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Holocaust survivor William Glied tirelessly shared stories of life in concentration camps

Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp survivor William Glied at his home in Toronto on Jan. 26, 2015.

Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail

More than seven decades after his father's death in a Nazi concentration camp, William Glied flew from Toronto to the old German city of Detmold in 2016 and took the stand at one of the last Holocaust trials.

Testifying against the former SS guard Reinhold Hanning, Mr. Glied recalled how his mother and sister were taken away and never seen again after they arrived in Auschwitz, how he and his father became slave labour and how he was his family's lone survivor after the war.

"Why did I come to bear witness as a co-plaintiff? Not because of hate – I don't know Herr Hanning," he told the court.

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"I came because, while I don't hate, I cannot forget."

Mr. Glied, who spent his last two decades giving personal testimonies about what he endured as a teenage Nazi camp prisoner, died Saturday morning at the Toronto General Hospital from what appeared to be a heart attack. He was 87.

For years, tirelessly, patiently, he visited schools, spoke to journalists, addressed conferences, recounting his wartime experience.

In a 2015 interview with The Globe and Mail, he said he wanted to honour the memory of his father who, during their captivity, gave him his rations.

"He saved my life. I am forever in debt for that," Mr. Glied said. "Each time I speak to schools, I keep repeating that fact. And that will forever stay with me."

Vojislav Eliezer Glied was born on Sept. 6, 1930, in Subotica, a city that was then part of Yugoslavia. He was the eldest of the two children of Alexander and Maria Glied, observant Jews who owned a flour mill.

Their prosperous life changed abruptly in 1941 when Germany invaded the Balkans. Subotica was annexed by one of Germany's allies, Hungary.

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Hungary had anti-Semitic laws and Jewish students such as Mr. Glied were harassed. "People I considered my friends all of a sudden became enemies. People who were my parents' friends and associates, all of a sudden became strangers."

Still, they were spared from the Nazi camps until the spring of 1944, when German troops then took over and the SS began a mass deportation of the Hungarian Jews.

Mr. Glied and his family were among more than 400,000 people rounded up by Hungarian gendarmes.

"I still recall very clearly, as if it was yesterday, us walking to the rail station, all these people outside looking at us walking to our death," Mr. Glied said in his Globe interview.

They were piled into cattle cars with no water or sanitary facilities. Two days later, they were at Auschwitz.

"The tumult that ensued is indescribable. Babies crying, women calling for their husbands, arguments among people," Mr. Glied recalled in his court testimony.

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"All the while the SS meandered among this swirling crowd viciously swinging their canes."

He and his father were kept as forced labour. His mother and his eight-year-old sister, Aniko, were sent to the gas chambers.

"I never saw my mom and sister – never again. I didn't say goodbye to them, didn't hug or kiss them, they disappeared from my life forever."

After three weeks in Auschwitz, he and his father were sent to Kaufering III, a camp in Bavaria, joining thousands conscripted to dig a hillside underground plant.

They worked 12-hour days. He got a job slitting open cement bags, which infected his eyes because of the dust. But that was better than being the men who had to haul the bags.

In the evening roll call, dozens of dead prisoners were piled at the front. He saw a guard shoot an inmate in head when their crew was unable to lift a rail. "Human life didn't mean anything."

His father was growing weaker and by April, 1945, was ordered to be taken away.

He begged to kept with his father, so they were taken together to another camp, Kaufering IV, where ailing prisoners were left to die. Both contracted typhoid.

Days later, the Germans evacuated the Kaufering camps ahead of the allied troops.

While they were taken by train to the Dachau concentration camp, the convoy was strafed by allied planes.

Amid the commotion, Mr. Glied heard babies cry and thought he was delirious.

At Dachau, his father died days before American troops reached the camp.

After the war, Mr. Glied emigrated to Canada and eventually started a lumber company.

In 1994 at a dinner party, he mentioned the crying babies he heard on the train to Dachau. A few days later, he got a call from Miriam Rosenthal, a Toronto shopkeeper.

She quizzed him for details about the incident, then said, "Well, would you like to meet one of the babies? … The baby is 50 years old, he's somewhat grey but you can meet him here in Toronto."

She had been a prisoner at another Kaufering camp, where she and six other pregnant prisoners had been allowed to give birth that spring. She was on the same train that had been strafed by allied planes.

In his 2015 interview with The Globe, Mr. Glied said that the babies' survival made him believe that human decency endures amid the cruelty of genocide.

"I feel that human beings are by nature good, that they're not evil. If I didn't believe that, there is not much sense in human existence," he said.

Mr. Glied leaves his wife, Marika, their three daughters, Sherry, Tammy and Michelle, eight grandchildren – "and a great-grandchild on the way," Michelle said.

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