Meet the people behind the VHEC
Staff members may be contacted using our contact us page.
Nina Krieger is the Executive Director, and formerly the Education Director and Curator, of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre. Nina has developed exhibitions, educational programs and pedagogical materials that challenge audiences to probe the complex historical, cultural and ethical issues raised by the Holocaust. Past curatorial projects include Canada Responds to the Holocaust, 1944–45, “Enemy Aliens”: The Interment of Jewish Refugees in Canada, 1940–1943 and More Than Just Games: Canada & the 1936 Olympics. During her tenure as Executive Director, the VHEC has completed multi-year projects to support the preservation, access and educational use of the Centre’s collections, and renewed its facilities to support visitor engagement at a moment of transition for Holocaust education and remembrance.
Before joining the VHEC, Krieger developed educational initiatives at the Contemporary Art Gallery (Vancouver), the London Consortium Summer School at Tate Modern (London) and Artangel (London). She holds an Honours degree in history from the University of British Columbia and a Master of Research degree in Humanities & Cultural Studies from the London Consortium, a multi-disciplinary graduate program of the University of London, the Architectural Association, the Institute of Contemporary Arts and Tate.
Nina is a member of the Canadian delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and a Past Chair of the Memorials and Museums Working Group. She is a member of the Expert Committee on Countering Radicalization to Violence, advising the Canada Centre for Community Engagement and Prevention of Violence.
Director of Operations
Director of Operations
Cindy joined the VHEC in 2016. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Simon Fraser University with a major in History and a minor in Museum Studies. Her background is in both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations and she has worked in accounting, investments, insurance and museum management. She has a passion for heritage and history.
Program & Development Manager
DR. ABBY WENER HERLIN
Program & Development Manager
Abby Wener Herlin has been engaged in the areas of social justice education, social emotional learning education, non-profit organizations and the creative written arts for over twenty years. She holds a PhD from UBC in Language and Literacy Education and has dual Master’s degrees in Social Justice Education and Counselling Psychology. She is a published academic and poet.
She founded Threads Education and Counselling in 2017, creating inclusive workshops on social justice and social and emotional learning themes, and has a therapeutic practice that serves adolescents and adults. In the past years she has served as a moderator for the VHEC’s community programs in partnership with the Cherie Smith Book Fair.
Abby is a member of the third generation. She is born and raised in Vancouver and is the proud mother of two young boys.
Zoya is responsible for all school programs at the VHEC, ranging from district symposia, museum tours to Holocaust Survivor Speaker sessions. She broadly assists teachers and other professionals with planning and access to the centre’s educational programs as well as resources.
With previous experience in the non-profit sector, handling a diverse portfolio of public art, historical, educational and community-centered projects, Zoya’s work at the VHEC is a seamless continuation of her interests. In addition, her international art practice focusing on the histories and politics of migrating communities makes her especially keen in helping further the anti-racism and human rights mandate of the centre.
Zoya graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with the Lawrence Shprintz Award and the Fulbright Scholarship.
Education Director & Curator
DR. ILONA SHULMAN SPAAR
Education Director & Curator (temporarily on leave)
Ilona has been with the VHEC since 2016. She has been engaged in museum education, exhibition projects and community outreach in both the private and public sector on a national and international level for more than a decade. Ilona has worked as a researcher and research consultant for diverse initiatives in the context of history, art, and visual culture. She also has written books on historical topics.
Ilona graduated with honours from the University of Basel (PhD) and from the University of Zurich (MA & BA), Switzerland, her native country. Thanks to a research scholarship by the Swiss government, she came to Canada as a visiting student at the University of British Columbia.
Acting Education Director
Acting Education Director
Tessa joined the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre in 2018 as a Young Canada Works student research assistant. She returned to the VHEC to work on the original exhibition Treasured Belongings: The Hahn Family & the Search for a Stolen Legacy.
Tessa graduated from the University of Victoria with a BA in French and Germanic Studies. She completed her MA in Holocaust Studies in 2020. Her thesis focused on how learning about the Holocaust can promote empathy and social justice through the power of story.
