By Debra Black
November 22, 2007
Rachel Shtibel, now 72, spent two years of her life living in a bunker – 3 metres by 3 metres – underneath a barn in Poland during part of the Holocaust. "There were ten of us," she said. "We were lying like sardines. When one had to turn all of us had to turn." The men went out at night to get food. By day they all remained as still as possible. Her father had smuggled her out of the local ghetto in a sack of garden tools, warning her to be dead silent or they would be shot.
During the time she and her parents and others hid in the bunker, a family friend – a doctor molested her. Even after the war was over she never told her parents about the sexual abuse, fearful they wouldn't believe her. She speaks of it now as if she were another person. "I was mourning this little child," she said. "I felt so sorry for her – helpless."
Shtibel's story is one of six Canadian memoirs of Holocaust survivors published by the Azrieli Foundation, a Toronto-based charitable organization. She and other survivors read excerpts of their stories last night at a launch at the Bloor Cinema in downtown Toronto.
The books are to be distributed free of charge to libraries across Canada as well as Holocaust memorials around the world. Individuals can go online and order them free of charge shortly. The Azrieli Foundation has close to 170 such memorials it plans to publish.
Shtibel's message is one of hope – hope that the Holocaust will never happen again. The horror and the terror of not knowing whether she would live or die was just one of the burdens she shouldered as her fellow Jews were slaughtered.
But for Shtibel the shame of being molested wasn't the only secret in the family. After the Holocaust, Shtibel inherited her uncle's violin – which had been buried near a walnut tree near their old home in the Jewish ghetto. With it were old pictures of herself as a baby and of her uncle and another unknown woman. Her parents encouraged her to learn to play the instrument.
Fifty years later she found out – after her parents died – that her biological father was in fact her uncle – the violinist. And the unknown woman in the picture was in fact her biological mother and the love of her father's life. Today, she still plays that violin – now more than 100 years old – and cherishes it for both its music and the secrets it holds engrained in the wood.
Still the Holocaust hangs heavy over the survivors. "I wanted the world to know (what happened)," she said. "We are the last generation to witness the Holocaust."