“Every survival story is a love story,” said Andy Réti, a child survivor of the Holocaust, born in 1942 in Rechnitz, Austria. “Love of life, love of family, and love of freedom.”
Réti, now a Toronto-based Holocaust educator, was speaking to 700 students from public high schools in the Ottawa area gathered, May 26, at Algonquin College Theatre for a Holocaust education event presented by the Azrieli Foundation and Shoah Committee of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa.
Réti’s book, Stronger Together, which tells the story of how Réti and his mother Ibolya Grossman survived the Holocaust, was published by the Azrieli Foundation’s Holocaust Survivors Memoirs Program. Each of the students in attendance received a copy of the book.
Inspiring students to be not a “bystander” but an “up-stander” in the face of bullying, Réti discussed how the Holocaust has affected his life.
In just two months in 1944, 440,000 Hungarian Jews were deported, Réti said. Many were sent to Auschwitz, including his maternal grandparents. The only Jewish community left was in Budapest, where they were subject to assault, death marches and murder. Before this, anti-Jewish laws were set in place, drafting men into forced labour. The death toll was in the thousands, including Réti’s father.
“Murdered!” Réti shouted. “For one reason and one reason only: because he was Jewish.”
Thousands of Jews in Budapest were removed from their homes and confined to ghettos. Men, no older than 20, came to Réti’s home, giving his mother and grandmother five minutes to pack.
“We were able to pack up a small knapsack,” Réti said. “Crackers, water, a few necessities. In no time, tens of thousands were marched out of every building and forced, at the end of a gun, to march down to the end of the street.”
All valuables were to be handed over. Touching the ring on his finger, Réti explained, “My mother was so much in love with this beautiful man that at the risk of her own life – and my own – she refused to hand over her wedding band.” Ibolya hid the ring in Réti’s diaper.
Réti counted the miracles that happened during the ordeal: the policeman his grandmother recognised from her hometown, the stranger who protested when a blanket was taken from Ibolya, for her baby. Eventually, Réti’s family were taken to a ghetto where they stayed for three months. In a building meant only for 600 people, 3,000 lived, with 27 crammed into one apartment.
Réti shared a personal recollection of the liberation: a Russian soldier, giving him a bread roll.
“We go home, we try to pick up the pieces, and it’s not easy,” Réti continued. “But life does go on.”
In 1958, Réti and his family moved to Canada. He went on to have children and grandchildren, and at the age of 60, became a member of a motorcycle club. In February 2005, Réti’s mother passed away. It was also the year that Réti did his first ever Ride to Remember, with his mother’s wedding band – the ‘Ring of Love’ – in his breast pocket.
Reflecting on the hate he has seen, Réti said, “You don’t learn that on your own. You are taught hatred. And what is the opposite of hatred? The opposite of hatred is love.”
Réti held the students in rapt attention, many of them moved to tears, and he received many standing ovations.
After the talk, there were long lines of students who waited patiently for Réti to sign their copies of his book.
Visit http://memoirs.azrielifoundation.org/ for more information about the Azrieli Foundation’s Holocaust Survivors Memoir Program.