I remember the day that changed everything.
It was Sept. 27, 1989, my 19th birthday. Crisp fall day, three weeks after arriving at the University of Western Ontario. I’m not going to go deeply into it, but life hadn’t been very fun for me.
Walking through campus, however, I decided things were going to be different. Three people are responsible for that. This is my thank you.
Moishe Yaakov Kujawski, Mania Bodner and Eva Bross met in Bergen-Belsen, the Nazi concentration camp liberated by the British in April 1945. They were all Polish and had been through the worst kind of hell.
Eva was born in Warsaw in 1913. Before imprisonment, she got married and had two children. She survived. The rest didn’t. Following liberation, she met David Bross. In 1948, they emigrated to Canada, settling in Kitchener, Ont., an hour west of Toronto.
Mania was born in 1920. The town is called Oswiecim, but we know it better as Auschwitz. Depending on what source you believe, between one to three million people died in the largest of the camps. While captive, she married, but her husband did not make it.
Mania never told me the full details, but in January 1945, with the Russian army advancing, she was among a group of prisoners forced to retreat to Bergen-Belsen approximately 700 kilometres away. Some of it was on foot. Some of it was packed like cattle in an exposed train. All she ever said to me was that it was freezing cold, took two days and anyone who couldn’t continue was shot to death. (A relative has told me she collapsed at one point and was carried part of the way.) Once, I tried to ask a little more, but it was too difficult for her.