“Every Holocaust survivor’s story is a love story; the love of life, family and freedom.”
Andy Réti was just two years old when he, his mother and grandmother were driven out of their home in Rechnitz on the Austrian-Hungarian border and into a Jewish ghetto. His father had already been taken to a forced labour camp and ultimately perished at the hands of the Nazis. He attributes their survival to luck, grit, and a few courageous upstanders like Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish businessman and diplomat who saved thousands of Jews in German-occupied Hungary in the later stages of World War II.
“There is a strong likelihood that I owe my life to Raoul Wallenberg,” said Réti to a rapt Middle and Upper School audience during the Holocaust Education Week assembly on November 2. “Upstanders are people who are willing to help. The Nazis were the biggest bullies in history, and some people had the courage to step up.”
Mr. Réti has been a Holocaust educator since 1998. He prefers the term shoah —the Hebrew word for catastrophe—over Holocaust, which is Greek for sacrifice by fire, believing that the former is a more fitting description of the impact it had on European Jewry. In 2001, he wrote The Son of an Extraordinary Woman — a sequel to his mother’s book, An Ordinary Woman in Extraordinary Times, written in 1990. In 2016, the two books were jointly released as Stronger Together. “My mother lived with incredible courage and determination,” reflects Reti. “This is why it is so important for me to carry on in her footsteps.”
Even after the war, Réti’s family faced anti-semitism when they returned to Rechnitz, which compelled them to immigrate to Canada. “I don't think anybody has an answer as to why we hate,” said Réti at the conclusion of his presentation. “Hate comes from ignorance, and you, my dear young friends, are the antidote. You are here to learn, and I salute you. I salute your teachers. I salute this school. Because the only way to stamp out ignorance and hate is one classroom at a time.”