It’s a long story, and it’s being told on Twitter 140 characters at a time.
The tweets come from 97-year-old Holocaust survivor Anka Voticky’s remarkable account of her journey from Nazi-occupied Europe to a ghetto in Japanese-occupied Shanghai and eventually to Montreal in 1948, where she lives today.
The Azrieli Foundation is using Twitter in the lead-up to launching the third in its Series of Holocaust Survivor Memoirs, a series of books written by survivors to help high school students and the broader public learn about the Holocaust.
Voticky’s memoir, “Knocking on Every Door,” is the first story the foundation is telling on Twitter. If successful, they will continue to share other memoirs through Twitter and other social media.
“Hearing Anka’s journey communicated on Twitter brings history to the present,” Naomi Azrieli, executive director and chair of the Azrieli Foundation, said in a release.
“Telling the story in 140 character snippets makes her account even more powerful for readers. To truly appreciate the whole story people will still need to read the book, but we hope these intriguing glimpses into Anka’s experiences will help draw in many more readers.”
In 1939 when he was 17, David Azrieli, Naomi’s father, fled his native Poland across Russia and Central Asia, managing to stay a step ahead of the Nazis in his flight to freedom. He arrived in Palestine in 1942, where he studied architecture at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.
Azrieli subsequently travelled and lived in South Africa, England, and the United States before settling in Canada in 1954.
The well-known developer, who lost his parents and two siblings in the Holocaust, has built office towers, high-rises, and shopping centres in Canada, the U.S., and Israel. He established the Azrieli Foundation in 1989, a philanthropic organization dedicated to the education, support, and achievement of excellence in various fields.
After he published a book in 2001 about his own wartime experiences, Azrieli realized that it was no easy task for Holocaust survivors who want to tell their stories to find a publisher.
“Many survivors have written their stories but can’t find a publisher. These stories are not commercially viable; no publisher is going to make money on them. But that doesn’t mean they’re not critical for Jewish history and the future,” Naomi told the Jerusalem Post.
Thus the Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program came into being. The program collects, edits, publishes, and distributes the written memoirs and diaries of Holocaust survivors who made their way to Canada.
Because they have to be translated and carefully edited in addition to the cost of printing, publishing the memoirs is an expensive endeavour.
“Memoirs are extremely demanding and expensive,” Naomi told the Post. “There’s no way to cover your costs. This has to be done by philanthropy.”
In 2007 the foundation launched the first series of seven memoirs, which were made available for free to public libraries across Canada and Holocaust organizations worldwide. Another eight were published in 2009, many in both English and French.
The latest memoir series will be launched in Montreal on Oct. 5 and in Toronto on Oct. 26. In both cities, the events are associated with Holocaust Education Week, which the foundation supports as a leading sponsor.
The 15 volumes already published are available online at the foundation’s website (www.azrielifoundation.org) for free download, and will soon be available in e-book format for e-readers and iPad.