During Branksome’s Holocaust Education Week, we welcomed Hedy Bohm, a Holocaust survivor, to the school who shared her story with Senior and Middle School students.
Growing up in Romania, Hedy dreamed of becoming a Gym or Dance teacher – that was until she turned 16-years-old. “Life turned a different direction in March 1944 when my mother sewed a yellow star on my coat,” said Hedy.
A month later, in April 1944, Hedy was ordered to leave her home with nothing but an overnight bag. “All valuables had to be handed over to police like jewelry, paintings and sculptures,” she said. “There was a car waiting to send us to the ghetto where we’d be separated by a huge fence.”
Hedy, her mother and father were instructed to share a small apartment with three other families. Before long, Nazi soldiers entered the ghetto and everyone was put in cattle cars that were “dark, terrible and smelly,” Hedy described.
Hedy said no one knew where they were being taken but thought they were going to the border to work. “No one believed the fate that was waiting for us, this couldn’t happen in the twentieth century,” she said.
After a three-day journey, they arrived at Auschwitz.
“I saw Nazi soldiers standing in front of us with rifles and leashes with big, barking dogs,” she said. “They were shouting ‘get out, quick, quick’.”
“Men were ordered to go to the left and my dad was gone before I could say goodbye. I never saw him again,” Hedy said.
Hedy was stopped by a soldier when she began to follow her mother and Hedy let out a cry. “She turned around and looked at me and I looked at her for what felt like an eternity, then she kept going. It was the last time I saw her,” said Hedy.
Hedy was told she was going to be “disinfected” and was ordered to undress and shower before being shaved. “The humiliation and embarrassment was unbearable,” Hedy said. The next morning she woke up for roll call, “we stood for hours and hours two times a day, waiting to be counted – that was how our day started and ended.”
During roll call, Hedy told the students that people were selected out of the line and sent away. “We didn’t know if we should hope to be selected or hope to stay,” she said. After three months at Auschwitz, Hedy was selected and sent to work as a slave labourer in a German factory manufacturing ammunition.
Months later she was liberated by the Americans. “Liberation was my best and worst day,” Hedy said after feeling joyous for surviving, while her family was gone. “I wouldn’t see my family again,” said Hedy, who had found out that her mother had been sent to the gas chambers the day they arrived at Auschwitz and her father had also been killed.
Not wanting to return to her hometown in Romania, Hedy received her Canadian visa in 1948. “I am forever grateful to Canada,” Hedy said.
After telling her heartbreaking story, Hedy left the students with one final piece of advice to live by. “You have to become the best you can. Don’t let anyone put you down and find the courage in yourself – that is the only hope for the world.”