To most modern-day Canadians, the atrocities of the Holocaust are best learned through history books, biographies and films.
For Cochranite Laurie Drukier, it’s part of her life story.
While Remembrance Day is flagged as the day for honouring soldiers who served and the many lives lost in battle, it is also a haunting reminder of the victims of war who those servicemen sought to protect.
Drukier, who is known by many as a senior communications adviser for the town, recently embarked on a cathartic family journey that she hopes will evolve to contribute to the growing catalogue of Holocaust history.
The daughter of 89-year-old Manny Drukier, the award-winning author of Carved in Stone: Holocaust Years – a Boy’s Tale, Laurie joined her family on a two-week trip to Poland and Germany to retrace the journey made by her then teenage father. He escaped five years living in hiding with his family, then a series of concentration camps and lived to tell his story.
“He and my mom (Freda) went to Warsaw, Poland, in 1991 to trace his journey and that is where he wrote that book,” said Laurie, who joined her family from Oct. 16 to 30 to make the historical, emotional journey through her father’s country of origin.
“All of us – my three siblings, my parents, my brother’s middle daughter and my son met up in Warsaw and planned this big trip,” she said, explaining that an article stumbled upon by her brother, Gordon, last March led to the family journey-turned documentary – with two cameramen accompanying the family to record each step of the way.
Last spring, Gordon came across a Smithsonian magazine article online and a group photo that included a teenage Manny.
The photo was printed by author Anna Andlauer in her book, The Rage to Live. The International D.P. Children’s Center Kloster Indersdorf 1945-6.
For the book, Andlauer, a Holocaust researcher, connected with surviving children of the Holocaust who were displaced and received early therapy care at the children’s home from a then and now point of view.
The article Gordon discovered was on the display of Andlauer’s work that was featured at the United Nations in New York.
“We were struck by the stories of the surviving children. A lot of Holocaust stories are about people who perished … Anna tracked down a lot of people who went on to do great things,” Laurie said.
The family reached out to Andlauer to meet the authoress and retrace Manny’s journey through concentration camps – including his escape that led him to the children’s home for several months, eventually on to New York and then to Toronto, where he would settle down.
“It was a rollercoaster … these war sites are sad and upsetting and very emotionally heavy,” said Laurie, adding that she learned a great deal about her father’s arduous journey as a Holocaust survivor – from the separation of he and his father, who died while being transported between concentration camps, from his mother and sister, who he was reunited with post-war.
The journey included visits to hallmark concentration camps Buchenwald, where Manny spent time, and Auschwitz, where his mother was for a period of time.
As the Nazis were meticulous about their records and archives, Laurie said they were even able to get close to finding out the identity of a fellow concentration camp inmate of Manny’s – one whom he switched numbers with so that he could remain with his father to be transported to another concentration camp, where inmate slave labour was used to make war munitions.
The group also spent time connecting with other researchers and speaking to school children in Germany – where Laurie said she was impressed by the apparent awareness and public education in that country to make sure history never repeats itself.
Manny had lost more than 90 per cent of his extended family to the Holocaust – a startling, yet not uncommon number of relatives for that time.
For Laurie, who grew up in an active Jewish community in Toronto, the Holocaust was a common thread where everyone had lost family members or celebrated survivors. It was simply the norm for Jewish children to grow up with these stories.
Laurie said she is excited to see how the documentary and accompanying online segments will take shape and be shared with the world.