Return to Auschwitz
Five years after Michael Englishman recited Kaddish at Birkenau for his parents, his siblings and other family members who perished there, his 16-year-old great-granddaughter completed a sacred task on his behalf when she followed in his footsteps on the recent March of the Living.
Three genrations of descendants of the late Michael Englishman, author of 163256 a Memoir of Resistance, honour his legacy. Seen from left to right: his grandaughter, Lisa Kaufman, his great grandaughter, Morgan Kaufman and his daughter, Katy Brass [Barbara Silverstein photo]
Morgan Kaufman, 16, a Grade 11 student at Greenwood College School in Toronto, brought two copies of her late great-grandfather’s autobiography, 163256: A Memoir of Resistance (Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2007), to the Auschwitz Jewish Center in Poland.
“I liked the idea of bringing the book to the place where the events described by my opa actually happened,” she said in an interview that also included her mother, Lisa Kaufman, and grandmother, Katy Brass.
Morgan visited the building where the number 163256 was tattooed on her great-grandfather’s arm, and she said he was foremost in her thoughts on the silent march from Auschwitz to Birkenau on Yom Hashoah.
“I thought, ‘I am marching for my opa.’ I kept thinking that he walked this path when he was in Auschwitz.”
By coincidence, this meeting with three generations of Englishman’s family happened to fall on two poignant anniversaries.
It was exactly two years since his book was published – he died four months later– and a year since his unveiling.
Brass struggled to hold back tears as she recalled the book launch at Israel’s, which “sold out completely.” Her father did not survive long enough after his cancer was diagnosed that year to attend a scheduled book signing at Chapters and the Jewish Book Fair.
Born in Amsterdam in 1921, Englishman (originally Engelschman) was the sole survivor of his immediate family. He lost his first wife, parents and four sisters in the Holocaust.
Between 1942 and 1945, he was interned in five concentration and labour camps: Vught in Holland; Auschwitz-Birkenau; Janina Grube coal mine; Buna-Monowitz IG Farben Works in Poland, and Dora-Nordhausen in Germany.
Brass said her father was a certified electrician who most likely survived the war because the Nazis valued his professional skills.
People didn’t think he was Jewish, Kaufman added. By the end of his incarceration, her grandfather was working on rockets and other secret weapons. “When people did find out he was Jewish, he was too important to the project to be killed.”
After the war, Englishman married Hendrika (Rita) Pels, a family friend who had also lost her spouse. She died in 2003. He adopted her two children. Brass and her brother, Philip Englishman, had been hidden in the Dutch countryside during the war.
The family immigrated to Canada in 1952. Englishman was a frequent speaker on the Holocaust, and he actively fought neo-Nazism.
Brass described her father as a pied piper. “People just loved him. He never had a bad word to say about anybody.”
And he was funny, Kaufman said. “He used to tell my kids, ‘Your camp was a lot more fun than mine.’”
Indeed in his book, Englishman offers a humorous response to a student’s question about the food in concentration camp: “We never had to worry about too many calories.”
Kaufman said her grandfather’s lifelong mission was to educate people about the Holocaust, especially students. He wanted his autobiography to be accessible to younger readers as well as adults.