Free online exhibit focuses on young Holocaust survivors

At age 11, Kitty Salsberg was orphaned and was thrust into a parenting role for her younger sister, Ilonka.

“I didn’t voluntarily take over that role, but she had made me take over the role,” Salsberg says of her sister. “She clung to me, and of course, I responded.”

The sisters, born in Hungary in the 1930s, lost their father in 1942 when he was taken for slave labour by the Nazis. Two years later, their mother was taken to a concentration camp and never returned.

“My father was probably exploded on the Ukrainian front as a slave labourer because they used to have the Jewish guys go out and look for the mines,” Salsberg said. “I endured the trauma of the loss of my parents. They were young and good people, and they did not deserve (that) kind of life or death and (that) kind of suffering. … They loved their children so much, and they had no idea when they got separated from us, if we will ever survive.”

The sisters would survive, but barely.

Salsberg, now 90 and a North York resident, recalled how she and her sister and cousins were marched to the Budapest ghetto, thinking at the time that they were being walked to the Danube River where they would be shot.

“Some people sneaked close to us and said, ‘give us the babies,’ and my cousin Hedi gave her baby brother to a lady to save the baby,” Salsberg said. “The baby cousin, I think, was saved although we never found him.”

Salsberg said she remembers initially receiving a “cup of soup with a mixture of lentils and worms” in the ghetto. But the meals didn’t keep coming.

“I don’t know if you know what happens in a ghetto. Nothing happens, so they close the door and nobody comes in, nobody comes out and no food goes in … so we were at death’s door at that time,” Salsberg said. “We were starving in the cold, in the dirt … with rats and mice.”

The Budapest ghetto was established by the Nazis in late November 1944, in the final months of the Second World War.

Salsberg wasn’t conscious by the time she was liberated by the Soviet Army in January 1945. “Had they waited another day or two, I doubt we would have survived,” she said.

Salsberg and Ilonka, known later as Ellen Foster, wrote a book together titled “Never Far Apart,” published in 2015, to document their journey during the Holocaust and their new lives in Canada. (Ilonka died in November.)

The sisters are also among the Holocaust survivors featured in a free, online exhibition called “Education Disrupted,” which centres on the role of education in the lives of those who survived the Holocaust as children and youth.

Salsberg said the disruption in education was especially difficult for her sister because she was just beginning to learn to read and write. “She hardly learned how to do adding and subtracting, and she seriously was handicapped right through life,” added Salsberg, noting her sister would feel “very ill at ease with banking.”

The Education Disrupted exhibition, launched earlier this year, is part of non-profit organization Azrieli Foundation’s Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program, which aims to collect, preserve and share the memoirs written by Holocaust survivors who moved to Canada after the Second World War.

Michelle Sadowski, educator at the program, said the exhibit focuses on school life before the war, the disruption to education and its impact, and the resumption of education after the war and the rebirth that came as a result.

“It was really a form of persecution to limit and eradicate education for Jewish students, so then there became this significance of continuing education when you were in a camp, in a ghetto or in hiding and you were doing it behind closed doors, or you were doing it in a way that was at high risk and that was a form of resistance,” Sadowski said. “It really focuses on the firsthand accounts and the first-person narratives of the survivors that are a part of our program, so we bring forth video clips, audio clips and memoir excerpts that are all from our authors, and they’re very much celebrated through the exhibit.”

The exhibit is tailored to students and is organized into four “books”: School Days, Under Nazi Rule, Taking Risks and New Beginnings.

Sadowski said parts of the exhibit align with the new, mandatory Holocaust learning in the revised Grade 6 social studies curriculum that’s being implemented in September.

“It’s a great tool for teachers to use as a supplementary resource,” she said, adding the Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program will be launching in February 2024 a new resource “specifically aligned” with the new curriculum.

Education Disrupted is the latest online exhibit launched by the Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program. Three others were created over the past few years. “One of them is called Sustaining Memories, which is a very large database of summarized versions of around 100 Toronto-based Holocaust survivors,” said Sadowski.

Visit to access the free online exhibits.

Originally published on View the original article here.