Survivors remember Auschwitz, and the Holocaust, in Montreal
MONTREAL -- As survivors and world leaders in Poland commemorated the liberation of Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp and extermination centre where over 1.1 million men, women and children lost their lives, Montrealers gathered to do the same at the city's Holocaust museum.
Survivor Max Eisen was scheduled to share stories about his experience at an event on Monday night, to which all were welcome to attend. As a 15-year-old at Auschwitz, Eisen was chosen as a slave-labourer. He survived a horrific beating and a forced "death march." Of his entire extended family of 60 people, only he and two of his cousins survived the Holocaust.
Another attendee of Monday's memorial event, Eva Kuper, was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1940. Shortly after her birth, German soldiers confined her family, who are Jewish, to the Warsaw ghetto.
One day, soldiers came for her and her mother, she said.
Her mother carried baby Eva to the station, and onto the cattle cars.
Upon hearing where they had been brought, Eva's father, who worked as a chemical engineer in a fur factory and was deemed essential to the German war effort, called one of Eva's cousins, Regina, who hurried to the train station and snuck past the guards.
Just before the train left, Eva's mother threw her off the train, into Regina's waiting arms. Eva's mother stayed on the train and died at Treblinka, a death camp.
Regina managed to conceal baby Eva, saving her life. Later, Eva and her father fled the ghetto and survived the war in hiding, eventually settling in Montreal.
"I was saved by a miracle from a train like that," Eva said. "[My mother] was holding me in her arms and she perished, she went onto Treblinka, and I was thrown out the train to a cousin's arms and that was a miracle, that she was allowed to do that. ... I often think about what that must have taken, every instinct in your body is crying to hold your child close to protect them, and she didn't have much time to make that decision, that was the first miracle of my survival."
To her, Max Eisen and other survivors, the need to share stories about the Holocaust grows more critical each day as survivors age into their 80s and 90s and those with first-person memories of the events are lost.
"I remind young people that I speak to that they are the last generation to actually see a living person who has lived through this horror," Eva said, "that their children will not have that chance, so their responsibility rests more heavily on them."