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The Holocaust Speaker Series is held each Wednesday at 11 a.m. on Zoom. The series is sponsored by Margaret & Michael Valentine in partnership with the Harriet and Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Center and the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage. This week’s speaker is Ariela Heilman.

Ariela Heilman is the daughter of Auschwitz saboteur and resistance hero, Anna Heilman. During this presentation of the Holocaust Speaker Series, Ariela will share the story of her mother and aunt for the first time.

Anna Heilman grew up in a culturally Jewish, though assimilated, home in Warsaw before her family was forced into the Warsaw Ghetto. As a teenager, Anna, and her sister Estusia, fought in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1943, Anna and Estusia were slave laborers in a munitions factory, which gave them the opportunity to take part in resistance efforts in the camp.

They risked their lives to smuggle gunpowder to members of the Sonderkommando, which fueled the famous Sonderkommando Uprising in 1944. In the aftermath of the uprising, four female prisoners, Roza Robota, Ala Gertner, Regina Safirsztajn, and Estusia were betrayed, interrogated, tortured, and hanged. Days later in an effort to evade advancing Soviet troops, Anna and other Auschwitz prisoners were forced on a death march that would eventually take Anna to Ravensbruck, then to Neustadt-Glewe where she was liberated.

The world remembers Roza Robota, but the roles of the other co-conspirators is a lesser known story. In June 1991, a memorial to the brave women was unveiled at Yad Vashem in Israel. Today, there are memorials in several places including Auschwitz, Ottawa, and Washington.

Anna’s brave story was recorded from memory into diaries she wrote while in a displaced person’s camp in 1945. These diaries served as the basis for her memoir, “Never Far Away: The Auschwitz Chronicles of Anna Heilman,” which won the city of Ottawa Book Award in 2002. Anna settled in Israel, married, raised two daughters and moved to Canada, where she was employed as a social worker for the Children’s Aid Society in Ottawa. Anna passed away in 2011.

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