By Joëlle Pouliot, The Gazette August 12, 2011
MONTREAL – The story of Eva Marx and Judy Abrams would leave most people wondering if they also have a spiritual twin somewhere in the world.
Born in Eastern European countries, Marx and Abrams survived the Holocaust as children in hiding during the Second World War, immigrated to Canada at the age of 12, grew up in the same neighbourhood, attended Montreal’s High School for Girls and took night classes at McDonald College to become teachers. They each had two children, and it just so happens their husbands attended the same school as boys.
Yet it was only this year, when both women were about to publish separate memoirs about being Holocaust survivors, that they met and realized they had been living parallel lives for 74 years.
The Azrieli Foundation, a Canadian philanthropic organization that promotes Holocaust commemoration, picked up their separate memoirs with plans to publish them at the end of August. Seeing what was thought to be the only common theme in their writings – children in hiding during the Second World War – the editor proposed that Marx and Abrams meet and consider publishing a single book together.
Little did the editor know how much the authors actually had in common in their postwar lives. “Every time we talk to each other, we find another parallel,” says Abrams.
Their story began in April 1937, when Abrams was born in Hungary. Six months later, Marx was born in the former Czechoslovakia. The Second World War erupted in 1939 and Abrams was forced to take up a false identity and find shelter with nuns. She later hid in a private home with a family friend when her parents were taken to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. They survived and came back to find her after the war.
Marx and her parents narrowly escaped Nazi officials and went into hiding in the apartment of a compassionate woman. Marx’s grandparents weren’t as lucky and died at the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Marx and Abrams’s fathers, both businessmen, tried to rebuild their families’ lives after the war, but the threat of communism came to shatter their hopes of a better life in Europe. The girls turned 12 on the boats that brought them to Canada – an anniversary they would remember forever.
When they talk about the experience of writing their memoirs, they complete each other’s sentences without even realizing it.
“I divested myself of the painful feelings I had,” says Abrams.
“Yes, the pain is no longer exercising a pressure over you,” adds Marx.
“It becomes something not that you keep inside …”
“ … but something that you’re shaping outside yourself, just like an artist.”
“Any self-expression is in the end a work of art.”
As they discuss, they discover a new connection: they both took a sabbatical year after obtaining their teaching degree and moved to France with their husbands to study French.
“Oh my goodness, this is impossible!” Abrams cries out, laughing in disbelief.
“You know, Judy, my husband liked you and your husband very much, so hopefully we’ll be friends,” says Marx shyly.
“We must!” approves Abrams.
Eva Marx and Judy Abrams will be reading from their memoirs at the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre’s book fair on Aug. 21 at 3 p.m. Their work will be available in bookstores and for free in schools and libraries.
© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette