On Tuesday, Max Eisen addressed more than 3,000 students in and around Regina in an online presentation.
The event brought together 144 Grade 7-12 classes from the Regina Catholic School Division, the Regina Public School Division, the Prairie Valley School Division and Holy Trinity Catholic School Division.
“It’s difficult for me to talk to you and not see you — I love to see the crowd, but I’m learning how to get over that,” said Eisen, who wrote the memoir By Chance Alone: A Remarkable True Story of Courage and Survival at Auschwitz.
“It’s sad that we need to learn about this, but you know, there’s no better instrument than to hear from a survivor.”
Eisen was born into an Orthodox Jewish family in Poland in 1929. Four years later, following the appointment of Adolf Hitler as the chancellor of Germany, the first Nazi-run concentration camp opened at Dachau, say historians.
Between 1941 and 1945, Nazi Germany and its collaborators systemically murdered around six million Jewish people, around two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population, according to officials in the Third Reich who testified on the war crimes. However, some historians argue the number of Jewish people killed could be higher.
Wearing a poppy in honour of military veterans, Eisen told students how he was a teenager in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
He survived that horror only to live through a 13-day death march from Auschwitz to Loslau, Poland, where he was put on a metal boxcar meant for coal to Mauthausen concentration camp.
Eisen was liberated on May 6, 1945. Only two cousins from his large extended family survived the Holocaust.
On Oct. 25, 1949, he arrived in Quebec City and was sent to Toronto by the Canadian Jewish Community.
During Tuesday’s virtual discussion, the 91-year-old told students that he’s fortunate to be around to share his story.
“I’m looking at the world today and I think it’s very important — that I cannot afford to be a bystander,” he said, adding it’s important that all who can speak out, do so.
“(People) need to know simply the truth … and the consequences of sitting by and doing nothing.”
Grade 10 student, Georgia Montgomery said while she’s heard of the Holocaust, it was a chance for her to learn about what really happened.
“The fact that he was our age when he went to the concentration camps, he was the exact same age we are, so that was really surprising. He went through all this and he was so young,” Montgomery said.
In the end, his message to students was simple, never be a bystander.