Director of Collections
Director of Collections
Shyla Seller is responsible for collections development and management at the VHEC, including guiding donors through the donation process, arranging and describing records, digitization, and maintenance of the VHEC’s searchable online database of archival, museum, testimony and library holdings. She develops and maintains the Centre’s information management policies, procedures and workflows, and writes grants in support of collections work.
Shyla holds master’s degrees in Archival Studies, Library and Information Studies and Publishing. She is the managing editor of Zachor and Archivaria: The Journal of the Association of Canadian Archivists (ACA) and is a member of the Sound and Moving Image Special Interest Section of the ACA.
Prior to joining the VHEC she worked with Arsenal Pulp Press, SFU Archives and the Western Front Artist Run Centre, where she specialized in the preservation and digitization of video tape.
Caitlin joined the VHEC in 2015 as part of the team that created the VHEC’s collections catalogue. In her role as Registrar, she is responsible for tracking donations to the museum and archives collection of the VHEC, coordinating loans, and testimony acquisitions and cataloguing. She supports external and internal reference and research into the collection and contributes to exhibition research and development. Caitlin is responsible for the long-term preservation environment of artefacts, including their handling and mounting.
Caitlin graduated from Simon Fraser University with a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities and Archaeology. She holds a Library & Information Technology diploma from Langara College. She has previously worked as a professional genealogist and bookseller.
Shannon is responsible for library operations at the VHEC. She manages library acquisitions, including donations of books and other material to the library, and helps researchers, teachers and students with their library research requests.
Shannon has worked in education, museums and libraries for several years and her role at the VHEC bridges all of these interests. Shannon started at the VHEC as a library volunteer in 2006 and was hired a year later as Librarian.
Shannon holds a Master of Library & Information Studies degree from the University of British Columbia, as well as a Master of Arts degree in History from Western University and a Bachelor of Education degree from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto.
Volunteer and Events Coordinator
Volunteer and Events Coordinator
Board of Directors
Corinne Zimmerman is the daughter of Holocaust survivors Henry Zimmerman (z”l) and Sally Zimmerman. She joined the board of the Vancouver Holocaust Centre Society over six years ago, and assumed the role of President in 2020. She is married to Jonathan Festinger and is the proud mother of Jeremy, Dara and Avrel.
Corinne is General Counsel with the federal Department of Justice, practicing in the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio with a focus on legal innovation. She is passionate about education and remembrance of the Holocaust.
Bio coming soon.
Second Vice President
Second Vice President
Al Szajman joined the Vancouver Holocaust Centre Society board in 2012. During his 30-year career in marketing and advertising, he worked with both global and lesser known brands, and local and national not-for-profit organizations.
As a son of Holocaust survivors and someone with a broad mix of friends, he believes VHEC’s work is as important today as ever.
Philip Levinson, has served on the board of the Vancouver Holocaust Centre Society for more than ten years. He is on the Planned Giving Committee, and provides advice to prospective supporters. Levinson served as VHCS President from 2016 to 2020. He has sat on many community boards including as co-president of the Richmond Jewish Day School.
Philip Levinson is a CPA, CA and runs a wealth management, estate planning and insurance practice at ZLC Financial. He and his wife, Sherry (Gelfer), have three wonderful children: Hayley, Joshua and Julia.
He has coached youth soccer in Richmond, served on the Board of the RYSA and coached soccer for Maccabi Canada at the 2009 and 2013 Maccabiah Games held in Israel. He plays soccer and enjoys cycling and golf.
Rita Akselrod is a child survivor born in Romania and a founding member of the VHEC.
She has served in numerous capacities, including as Vice President, President and Past President; and on the Nominations committee, Life Fellow committee and Symposium committee. She is the coordinator of the VHEC’s Outreach Speakers program.
In 2013, Rita Akselrod won the YWCA’s Woman of Distinction award in the category of Voluntary Community and Humanitarian Service.
Her warmth and kindness serve as an inspiration to the VHEC staff and her fellow directors. Always there to lend a hand, or to bake delicious goodies for symposia, meetings and luncheons, Rita exemplifies the meaning of community service.
