This week Crestwood was visited by Hedy Bohm and Leonard Vis, who spoke to Ms. Young and Mrs. Winograd’s respective grade 8 classes about their experiences during the Holocaust. The grade 8 classes have been studying the novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and discussing the social and historical frameworks surrounding the Holocaust. While Hedy is a survivor of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, Leonard is a hidden child survivor. Both Hedy and Leonard’s emotional stories are likely to remain with the students for their entire lives.
Hedy Bohm grew up in pre war Romania, in a region that later came under Hungarian control. As the war escalated, she and her family increasingly came under the influence of the Nazis, and the family was deported to Auschwitz in the summer of 1944. Hedy was able to survive Auschwitz-Birkenau for three months; at that time she was relocated to a work camp, where she spent the remainder of the war as a forced labourer, producing military equipment for the Germans. After liberation by American troops, Hedy went home, where she was able to meet up with cousins, and where she married her husband, Imre. They were able to escape to Prague, where an aid organization arranged for this group of Hungarian orphans to get visas to Canada, where she arrived in 1948.
More recently, Hedy Bohm travelled to Germany from Canada to testify at the trial of Oskar Gröning, a 93-year-old former SS guard known as the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz”, who stands accused of 300,000 separate counts of accessory to murder. Last April, she testified as a witness about her Auschwitz experience. She was one of some 60 Holocaust survivors or their relatives from the U.S., Canada, Israel, and elsewhere who joined the prosecution as co-plaintiffs.
Leonard Vis was born in 1930, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, into a traditional upper- middle-class Orthodox household; with a family tree going back to before the French Revolution.
After the attack on the Netherlands by Germany, in 1940, the family thought it prudent to move to a smaller town, Bussum, some 25 kilometers from Amsterdam. Discrimination against the Jews started almost at once. In August 1941, Leonard was forced to change to a separate school, staffed exclusively by Jewish teachers. In May 1942, there follow the prescribed wearing of the yellow star, and in June 1942, the family was forced to resettle in Amsterdam. With the help of some family friends, Leonard was able to go into hiding in August 1942. His brother and sister had gone before him in July. His parents followed, a week later, when raids and round-ups of Jews became an almost daily occurrence in the city.
When the Netherlands was liberated by Canadian forces in May 1945, the whole family had, thankfully, survived the war. There remained very few families intact in Holland, where more than 80% of the Jewish population had perished at the hands of the Germans and their antisemitic helpers.
We are so thankful to both Hedy Bohm and Leonard Vis for taking the time to share their courageous stories with us.