Millions of Souls: The Philip Riteman Story (A Holocaust Memoir)
as told to Mireille Baulu-MacWillie
Philip Riteman was a Jewish teenager in Poland when Nazi Germany invaded in 1939. He was interned first in the ghetto in Pruzhany, then sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau. He survived years of slave labour in five different concentration camps; by the end of the war in 1945 he was the only survivor of his immediate family. Parents and brothers and sisters had all been killed. After the war, relatives of his parents who had emigrated to Canada, Newfoundland (then a crown colony), and the US were able to track him down. Eventually he immigrated to Newfoundland, and now lives in Nova Scotia. He has become a prominent educator about the Holocaust, speaking, as he says, “for those who cannot speak.”
Philip’s first-person story, set down in his own words by Baulu-MacWillie, is harrowing. The language is simple and matter-of-fact. He talks about his family and village life in Poland, and the rising ant-Semitism there even before the war, but most of the first part of the book is his memoir of the camps, baldly-stated horrific details of torture inflicted on the prisoners, of the general and specific suffering, of the affect this had on mind and body. It is a book that it is hard to read, yet it is essential reading, because if we don’t acknowledge that this was done, that humans are capable of doing such things to fellow human beings, we will not be prepared to recognize the signs of ideologically-founded hatred when and where they begin to emerge again.
The second part of the book talks about his recovery in Newfoundland and how, as a young man, he set out to make a new life for himself. That story, too, is interesting, a portrait of the Newfoundland of the nineteen-fifties, and its welcome of an Eastern European immigrant.
This is a book that everyone needs to read.