Holocaust survivor Henry Melnick would talk to his grandchildren about his life before World War II and how he survived the horrors of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Buna, Dora-Mittelbau, Bergen-Belsen and other ghettos and concentration camps.
His grandchildren, Limore Zisckind, Michael Melnick and Faith Dantowitz, spearheaded by Zisckind, decided to document his stories, and three years later, they self-published a memoir titled By My Mother’s Hand.
Henry Melnick was the sole survivor of his family. The title of his book is a tribute to his mother who he says, ”pushed me forward with her hand during a selection, avoiding the line to the death camps.”
Melnick, 90, goes to work every day at Start Auto Electric in downtown Toronto.
In an interview, Zisckind talked about why they wanted to write the book.
“We were concerned about the dwindling number of survivors remaining in our grandfather’s advancing age, so my cousins and I undertook this massive project – to interview our grandfather, comb through his documents, view the footage of his lectures and chronicle our grandfather’s life,” she said.
Henry Melnick was born in 1922 in Lodz, Poland, to Chaya and Elijah Chmielnicki.
He had a brother, a sister, aunts, uncles and many cousins. He changed his name to Melnick in 1974.
In 1939, Lodz had a population of 600,000 more than 200,000 of them Jewish. Melnick was 17 when the Germans invaded Poland. In 1940, the family was resettled in the ghetto in the city of Nowy Sacz.
His memoir tells first of his memories as a child growing up Jewish in Lodz and continues with the events he experienced, both horrific and miraculous, after the German invasion and throughout the war years to liberation.
In 1947, he tried to go to Israel with Aliyah Bet, the illegal immigration of Jews to Palestine. They were turned back at the Belgian Border. A year later, the United Nations allowed 10,000 Jews a month to go to Palestine.
Melnick volunteered to go into the army there and fought in Israel’s War of Independence.
He came to Canada in 1965 with his wife, Hela, and their two children.His wife died in 1987. He later married Elaine Shumak.
The first time he ever spoke about his war experiences was in 1993 during a trip to Poland for the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising with the members of Toronto’s Beth David B’nai Israel Beth Am Synagogue.
On the bus, the leader of the tour asked if anybody wanted to say something. He was reluctant, but his wife urged him to speak.
“After speaking, as I returned to my seat, Anita Eckstein, a member of the Holocaust Centre of Toronto stopped me,” Melnick said. “She told me that they needed people like me to speak to groups. This opened the floodgates for me to express my personal testimonial of survival.”
Since that time, Melnick has been speaking to students at universities and high schools and to many adult groups across Toronto, in Florida and in other parts of the United States.
“Sixty years ago, if someone told me that this is how my life would turn out, I would never have believed it,” said Melnick, who has two children, seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
“It wasn’t enough to just be smart to survive the Holocaust. Being smart didn’t change anything. One couldn’t figure out anything. There was no way to pre-determine what was going to happen. I must have survived because it was destined.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my family and reflect about the horrors I witnessed throughout the Holocaust. All I can ask, now that my story has been shared, is to never forget.”
Zisckind has only high praise for her grandfather. He is “an extraordinary human being,” she said. “Having lost absolutely everything, he rebuilt his world to include tolerance, understanding and tremendous love.
“Instead of lashing out at the world for the injustices he endured, my grandfather continuously preaches tolerance. It’s a lesson this world is far behind in learning.”
She said the grandchildren are delighted that By My Mother’s Hand has had a tremendous success worldwide.
All proceeds raised from sales of Melnick’s book will go to the Holocaust Education Centre in Toronto to support Holocaust education and awareness.
By My Mother’s Hand is available in print at www.bymymothershand.com and Amazon or as an ebook at Apple, Kobo, Sony, Kindle and Nook.
It is also available at Yad Vashem, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center Library.
For more information, call Elaine Melnick, 416-630- 9221.