Reflections on Profound Losses

A Message from VHEC Executive Director Nina Krieger

Survivors of the Holocaust are central to the VHEC’s mission and to the impact of many of our educational programs. A small and exceptionally dedicated group of survivor speakers share their eyewitness accounts of loss and survival with audiences at our annual and district-wide symposia, at the Centre, in classrooms and at commemorative and community programs.

This week, the VHEC community is mourning the passing of three of its longstanding Holocaust survivor speakers.

On April 21, Belgian Holocaust survivor Alex Buckman z’l passed away in Warsaw, Poland while participating in the 2023 March of the Living. As a tireless speaker and a longstanding president of the Child Survivor Group,  Alex’s impact on the VHEC, the audiences we serve, and the local survivor community are immeasurable. Our deepest sympathies go out to Alex’s wife, Colette, son Patrick, and to the entire Buckman family.

Alex Buckman, 2022

Alex was four years old when his father handed him over for safekeeping to Mademoiselle Andrée Geulen, a 20-year-old teacher in a Brussels school, one of the Righteous Among the Nations, who also saved hundreds of other Jewish children during the Holocaust. Both of Alex’s parents were murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Alex wrote about the significance of his relationship to Mademoiselle Andrée in the Spring 2022 issue of Zachor.

Alex was adopted by his aunt, Rebecca Teitlebaum, a survivor of Ravensbrück concentration camp. In his video testimony, Alex describes how Rebecca and other women in her barracks recorded, in secret and at great personal risk, recipes from memory in a handmade book. Alex donated Rebecca’s recipe book to the VHEC so that it could be preserved and support learning over time, and it is currently on display in the exhibition, In Focus: The Holocaust through the VHEC Collection.

When he spoke to students, Alex would share a copy of his aunt’s recipe for gateau à l’orange (orange cake) with audiences. Over the years, Alex and the VHEC received countless letters about the significance of the act of baking Rebecca’s cake. CBC featured this story in a documentary in 2017.

Alex’s passing comes days after the loss of two other VHEC Holocaust survivor speakers, David Ehrlich z’l on April 10 and Louise Stein Sorensen z’l on April 19. Our heartfelt condolences to David’s sons Perry, Brent and their families, and to Louise’s sons Andrew, Edward and their families.

Child survivor Louise Sorensen shows her mother’s identification card marked with a ‘J’.

A child survivor from Holland, Louise was a longstanding outreach speaker, a founding member of the Vancouver Child Survivor Group, a participant in the multidisciplinary Gesher Project, and served on the VHCS Board for a decade.

Louise was also a generous donor to the VHEC’s collection; her materials are described and digitally available here. A compelling speaker, Louise would wear a heavy coat and turn her back to the students as they entered the classroom in which she was about to speak. When the teacher introduced her, she would turn around and reveal the yellow Star of David patch sewn onto her coat. The students’ attention was assured from the outset.

Born in Gherla (now part of Romania) in 1926, and one of the war orphans that came to Canada in 1947, David Ehrlich was a captivating speaker, who travelled across BC to share the story of his survival of Auschwitz, the death march, and Mauthausen concentration camp. David was motivated to begin speaking when Jim Keegstra made headlines with his teachings in Alberta that denied the Holocaust. Likening Holocaust denial to a second attempt at genocide, David was determined to counter antisemitism and distortion of history with his testimony.

David Ehrlich, 2007

David spoke with a humanity and charm that will be remembered by all who had the privilege of hearing him. I am one of these former students, who participated in a breakout session with David at the Annual Symposium on the Holocaust many years ago.

Alex, Louise and David are Life Fellows of the Vancouver Holocaust Centre Society, an honour bestowed by the Board of Directors for outstanding contributions to our mandate.

At this difficult time, the VHEC is here to support the survivor community in navigating these profound losses. We will always be grateful to Alex, Louise and David for all that they contributed to advancing learning and understanding about the Holocaust and its legacies, and about the possibility—the necessity, even—of resilience, compassion and hope in its aftermath.

May their memories be for a blessing and a source of courage and inspiration to us all.