Michelle Guez, a grandchild of Holocaust survivors, was born in Israel and moved to Vancouver at the age of six. Michelle obtained a bachelor’s degree in communications from UBC and a master’s degree in business administration from the French business school HEC. Her professional experience includes working for 10 years in market research at Eli Lilly’s European head office in Paris. In 2011, Michelle moved back to Vancouver with her husband and had three children. Since then, she has volunteered for the VHEC, King David High School, Jewish Family Services and other organizations.
Belinda is the Clinical Services Director at Rockdoc Consulting Inc. She possesses years of experience as a bedside nurse at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver in HIV care, Acute Medicine and the Emergency Room, BC Children’s Hospital ER, and in the private sector. She has also worked as a Street Nurse on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver and had extensive exposure to social issues, substance abuse, and violence prevalent in this community.
Belinda later moved to an educator role as a Nursing Instructor at BCIT and Vancouver Community College. Belinda has her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from BCIT, and a Masters of Science in Nursing from UBC.
Belinda’s passion for the VHEC developed after attending an open house during the 2010 Olympics. Following this she became a docent at the Centre which she continues to do today. Her devotion to the VHEC is inspired by the reaction she sees from the students visiting the Centre. She joined the Vancouver Holocaust Centre Society board in 2015, and prior to this held a four-year term on the Vancouver Talmud Torah School Board of Directors.
Belinda was born and raised in New Zealand before moving to Vancouver. She is married and has two sons. She is an avid runner and sports enthusiast.
Michael Lipton is a partner at Kahn Zack Ehrlich Lithwick LLP, where he has a broad solicitor’s practice. Michael was born and raised in Calgary and moved to Richmond in 2013 where he lives with his wife and children. As a sports enthusiast, Michael can often be found on the golf course or on the ice.
Bio coming soon
Talya Nemetz-Sinchein is the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. She was born and raised in Vancouver, and lived in Ontario, England and the Netherlands while completing her psychology and law degrees at Queen’s University. As a civil litigator, Talya strives to resolve legal disputes pragmatically and efficiently. When not working, Talya enjoys cooking, hiking and spending time with friends and family. Talya joined the board of the Vancouver Holocaust Centre Society to educate herself so that she is better able to continue the work of the VHEC by educating others.
Ken Sanders is a native Vancouverite and has been affiliated with the Vancouver Holocaust Centre Society for more than 25 years. Most recently he has served as the partner in charge of the Society’s annual financial statements. Prior to this engagement, Ken served on the Society’s board of directors for five years. During that time he chaired the Society’s inaugural Planned Giving Committee. Ken has recently retired after working for more than 30 years as a public accountant. He looks forward to many years of spending time travelling, being with family, and, of course, participating in the affairs of the VHEC.
Holocaust Survivor Speakers
Janos Benisz is a child survivor from Hungary. Born in 1938, Janos may be one of the youngest concentration camp survivors in Canada. At the age of six, Janos and his mother—along with 19,000 other Hungarian Jews—were rounded up and sent to Strasshauf concentration camp in Austria. As he was being marched to transport, Janos saw his father and grandmother’s bodies lying outside the family home, murdered.
Janos spent eight to nine months in Strasshauf until the Russians liberated the camp. Afterwards, Janos and his mother returned to the family home. Later, one of Janos’ uncles took him to a Jewish orphanage in Budapest. He remained there until he was nearly 10 years old. His mother remained in their family home until she died in her 70s.
Janos was sent to Canada at the age of 10 in 1948. He was adopted by a family in Winnipeg and lived in seven foster homes, an orphanage and a reform school from the ages of 10 through 17.
Janos became a newspaper reporter and worked for many newspapers, including the Vancouver Sun.
Amalia Boe-Fishman was born in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands on August 23, 1939. She survived the Holocaust as a child in hiding. After the Second World War, Amalia travelled to Israel where she met her first husband, with whom she immigrated to Canada and had three sons. Amalia came to terms with her Holocaust experience while attending a hidden child conference in Israel. Today, Amalia is a devoted Survivor Outreach Speaker for the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre and a member of the Vancouver Child Survivors Group.
