Ontario Honours Holocaust Survivors

Nov. 10, 2020 


Ten Holocaust survivors who have made it their mission to educate younger generations about the dangers of antisemitism and racism were honoured by the Ontario government in a virtual ceremony on Nov. 5.

The annual ceremony, usually held at Queen’s Park, was scheduled for last spring but postponed due to COVID. This year’s virtual event was held during Holocaust Education Week, Nov. 2-9.

The theme of this year’s event was “passing the torch” – fitting, given that the honourees were all speakers at the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre and had dedicated hours to talking to students about their experiences, said Fran Sonshine national chair of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, in remarks that were recorded earlier at the Holocaust memorial in Toronto’s Earl Bales Park.

This year’s honorees were Hedy Bohm, Esther Fairbloom, Pola Goldhar, Denise (Fikman) Hans, Mark Lane, Faigie (Schmidt) Libman, Rose Lipszyc (née Handelsman), Captain Martin Maxwell, Andy Réti and Gershon Israel Willinger.

Each honoree had received a certificate, often surrounded by their children and grandchildren, in outdoor ceremonies recorded earlier.

The survivors spoke briefly, often thanking Canada for taking them in after the Second World War, and giving them a second chance to build a life – and about the importance of teaching young people about the Holocaust.

“I hope in the future to continue Holocaust education,” said Bohm. “My goal has been and always was to make young people feel empowered to stand up and speak against any type of prejudice.”

Debbie Estrin of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem presents a tribute from the government of Ontario to Capt. Martin Maxwell. Looking on is Maxwell’s wife, Eleanor. (Photo courtesy Canadian Society for Yad Vashem)

MPPs Roman Baber, Will Bouma, Rima Berns-McGown, Gila Martow, and Steven Del Duca, leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario, introduced each honoree.

Premier Doug Ford praised the honourees’ “unbelievable bravery,” saying their “resilience and strength continue to inspire me.”

Galit Baram, consul general of Israel in Toronto and Western Canada, and a descendant of Holocaust survivors, spoke about the “alarming rise” of antisemitism, assaults and Holocaust denial, even in democratic, western societies.

“What I have to come to realize is that the Sisyphean task of combating antisemitism necessitates continuous activity on three levels: legislation, prosecution and education,” Baram said in her remarks.

“Every time elected officials speak up against antisemitism and draw the line between what is acceptable and what is not, every time a Holocaust survivor provides testimony, every time a story of the Righteous Among the Nations is told in public, every step brings us closer to developing an antidote to hatred and racism,” Baram said.

To watch the ceremony, visit yadvashem.ca

Holocaust Survivor’s Slovak Cuisine Delighted Her Family

Nov. 6, 2020


Shabbat Shalom, and welcome to “Kitchen Talk,” the weekly food blog of The CJR. Nov. 2–9 is Holocaust Education Week (HEW), an annual series of programs run by the Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre.

The recipes this week come from the late Katarina Jolan Siroky, a survivor of Auschwitz. Siroky, née Holzman, was an excellent cook and baker, according to her daughter, Dagmar Niffeler.

After Siroky’s death in 1982, Niffeler organized her mother’s recipes into a cookbook for family members. “I thought that as our family has survived so many hardships, it would be nice to pass on some of these traditional foods, many of which go back to our grandmother and our Holzman heritage.”

Siroky prepared many of the dishes she had grown up eating in her native Slovakia. The food was Hungarian style because Slovakia had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of the First World War.

I am sharing a few of Siroky’s recipes this week. These classic Hungarian dishes include Chicken Paprika (or Chicken Paprikash); nockerl, or nokedli – Hungarian-style dumplings, and Sacher-Torte. 

This famous chocolate cake was invented in 1832 by Franz Sacher, an Austrian Jew. He was 16 and apprenticing as a sous chef when he created the namesake dessert.

His son, Eduard, went on to open the famous Hotel Sacher in Vienna, which today exports some 360,000 hand-made Sacher Tortes world-wide.

