Story of resilience in special exhibit
A tale of loss, grief, resilience and courage is told in Open Hearts - Closed Doors, the special exhibit currently at the Museum at Campbell River. Photographs and text unfold the story of Jewish children who survived the devastation of World War II and left Europe to build new lives in Canada.
Between 1947 and 1949, 1,123 war orphans came to Canada. Arriving by ship in Halifax, they were met by representatives of the Canadian Jewish Congress and eventually placed on trains that took them to homes across the country.
For these children, wartime liberation had brought confusion and the stark reality of what had been lost. "The authorities had a hard time convincing us that we could not go home and that our homes were no longer there," states one. They waited in makeshift orphanages and displaced persons camps, while their photographs, holding signs with their names painted on them, were circulated throughout Europe, on the chance they might be seen by someone that knew the fate of their families. Some children, not many, were reunited with relatives.
Canada was one of few countries to accept Jewish refugee children. The Canadian government required a commitment from the Jewish community to look after the orphans, and they were taken into the homes of Jewish families. There were hopes and expectations on both sides. The children successfully assimilated into Canadian culture both through their ability to adapt and the strong support of the people who helped them.
The exhibit's impact is strongest in the half dozen or so albums in which individual stories are told. In their own words, along with pictures and mementos, the former refugees describe their life before, during and after the war, at the end expressing the philosophy with which their experiences have left them. Robbie Waisman, whose album is one of these, will be at the Museum in person on April 5 to give a talk on the war orphans' story.
Open Hearts - Closed Doors is circulated by the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre and will be at the Museum at Campbell River until the end of April. The Museum is open 12 pm - 5 pm Tuesday through Sunday.
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