Survivor Story: Anita Ekstein

By Anita Helfgott Ekstein

“I was a child of seven when the Nazis came to our town in Poland. We had been occupied by the Soviets for nearly the first two years of the war.

survivor_aekstein1We were taken to a ghetto in a larger town. My parents went daily to different work sites, in the fall of 1942 my mother was picked up on the street in the ghetto. My father in desperation approached a Polish man, a Catholic who was a stock keeper at the site of a railway bridge where my father was working and asked him to save his child.

Josef Matusiewicz was a stranger, he had not known my father for long and did not know me. It took a great deal of courage and determination and faith in G-d, to take a risk to save a Jewish child. There were stringent edicts punishable by death for helping a Jew.

I was taken to his family a wife and eighteen year old daughter, given a new name and taught to be a Catholic. Several months later I was denounced by a neighbour and had to be returned to my father. I spent seven weeks hidden in a wardrobe, and rescued for the second time by the same man. I was taken to his nephew a Catholic priest close to the Russian border, where I remained for the next two years.

My father did not survive. In 1946 I was reunited with my aunt and left Poland, hoping to immigrate to United States where I had family. It was not possible at the time to obtain an U.S. visa, and so in 1948 I arrived in Canada. I was fourteen years old. Today I have three children and eight grandchildren, because one person made a choice to save my life.

I have dedicated the last fourteen years to educate young people to the evils of anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry, and where it could lead. I hope to impart to them that we have a choice in life, not to be a perpetrator or a bystander, but to step forward and have the courage to do the right thing. I had the privilege of being a survivor chaperone on the March of the Living three times, I have met and bonded with wonderful young people, and my hope is that they will never forget, and continue to remind the world when we survivors are no longer here.”

Toronto, Ontario
Participated on the March in 1996, 1998, and 2000.