Family Life Fulfilled Siroky After Auschwitz 

Siroky grew up in Rudno, a small Slovakian village. She and her sister, Ilka (Doupovec) were the youngest of the six Holzman children. Her two older brothers immigrated to Canada and the United States, before the Second World War.

The two younger girls were shipped to Auschwitz in 1942. Siroky was 26 at the time. Because she spoke German, she worked in an office and did typing for a female SS officer. Niffeler said the two sisters kept each other alive in Auschwitz, on the death march of 1945, and later, in Bergen Belsen.

After the war they returned to their home town. Their parents and older sisters did not survive. Siroky married a childhood friend and gave birth to Niffeler in Slovakia.

With sponsorship from their brothers in North America, the family was able to emigrate in 1949. They ended up in Montreal and later settled in the predominantly Jewish suburb of Cote Saint-Luc.

Siroky gave birth to her son in 1953 and was an avid cook and gardener. In fact, in a baking competition held in Cote Saint-Luc, she won second prize for her Sacher Torte.

“Baking days were always a big event in our home,” recalled Niffeler. “My mother, often together with Aunt Ilka, made many pastries. Coming home to the sweet fragrant aromas and making shapes in the cookie dough was a real treat.” 

SACHER TORTE  Katarina Jolan Siroky

2 cups (500 ml) semisweet chocolate chips or 8 oz (230 g) chocolate 
12 eggs, separated
6 tbsp (90 ml) icing sugar
½ lb (230 g) butter, at room temperature
1 tsp (5 ml) vanilla
2 cups (500 ml) ground walnuts**
6 tbsp (90 ml) flour
1 tsp (5 ml) baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup (250 ml) apricot jam
** Ground almonds, hazelnuts or pecans can be substituted for the ground walnuts


8 squares (8 oz or 230 g) semi-sweet chocolate
3 tbsp (45 ml) butter
Whole almonds blanched for garnish (optional)
Whipped cream for serving

Line 2 8-or 9-inch, (21–23 cm) round baking pans with parchment paper. Grease with butter and sprinkle with flour. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over simmering water or on medium high heat in a microwave. Set aside to cool slightly.

Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, whip the egg whites until they reach a soft peak. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the ground nuts, mix the dry ingredients well and set aside.

Transfer the yolks to the stand-mixer bowl. Add the icing sugar and beat with the yolks. Add the vanilla, and butter. Add the melted chocolate. Combine well.

In three additions, fold the flour and ground nut mixture into the yolk and chocolate mixture. Fold the beaten egg whites into the batter in two additions.

Transfer the batter to the prepared baking pans. Bake for 20–25 minutes. The cake should be moist when done. The cakes can be removed from the pans while still warm. Let them cool completely.

To make the icing: In a large bowl combine the chocolate and butter. Set the bowl over simmering water and mix until the chocolate is glossy and the mixture has the thickness of icing. (Alternatively melt the chocolate mixture in the microwave on medium heat.)

To Assemble: Turn the first cake upside down on a serving plate. Spread the apricot jam over the top. Place the second cake on the jam layer to create the top layer of the cake. Spread the icing over the top of and sides of the cake. 

Optional: Garnish the cake with almonds in the shape of a daisy. Serve with whipped cream. Makes 10–12 servings.


A 4-lb (1½ K) chicken, cut in 8 pieces
2 tbsp (30 ml) paprika
2 tsp (10 ml) salt
1 tsp (5 ml) pepper to taste
2 tsp (10 ml) caraway seeds
3–4 tbsp (45–60 ml) olive oil
1–2 tbsp (15–30 ml) coconut oil (optional) 
1 large onion, sliced
1–3 cloves garlic, whole
** ½ green pepper, sliced
2–3 cups (500–750 ml) of broth
2 tbsp (30 ml) tomato paste
1 tbsp (15 ml) corn starch
2 tbsp (30 ml) water for corn-starch slurry
Juice of 1 lemon

**a red, yellow or orange pepper can be substituted

Coat a large skillet with the oil. Add the chicken pieces and sprinkle with the salt, pepper, paprika and caraway seeds. On medium heat sauté the chicken, browning well on both sides. Remove the chicken pieces from the pan and place them on a plate Add the onion. Sauté in the oil. Add extra oil if necessary. When the onion slices are browned, return the chicken to the pan. Add the broth, stir in the tomato paste. Add the garlic, and sliced pepper. 

