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Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Holocaust Memorial 2011 is being held at Sgoolai Israel Synagogue on Sunday, May 1

Israel Unger, a member of the Holocaust memorial observance committee, is shown with a book by Alexander Eisen called A Time of Fear: A Memoir. Eisen will be the guest speaker at the Holocaust Memorial 2011 held at the Sgoolai Israel Synagogue on May 1 at 3 p.m.

There was a time when Alexander Eisen lived in fear, the kind of fear most of us can't imagine.

He was born in Vienna, Austria in 1929 and was only nine years old when Hitler annexed Austria. As a young Jewish boy, he watched as the Nazis marched into Vienna.

Eisen will be in Fredericton to share his story as part of the Holocaust Memorial at the Sgoolai Israel Synagogue on Sunday, May 1.

"What I find remarkable and amazing is that every survivor I've ever spoken to, their story is unique and amazing," says Israel Unger, a member of the Holocaust memorial observance committee. "Eisen fits that category. He was actually present on the streets of Vienna when the Nazis marched in and Hitler rode in on his convertible Mercedes."

His parents were born in Hungary, where his grandparents and other relatives still lived.

"Jews were trying to escape from Germany and Austria, and at that point Hungary was not occupied by Germany, it was an ally of Germany," says Unger.

In 1938 Eisen, his parents and two sisters escaped to Hungary. His father was arrested at the border but managed to flee from there to Palestine.

"The conditions for Jews were terrible (in Hungary) but they were not being systematically murdered," says Unger. "That went on until the spring of 1944. The Jews in Hungary almost made it to the end of the war."

Hungary came under Nazi occupation in 1944. Close to half a million Hungarian Jews were deported to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland, including Eisen's older sister.

Eisen, his mother and younger sister remained in the Budapest ghetto until they were able to escape, and posing as Christians, they managed to survive until liberation in January 1945.

Those were scary days for Eisen and his family.

"There was constant fear. He talks about the fact that when he went out in the street and somebody would look at him, he would be afraid that they were suspicious of him," says Unger.

To alleviate any doubt, he would engage the person in conversation, determined to show none of the fear he was feeling.

"Inside he's be trembling, but outside he tried to present a cool demeanour," says Unger. "And he survived."

Like others, Eisen has many stories of situations where things could have turned out very differently.

Following liberation, Eisen was determined to join his father in Palestine. He roamed Western Europe for eight months until he joined a group bound for Palestine on an illegal aliyah ship, the Theodore Herzl, in 1947.

The ship was seized by the British and the refugees were sent to a detention camp in Cyprus. It was in Cyprus that Eisen was reunited with his mother and sisters, who had also been detained there and were waiting to be allowed entry to Palestine.

Eisen finally reached Palestine in the fall of 1947. He joined the Israeli underground (Haganah) and later the Israeli army, fighting in the battle of Jerusalem. He was transferred to the Israeli Air Force where he met his wife, Renata Markovic, who was also a Holocaust survivor. They married in 1951 and immigrated to Canada the following year.

They now have two children and five grandchildren, all of whom live in Toronto.

At age 75, Eisen became involved in Holocaust education. He has recently written his memoirs. His book is called A Time of Fear.

Eisen will share his experiences with the community on Sunday, May 1, at the Holocaust Memorial, presented by Sgoolai Israel Synagogue and B'nai Brith Fredericton.

In past years, this annual event has been well attended, says Unger.

The local Jewish community is small, he says, so he appreciates that so many others come out in support as well.

"It's so gratifying that the larger community is interested in taking the time to remember and to help us to commemorate."

The local Jewish community holds the event each year for a variety of reasons, but an important one may be quite simply, to quote poet and philosopher George Santayana, that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

It's a sentiment that was echoed in the words of German president Richard von Weizs├Ącker on May 8, 1985, says Unger, during a remembrance of the end of the Second World War.

"One of the things he said was those that close their eyes to the past are blind to the present. He went on to say whoever refuses to remember the inhumanity is prone to the new infection."

Unfortunately, says Unger, there is a lot of new infection going on.

"You just have to look at the news and see the attacks that are made against Jewish institutions, even here in Canada," he says. "It didn't stop in 1945."

Unger believes that the larger issue is that from every human tragedy, one should learn.

"When people die in unusual circumstances, physicians perform autopsies. They do it because they want to learn, to prevent it from happening to others," he says.

"The Holocaust was destruction and brutality on an unimaginable scale and it was many tragedies. I think we need to learn from those tragedies, to try to prevent it from happening to others, of any faith or of no faith."

The Holocaust Memorial 2011 is put on by the Sgoolai Israel Synagogue, with partial funding from the Atlantic Jewish Council and contributions from individuals.

The programs for the event were printed by the TD Canada Trust branch on Prospect Street.

The memorial is taking place at the Sgoolai Israel Synagogue, 168 Westmorland St., at 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 1. Everyone is welcome to attend.


What: Holocaust Memorial 2011
Information: Alexander Eisen will be the guest speaker at the annual Holocaust Memorial at the Sgoolai Israel Synagogue, 168 Westmorland St., on Sunday, May 1, at 3 p.m. A reception will follow in the social hall.
Contact: To learn more, visit,679398