Lillian Boraks-Nemetz was born in Warsaw, Poland. In 1940, Lillian’s family was forced to move into the Warsaw ghetto. In 1942, after narrowly escaping deportation several times, her father made arrangements for Lillian to leave the ghetto. Using a false identity, she went into hiding in several Polish villages for the remainder of the war.
She was eventually reunited with her father and mother.
Lillian’s family immigrated to Canada in 1947, living in Montreal and Victoria before settling in Vancouver.
Lillian is the author of Mouth of Truth: Buried Secrets, several volumes of poetry, as well as the award-winning trilogy of young adult novels: The Old Brown Suitcase, The Sunflower Diary and The Lenski File. She has translated two volumes of poetry by Polish émigré writers and worked as a creative writing instructor.
ALEX BUCKMAN is a child survivor from Belgium who survived the Holocaust in hiding. Today, he is president of the Vancouver Child Survivors group. Alex has spoken to thousands of students as a VHEC Holocaust Survivor Speaker.
Miriam Dattel lived through Nazi atrocities as a young girl in Croatia, Italy and Switzerland, before immigrating to Israel with her family in 1949. A survivor in every way, Miriam’s life began anew as she started her own family and launched a remarkable 40-year nursing career. Miriam lives in Burnaby with her husband, near their three adult children and their families. She is a member of the Child Survivors group.
Serge was born in Târgu Ocna, Romania, on July 23, 1928. In 1936, he moved to Iași with his mother, father and younger sister, where there was a well-established Jewish community. His father was involved in wholesale pharmaceuticals, and Serge attended a secular school for four years.
By the early 1930s, the population had become increasingly hostile toward Jews. When the war started, Serge was no longer able to attend public school and instead attended a Jewish school set up by the community. In late June 1941, Serge witnessed a massacre of Jews in the streets. Serge’s family barricaded themselves in their home and survived the pogrom in which thousands of Jews perished.
After the pogrom, life for Serge’s family returned to “normal”: Serge and his family were made to wear armbands with the Star of David and, like people throughout the region, faced wartime food shortages and deprivation. In August 1944, Iași was occupied by Soviet troops and Serge was able to return to school. His father decided they should move to Bucharest and he bribed a Jewish Soviet officer to assist them. Serge finished high school there and began to study pharmaceuticals. By September 1947, Serge had become a radical anti-communist and had to leave the country. He and his father travelled to the Hungarian border where Serge crossed on foot. He spent the next year illegally crossing the borders of Austria, Italy and France.
In Paris, Serge trained as an ironworker. He obtained a visa to Cuba, where he spent two years working for a pharmaceutical company in Havana. He moved to Montreal in 1950. His parents followed in 1953, and his sister in 1956. Eventually, Serge moved to Vancouver where he married and had three children.
Robert Krell is a child Holocaust survivor from Holland. He founded or co-founded the annual Holocaust symposium for high school students, the audio-visual testimony project, the Holocaust Memorial at the Schara Tzedeck Cemetery and the Vancouver Holocaust Centre Society for Remembrance and Education, of which he was its founding president.
He is professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia. Krell has authored books and articles relating to the impact of the Shoah and continues to speak locally and internationally on the subject. Robert received the State of Israel’s Elie Wiesel remembrance medal as well as the Governor General’s Caring Canadian award in recognition of his Holocaust education activities.
Claude Romney is a child survivor from France, born in Paris a few months before the beginning of the Second World War. Her father was arrested on December 12, 1941 during a large roundup of Jewish intellectuals, and interned at Compiègne, a transit camp north of Paris. He was deported to Auschwitz on March 27, 1942 as part of the first convoy from France, which was also the first from Western Europe. Miraculously he survived, thanks to a combination of factors, the most important of which were luck and the fact that he was a doctor. After almost 34 months in Auschwitz and a death march, he spent another three-and-a-half months in Mauthausen and Ebensee before he was liberated by the American Army in France.
