Holocaust survivor 224.8.
(photo credit: Yaniv Salama-Scheer)
"My universe crumbled, and nothing was like before," read Adele Reinhartz, a university professor in Ottawa. She was reading a passage from a book entitled Bits and Pieces, written by her mother, Henia Reihartz, detailing her life in France during the Holocaust.
Bits and Pieces is part of the inaugural series of Holocaust survivor memoirs, published and released by the Azrieli Foundation here last Wednesday, with the help of York University's Center for Jewish Studies, and Sir Martin Gilbert, Winston Churchill's official biographer.
The Azrieli Foundation, a philanthropic organization founded by Israeli real estate mogul David Azrieli, began collecting personal testimonies, manuscripts and other firsthand accounts of the Holocaust shortly after Azrieli himself wrote and published his own story with the help of his daughter Dana.
"I am moved by people's stories - the individual stories are more intimate and personal and can move you in a way that an ordinary historical account cannot," Azrieli told The Jerusalem Post. "The magic and the emotion of tonight touches people one at a time... The true liberation is not that of simply coming out of the camps, but coming out of the camps with our heads held high."
As friends, family, philanthropists and politicians gathered to pay tribute to the survivors and their unique stories, the feelings of importance and consequence in the sharing of these tragic accounts were highlighted as those in attendance expressed their feelings of gratitude and inspiration toward the foundation. Among them were survivors of the camps in Germany and Poland, such as Simone Veil, an Auschwitz survivor and the first female president of the European Parliament.
Survivors of the Rwandan genocide were also present on Wednesday to pay tribute to Azrieli's initiative, citing it as a source of inspiration for telling their own stories.
Foundation president Naomi Azrieli said this was the only program of its kind. After finding hundreds of dusty and forgotten manuscripts in university libraries across Canada, David Azrieli wanted to give people the same opportunity to share their stories, at his expense. The Azrieli Series of Holocaust Memoirs was then created to preserve and share the stories of those who survived the Nazis and to spread these stories from community to community, raising awareness of the impact a survivor's story can have, Naomi Azrieli explained.
"The program is guided by the conviction that each survivor of the Holocaust has a remarkable story to tell, and that such accounts have an important role in education about tolerance and diversity," she said.
To date, 160 Canadians have written their Holocaust memoirs and sent them to the foundation to be published - my own grandfather included.
The launch was marked by the reading of excerpts from four books - two read by the authors themselves, and two by family members of deceased authors.
For Azrieli, the stories remind those who have gone through these horrors that "they are free to feel alive while their enemies are defeated."
"The main goals of the political and societal echelons of postwar France were [centered on] reconciliation" on a wide-ranging scale, Veil said.
"For too long, people have been holding back their tears," Azrieli told the Post. "I know that in writing my own memoirs, which was not an easy thing, certain emotions come to the surface, and we can liberate ourselves."
Azrieli fled his native Poland only a few short years before the 1948 War of Independence, in which he then fought.
Directed at a broad and diverse Canadian audience, the series has given the readers an opportunity to witness the Holocaust through the eyes of fellow Canadians, describing the lives and communities the authors were part of before their lives in Canada.