Holocaust survivor shares his story at King’s

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

It’s silent in the KTS hall at the University of King’s College.

When Holocaust survivor Philip Riteman steps on stage to speak, there’s even a tear or two.

Riteman talks about being sent to an Auschwitz concentration camp at age 14, seeing his best friend there and eventually witnessing his death.

“He was a nice, nice boy,” says Riteman of his childhood friend. “They [the Nazis] didn’t like him because he had freckles. They shot his father, beat and hung his mother, raped and killed his two beautiful sisters and killed his brother.”

Riteman also lost his entire family; his mother, father and five brothers and two sisters. After the war, Riteman found out he had an aunt in Canada and moved to Newfoundland where he stayed until 1980.  In 1980, he settled in Nova Scotia and nine years later decided to break his silence and speak about the horrors he endured.

He has spoken at numerous schools, community centres and institutions, trying to educate the public about the Holocaust.

“You think it can’t happen to you but it can. It almost did,” Riteman says.

This year’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day is a partnership between King’s and the Atlantic Jewish Council. Nearly 100 people, young and old, are in the KTS Hall.

Humanities professor Dorota Glowacka is the first speaker and she talks about the role of gender in the Holocaust. Women victims experienced the war differently, Glowacka says “sexual violence was part of (the) dehumanizing.” Although Glowacka doesn’t show the audience graphic images, she does say that people’s way of interpretation gives meaning to the pictures and other memorabilia.

“The truth… it’s happening around the corner. By reading these stories, you can really open people’s eyes to the violence that’s happening today,” says Glowacka.

A student of professor Glowacka, Haritha Popuri is here tonight because she learnt about the Holocaust in class and wants to hear a survivor’s story.

Kristin Boyd, a St. Francis Xavier University student, is spending three weeks in Israel and didn’t want to miss the lecture’s keynote speaker. “It’s knowledge everyone needs to know and be aware of.”

Vocalist Magdalena Jennings, a King’s graduate, says it’s important to talk about the Holocaust because genocide is still happening around the world.

“I don’t think this story is ever going to get old or irrelevant,” she says.

Edna LeVine, community chair of the Atlantic Jewish Council, agrees.

“One of the main lessons of the Holocaust is what happens to a country when people remain silent, when people feel that this is happening to another group, not us, and we don’t need to anything about it,” says LeVine.

Philip Riteman isn’t silent about his story. He says we need to tell the story of the Holocaust to future generations so it won’t happen again.

He tells the story about being packed into cargo trains going to the concentration camps as he wipes tears away with a tissue. So many people crammed into such a small area — “like sardines,” Riteman explains.  People were hungry, tired, hopeless. One man dropped to the ground, right in front of him. And another man asked Riteman and others to push the dead body against the wall, so they could have another inch of space. But it’s when he refers to a young woman with a baby that Riteman pauses for a few seconds. He trembles as he tells the audience. “That crying, oh that crying. I never heard a sound like it.”

“I”ll never forget the look on the young girl’s face when her baby died in her arms.”