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Holocaust Survivor Shares His Story

Friday, November 10, 2006

Written by May Warren

Hundreds of students crowded into UC 103 last Thursday night to hear Holocaust survivor Max Eisen speak about his experiences during World War Two. There was standing room only at the event, which was organized by members of The Jewish Student Organization, as part of Holocaust Education Week.

Eisen began his testimony by describing the day he first set foot on Canadian soil, nearly sixty years ago. “From the moment I arrived I knew I was home,” he told the crowd. Eisen, a Hungarian Jew born in what was at the time Czechoslovakia went on to settle in Toronto. He eventually married and enjoyed a successful career in business. He has two sons and two daughters.

Eisen recalled the first time he heard about Hitler: while listening to a speech on his father’s radio. “At that moment I knew something was going to happen, I just didn’t know what,” he remembered, describing his life under the early years of Nazi Occupation as “very difficult.” He was forced to wear a yellow start to school and sit with the other Jewish students in the back of the classroom, but not for long because soon Jewish children were kicked out of public school altogether.

Eisen was sent by his mother to be an apprentice in a far off city and worked long hours developing a trade. Although life was hard it went on, that is until one morning in 1944 when he, his mother, father, two brothers and baby sister were forced out of their home by Nazis and told to pack their belongings: they were being resettled to a far off destination in the east.
“I still remember the mass exodus of all the Jews in the town, walking out in columns as the people watched, said Eisen adding, “Not one of our neighbors and friends did anything to help us.” Eisen and his family were forced onto cattle cars in miserable conditions with very little food and water. They had no idea where they were going. Then, after a long journey, the train suddenly stopped in the middle of the night.

“Arriving at Auschwitz was like a curtain going up on an opera,” remembered Eisen. The floodlights of the camp lit up the scene and all the players were in place: the SS men with their machine guns and dogs and the prisoners in striped uniforms ready to led us off the train.”

Upon their arrival at the camp Eisen and his family went through a selection by one of the camps doctors. His mother, baby sister, and two brothers were sent to the gas chambers. He and his father and uncle were sentenced to slave labour. “I became a number and not a name, every second of the day as a slave labourer was a struggle,” he recalled. Eisen told the crowd, adding that his remaining family members formed a unit and were able keep each other alive. But one day, his father and uncle were also “selected out,” and Eisen went on alone.

Asked how he kept himself going, Eisen nameed the music in the camp as a main source of humanity. “The guards organized women’s and men’s orchestras to play as we marched to work. Every day I would look forward to hearing that beautiful music.”

As the allies came closer, Eisen was evacuated from the camp and forced to take part in a death march from Auschwitz to another camp in Czechoslovakia. He remained in the second camp until American soldiers liberated it in 1945.

After the liberation he went back to his old house only to find a neighbour living in it who refused even to give him a glass of water. Realizing he was no longer safe in what had been his hometown he ended up in an orphanage in Prague, a Displaced Person Camp in Austria and eventually Canada.

Eisen said he started speaking out about his experiences when he heard of Holocaust deniers in Toronto. He urged the crowd to take the lessons the Holocaust and apply them to their own lives. “ Don’t be a bystander,” he told students, “the Holocaust didn't start with Auschwitz, it started with words.”

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