'We are not learning from history': Hate must be halted, Manitoba Holocaust survivors warn

Decades after Adolf Hitler sealed his deadly legacy, Winnipeg Holocaust survivors have a warning for Manitobans.

'It's very frightening' and 'people are followers,' survivors warn after racist rallies, verbal attacks

Holocaust survivor Regine Frankel cautions against complacency when witnessing racist behaviour. (CBC)

Decades after Adolf Hitler sealed his deadly legacy, Winnipeg Holocaust survivors have a warning for Manitobans.

Stop the hate — or once again, the hate will stop humanity.

"It's very frightening, because history repeats itself constantly," Regine Frankel told CBC. "And it seems that we don't learn from history. We are not learning from history."

Frankel, whose family was forced into hiding during the Second World War, agreed to share her story in response to recent racially motivated and hateful incidents.

In the space of a few weeks, a Muslim woman visiting Manitoba was targetted by a self-proclaimed "Nazi," an Eritrean family in Winnipeg was taunted by a neighbour who displayed both a Confederate flag and a swastika flag, and anti-Semitic graffiti was scratched onto city sidewalks and a park bench.

Anti-Islam rallies are being planned on social media. And the list goes on.

It's an ugly outbreak confirmed by both police and human rights agencies.

At a CBC Asks town hall event in Winnipeg Thursday night, Winnipeg Police Service Const. Rob Carver called it the most "significant" such outbreak he's seen in his more than two decades on the job.

The U.S.-based Southern Poverty Law Center went even further.

"The fact of the matter is this is white supremacy, this is white nationalism," said the centre's Lecia Brooks at the town hall.

Dark deja vu

For Holocaust survivors, it's a dark deja vu.

Frankel, who grew up in France, remembers the months prior to the Second World War. Word was getting out, she recalled, that Hitler was after the Jews.

"Things were going on about the Jews, what they were doing to the Jews," Frankel recalled. "But people stood by, the world stood by, while things happened."

Isaac Gotfried spent years in slave-labour and concentration camps before he escaped to freedom. (CBC)

Fellow survivor Isaac Gotfried agreed.

"[The hate] was started by one man. And it spread so easily. And people are followers," Gotfried said.

It was that hate — and the world's seeming indifference — that sealed their fate.

Gotfried, just a teenager at the time, was separated from his family in Poland and spent the next several years in slave-labour and concentration camps. He was starved. He was tortured. Death surrounded him daily.

"I woke up one morning between two corpses," he said. "But that was no novelty."

Life was arbitrary, he said.

"[One guard] just kicked a man in the groin, the man fell over, on his stomach, on his throat. He killed a man just as an example of what we could expect in his camp."

'I can still feel the fear'

At times, Frankel 's family hid from the Nazis in remote farm houses in rural France.

Regine Frankel (left) and her siblings once performed in front of unsuspecting Nazi officers. (Supplied)
Other times, they survived by hiding in plain sight.

She and her siblings, a musical trio, were once coaxed out of darkness to perform a concert in a nearby village — in front of a dozen Nazi officers.

"I can still feel the fear of how we felt, performing while those Nazis were listening," Frankel recalled. "So we did our number and somebody whisked us away to the country afterwards. You know, like in The Sound of Music." 

In the end, both Gotfried and Frankel survived. But not without heartache. Gotfried's mother and sisters all died in Auschwitz. His brother survived but decades later, haunted by jagged memories, killed himself to escape those flashbacks.

Gotfried and Frankel have their flashbacks, too — though there is one that, ironically, gives Frankel some comfort.

The war was over. The allies were marching the Nazis — now prisoners of war — down the streets in the village, past the families they'd terrorized.

The prisoners were parched and begging them for water. Only one person — Frankel's mother — gave it to them.

"In that moment, I was so proud of my mother, so relieved," Frankel said.

"Because in that moment I knew we had not lost our humanity."


Donna Carreiro

CBC Radio Current Affairs Producer

Donna Carreiro is an award-winning producer and journalist, who has worked for more than 27 years with CBC Manitoba. Prior to that, she was a print journalist for a daily newspaper and local magazines. She is drawn to stories of social justice (or injustice) that give a voice to those who most need one. She can be reached at