My father enlisted in the Canadian Army during World War Two believing it was his duty. His father served in the RAF during WWI and his grandfather served in the British military. My father wasn’t a combat soldier. He stationed in London and was on loan to the British. His background in radio broadcasting and journalism uniquely qualified him for various positions – narrating newsreels, writing reports for Radio Luxembourg, and reporting on the London blitz and the allied troops in Europe.
In April 1945 my father was present during the liberation of Belsen. In a letter to my mother he wrote, “Tonight I am a different man. I have spent the last two days in Belsen concentration camp, the most horrible festering scab there has ever been on the face of humanity… I still cannot bring myself to write my reports to Radio Luxembourg… You have seen pictures in the paper but they cannot tell the story… My God, that there should be such suffering on the face of this earth. I have seen hundreds of people dying before my eyes. I have seen filthy green corpses used as pillows for the living. I have seen forty thousand people living and dying amongst their own fetid offal…”
While in Belsen my father was approached by two sisters who asked that he contact their father who lived in New York. With the help of the Red Cross their father was located and in June 1945 he wrote this: “Dear Captain Whyte, May G-d bless you for sending such wonderful news to gladden the heart of a father. I had almost lost faith and was in despair when I received your joyful tidings that my daughters were alive and well in Belsen. You will always be in my prayers. I cannot find the words to express my gratitude. Thank you so much. The letter you enclosed from my daughters Lutzi and Rosie brought new hope to my heart. Should this letter find you still in Belsen, please tell my children that I am bending every effort in their behalf and am looking forward to the day when we will be reunited. I wish you all the best from my heart. – Rabbi Solomon Fruchter.” They corresponded for a time and my father’s letters were eventually donated to the Holocaust Museum by the family. When my father returned to Canada in 1946 he took a train to New York to meet with Rabbi Fruchter while his daughters were in Europe being processed by immigration.
Over the years, mostly by chance, I have met people who knew my father or my mother. My sister Kathi and I had the privilege of meeting hockey legend Jean Béliveau, who was with my father the night he died on June 26, 1962. I met a documentary filmmaker whose mother was my father’s secretary at an advertising agency in Montreal before the war. Quite by chance I’ve met people who worked with my father at the Toronto Star or the CBC. There is a strange interconnectedness with the past. Nothing however could prepare me for a phone call I received on the morning of November 10, 2012. The caller said his name was David and he was calling from New York. He told me our parents met in Belsen in 1945. I immediately knew who his mother was from my father’s letters. The son of a Belsen survivor and the daughter of a witness to the horror speaking 67 years later, across the miles, against all odds. I was so profoundly touched I wept – this thread of remembering of honouring our parents. It is striking David and I have so many similarities – our political views, love of music, art and literature. I treasure our friendship and I know somehow it was meant to be. Our parents are gone now but their legacy is alive in us – two friends in different countries connected by a brave young girl and a Canadian soldier.
In a climate where anti-Semitic sentiment is on the rise on both sides of the border it is imperative that we remember the past. David and I are a reminder that the past lives through us, and we honour our parents who endured and witnessed one of the darkest times in human history.
Let everyone, inside and outside Germany, look upon the work of the Beast. Let there be no more talk about “just propaganda” and “these things can’t be true.” It is not “propaganda” and these things are true, overwhelming in their proportions, ghastly in conception, execution and results. – Halifax Herald
Niagara Falls, Ontario