by Sigalit Hoffman
Retired Concordia professors Mervin Butovsky (English) and Kurt Jonassohn
(Sociology) have given Canadian Holocaust survivors the rare opportunity
to see their memoirs published and posted on the Internet.
I tried many commercial publishers, but nobody was interested,
said Romanian-born Holocaust survivor Marcus Lecker. It seemed that
the subject was considered obsolete.
Butovsky and Jonassohn began in 1995 to collect, edit and place the unpublished
memoirs of Canadian Holocaust survivors in Concordias Archives.
They also added a list of keywords and an abstract to the manuscripts
they had collected to facilitate future research.
Two years ago, they received grants from Concordias Institute for
Canadian Jewish Studies and from the Jewish Community Foundation that
helped them publish the collected narratives.
So far, they have sent 27 individual memoirs, ranging from 15 to more
than 200 pages, to Canadian university libraries, Holocaust museums and
research centres in the U.S., Israel, and England, as well as to their
authors. In addition, the memoirs are posted on the Internet, making them
available to a wide international readership. The project is ongoing and
the professors will continue publishing other testimonies they receive.
Jonassohn decided to take on the project because he knew how difficult
it was to find a publisher willing to bring out the testimonies.
I was aware of the fact that there are people who have written accounts
of their wartime experiences. Even if they intended to make these autobiographies
public, it was very difficult to find a publisher, said the co-founder
of Concordias Montreal Institute of Genocide Studies. We wanted
to assure the preservation of these important documents.
Butovsky added that every story told by a victim bears witness to the
20th centurys darkest hour.
Our understanding of the period will have to depend on the revelations
of individuals who have left a record of their experiences. In most cases,
too, the authors are the only survivors of an extended kinship or community
group, so the memoirs serve as acts of commemoration.
One writer reports that on the day the transport from Hungary delivered
her to Auschwitz, she lost 234 members of her extended family. Her memoir
is their monument.
Jonassohn was particularly pleased with the responses they received after
posting the testimonies on the World Wide Web.
Normally, when you put something in the library or on the Internet,
you dont know if anyone reads it, but a number of people have been
in touch with and said, I was on the train with Mr. X. Could you
put me in touch with him?
Another memoir that was recently published testified to the death
of a man, which proved sufficient, after years of delay in the courts,
to expedite the transfer of some property to his family in Paris.
The professors agreed that current events gave the project a sense of
urgency. Many of the contributors said that they are compelled to
pick up their pens because of the Holocaust deniers in Canada, Butovsky
Jonassohn added, From the teachers point of view, you hope
that by teaching about genocide and the Holocaust, you can prevent it
from happening again.
Although Marcus Lecker wants the world to know what happened to him during
the Holocaust, he also has a very personal reason for writing his memoir.
He hopes that one day, he will be able to tell his grandson about his
Eventually, if I live, Ill encourage him to read it, so he
will know how to behave in the world.
The memoirs are available at the following sites: www.migs.org.