Surviving COVID – With Real Survivors

Mary Siklos


I am not trivializing the situation. Life during this COVID misery is difficult. Life as we knew it has changed drastically.

People are isolated from friends and relatives. Lots of people can’t work from home. Many have lost their jobs and encountered serious financial difficulties. People have not seen their children or grandchildren for over two months. People fell terribly ill and quite a few have passed away.

Yet, I’d like to bring a different perspective to the forefront. Personally, I happen to be in a situation where I can regularly connect with several elderly Holocaust survivors in Toronto. I talk to them on the phone, I email them, or exchange text messages. Most are at least 90 years old. One recently turned 96.

When I complained to “Claire” about not being able to meet my friends and having to self-isolate, she reminded me that she had to spend several years in hiding during the Nazi occupation in Holland. She pointed out that in her family’s hiding place, they didn’t have TV, internet, food delivery, Zoom or any of today’s conveniences. As a young child, she and her sister could not make loud sounds, which would risk immediate discovery, betrayal and, ultimately, death. So I shut up.

When I recently wished Martin happy birthday, he replied: “I had better birthdays. But I also had worse ones.” Martin was separated from his family at age 16 and shipped to a foreign country. Then, he lied about his age to enlist in the army just to be shipped back to Europe to fight the Nazis. He was wounded and became a prisoner of war as he “celebrated” his birthday. So I shut up.

When I told Eva, that I can’t make any travel plans in the near future, she laughed. She and her mother used to travel a lot before they were forced to move to a Jewish ghetto. She was lucky she didn’t end up “travelling” on one of those trains to Auschwitz. So I shut up.

I was upset that I could not go to grocery store, or any other store, for the past nine weeks. Agnes told me that in 1944, as a 14-year-old blond, blue-eyed girl, she carried fake Christian papers, but when she went to the store to buy some food, the butcher became suspicious and wanted to call the police to report her. So I shut up.

The Holocaust survivors I am friends with and regularly talk to have been my role models. They are my rock during these difficult months. They changed the way I look at my “complaints.” And I know they will survive COVID, just as they survived the Shoah. They showed me a different perspective. They never complain. They just tell me their stories, and I shut up.

Mary Siklos is a descendant of Hungarian Holocaust survivors. She immigrated to Canada in 1986 and has worked in the Toronto Jewish community for 33 years. Over the past 19 years, she served as manager of operations at the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre (UJA Federation), overseeing such events as the annual Holocaust Education Week and the Yom Ha’Shoah community commemoration.