Cook chicken until tender, about 25 minutes. Transfer chicken to a hot serving dish and remove the pepper slices.

Make a slurry: Mix 1 tbsp corn starch with 2 tbsp water. Add to the sauce and incorporate to thicken. Bring the sauce to a boil and reduce the heat. Taste for seasoning. Add the juice of ½ lemon.

To serve pour the sauce over the chicken or return the chicken to the sauce in the pan and serve from the pan. Makes 4–6 servings. Paprika Chicken is usually served with nockerl or dumplings, but also goes well with rice. 

NOCKERL (Dumplings) Katarina Jolan Siroky

2 cups (500 ml) all purpose flour, sifted
1/2–3/4 cup (125– 185 ml) water
3 eggs
1 tbsp (15 ml) salt
2–3 tbsp (30–45 ml) margarine for melting 

Fill a 2 quart (2 L) pot halfway with water. Add salt and bring to a boil.

In a large bowl combine the flour, water, eggs and salt. Mix well to form a soft, pasty dough. Roll out the dough on a wet bread board. Dip a sharp knife into the boiling water and cut the dough into 1-inch (2.5 cm)-wide strips. Cut the strips into 1-inch (2.5 cm) squares and place them directly into the boiling water.

Stir to prevent sticking and do not overcrowd the pot. Cook about 7 minutes. When the water begins to boil again, turn off the heat. When the nockerl are done they will rise to the top. Drain them in a colander.

Melt the margarine in the pot. Place the nockerl back in the pot and coat with the margarine. 

Transfer the nockerl to a hot serving dish and serve with Paprika Chicken (Chicken Paprikash).


Nov. 8, 2 p.m.: Montreal-style Pizza making workshop through MNJCC’s Jewish& Virtual Cookbook program https://www.amilia.com/store/en/miles-nadal-jcc/shop/activities/2864377 

Nov. 11, 11 a.m.: Asian Dumplings –Virtual Cooking with Maria Lindgren (Bernard Betel Centre)


Dec. 3, 5 p.m.: Cook Global Cuisine with Carolyn Tanner-Cohen, sponsored by Grandmothers Partnering with Africa, Stephen Lewis Foundation. Email: GPWafrica@gmail.com

Hamilton Jewish Book Fair, Holocaust Education Week Combine

Oct. 30, 2020


Holocaust heroes and survivors. Mossad spies. Infamous Nazis. Wealthy Jews who once controlled Shanghai.

These and other inviting subjects are set to be explored at Hamilton’s Jewish Book Fair and Holocaust Education Week.

Usually separate events, the celebration of Jewish books and Shoah memorial has been combined into a series of online programs this year.

Gustavo Rymberg, CEO of the Hamilton Jewish Federation, said that in the age of COVID, merging the events made sense.

“Instead of asking people to register separately for both events we’d do them together,” he told the CJR. “It’s also a chance for some of our young families to get familiar with Holocaust Education Week.

“We think it’s important for our young people to learn about that now and not wait for a teacher to bring it up in school,” he added.

“Everyone has a responsibility to talk about the Holocaust, not only in educational settings but conversations need to take place at home. It is shocking that a large number of young Canadians are unaware that over six million Jewish men, women and children were killed during the Holocaust.”

The plan for this year is to centre around nine books – five during book festival events Nov. 1-4 and four during Holocaust week, Nov. 8-12.

Leading off the book festival is Jonathan Kaufman presenting on his book The Last King of Shanghai. It chronicles the moral compromises, foresight and generosity of two extraordinary Jewish families – the Sassoons and the Kadoories – who ruled over Chinese business and politics for more than 175 years.