Claude and her mother spent most of the war years as refugees in a small town in the south of France in the Pyrénées mountains, where her father joined them at the end of May 1945.
Claude holds a PhD from the University of Paris VIII. She taught at universities in France, England and Canada and is now professor emerita of French at the University of Calgary.
Her publications include topics ranging from applied linguistics to French Canadian literature, in particular the writer Gabrielle Roy, as well as the Holocaust. She has recently finished writing a book on the written testimonies of fifty-seven former Auschwitz prisoner-doctors.
She immigrated to Canada with her British-born husband and has lived in Vancouver since 2004.
She is a member of the Child Survivors’ Group in Vancouver and sits on its executive. She is one of the VHEC’s devoted Outreach Speakers and talks to students, including French Immersion students, about her wartime experience and her father’s story.
Louise Stein Sorensen was born in 1929 in Rotterdam. In 1936, her parents, older sister and she moved to a large villa on the outskirts of Amsterdam. Her father owned a fur coat factory.
In 1939–40 they made several unsuccessful attempts to emigrate—they missed getting on the fully booked Simon Bolivar, destined for Curacao, which departed in the fall of 1939. This ship was torpedoed, and everybody drowned. The family was booked on the next available sailing, but it was due to leave in late May, so they were trapped. The persecution of the Jews started soon thereafter. From the summer of 1941 on Jews were no longer allowed to attend non-Jewish schools. Louise had completed grade 6 at a Montessori elementary school by June 1941.
From April 1942, the family had to wear yellow stars on their clothing, and by June the Nazis forced them out of their home and into a low rental apartment in the Jewish part of Amsterdam that had been turned into a ghetto. Soon after, the roundup and deportation of Jews occurred all around Amsterdam and fear and horror became a daily experience for them. In the fall, the family learned that most of their relatives: grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, including her almost 96-year-old great-grandfather and her 5-year-old cousin, had been arrested and deported. They never saw them again.
Likely to be arrested at any time, in early 1943, Louise, 13, and her parents decided to try and find places to hide. This was by no means easy, but eventually all four of them were taken to separate hiding places outside of Amsterdam. Arie Pleysier, a non-Jewish husband of her mother’s cousin, helped them find places to hide. In the course of the first six months Louise was moved to about six different addresses, always a few steps ahead of the pursuing Nazis. In order to survive she always had to stay indoors and hide her true identity. She was given many unfamiliar chores and had to learn how to do many things very quickly. Louise felt unwelcome and withdrew into a shell. By 14, Louise had ended up in the east of the Netherlands, in a small farm workers house on the outskirts of Apeldoorn. Her parents soon joined her there. For over twenty months Louise rarely left the attic that was their hiding place. For safety reasons she had no access to books or writing materials and no contact with persons other than the four adults in the house, therefore diary writing was out of the question. After hiding for a total of more than two-and-a-half years her and her family’s liberation came on April 17, 1945 by way of Canadian army units. A few weeks later the family made their way back to the area of Amsterdam, where they were rejoined by her older sister who had been hidden elsewhere in the country.
Louise served on the VHEC’s board of directors for many years.
Peter Suedfeld was born in Hungary on August 30, 1935. His father was a musician and his mother worked as a secretary. His mother came from a wealthy family and Peter recalls a very happy childhood with close family relationships.
With the onset of the Hungarian-German alliance in 1942, life for Jews became increasingly difficult. Discriminatory laws were introduced that prohibited Jewish children from going to school. In 1944, Peter’s mother was arrested by the Gestapo while attempting to stop a raid at the business where she worked. He would later discover that his mother died in a concentration camp—most likely Auschwitz. His father was deported to Nazi Germany to work as a forced labourer, so Peter was sent to live with an aunt.
When the Budapest ghetto was established, Peter was taken to a home in a rural part of Budapest with the help of the International Red Cross. With his blond hair and blue eyes, Peter looked Aryan, and he lived among a group of Christian children, always moving from building to building due to the constant bombings.
