I. Man is the editor of Semnalul (The Signal), a Romanian language monthly review published by B'nai Brith Lodge Dr. W. Filderman in Toronto.
Recently we had Holocaust Education Week in Toronto. It is an annual event with a long tradition, a wide audience, and internationally famous participants.
One of the first activities was a concert dedicated to the works of Jewish composers. Some of them were victims of the Nazi final solution. Among the pieces performed were those of Hans Krasa, Gideon Klein, and Victor Ullman, who had at least some measure of joy in hearing their compositions performed in the Theresienstadt camp before they were sent to their deaths. Such performances were acts of extreme defiance, statements of salvation through music, and creation of that which is human in the most miserable of all conditions – a NO! to the death of the spirit.
The evening is dominated by chamber music with a nostalgic, lyrical, and desperately dramatic tonality. It ends on a vivid note with a George Gershwin quartet composed in the ‘20’s, when a hopeful world was taking stock after the Great War.
Near me is Mrs. Elizabeth Frank. I met her recently and am delighted to see her again, even if the moment is full of painful memories.
came here to honor the memory of my parents and my little four-year-old sister
who perished in Auschwitz.”
friends had shown me articles about Mrs. Frank’s life.
Among these was an article published a few years ago in the Expositor
of Brantford. Brantford is a town
near Toronto where Mrs. Frank, together with an admirable Jewish fellow from
Transylvania, rebuilt her life and created a family after the war.
article, by John Whitlock, describes the nightmarish ordeal of Mrs. Frank and
her relatives in great detail, from the moment they
received the order to leave Satu Mare in the cattle cars that for many would be
life’s final destination. For
most of the rest, the train would transport them to a death factory.
Among 70 family members, only Mrs. Frank and her older sister survived
the extermination camps.
is very difficult for me, born after the war, to realize that I lived in the
same decade, just a few years removed from the most atrocious and massive
organized barbarism in all of a history filled with the innocent blood of
The words of Mrs. Frank’s mother – cited in the aforementioned article – when the Hungarian soldiers and Gestapo officers ordered the evacuations, evoke the same emotions in me today as I felt in childhood when I read about the Shoah for the first time:
the twentieth century you do this to people?”
is difficult to comprehend living through the most vital period of one’s life
– the teenage years – in an ultimate horror of destruction, calculated down
to the finest detail.
young, blonde, and beautiful Elizabeth was not only able to summon the will to
survive the threat of capricious execution at any moment, but also somehow
possessed the strength and desire to assist, with bravery and love, those who
were weaker, more frightened, sicker, or less practical in the painful effort to
survive another day. “I
had a choice between hate and love and I chose to love people”, says
is said that “The fire that cannot burn
to ashes, hardens to stone”. There
are certainly people who emerged from the inferno with a petrified soul, and who
succeeded to break that shell only after many years and with much difficulty.
did not happen with Mrs. Frank.
to the point of self-denial, has remained one of the bulwarks of her character
throughout her lifetime. The good
deeds she performed as a consequence of these characteristics brought her an
award, together with 54 other Canadians, in a commemoration ceremony at the
Parliament in Ottawa on September 27, 2000.
was noted how, in the presence of an SS commander in a forced labor factory, she
took responsibility for the breakdown of equipment that was not hers, thereby
risking her life while knowing that those whose machinery failed were often
murdered on the spot. Like a
miracle, the SS commander did not execute her, and the original equipment
operators were saved!
in Canada, after the war, Mrs. Frank and her husband helped everyone they could
find who needed help, even when the Franks had little more than the
beneficiaries of their largesse.
and old, Jew or gentile, found a hot meal, clothing, and even shelter in the
home of the Franks, though Mr. & Mrs. Frank were themselves recent arrivals
from a still smoldering Europe. Essential
to the Franks’ attempt to rebuild a normal life was the need to make those
around them happy also.
a tome has been devoted to the corrosion of the thin veneer of humanity in
trying times. From callousness to
cannibalism, life at the edge of survival brings out behavior that, under normal
circumstances of plenty, do not cross our minds.
It is the day of liberation; the SS commander of the camp and the soldiers are attempting to scurry away in the last hours before the arrival of the Russian tank column. In the midst of the panic as the liberators enter the camp, Elizabeth sees a shadow sneaking off and recognizes one of the camp officers. An involuntary twitch of her face is noticed by the Russian soldier nearby, who aims toward the runaway. He asks her if he should shoot.
She stops his arm with a vehement NO!
will not be like them!”
And then I asked myself: From where did she gain the power to rise above suffering, above hate, and above even the most basic sense of justice?
I did not have to go further. The answer was in the very cry of a young girl’s soul, heavy with the death of her loved ones and frightened of her own circumstances. It was the sole and supreme refuge within which she could hope to regain her stolen dignity:
will not be like them!”
remember the words of General Dwight Eisenhower, when the infamous reality was
discovered: “Tape and take as
many photos as you can and any proofs, so that no one can ever say that
something like this never existed!”
Simon Wiesenthal said: “All the
Jews of this century are survivors!”
distinguished Mrs. Frank graciously offers me her arm while exiting the concert
hall, and like glitter, I see on her ivory forearm the odious mark, the tattooed
is another reality, a continuing memento of what she lived through.
Mrs. Frank has never stopped talking of it in school, synagogues,
churches, and everywhere else she has been invited to speak about the Holocaust.
“People must know,” she
tells me. “We
do not need pity, but we need a profound understanding of everything that
happened there so that this never happens again!”