History class may seem “boring” to some of my peers but I absolutely love it. I love learning about how our world came to be, how our ancestors and even our grandparents used to live. We just started our unit of World War II when my teacher told our class that there was going to be a guest speaker. The class talked amongst ourselves until he said that the speaker was an elderly woman that was a survivor of the Holocaust. The room went silent, all I could think about was the struggles she must have had, and how brave she is to be able to talk to a bunch of high school kids about her past.
Today (May 29) was the day she came in, our class and one other piled into the library and tried to prepare ourselves for what was ahead. Headie was 15 and living in Romania at the time when she went to an all girls Jewish school. She told us that her only formal education was up until grade 10. She was a sheltered only child, and had no idea that antisemitism and discrimination was even a thing. Before she knew it, her and her friends, family, and relatives were shipped off to the ghetto and before they knew it onto cattle-cars. Headie was shipped off to Auschwitz, the most notorious concentration camp where the most murders happened. When she first arrived she was separated from her father and mother and forced to get in lines of 5. She didn’t realise then, but it would be the last time she ever saw her parents again. My heart shattered in that moment. I felt like just then I needed to call my parents and remind them how much I love and appreciate them.
When she got to the camp, she was forced into a room, told to strip naked, and had a cold shower with about 15 other women. They weren’t given towels, and it wasn’t just women waiting for them on the other side, it was men too. She said she has never felt more humiliated in her life. The Nazi soldiers shaved their hair and every bodily hair and were given tattered clothes. She was then lead to her “room”, where she shared with several women. No beds, no blankets or pillows, just a dirt, cold floor. Headie said every day there would be role calls where she and the people in her room would have to line up and they would count to make sure nobody escaped or was missing. They weren’t fed for 3 days, and when they finally were she said it looked good from far away but when the first woman in her line took a gulp, she passed it along, and started hysterically crying. Headie was very confused, until she got the bowl. It was muddy water filled with gravel, sand, and small twigs. That is what she ate for 3 months. And if she was lucky, a piece of toast with margarine.
The way people would go to their death or be transferred somewhere was by random selection, and one day Headie’s number was called and she was back on a cattle-car to a different place where she was forced to work 12 hour shifts building ammunition for the army. She told us this place was like luxury compared to the camp she had been in before; it had warm water, bunk beds with a mattress and blanket, and tiled floors. Headie was there for 1 month before it was liberated. She told us to picture winning the lottery, so we all did, and Headie said that herself and the girls were even happier than that.
Headie returned to her hometown after being liberated and was staying with her aunt (her moms youngest sister) who was married to a non-Jewish man so she did not have to go to the camps. They took her in as their own child. A few years later Headie applied for a Canadian visa and was accepted. This is another moment that I can truly say I have never been prouder to be a Canadian. I chose to share her story with you because hopefully I can use my platform to make sure that history never repeats itself. That the world never sees another dark chapter because there is still so much hate and discrimination to people whether that be because of their race, religion, or sexuality. I really hope you read and remember this story so that the next person that says “the Holocaust never happened” can get shut down.
I can never tell you just how much this impacted my life. Headie is one of the bravest people I’ve ever met. I told her this and she held my hand and said “you can be too.” and I think that moment is going to stick with me forever.