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By Zachary Roman
Margalith Esterhuizen was born in Romania in 1927 to a Jewish family. In 1941, Esterhuizen and her family were forced from their home as the country aligned itself with Nazi Germany.
They were sent on a deportation march to a Romanian-controlled place called Transnistria, described as a wretched land between borders with hundreds of camps and ghettos. Jews were left to die in desolation in these camps and ghettos, subject to disease, starvation, and acts of violence.
Esterhuizen managed to survive until she was liberated in 1944, and moved to Canada in 1989.
Now, the Cheltenham resident who just celebrated her 95th birthday, is also celebrating the publishing of her memoir: A Light in the Clouds.
The book was published by the Azrieli Foundation, which was established to preserve and share the memories of those who survived Nazi genocide.
The Citizen met with Esterhuizen on August 15 to chat about her book and her life.
Esterhuizen said she was dreading writing her memoir because she knew it would bring back so many hurtful memories. However, she said since she's not getting any younger, she knew it had to be done so that people would know what she and other Jews went through.
“I thought if I don't do this, nobody's going to know that this little woman that has lived here (in Cheltenham) for 12 years is actually a Holocaust survivor,” said Esterhuizen. “If I could, I would stand on the highest mountain and I would yell, so that this should not happen again… I want the world to know. I'm Jewish, and I've been persecuted as a child, and that doesn't go away.”
Even before World War 2, Esterhuizen said Jews were not treated well in Romania. She believes that, unfortunately, antisemitism may never go away.
“Some people grow up in their families with hatred, you know, and how do you cure that?” she asked. “I don't know. I would love to have lived in a world that didn't have hatred and discrimination.”
Esterhuizen hopes that by reading her memoir, people might become more considerate and understanding. She explained while people are different, if we look deep down, we are all human beings who experience the same emotions.
“We hurt when people are nasty to us, we are joyful when there's reason to celebrate,” said Esterhuizen.
When Esterhuizen was writing her memoir, she wanted to make sure everything she was putting down was historically accurate, as she knows there are people out there who would challenge her.
It's how she first got in touch with the Azrieli Foundation, who helped her with the history, editing, and other things that go along with publishing a book.
Knowing the history of the Holocaust is important, said Esterhuizen, and young people must be taught about it so that it's never forgotten or repeated.
She said whether it's against Jewish people, Indigenous people, or anyone at all, discrimination as a whole needs to stop because everyone has the right to live free from persecution.
Esterhuizen said she feels for the people of Ukraine right now as they deal with the Russian invasion. She said it's terrible what's happening there and that it almost feels like it's “happening again.”
Esterhuizen recalls thinking during the Holocaust: “Why is no one coming to help us?” and worries the Ukrainian people might feel the same.
Esterhuizen always had hope though, and said that it was a Jewish organization that saved her from Transnistria. They came to the camp and said they couldn't do much, but that they could maybe save the children. Even though Esterhuizen was 17 at the time, her father put her name down, and she was able to escape to Israel. She served in the army and met her husband there, before later moving to South Africa, and finally Canada.
Here, Esterhuizen worked as a real estate agent and found success and happiness in her work until she retired. Some of her favourite hobbies are reading, writing, knitting, and walking.
Life in Canada has been enjoyable for Esterhuizen and she said what she loves most about the country is the freedom to be who she wants to be, go where she wants to go, and do what she wants to do. She loves living in Cheltenham and said the people who live there are lovely.
“I like my life. I'm quiet, you know, and I have a few friends, I walk a lot… It's fun,” said Esterhuizen. “You have to exercise not only your mind but your body too.”
While Esterhuizen said she would never change the fact that she's Jewish, she's not a very religious person. She believes if there is a God, they wouldn't have allowed the Holocaust to happen and put people through that suffering. Still, one of her best friends is a Deacon and Esterhuizen said she loves chatting with him about all kinds of topics.
Another interesting fact about Esterhuizen is that she was a volunteer at Bethell Hospice in Inglewood for a long time. She said she loved her time there and that people there do so much good for the community. Unfortunately, Esterhuizen does not drive anymore and can't volunteer, but she still proudly displays her volunteer recognition award from Hospice Palliative Care Ontario in her apartment.
“After coming through the Holocaust, things like [volunteering] are important. You want to give of yourself as much as you can,” said Esterhuizen.
Post date: 2022-08-18 16:24:45
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