Helena Adler, a valued contributor to Sustaining Memories, passed away in August 2014. Although Helena was quite ill in the year preceding her participation in the program, she managed to complete a lengthy manuscript, and she was extremely happy that she was able to attend our closing program ceremonies earlier in the year.
Being part of Sustaining Memories introduced me to survivors who had incredible stories to share. I was able to help a friend tell her story. I was challenged intellectually, researching and validating information survivors shared with me. I was challenged emotionally, listening to and hearing about the horrors experienced as well as witnessed by strong individuals who rebuilt their lives, continued to have families, careers, volunteer commitments and contributed to Canada. I learned a great deal — the importance of each person’s unique story and the importance of protecting our democracy and our rights.
Contributing to the Sustaining Memories project has been my most rewarding volunteer role. After partnering with five survivors, I continue to be inspired by their wisdom, kindness and optimism. Working with them has been equally challenging and rewarding. It has given me the opportunity to come to know truly wonderful individuals as they have entrusted me with capturing their life’s experience and translating it into their own memoire that conveys the essence of their lives, losses and loves. It is said that volunteers gain more than they could ever give; that is certainly my experience with the Azrieli Foundation!
I signed up for the Sustaining Memories project for several reasons, one of which was to form a meaningful connection with a Holocaust survivor. I was fortunate to be paired with Joe Gottdenker. Joe is a fascinating person who lived a full and unconventional life. His continued zest for adventure has inspired me to step outside my comfort zone. Our families have bonded and I am certain that our friendship will last a lifetime. I am grateful to Joe for sharing his experience and trusting me with the process.
The Sustaining Memories project is a unique opportunity enabling the personal firsthand witness accounts of Holocaust survivors to be preserved for future generations to learn from the past. I had the opportunity to participate in this special program twice. The project enabled me to open the door to my own familial history, as I had the privilege of working with my grandmother to record her story. If it was not for this program, likely her experiences would have gone untold and been forgotten. With that, her vibrant childhood in Europe, the memories of her mother, father and little brother would never be known. This little piece of personal history plays a big role in my family’s future, as it will allow us to better understand who we are and where we came from. I am truly grateful for this written account of a person, a past and a lifetime of experiences that make up so much of whom I am today and who I will become tomorrow.
My family was extremely fortunate to not have any close family members living outside of North America during the war. I learned about the Holocaust, of course, at Hebrew school, but I had never heard any first-hand accounts. I had a close friend whose parents were Holocaust survivors, but like many survivors, they never spoke about their experiences. It was unbelievably moving to spend time with Edith Grosman and hear her incredible story. Edith’s memories of her time in the camps with her sister and her long arduous journey back home after the war were as clear as if they had happened yesterday and I was so honoured to be able to help share her story.
As a writing partner for Sustaining Memories, I dedicated my work to my husband’s family members, those who survived and those who perished. I felt it was my duty to transcribe the oral stories I heard as survivors told me of what they lived through. Trying to put it all into words was difficult for the survivors, a near-impossible task that I knew would otherwise never be complete, and I was humbled and honoured to be a writing partner in this project. Thank you to the Azrieli Foundation for providing me with this opportunity.
Meeting and working with Paula Goldhar on the Sustaining Memories project was a life-altering experience for me. As she so aptly quoted Elie Wiesel, “When you listen to a witness, you become a witness.” Indeed, Paula’s memories and her triumph of survival are etched on my soul. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to engage in a healing way with a Holocaust survivor. The training and support provided by the gifted staff of the Azrieli Foundation was thorough and demonstrated much sensitivity to the needs of both the survivors and their writing partners.
It is one thing to read about the Holocaust, to visit sites and memorials, to try to imagine the horror. It is quite another to listen to survivors describe their experiences in their own voices. It was a privilege for me to interview, record and transcribe the stories of four survivors. More than that, I was deeply grateful to have been given the opportunity to help ensure that their stories became part of posterity, a permanent record to be preserved and shared by others.
Inspired to overcome any adversity.
I was honoured and privileged to have been a writing partner with Sustaining Memories. The strength and resilience of the Holocaust survivors with whom I worked had a profound effect. Their memories were disturbing and moving. I gained a new appreciation of the power of faith, the motivation of hope and the importance of family. In the words of one of the survivors, this was my mitzvah.
I sincerely hope that in some small way assisting the survivors in telling their heart wrenching yet hopeful stories contributes to preserving the history of these “darkest of dark” times.
I am grateful to the survivors and the Azrieli Foundation for selecting me to work on this remarkable project.
My participation in Sustaining Memories has, I hope, made me a more introspective person. My survivor, Nancy (Nechama) Kleinberg, was just a young teenager during her years in the camps but by dint of her indomitable spirit, strength of character and of heart, she not only survived but also saved the life of the young boy who years later would become her husband. She was and is, in no small measure, a hero. I think about that young girl when I feel hard done by because I’ve had a bad day or because outside forces like Covid-19 have limited my pleasures. I wish I were more like Nancy. In fact, I wish we all were.