Holocaust Survivor Brings Story of Horror and Hope to Whitby Students

WHITBY -- For high school students learning about the Holocaust, the numbers are so big and the tragedy so unfathomable, that it can be difficult to grasp.

“Six million people died. The number is so vast, it’s so big. This was the most terrible crime ever committed on the face of the Earth,” says Bill Glied, one of a dwindling number of Holocaust survivors. “That’s why I talk about my own personal story.”

On Dec. 2, Mr. Glied captivated a roomful of students at Donald A. Wilson Secondary School in Whitby, on his third visit to the local school.

He was invited by history teacher Joanna Samson, who he met in 2012 on a tour of Holocaust sites in Austria and Poland.

She calls him her “living hero.

“Having him here is invaluable,” Ms. Samson says. “Bill makes such important connections with the kids. Having someone who can give a first-hand account of this crime is so powerful.”

Mr. Glied, 84, was born in 1930 into a middle-class Jewish family living in Subotica, in the former Yugoslavia.

His father ran a flour mill in a small village, while his mother cared for him and his sister. Their life was normal and happy.

Mr. Glied attended a public school where he loved to play soccer and chess. The highlight of his week was attending matinee movies on a Sunday.

Things started to change in 1941, when the Germans occupied Yugoslavia and subsequently ceded the area where Mr. Glied’s family lived to Hungary.

He vividly remembers the first sign of the trouble to come. One day, he and the other Jewish boys in his class were asked to sit at the back of the room.

“From that moment on, my life in school became hell,” Mr. Glied says, in his soft, accented voice.

Next, Jews were from banned from going to parks and theatres, owning radios and walking on the sidewalk. They were made to wear a yellow star on their clothes.

“That’s how you start making people the ‘other,’” Mr. Glied explains.

One day in 1944, his father told him they were being “relocated,” and that his family could only take what they could carry.

Neighbours lined the streets and watched as the town’s Jewish families shuffled to the train station.

“They all stood there and looked at us and said nothing,” Mr. Glied says. “They could have hidden us...this is what it takes for evil to happen, for people to do nothing.”

He remembers being jammed into cramped rail cars with only a small vent at the top for air and light. There was no food, no water and no washrooms on the two-day and two-night trip.

The destination was the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

After the train arrived, Mr. Glied and his father were herded in one direction, his mother and sister in the other.

“That was the last time I saw them,” he says, his voice wavering. “I didn’t get to say goodbye.”

Mr. Glied and his father were sent to take showers and issued grey pajamas and wooden shoes. They had been chosen to work as labourers.

His mother and sister were taken to a different shower room, he told the Whitby students. In this one, the ceiling opened and a canister of poison gas was dropped on the unsuspecting people below.

Their bodies were then cremated.

The library is absolutely silent as the students digest this piece of information. Some dab their eyes with shirtsleeves.

Mr. Glied would eventually lose his father as well. The pair was sent to work camps where they laboured for six-day, 12-hour shifts and subsisted on very little food.

His father died of hunger and typhoid fever just days before they were liberated by the U.S. Army on April 29, 1945.

In 1947, Mr. Glied came to Canada where he married a Hungarian-Jewish Holocaust survivor named Marika, later welcoming three daughters and eight grandchildren.

The guilt he felt for surviving when so many others did not, held him back from talking about his Holocaust experience for 45 years.

But now, he feels compelled to tell as many people as possible and to spread a message of hope and personal responsibility.

“It’s not only something I want to do, it’s something I have to do,” he explains. “What I harp on over and over again, is that we should not be bystanders. If we see something wrong we have a duty and an obligation to respond to it.”

IN HIS OWN WORDS

An excerpt from Bill Glied’s biography from the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre in Toronto:

“Under the German philosophy of working able-bodied Jews to death instead of killing them outright, my father and I were spared in Auschwitz-Birkenau and transported, under abominable conditions, to Dachau, from where we were sent to Satellite Camps (Kaufering 3 and Kaufering 4).

Our task was to build an underground airport; operated by BMW and built by MOLL.

We worked six-day twelve-hour shifts regardless of weather, and had to march to and from the worksite, an additional hour each way.

We marched daily through the towns of Kaufering and Landsberg, and the townspeople pretended that we did not exist, although as the months passed by they must have seen the deterioration in all of us.”

 

Article courtesy of www.durhamregion.com

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