(Photo by Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post)
Tibor “Max” Eisen spoke to students at Valour JK-12 School about his experiences in Auschwitz-Birkenau. After his speech on June 15, he took the time to speak to the students, including Mackenzie Gorin. Eisen survived the Holocaust as a teenager and now speaks at different schools, with people who would have been his age at the time of his incarceration. (Photo by Patricia Leboeuf, Petawawa Post)
Holocaust survivor Tibor "Max" Eisen speaks at Valour
By: Patricia Leboeuf
Posted on Thursday, July 7, 2016
Holocaust survivor Tibor “Max” Eisen feels very fortunate to have survived through some of the worst horrors known to man.
As part of a promise made to his late father back at Auschwitz-Birkenau, he has been sharing his experiences, telling people the truth about concentration camps and the depth of the atrocities committed against innocent people. He has been doing so for the past 25 years, and has travelled extensively to bear witness to this dark time in history. High school students at JK-12 Valour School were some of the most recent to hear him speak and learn first-hand about the subject.
As an Orthodox Jew in Hungary, Eisen was taken away in 1944. At only 15 years old, he was incarcerated and forced to watch 60 family members, including his parents, two younger brothers and a baby sister, perish. He suffered nine months at Auschwitz-Birkenau and three months in four other camps. He saw and experienced incomprehensible cruelties, some of which he recounted.
“One year seemed like an eternity,” said Eisen. “When your days are just crawling, a second is like a thousand years.”
He was under constant threat; every minute of the day, every second, he had to watch for the “bucket helmets”, a nickname for the SS soldiers. This deep anxiety took a heavy toil, but he told himself that he just had to continue putting one foot in front of the other to make it out alive. He also had to use the skills his grandparents taught him, the resiliency he found within himself, and luck. He survived, and was finally liberated. Even though he was the only one in his family, barring a few cousins, he considers himself very fortunate.
His speech on June 15 was detailed, but all the evils he experienced were penned in his memoir, By Chance Alone, many of which were too shocking to tell teenagers.
Writing the book was a labour in every sense of the word.
“It was many years of hard work,” said Eisen. “It is one thing to write. When you start writing, you really have to be cognitive, and it breaks your heart. There were a lot of sleepless nights.”
It is about loss, but also about a journey of physical and physiological healing. It covers Eisen’s story, recounting of the Hungarian deportations to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the infamous horrors of life in a death camp, the inhumane choices made in order to survive, the narrow escapes from certain death, the constant indignities suffered at the hands of cruel SS soldiers, and the sweet, yet painful liberation by Allied troops.
He was honest and sincere about the brutal treatment he endured, and emotions stirred in the audience as they came to grips with what he had survived.
“It was completely heart-moving, I had to stop myself from crying because his stories were so moving,” said Student Council member Emily Tulloch. “It was just amazing to hear what he and his friends and family had gone through.”
She had learned about the Holocaust in Grade 10, but it was a different experience to hear the details described so vividly by somebody who had survived it.
Eisen noted it is important to share his story with the younger generations; some of the students he first met are now teachers, and have him to speak to their own students. Though he has met tens of thousands people, he treasures every single letter ever sent to him, keeping them in binders.
Valour Teacher Gary Serviss invited Eisen to the school after purchasing his book online. He discovered that he was also a speaker and worked with Toronto’s Sarah and Chaim Neuberger Holocaust Education Centre. Within two days of requesting an educational visit, he received confirmation that Eisen would come.
“They always say that if you don’t learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it, so I thought it was important ... that the students learn from somebody who lived it,” said Serviss. “I think the message hits a little bit harder when you hear it firsthand.”
16-year-old Mackenzie Gorin agreed. He was astonished to hear what Eisen experienced as a boy just a year younger than him. He found inspiration from his story.
“He made it through one of the worst known history events of modern time, and he made it through to survive and tell his story,” said Gorin.
Eisen also spoke at Fellowes High School before returning home to Toronto.