Holocaust survivor Lisa Hurd: Her story, 76 years later
The Jewish Community Havura of Newfoundland and Labrador is holding its annual Holocaust memorial service on Sunday night in St. John's.
Sunday's special guest speaker is actress and long-time St. John's resident Lisa Hurd, who is a Holocaust survivor.
If I allowed fear to stop me from telling this story, which needed to be told — then Hitler had won ... and that's what made me do it.- Lisa Hurd, Holocaust survivor
Hurd said it's taken her almost eight decades to speak publicly and finally tell her family's story.
On Friday, Hurd spoke with Anthony Germain on the St. John's Morning Show, about how she and her parents escaped from Vienna, Austria in 1939.
Hurd said she had been reluctant to discuss the story for a couple of reasons, the main one being fear.
"I am an actress, and for a long time, I have been doing a one-woman play which deals with aging and loss of independence, which is a true story. And my friends have always said to me: 'You shouldn't be doing other people's stories, you should do your own,'" Hurd said.
"Because I personally didn't have a bad war, I figured I didn't have a story, so I was reluctant to tell my part of it. But then I realized that even if I didn't have a story — my family did. And as they were no longer living, it was my privilege and my duty to tell their story."
In the fall of 2014, a friend of Hurd's suggested she share her story by speaking to students at Remembrance Day assemblies. Although hesitant at first, Hurd agreed and spoke at seven schools.
"At first, I was a bit reluctant to do it, and part of it was out of fear. Because there is still a lot of anti-Semitism around, even in Canada unfortunately. And then I realized, if I allowed fear to stop me from telling this story, which needed to be told — then Hitler had won ... and that's what made me do it."
From Vienna to Harwich
It's estimated that before the Second World War began, the Jewish population in Europe stood between nine and 11 million. By May 1945, six million Jews had been murdered by the German Nazi regime.
Hurd's family made it safely by train from Vienna to Holland, and then by boat to Harwich, England.
She said 50 other close members of her family were not as lucky.
"My favourite cousin, she was the same age as me, and when she was nine, she was deported to Minsk. And she was gassed as well," said Hurd.
"My grandparents, three living grandparents were taken to Treblinka, which was an extermination camp. Because my grandmother was one of 13 siblings, we had lots of cousins. They all died in the Holocaust. We know where some of them went, but we're still trying to find out the rest. They died horrible deaths."
Kristallnacht was turning point
Hurd said it was shortly after Kristallnacht, often referred to as the "Night of Broken Glass," that her parents realized they had to take their family and flee from Austria.
"But I think that's what woke them up — the breaking of glass at synagogues and shoppes and houses. I think it was the turning point for them, making them think how serious it was," she said.
Hurd said her parents went into domestic service when they arrived in England, which was the only way they were permitted to enter the country. In Vienna, her father had worked as a sales manager for a company that sold silks and other fabrics, while her mother was a master milliner — skills that Hurd said, "weren't needed or wanted in England."
That meant they essentially had no home for Hurd. So for the next four years, she was fostered with a British family.
"Just before the war, Britain was pretty open to taking in Jewish people, but as soon as the war broke out, the barriers were down and nobody else was allowed to leave," she said.
But then I realized that even if I didn't have a story — my family did. And as they were no longer living, it was my privilege and my duty to tell their story.- Lisa Hurd, Holocaust survivor
"I was fostered by a Church of England parson and his wife, and a little girl who was the same age as me, and I grew up with them for the next four years. I was baptized when I was six, and I used to go to church three times on Sunday, bible study twice a week, church choir," said Hurd.
"And it was something which I didn't find out until later how much it did really hurt my parents, because the reason why we had come from Vienna was because we were Jewish."
Until she was nine years old, Hurd would see her mother just once a week, when she was given half of an afternoon off from her job.
"My mother had a position not far from where I was, so she'd come and see me and my little sister, as I called her. And she'd take us out for tea on High Street. We used to call her 'the nice lady who came to take us out for tea,'" Hurd said.
Hurd said she is hopeful that she can take her family's story across the island and into schools.
As part of the current Grade 12 curriculum in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Holocaust is covered in-depth in the course World History 3201.
"I think the Holocaust to most young people ... it's history. Perhaps it's no more scary or no more horrible than the Spanish Inquisition, or kings of England having their heads chopped off — it's history and I understand that," said Hurd.
"And now they have a short window of time, where they might be able to meet somebody whose family has actually been through it and who is a living link to what they're learning in history. We're going to need funding. But I would love to take it to Labrador, too, if we can get the funding."
Sunday's memorial service takes place at the Bruneau Centre on the Memorial University campus in St. John's at 7:30 p.m.