany. Before Hitler, Ursula, her parents and sister, Brigitta, lived in a comfortable economic status. Ursula had a good educational background. Her father was very observant and Ursula discusses how she might have turned out more observant in her life today, had she not been forced by her father to go to synagogue. With the rise of Nazism, Ursula describes living in perpetual fear from 1933 until 1939. Beginning in 1934, the family experienced financial hardship and Ursula went to a commercial college to learn how to type and take short hand. She found employment at an Italian agency from March until November 1938 -- Kristallnacht. Ursula describes Kristallnacht as the most horrible thing: she remembers coming down in the morning and seeing windows smashed and synagogues burning.
By the beginning of 1939, many Jews were leaving Germany. Ursula obtained tickets to Shanghai from the Italian agency for her parents and sister. For herself, she made arrangements to go to England to stay with a longtime pen pal. On May 19, 1939, two weeks before her eighteenth birthday she got onto a children's transport to England. Her parents left for Shanghai in June 1939. She remembers the SS coming on the train and emptying out suitcases to find anything of value. In England, Ursula stayed with the Wicker family near Chester in North England. The family treated Ursula like one of their own. She had to adjust to a life where she did not have to worry.
Ursula went to Birmingham and trained as a nurse. In May 1940, she was interned at a woman’s camp on the Isle of Man for one year. The British government had no way of knowing who was a Nazi sympathizer so they interned everybody. While in the camp, she met a woman from Munich who was the aunt of her future husband, David. Ursula worked as a waitress in the Cumberland Hotel and David came and asked her if he could take her to the theatre. Later she got a monitoring service job at the BBC. She listened to Hitler's speeches and had to translate and transcribe them. She and David married in 1943. David wanted to join the Commandos when he learnt that his mother was killed but instead he got into the intelligence corps and then the pioneer corps. Their first son, Anthony, was born in London in 1948.
By this time, communication with Ursula’s parents had stopped. They had been living under Japanese control in Shanghai and under terrible circumstances. After the war they immigrated to Minneapolis, United States. Her father had angina and died. Later, her mother and sister moved to New York. Life in post-war England was difficult due to very high taxes. In 1951, Ursula and David came to Canada in search of employment. They did not go to the United States because they were afraid that their son would be drafted. Their second son, Daniel was born in Montreal in 1954. Ursula worked in the Neurological Hospital and then the Royal Victoria Hospital as an administrative assistant to the chief of surgery. Her children are both married and she has two grandchildren from each son. Ursula talks about the fact that she is still homesick for London; they visit very often and have very close friends there. She has also been back to Berlin several times.
Chaim Jegergarn was born in Janow Lubelski, Poland in 1912. He and his seven siblings were raised in a poor family. He did not go to school. At only ten years old, he learned to be a tailor. In 1935, he served in the Polish Army for 18 months. He got married in 1937. After Kristallnacht, he escaped with his family to Russia. From there they went to Lvov, Ukraine (Lwow, Poland), where Chaim registered to go to work in Selovalika ?, Russia, where he worked as a tailor. There, they were bombed so they moved by train to a small place in the woods near Yaroslavl. In 1941, he moved to Kozyatyn, Uzbekistan, to work in a factory. Chaim obtained a Russian pass and moved near Tashkent, where he stayed for nearly three years working in the coal mines. He contracted typhus and later worked as tailor in a factory. In 1945, he left Tashkent to return by train to Szczecin, Poland. Except for two brothers, the rest of his family in Poland perished during the Holocaust. From 1946 to 1948, Chaim stayed in a DP camp in Eschwege, Germany. In July 1948, Chaim came to Montreal with his wife, son, daughter, and brother in an effort to begin a new life.