Philip Riteman is a Holocaust survivor whose mission is to educate today’s youth on the atrocities committed against millions of Jews and Gentiles by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime during World War II. From the Pruzhany Ghetto, Poland, Philip and his family were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. There, his entire family was exterminated. As the lone survivor, Philip was used as a forced labourer in five concentration camps, where he witnessed the cruellest treatments that can be inflicted on human beings: degradation, dehumanization, starvation, hard labour, daily beatings, torture, and deliberate, cold-blooded murder.
Millions of Souls is told in three parts.
First is Philip’s account of life in his hometown and as an eyewitness to the struggle for survival in the concentration camps. Second is the story of Philip’s exodus to Newfoundland after the war, where he discovered that there was still some humanity left in the world. Third is the story of Philip Riteman today, and his commitment to spreading his message: “Hate destroys people, communities, and countries. Love binds us all together and makes a better world.”
Philip Riteman’s story was recorded by Mireille Baulu-MacWillie during a series of interviews at Philip’s home in Nova Scotia, Canada.
About the Authors
Philip Riteman was born in Shershev in the Brest-Litvosk region of Poland. Forced from their town by the Germans in 1941, Philip and his family, along with thousands of other Jews, were deported into the Pruzhany ghetto.
They were transported to Auschwitz in the winter of 1942. Philip’s parents, brothers, and sisters were put to death in the gas chambers. Philip and two remaining brother were selected for slave labour. From Auschwitz-Birkenau, Philip was sent to Sachsenhausen, Oranienburg, Dachau, and finally Landsberg. Liberated by the American Seventh Army in 1945, after crossing the Tyrolean Alps on a death march, Philip was the only member of his family to survive.
Philip sought to leave Europe and start a new life in North America. Only Newfoundland, an independent country at that time, was quick to respond in Philip’s favour. In 1946 Philip began his new life as a door-to-door peddler in his new country. Visiting Montreal, Philip met and subsequently married Dorothy Smilestein, who joined him in St. John’s. Their two sons are both graduates of Memorial University. In Newfoundland, Philip owned a wholesale dry goods business. By the time he left for Halifax in 1979, he had established a successful import trading company.
For many years, Philip did not speak about the Holocaust. In 1989, he gave testimony as a survivor for the first time at a school in St. Stephen, New Brunswick. He spoke to silence Holocaust deniers who claimed that the extermination of 6,000,000 Jews by the Germans had either never occurred or was greatly exaggerated. He spoke for those who could not speak.
For more than twenty years, Philip has continued to bear witness as a survivor. At schools, churches, universities, legion halls, and business enterprises throughout Canada and the United States, he has shared painful memories and a commitment to a more just society. For his contribution, Philip has been awarded honorary doctorates by Memorial and St. Thomas Universities as well as the Order of Nova Scotia.
Mireille Baulu-MacWillie obtained her Ph.D. from the Université de Montréal and dedicated her forty-five-year career to the field of education.
In her first twenty-five years, she taught students at all academic levels: primary school, high school, and community college. She also held the administrative position of principal in a public school. She spent the last twenty years of her career at Université Sainte-Anne in Nova Scotia as a professor of education preparing students for the teaching profession. She has written many scholarly articles and two books, some of these in collaboration with colleagues.
She has had a lifelong interest in reading about Holocaust survivors and rescuers since the age of thirteen and tried to read every book or document she could find on the subject. She considers that the project of writing Philip Riteman’s story has been a great responsibility, an extraordinary privilege, and a profoundly enriching experience. He was the first survivor she had ever met in person. She is grateful that he chose to let her write his story when he had been asked by others over the years to allow them this opportunity. She has developed an undying admiration and respect for Mr. Riteman’s determination to survive and the courage to tell his story