York launches a series of Holocaust memoirs

The Azrieli Foundation, in partnership with York University’s Centre for Jewish Studies, will launch a series of five impassioned memoirs written by Holocaust survivors, on Wednesday, Nov. 21, as part of Holocaust Remembrance Month.

The inaugural launch of The Azrieli Foundation Series of Holocaust Survivor Memoirs will feature four readings and a keynote address by Ruth Westheimer (right), a renowned pop-culture figure, human rights activist, psychosexual therapist, filmmaker and Holocaust survivor. She will recount her own experience as a survivor and discuss the value of memoirs by other Holocaust survivors.

Reading from their memoirs are John Freund, author of Spring’s End, Rachel Shtibel of The Violin, and Adam Shtibel of A Child’s Testimony. Excerpts from Henia Reinhartz’s memoir, Bits and Pieces, will be read by her granddaughter, Miriam Walfish. The fifth book in the series is Getting Out Alive by Tommy Dick.

In their touching memoirs, the survivors recount their lives prior to the Holocaust, their harrowing experiences during wartime, and how they arrived in Canada with determined optimism. Each book has a scholarly introduction, providing historical context to the survivor’s ordeals.

Looking back, Adam Shtibel recalls dodging those who sought to kill him. "I walked almost all night. Every movement in the forest scared me. I was not afraid of ghosts, I was afraid of people."

What makes one person endure when so many others succumb? The Azrieli Foundation Series of Holocaust Survivor Memoirs offers insight into an unpredictable mixture of luck, determination, intelligence, resourcefulness and resilience.

Sara Horowitz, director of York’s Centre for Jewish Studies, is senior editor for the memoirs series. The books, published by The Azrieli Foundation – York University Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Publishing Program (Canada), will appeal to readers who have an interest in the Holocaust and the Canadian immigrant experience.

The books are free of charge to educational institutions and the unedited manuscripts will be donated to the Clara Thomas Archives & Special Collections at York, where they will be available to students and faculty for research.

The Nov. 21 launch will take place at the Bloor Cinema, 506 Bloor St. West, Toronto. The event is open to the public at no charge and will conclude with a book signing by the authors. Registration is required due to limited seating capacity. To reserve a seat, call 416-916-8619.

The York Centre for Jewish Studies was established in 1989 at York University, which has been the Canadian pioneer in the study of the Holocaust. Many of the more than 40 faculty members affiliated with the centre are well known internationally. While embracing Jewish culture in all its richness, and giving full weight to classical Jewish studies, the centre has a distinctly modern and interdisciplinary thrust and a strong Canadian core.