Robbie Waisman remembers the holocaust like it was yesterday.
He was just 11 years old when he was separated from his family and taken to Buchenwald, a Nazi concentration camp near Weimar, Germany to work in the munition factories.
Waisman, who was from Poland, was responsible for looking after the machines that produced bullets, but every now and then a bullet would get stuck in the machine.
“I was given a screwdriver to dismantle it very quickly, dislodge the bullet and make it go again,” Waisman said. “The SS (Schutz-Staffel) that saw me do this thought that I was somebody special and in turn, they allowed me to live.”
For the next three years, Waisman and some 426 teenagers worked 12-hour days for a one-inch piece of bread, margarine and a bowl of soup made from potato skins.
“People died of hunger. I don’t know how I made it,” said the 84-year-old Vancouver resident. “My incentive throughout was to go home, be reunited with family and show off because I was the baby of the family.”
Out of his four older brothers, sister and parents, only his sister and him survived.
“They say ignorance is bliss. If I had known the enormity of the holocaust, that I had lost all my loved ones, I wouldn’t have survived. I wouldn’t have the desire, nor would I want to,” he said. “One should never give up on life.”
Fairfield’s Julius Maslovat’s memory of the holocaust is not so clear.
The 73-year-old was just under three years old when he was liberated from Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp in northern Germany, in 1945. The rest of his family was killed in the holocaust.
“My memories are virtually non-existent. [Robbie] is fortunate because he can remember the birth family that he had. I don’t have any recollection of them,” said Maslovat, adding that most of the information he discovered about his family and being transported to two concentration camps has been through research.
While he can’t remember much, Maslovat did find a five second clip of him as a two-and-a-half year old getting his hair brushed when British troops liberated the camp in 1945.
Waisman and Maslovat spoke at a three-day conference at the University of Victoria recently. The conference also coincides with the 70th anniversary of World World Two.
“I realized that we represent a very small six and a half per cent of jewish children who survived. One-and-a-half million of the six million were children and they were brutally murdered,” Waisman said. “We, as survivors, have a sacred duty and obligation to inoculate the world against hatred and discrimination. When we do that, we honour the memory of those who weren’t as lucky as we were.”
Maslovat said there is also a lot of ignorance about the holocaust in the Canadian school system and hopes it will never be forgotten.