Both originally from Baghdad, they profited from the Opium Wars that tore China apart and then survived the communist takeover of the country.

Now the director of the School of Journalism at Northeastern University in Boston, Kaufman spent 30 years and won a Pulitzer Prize covering China for the Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News.

In an interview, Kaufman said the idea for the book was born in the late 1970s when, newly arrived in China, he began to see traces of a century of Jewish influence on the country.

In addition to being a story of wealth and power, Kaufman said the book adds an important piece to our understanding of Jewish history.

“We tend to think of Jewish history as the stories of poor European immigrants who work hard and rise to great heights,” he said. “This is another part of the history of Jews who also worked hard and climbed to great heights.”

Kaufman is also the author of A Hole in the Heart of the World: Being Jewish in Eastern Europe and Broken Alliance: The Turbulent Times Between Blacks and Jews in America, which won a National Jewish Book Award.

The book festival will also include presentations on Red Sea Spies, the true story of the Mossad operation that used a diving resort on the coast of Somalia as a cover to rescue thousands of Ethiopian Jews and smuggle them to Israel. The book was written by long-time BBC Middle East correspondent Raffi Berg.

On Nov. 2, former New York Times reporter Howard Blum will discuss his book Night of the Assassins: The Untold Story of Hitler’s Plot to Kill FDR, Churchill and Stalin. It’s the true story of a Nazi plot to destroy the leaders of the Allies during their Tehran conference in 1943. With their leaders dead, the German hope was that the stricken Allies would then be willing to make peace with the Third Reich.

Concealed, to be presented Nov. 3 by author Esther Amini, tells the story of her struggles growing up in Queens, N.Y. in the 1960s – the daughter of Jewish-Iranian refugees trying to find a balance between her parents’ traditions and her longing for American freedom.

The final book festival presentation is slated for Nov.4. The title for that night will be Nobody Will Tell You This But Me, Bess Kalb’s recounting of family lore and secrets from her grandmother chronicling the lives of four generations of women and the men who loved them.

Holocaust Education Week events kick off Nov. 8 with a presentation of Toronto author Kathy Kacer’s true story, The Brushmaker’s Daughter.

It tells the tale of a 12-year-old German-Jewish girl and her blind father on the run from the Nazis. They are sheltered by brush factory owner Otto Weidt, who employs blind Jewish workers in his factory, determined to save as many as he can.

Kacer, a former psychologist, has written often about the Holocaust and the people who struggled against it. In an interview, she said “as soon as I heard about this, I knew it would be the next story I would tell. The example of individuals who exhibit that kind of moral strength is a great one, especially today. Capturing stories like this is even more important today. We still have a small window of opportunity today to capture those stories.”

Kacer added that while the central character of the story is fictional, Weidt and his factory are historical. Weidt and all the people he helped are now dead but the factory itself survives and has been turned into a museum.

Capturing Holocaust stories, she added, is important because her parents were both survivors: Her mother hid during the war while her father survived a concentration camp.

On Nov. 9, author A. J. Sidransky will discuss his novel The Interpreter, the story of a 23-year-old American G.I. Kurt Berlin, who returns to Europe to help interrogate captured Nazis as part of a program to recruit them to work against the Soviet Union in the coming Cold War.

Former Nazi hunter David Marwell will discuss his book Mengele: Unmasking the “Angel of Death” on Nov. 10. The book explores how an ambitious researcher could become a faithful servant of the Nazi cause.

Marwell served as chief of investigative research at the U. S. Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations in the 1980s and worked on the hunt for the notorious “Angel of Death” Dr. Josef Mengele.

The final book presentation for the week is slated for Nov. 12, when journalist Peter Ross Range will discuss The Unfathomable Ascent, his detailing of Adolf Hitler’s eight-year march to the pinnacle of German politics.

Holocaust Education Week also incorporates the virtual exhibit Vad Vashem: Shoah: How Was it Humanly Possible, and the Nov. 15 special presentation Voices of our Holocaust Survivors with young Hamiltonians interviewing Holocaust survivors.

