It’s a horrific jaunt down memory lane that never gets any easier for Robbie Waisman.
His pain is palpable, his memories haunting — even after 22 years of telling his story — but Waisman feels duty-bound to share his experience as a means of “inoculating youth against hatred.”
Waisman, a Polish Jew and the youngest of six children, lost both his parents and four brothers in the genocide that claimed more than 6 million European Jews, he told a packed Leacock Theatre at Mount Royal College’s 24th annual Holocaust educational symposium for Calgary high school students yesterday.
He was eight years old at the outbreak of the World War II. By 13, he had already been part of the ranks of forced labour — producing up to 3,200 shells a day in a munitions factory — had typhoid, barely escaped being shot by the Nazi SS, was separated from his family and was transported to Buchenwald concentration camp, leaving three months after it was liberated on April 11, 1945.
Lucky to have survived the atrocities that claimed so many lives, Waisman’s faith was shaken to the core.
“Where was God to allow all of this to happen,” the 77-year-old grandfather pondered aloud. “I questioned God and, for a while, I gave up on him, but you come back and then you question, where was humanity during all of this and I became grateful to God that I made it.”
His message of tolerance and compassion was far from lost on his Grade 12 audience, said William Aberhart’s Justine Fehr, who witnessed a similar talk in Houston three years ago.
“No matter how many times your hear the stories or statistics, it’s just always a moving experience to see and hear what they’ve been through, how it affected them and how they’ve been able to pull through without any hatred or resentment,” she said.