Holocaust survivor speaks at Caledon library

December 7, 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Jasen Obermeyer

Eva Meisels from the Holocaust Education Centre and the Azrieli Foundation spoke at the Caledon Albion Bolton Branch, shedding further light on the darkest and most evil time in history.

In the deadliest conflict in human history, the Holocaust was at the centre. It was the mass genocide by Nazi Germany of the European Jews, along with other “sub-humans” and “undesirables,” including Gypsies, ethnic Poles, Soviets, gays, and the mentally and physically disabled. All of this to create living space for a supreme Aryan race.

Meisels shared her story to residents and students last Thursday, Nov. 8. She was born in Budapest, Hungary, on July 3, 1939, just two months before World War Two began.

Hungary at the time was allied with Germany, and was thus spared for the most part by Hitler’s wrath. However, she said there were some “restricting rules” for the Jewish people, including participation in public life and what work they could do, and had to wear the yellow Star of David. Her father was taken and sent into a forced labour camp, after which her mother mended old clothes bought from a flea market to make some money.

In March 1944, after Hitler discovered the country was considering an armistice with the Western Allies, ordered an invasion and occupation. It was at this point that Eva and her mother ended up crammed into one of 293 houses in the Budapest ghetto, where 63,000 people struggled to survive. Food shortage, the sound of falling bombs and the sight of piled corpses became the norm.

Though her parents survived the Holocaust, her grandparents, aunts and uncles did not. Over six million Jews were systemically murdered, and millions of others in the Nazi persecution.

She recalled a time when her mother sent her to get some bread outside the ghetto. “She knew a woman who used to be a neighbour of ours was running a stand selling bread. So she took my star off, and she sent me, never knowing if she would see me again.”

“If anyone would have noticed me without my yellow star, I would have been shot right there. And not only me, this woman who took a terrible, terrible risk, reaching under the counter, and giving me some bread, she could have been killed on the spot,” she explained. “I want you to understand, there were some people who tried to help the Jews. Unfortunately, there was not enough.”

There were some who helped save many Jews, including Oskar Schindler, and in Hungary, Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg.

Eva went on about a time when she and her mother, and others were forced at gunpoint by the country’s Arrow Cross Party to assemble outside. “I didn’t like what I saw was going on, I was hollering, I was crying.” Due to this, she and her mother were ordered back in their apartment, unknowingly saving their lives, which worked a second time.

However, the third time the soldiers came back, “there was no way out,” and she was taken to a place dubbed the “Nazi house,” along the banks of the Danube River. “I had seen people, two or three people tied together, so they only had to use one bullet to shoot them into the river.”

She further described that everyone was ordered to remove all valuables and jewellery. “They made us go into a room, face the wall, hands up, and we were there from morning until night. We have no idea why they took us there.” She was taken back to the ghetto.

Across Europe, mobile killing units were created to actively seek and exterminate Jews and others. Eventually, extermination camps were set up across Germany and Poland, where the gas chambers were the main weapons. The largest, Auschwitz, killed over a million Jews. Other camps include Bergen-Belsen – where Eva’s husband Leslie was liberated – and Buchenwald, which were discovered by the Allies in the closing months of the war.

“They hunted everybody down if they had a drop of Jewish blood,” she sadly noted. 

Near the end of the war, Eva spent weeks in a basement bomb shelter, where a Russian solider eventually found her. “This man with one hand, he reached into his nap sack, pulled out a piece of bread, and gave it to us,” she smiled. “That was our liberation.” For a few days though, Eva was blinded by the sunlight due to being in the bomb shelter for so long.

After liberation, she shared with the audience being reunited with her father. “He picked me up and kissed me. I didn’t recognize my father. I hadn’t seen him since 1942. We had no idea if he was alive or not.”

After the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, the family escaped to Austria, before immigrating to Canada, where Eva met Leslie in Montreal. Their family includes two daughters, and four grandchildren.

“I can tell you there were a number of people who turned away from Judaism. There were a lot of people who became more religious,” she said about the survivors. “I know my father never wanted to talk about it.”

Meisels told the Citizen she has been back to Budapest three times and visited the burial place of family members, “but I don’t even know if I ever want to go back again.”

“Please do not stop learning,” she stressed to everyone, having learned from other survivor stories. “You are learning for yourself. You must never stop learning.”

She added that even though it is difficult to talk about, “People have to know what had gone on,” emphasizing to stand up to injustice. “If you see or hear something, open up. Please.”

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