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'Holocaust to Resistance' documents a life well lived

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Child visits Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. Image: Lisa Leonardelli/Flickr

Holocaust to Resistance, My Journey by Suzanne Weiss
(Fernwood Publishing, 2019, 22.00)

To live a successful life

To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of the intelligent people
and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better
whether by a healthy child, a garden patch,
or a redeemed social condition;
to know that one life has breathed easier
because you lived here.
This is to have succeeded.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson, cited by Palestinian professor and activist, Mazin Qumsiyeh

Always with the oppressed

"I don't support the Arabs. I support the oppressed. If I see an Israeli soldier oppressing a Palestinian, I support the Palestinian -- not because he's Palestinian, but because he's oppressed. And if I see the same man oppressing his wife, I will oppose him and support the wife because he has become an oppressor and she is the oppressed... And if I see the wife oppressing a child, I will support the child -- not because it is a child, but because it is oppressed. My rule is, I oppose oppression."

- Israeli activist Akiva Orr

Suzanne Weiss, the author of Holocaust to Resistance, and I are both members of Independent Jewish Voices Canada, an organization dedicated to the liberation of the Palestinian people from Israeli oppression. I have admired her courage and integrity and enjoyed her sparkling personality. But it wasn't until I read Suzanne's autobiography that I realized how little I knew about her background. Reading Holocaust to Resistance allowed me to situate these admirable personal attributes within her personal history.

Suzanne's has been a remarkable life. Early on, she lost her Jewish parents to the Nazi occupiers in France, an unimaginable trauma for any child. This was followed by a series of stays in orphanages and foster homes which met her material needs but left her emotionally isolated. Yet she did not allow any of this to embitter or cripple her psychologically. Falling back on an extraordinary reservoir of inner strength -- something she attributes to her birth mother -- Suzanne managed to maintain her dignity as well as a profound sense of her own inner worth, using this to fend off adversities that might easily have undermined a person of lesser fortitude.

Holocaust to Resistance describes how Suzanne has been able to channel this inner strength into the pursuit of social justice through a deep involvement in and commitment to the labour, civil rights, anti-war, and international solidarity movements. Here is someone who was active in the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, provided solidarity for the Nicaraguan revolution, worked in support of the Black liberation struggle, and served as a party member as well as office holder in left-wing political organizations, even serving as the personal assistant to internationally prominent party figures.

Working tirelessly on behalf of exploited workers and oppressed victims of racial discrimination, as well as in left political parties, Suzanne managed nevertheless to maintain a sound critical perspective, enabling her to resist both rigid political thinking and misguided organizational priorities when she found these to be in conflict with the progressive principles she strove to live by. Despite this astounding array of activist experiences, she never lost sight of what these struggles were ultimately about. This combination of strength and integrity is something progressives everywhere will find worthy of emulation.

Holocaust to Resistance concludes with a stunning account of Suzanne's return to France with her partner, John Riddell, in pursuit of information about her birth parents. In a surprising turn of events, she is able to meet up with surviving members of the French Resistance who had hidden her and other Jewish children from the Nazis. Her description of these people and the solidarity they extended to others in the face of unparalleled personal peril provides a moving conclusion to her life story.

Suzanne's autobiography is a lively personal and political account of the events of our times. It will provide inspiration to anyone engaged in the effort to build a better world.

Sid Shniad is a founding member of Independent Jewish Voices Canada. He worked as the research director of the Telecommunications Workers Union for nearly 30 years.

Image: Lisa Leonardelli/Flickr

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