Times and details for all events are available at https://jewishhamilton.org/2020jewishbookfestival

Holocaust Education Week 2020: Hindsight 2020

Oct. 27, 2020


In a year characterized by increased antisemitism frequently linked to COVID conspiracy theories and social unrest caused by the lingering effects of systemic racism, it seemed only natural that Holocaust Education Week 2020 would tackle some of the the underlying conditions that contribute to such activities. In a quickly changing world, it is more relevant than ever that we understand the role Holocaust education can and does play in fostering an inclusive society that respects all Canadians.

Holocaust Education Week (HEW) runs Nov. 2-9 with programs continuing throughout the month. This year’s theme, Hindsight 2020, developed by UJA’s Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre, the organizer of the event, aims to do just that. By reflecting on the role that Holocaust education has played in our community, and promoting best practices in education that encourages deep learning, a solid foundation is laid for dealing present day challenges.

Now more than ever, nurturing Canadian civil society through the lessons of the Holocaust is a vital goal of HEW.

In response to the pandemic, the Neuberger has transformed Holocaust Education Week into a digital experience continuing throughout the year. By partnering with the Virtual J, programs will be presented live, free of charge and available for viewing on-demand long after the conclusion of each presentation.

Dara Solomon, the Neuberger’s executive director, commented on the new format: “Partnering with the Virtual J extends the reach of our programming to diverse audiences everywhere. Now, anyone with internet access can learn about the Holocaust wherever they live, at any time of day assured that the programming is built on the best and highest pedagogical standards,” she said.

HEW’s opening night unpacks the theme with American journalist Yair Rosenberg addressing the role Holocaust education and memory play in combatting the threats of contemporary antisemitism, prejudice, and fascism. He and Canadian journalist Sarah Fulford, editor-in-chief of Toronto Life magazine, will respond to some of today’s most pressing questions, including how and where does Holocaust education fit in to our current situation, and what have we learned from the Holocaust as a society that can better inform our future and point us towards a more just, equitable, and peaceful world?

A carefully curated film series that delves deeply into this year’s theme runs from November until next April. Each screening features special guest speakers, such as actor George Takei of Star Trek fame. As a child, Takei, along with other North Americans of Japanese heritage, was subject to forced relocation to internment camps during the Second World War. He has written a graphic memoir about his childhood experiences, titled They Called Us Enemy, which is an important entry point into learning about how our countries responded domestically while fighting fascism in Europe.

Takei’s personal insights provide yet another aspect of how the Second World War affected Canadians and Americans.

“For Canadians grappling with what our nation’s wartime conduct means, it helps provide a more complete picture and encourages dialogue on the significance of human rights in today’s civil society,” said Solomon.

Another not-to-be-missed program features philosopher and cultural commentator Susan Neiman, who will share her insights into grappling with the past and its significance with respect to contemporary memorial culture. A three-part Neuberger book talk series is devoted to her recent publication Learning from the Germans. Guest presenters are featured weekly and the series culminates with a discussion with Neiman.

HEW’s closing program will feature Holocaust survivor Pinchas Gutter’s personal reflections on the impact of Holocaust education and remembrance. Gutter, has spoken internationally about his Holocaust experiences, published his memoirs Memories in Focus with the Azrieli Foundation, and was one of the first to be interviewed for the USC Shoah Foundation’s Dimensions in Testimony program.

In conversation with the Neuberger’s Education Coordinator, Michelle Fishman, herself the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Gutter will expand on the role and power of education in combatting inequality, racism, fascism, and antisemitism.

A special tribute marking the 82nd anniversary of Kristallnacht, when a wave of violent anti-Jewish pogroms rampaged across Nazi Germany on Nov. 9 and 10, 1938, is also part of this program.

Visit the Neuberger’s website www.holocausteducationweek.com for a complete listing of all programs. 

Carson Phillips, PhD, is Managing Director of the Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto