Azrieli-Ryerson Pilot Project Presents a Rare Gift for Holocaust Remembrance Day
18 Families to be Presented with a Legacy for Future Generations
On April 17, Toronto residents Margaret Kittel Canale and her mother, Vera Kittel, will receive a rare gift – the manuscript of Vera’s harrowing journey from Germany to England, and then to Canada, to escape Nazi persecution. While each story of survival is unique, this one has particular meaning for the Kittel family. Vera spoke very little about her experiences in Nazi Germany and during the war, something her family longed to record before this piece of their history was lost. Sustaining Memories, a pilot program designed by the Azrieli Foundation and offered through Ryerson University’s G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education’s Programs for 50+, gave her this opportunity. On April 17, two days before Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Vera will be presented with her printed story along with 17 other survivors.
“My mother found it sad to talk about her family, with only her and her sister surviving. Whenever she hears people talk about all their relatives, she realizes how much she has lost. It has affected her all her life,” said Margaret Kittel Canale, who helped write her mother’s memoir as part of the pilot program in which 18 mature students (50+) and graduate students at Ryerson University worked with Holocaust survivors to produce their written memoirs. The Sustaining Memories project was motivated by the need for survivor narratives to be preserved as both an educational tool and a legacy for their families and community.
“I would have done this program even if I couldn’t have been paired with my mother,” said Kittel Canale, “but I was grateful that they let me ask my mother if I could help her write her story. My mother said she might have held back some things if she had been talking to a stranger. In some ways it was easier for me to work with her because I knew the characters and could help fill in some of the gaps.”
Vera was eight years old when Hitler came to power and began persecuting Jews – attacking synagogues, seizing Jewish businesses and rounding up individuals. In a supreme act of selflessness, one that she could only truly understand when she became a parent herself, her parents sent her to England on the Kindertransport. The decision was so painful, her mother could not even come with her father to the train station to say goodbye.
Through the Kindertransport, a rescue mission that took place during the nine months prior to the outbreak of World War II, the United Kingdom took in nearly 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Nazi Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and the Free City of Danzig. The children were placed in British foster homes, hostels and farms. Most of the rescued children survived the war, but the majority of their parents did not. This was the case for Vera’s parents who were killed in the Auschwitz death camp. Their decision to send her away likely saved her life.
It was more than 50 years after the Kindertransport that Margaret first heard the term for the movement that saved her mother. Today, she has an even better understanding of her mother’s past and an appreciation for her resiliency. “My mother said, ‘We always looked forward, never back, we needed to find hope for the future.’ It was hope that kept them moving forward, even when they came to Canada as immigrants and tried to get ahead.”
On April 17 at 12:30 pm at Kensington Place Retirement Residence, the program’s 18 survivors and their writing partners will celebrate the culmination of their work at a private luncheon with their families where each pair will be presented with a copy of the memoir, the results of a project that is sure to have changed the lives of both the writing partners and the survivor authors forever.