By: Catiyana Adam
Spending your period 5 spare listening to someone talk about history from 90 years ago? Not exactly everyone’s idea of a great Friday afternoon. But for those of us who attended Elly Gotz’s Holocaust presentation on April 15th, it wasn’t a waste of an afternoon at all.
Elly Gotz is a Holocaust survivor. He is also an engineer, businessman, and international traveller. By the age of 5, Elly was fluent in 4 languages, including Yiddish – a language he picked up unbeknownst to his parents, who only used it to communicate when they wanted to talk about him. He was liberated from the Dachau concentration camp at 17, and by that time he had evaded near-massacre, helped build an impenetrable factory, and secreted away dozens of books from under the watch of the Nazis. Elly’s life was not easy. His family hid in a dark basement for days to escape death, with nothing to do except plan their suicide in the event that their location was discovered. He worked grueling 12-hour shifts to construct the underground factory, and lost a dear friend in 5 feet of concrete (one of six victims who are still buried in the walls today).
When Elly was finally liberated from Dachau, he applied to university in Munich. He was accepted, but soon after, his family relocated to Norway – where he would add another language to his repertoire in just under 3 months. Family members secured Elly and his parents a spot in Rhodesia a year later (modern-day Zimbabwe), where he was able to complete his degree as an Electrical Engineer. There, Elly put himself at risk to advocate for the rights of black students; “I knew how cruel and misguided prejudice is… I protested as much as I could, but I was on a Visa; I had to ensure I was not expelled,” he said in a speech to students in South Africa.
Elly finally settled in Canada (adding another language to his belt – English) where he became a pilot, entrepreneur, and business-owner. Now he travels the world speaking out against intolerance and genocide. Although over eighty years old, Elly exudes a powerful presence on stage, evoking the horrors of the Holocaust with the grace and humour only a survivor can muster.
I corresponded with Elly Gotz after his presentation to ask him what his message to the youth of today is. “[I] tell the truth, again and again, in the hope that humanity will learn something from the past. Sometimes I read the papers and despair, [so] I look into your faces and hope your generation will do a better job.”
An eighty-year old who’s a linguist, activist, and considerably adept at email? Come on, tell me that’s not just a little bit impressive!