Mason, Michael

Michael Mason was born September 14, 1928, in Czechoslovakia; he grew up in Hungary, with the name Miklos Friedman, in a family that he described as occasionally observant. His memories of his early life are typical of the time: he and his friends explored the countryside, went to school, and occasionally got in trouble. Michael’s father ran a tavern on the edge of their town, and the family did well. Antisemitism was a fact of life, and one that was increasingly pronounced with the war: Hungary joined the Axis alliance, and while Hungarian Jews were sheltered from the Shoah for a few years, Michael recalls restrictions that appeared with the war. His life was in fact interrupted by the reality of the war; in early 1944 his family lost its business and its rights of citizenship, and they moved to Budapest; 16-year-old Michael was conscripted into a forced labour battalion at this time too. He spent several weeks working on a farm, where the conditions were not too bad. Unbeknownst to Michael, Germany occupied Hungary during this part of 1944, and he and the other labourers were taken to a local brickyard and forced onto trains. A tough kid, Michael endured the hardships of deportation, and he was able to survive the rigours of Birkenau and a series of other camps, including Muhldorf, where he became a slave labourer for most of the next year. When a Red Cross inspection seemed imminent, Michael and many other prisoners were marched to a different camp; knowing the end of the war was near they plotted an escape. Their plan did not work, and when it seemed that they were about to be let go the Nazis’ treachery went to a new level, as they opened fire on the prisoners in an open field, a terrible scene that Michael was able to escape. The Americans arrived just days after this, and Michael found himself liberated; after he recuperated, he made his way back to Budapest, where he discovered that most members of his family had survived, protected by the schutzpasses of Raoul Wallenberg. Michael’s older brother was killed by the Germans as the war was ending. Michael set about rebuilding his life, returning to school and becoming a dental technician, all the while devising a plan to leave Hungary and its communist regime. Michael was able to obtain a fake passport and in 1948 he and his brother were able to get out. They went to Paris and from there to Halifax, and ultimately Hamilton, Ontario. Michael had taken on the identity of Miklos Moskovits – complete with the new birthday of October 30, 1931 – later changing his name to Michael Mason. Michael found work at Stelco, and he was able to bring his parents to Canada a few years later. He worked in a variety of businesses and later became a denturist. Michael Mason lives in Toronto, and he came to Crestwood via the Azrieli Foundation, an organization that shares his passion for Holocaust education. We first met Michael in the fall of 2016, and in 2023 a group of students again visited him in his home.