At the end of the war, Peter was reunited with his aunt and uncle. His father also survived the war and they moved to Vienna where they became displaced persons. The following year, Peter was sent to an exclusive boarding school where he experienced continued antisemitism.
In 1948, Peter and his father immigrated to New York where Peter attended high school in Harlem. Peter subsequently won a scholarship to Queens College, but dropped out in order to join the army, as had been the tradition in his family. After the army, he returned to college and graduated with a PhD in psychology from Princeton University. He worked at the University of Illinois, Rutgers University and the University of British Columbia as head of their Departments of Psychology.
Tom Szekely was born in Budapest, Hungary, on May 19, 1935. All four of his grandparents were assimilated Jews. His mother had been raised as a Protestant, and his father converted to Christianity as a teenager in order to attend medical school. After Hungary was occupied in 1944, however, Tom’s family was considered Jewish by the Nazi authorities, and forced to wear the yellow star.
Tom’s father was prohibited from practicing medicine and held in a detention centre. He was then deported by train and forced to march to Mauthausen. Tom’s father survived the gruelling march, but died from typhus just before liberation in April 1945. Tom’s remaining family had been arrested and taken to an assembly area in an old school. The next day, a family friend who belonged to the Hungarian Nationalist Socialist party, the Arrow Cross, pretended to arrest them and took the family to the ghetto where they would be safer.
Tom was in the ghetto from October 1944 until liberation in February 1945. After liberation, the family went to live with surviving relatives in Transylvania, but Tom had a difficult time both emotionally and psychologically. In 1947, he moved to Switzerland to live with his aunt and uncle, who adopted him. He came to Canada in 1951 and was joined by his mother and younger brother in 1956. Tom studied engineering and geology and became a teacher before switching to civil service. He settled in Vancouver in 1974.
PETER VOORMEIJ was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in 1940, when the Netherlands was under Nazi occupation. Peter’s mother hid him with the Dutch resistance before she was deported to Sobibor extermination camp and murdered. During the Second World War, Peter’s father was a prisoner in Berlin. Peter survived as a hidden child and was reunited with his grandmother following the war. Until that reunion, he did not know that he was Jewish. Peter moved to Canada in 1986. He is an artist and has worked as a professor of art history for many years.
LAUREN FAULKNER ROSSI
Lauren Faulkner Rossi is an assistant professor of history at Simon Fraser University. She has taught modern German history and Holocaust and Genocide Studies courses in the United States and Canada. She has been involved with the Holocaust Educational Foundation for more than a decade and is currently working on articles about the cultural causes of genocide and the Holocaust, war and gender.
Professor Chris Friedrichs is a professor emeritus of history at the University of British Columbia, where he taught European and world history for 45 years. He is a specialist on German history. His most recent book is titled A Jewish Youth in Dresden: The Diary of Louis Lesser, 1833–1837. Professor Friedrichs has been involved in Holocaust education activities in Vancouver for many years.
Sebastian Huebel completed his PhD in history at the University of British Columbia. He received his BA from Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops in 2007 and his master’s degree from the University of Victoria in 2009. Sebastian is currently an instructor at Simon Fraser University and Alexander College.
Kit Krieger has been a Holocaust educator for more than 40 years. He is a past president of the BC Teachers’ Federation and past registrar of the BC College of Teachers. He served as executive director of the BC Principals’ and Vice-Principals’ Association for six years. In 2003, Kit was awarded the Kron Sigal Award for Excellence in Holocaust Education and in 2015, was named one of the Education 100 in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of UBC.
Adrian Myers holds a BA in history from UBC, an MA in historical archaeology from the University of Bristol, and MA and PhD degrees in archaeology from Stanford University. As a student, Dr. Myers studied underground economies in Auschwitz and other concentration camps and received the prize for best history honours student of the year in 2006.
Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Pacific Region (International Holocaust Remembrance Day)
Congregation Beth Israel (Kristallnacht)
Hillel BC Society (International Holocaust Remembrance Day)
Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver (Kristallnacht, Yom HaShoah)