"We Started over Again, We Were Young": Postwar Social Worlds of Child Holocaust Survivors in Montreal

By Sheftel, Anna; Zembrzycki, Stacey | Urban History Review, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview
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"We Started over Again, We Were Young": Postwar Social Worlds of Child Holocaust Survivors in Montreal


Sheftel, Anna, Zembrzycki, Stacey, Urban History Review


Thousands of child Holocaust survivors arrived in Montreal, Quebec, between 1947 and 1952, looking to remake their lives, rebuild their families, and recreate their communities. Integration was not seamless. As survivors struggled to carve spaces for themselves within the established Canadian Jewish community, their difficult wartime stories were neither easily received nor under stood. When remembering this period, survivors tend to speak about employment, education, dating, integration into both the pre-war Jewish community and the larger society, and, perhaps most importantly, the creation of their own social worlds within existing and new frameworks. Forged in a transitional and tumultuous period in Quebec's history, these social worlds, as this article demonstrates, are an important example of survivor agency.

Although survivors recall the ways in which Canadian Jews helped them adjust to their new setting, by organizing a number of programs and clubs within various spaces--Jeanne Mance House, the Young Men's and Young Women's Hebrew Association, and the Jewish Public Library--they also speak about how they forged their own paths upon arriving in this postwar city. For instance, survivors created the New World Club, an informal and grassroots social organization where they could prioritize their own needs and begin to be understood as people, and not just survivors. Establishing the interconnection between these formal and informal social worlds, and specifically, how survivors navigated them, is central to understanding the process through which they were able to move beyond their traumatic pasts and start over. Nightmares and parties are parts of the same story, and here the focus is on the memories young survivors who prioritized their social worlds.

Des milliers d'enfants survivants de l'Holocauste sont arrives a Montreal, au Quebec, entre 1947 et 1952, cherchant a refaire leurs vies reconstruire leurs familleds et recreer leurs communautes. L'integration n'etait pas sans faille. Non seulement les survivants ont-ils du mal a se tailler une place au sein de la communaute juive canadienne existante, leurs penibles recits de la guerre ne sont ni facilement recus, ni facilement compris. Se rappelant cette periode, les survivants ont tendance a parler de l'emploi de l'education, de rencontres et d'integration a la fois dans la communaute juive et la societe d'avant-guerre et, plus encore, de la creation de leurs propres univers sociaux dans de cadres etablis ou recents. Crees dans une periode transitoire et tumultueuse de l'histoire du Quebec, ces mondes sociaux, comme le montre cet article, sont un exemple important de la volonte d'agir des survivants.

Bien que les survivants rappellent comment les Juifs du Canada les ont aides a s'adapter a leur nouveau contexte, en organisant un certain nombre de programmes et de clubs au sein de differents espaces - Jeanne Mance House, la Young Men's and Young Women's Hebrew Association et la Jewish Public Library - ils racontent aussi comment ils ont forge leur propre voies en arrivant dans cette ville d'apresguerre. Par exemple, les survivants ont crees le New World Club, un organisme social informel et populaire ou ils pouvaient donner priorite a leurs propres besoins et commencer a etre compris comme etres humains et non seulement comme survivants. Demontrer les interconnexions entre ces mondes sociaux formels et informels et, plus particulierement, comment les survivants y ont navigue, est essentiel a la comprehension du processus par lequel ils ont pu depasser leurs experiences traumatiques et repartir a zero. Cauchemars et fetes sont deux versants d'une meme historie' l'accent ici est mis sur les souvenirs des jeunes survivants qui ont accorde la priorite a leurs mondes sociaux.

  Surviving the Holocaust was a kind of a gift which came with two
  obligations. One was to ensure the continuity of the Jewish people.
  So I came here, I got married, two children, six grandchildren, this
  is done! 

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