Vera Schiff, Holocaust Survivor, Named to Order of Canada

Dec. 9, 2020

By SUSAN MINUK

A tattered diary no bigger than a credit card inspired Holocaust survivor Vera Schiff to spend a lifetime spreading her message of tolerance and gratitude across Canada.

Her efforts to educate students have not gone unnoticed. On Nov. 27, Schiff was named to the Order of Canada – among 114 new appointments.

Schiff (née Katz), 94, was honoured for her “illustrious career as an author, historian and public speaker who is nationally recognized for sharing her moving experiences of the Holocaust,” said a statement from Governor General Julie Payette.

It came as a surprise,” Schiff told the CJR. “I am very honoured and humbled. To be recognized gives me a great deal of satisfaction and gratitude to the government of Canada and those who recommended me.”

Vera Schiff

Schiff was born in 1926 in Prague, Czechoslovakia, to Elsie and Siegfried Schiff. Raised with her sister Eva, her childhood was a happy one. On March 15, 1939, the German army invaded and occupied the country and her life was forever changed. Schiff and her family were deported in 1942 to Terezin (Theresienstadt), where only Schiff survived from among about 50 members of her extended family.

She found the strength to move forward after discovering her mother’s small journal.

“I think she found comfort in entering these little day-by-day pains from Terezin,” said Schiff. “It’s my greatest treasure, the only thing I have from her.”

In the book, Elsie offered her daughter valuable life advice.

“She knew I would need medical attention and said after my recovery [that] I should go back to school to acquire skills and knowledge to make my way through life, and to become a contributing member to society,” Schiff recalled. “Every time I am at a crossroad, I turn to the diary. And although it’s always the same, I somehow know what she would have hoped me to do. The last page was a letter to me… a blueprint on how to live my life.”

Schiff met her future husband, Arthur Schiff, in the Theresienstadt ghetto (see B&W photo with story). After the war, they settled in Prague, and then moved to Israel in 1949. In 1961, they came to Toronto, where Schiff worked as a medical technologist at Toronto General Hospital and Arthur was a pharmacist. She and her husband have two sons, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Arthur died in 2001.

In recognition of her contributions to literature, Schiff was awarded an Honourary Doctorate of Letters from the University of New Brunswick in 2012, and this summer, received an Honourary Doctor of Letters degree during a virtual convocation ceremony at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia.

Schiff has published seven books. Theresienstadt: The Town the Nazis Gave to the Jews won the Elie Wiesel History of the Holocaust Award.

She was also a Czech language court interpreter during the trial of Toronto’s neo-Nazi Holocaust denier, Ernst Zundel in the 1980s. “He said the Holocaust did not exist – it was a Jewish invention,” Schiff recalled. “I couldn’t believe in my lifetime people would deny what I lived through.”

Schiff’s message never wavers. “Each and every one of us must do his share to make this world a better place. I tell students to remember: Freedom is not a gift, it is a privilege. We are very fortunate in Canada to live in a wonderful country with freedom and dignity. We must preserve it and pass it on. It is our duty.”

Schiff remains steadfast in her quest to educate Canadians. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, she has adapted to new technology and continues to educate students by Zoom.

Editorial: Mark Zuckerberg Doesn’t Care About Holocaust Denial

Aug. 6, 2020 – No less a thinker than Homer Simpson once pronounced: “It’s not that I don’t understand, it’s that I don’t care.” It is difficult not to consider these words when confronted by the actions of Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook.

Facebook is arguably the most important social media platform of our time – maybe the most influential information outlet of all time. It has brought together old friends and lost relatives; it has allowed for the continuation of friendships around the world; it has spawned groups dealing with everything from recipes to physics. But Facebook also has a dark side, which prompts our thoughts today.

In years past, in order for hate groups, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and Holocaust deniers to spread their vile messages, they were mostly forced to stand on busy street corners, handing out their abhorrent messages. If two people walked away with a leaflet, it was considered a good day.

In 2020, all that is required for hatred to seep into our communities is a laptop and internet hookup. Consider numbers that would make legacy media hyperventilate: Worldwide, there are over 2.7 billion monthly active users of Facebook, and 1.8 billion people on average log onto the site every day – a 12 percent increase over just a year ago.

Facebook has been confronted often with requests to take more corporate responsibility by guarding against its use, or misuse, by hatemongers. From time to time, some individuals have been deplatformed. Sadly, the numbers are few and the will from Facebook seems weak.

For the Jewish community, the focus is on the numerous Holocaust deniers who use Facebook as their vehicle of choice to spread their poison. Those of a certain age might remember Toronto-based Ernst Zundel, who was once the largest purveyor of Holocaust denial material in the world. He would salivate today at how Facebook could distribute his lies.

It may seem unbelievable, but Facebook has consistently refused to recognize Holocaust denial as a violation of its “community standards.” Indeed, consider the opening statement of the site’s terms of reference for its standards when it comes to hate speech:

“We do not allow hate speech on Facebook because it creates an environment of intimidation and exclusion and in some cases may promote real-world violence.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League, Zuckerberg explained in a 2018 interview: “I don’t believe that our platform should take that [Holocaust denial] down because I think there are things that different people get wrong,” notably adding, “I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong…”

News flash for Mark Zuckerberg (who was raised in a Jewish home): Holocaust denial is not just getting historical facts “wrong,” it’s intentional all right, and the most contemptible form of Jew-hatred imaginable.

In recent weeks the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, or Claims Conference, has begun a campaign dubbed #NoDenyingIt!

It’s an online campaign “to ensure the voices of Holocaust survivors are heard by Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg and that is: ‘Holocaust denial posts on Facebook must be removed!’ As one survivor put it, ‘They are calling us liars. We are witnesses,’” the Claims Conference stated.

Holocaust survivors have been sending short videos every day to Zuckerberg demanding he stop this hatred. It’s horrible that in the dusk of their lives, these elderly men and women must ask Facebook to do the right thing. It’s time for Zuckerberg to stop doing a Homer Simpson and to show he understands – and cares.