As the Holocaust is memorialized worldwide through education programs and commemoration days, the common perception is that after survivors arrived and settled in their new homes they continued on a successful journey from rags to riches. While this story is comforting, a closer look at the experience of Holocaust survivors in North America shows it to be untrue. The arrival of tens of thousands of Jewish refugees was palpable in the streets of Montreal and their impact on the existing Jewish community is well-recognized. But what do we really know about how survivors’ experienced their new community? Drawing on more than 60 interviews with survivors, hundreds of case files from Jewish Immigrant Aid Services, and other archival documents, The Montreal Shtetl presents a portrait of the daily struggles of Holocaust survivors who settled in Montreal, where they encountered difficulties with work, language, culture, health care, and a Jewish community that was not always welcoming to survivors.
By reflecting on how institutional supports, gender, and community relationships shaped the survivors’ settlement experiences, Abramson and Lynch show the relevance of these stories to current state policies on refugee immigration.
About the authors
Zelda Abramson is an associate professor of sociology at Acadia University. Her areas of teaching and research include methodology, health, and family. As a public sociologist, she strives to combine academic research with social activism. Zelda grew up in Montreal as a child of Holocaust survivors.
John Lynch is a woodworker and designer with a keen interest in social history and creative writing.
- Short-listed, Vine Awards for Canadian Jewish Literature
- Short-listed, J.I. Segal Award for the Best Quebec Book on a Jewish Theme
The Montreal Shtetl- Making Home After the Holocaust by Zelda Abramson and John Lynch should be read by anyone interested in immigration, Canadian history or post Holocaust Jewish experiences.This is a wonderful book. I liked everything about it!The interviews were a joy to read.”
The Reading Life
Abramson and Lynch tell a detailed and nuanced story of Holocaust survivors’ struggles to create new lives in Montreal during the first years after the genocide—a story that is typically overlooked or radically oversimplified. The wider contexts of Canadian immigration policy, social service agencies, and the history of Quebec’s Jewish community are grounded in the accounts of individual survivors. The result is a study that is compelling, informing, and deeply humane.
Henry Greenspan, author of On Listening to Holocaust Survivors: Beyond Testimony
The Montreal Shtetl is researched and written with great care and attention to detail. Filling a void in Holocaust survivor literature, it delivers a strikingly personal yet analytical account. Each sentence is heavy with emotion and understanding; a feeling that comes only from the sensitivity gained through lived experience, whether first hand or inherited. Truly a work of unique caliber.
Jessica Zimmerman, Director of Archives, Jewish Public Library, Montreal