As I got off the phone with Danna Horwood, I felt as though I had just ended a conversation with a friend I had known for years. Danna, a Hamilton native and mother of three, has the energy of a hummingbird, and I could feel her warmth emanating through the phone.
After speaking for some time, I mentioned to Danna that we share a distinct commonality that has helped shape our passion for educating others, rooted in the legacies we have been given. We share a common thread, spun into the very fabric of our history: we are both grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. Beginning today, Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) will be commemorated globally. Danna then invited me to attend the Yom Hashoah program in Hamilton, and I happily accepted. I will also be running a program during the week in Toronto with my grandmother, who will be sharing her story with high school students.
Danna’s grandparents, Margaret Stadler and Arthur Weisz, grew up in Moson, Hungary, where they lived on the same street. When the war broke out, their lives were completely upside down, as were so many others’ under Nazi-occupied Europe. In 1944, after being pushed onto a cramped cattle car, Margaret was sent to a concentration camp with her mother and brother (similar to my own grandmother Vera’s experience).
Arriving at Auschwitz in Poland, Margaret was separated from her family members, who she would never see again. At the end of the Holocaust in 1945, Margaret returned to Hungary and reunited with her love, Arthur. There, they began a family and had a son, but they felt the post-war communist government was too repressive, so they escaped to Austria. After spending some time in a displaced persons camp, Margaret and Arthur ultimately immigrated to Hamilton, Ontario, where they grew their family and lived full and meaningful lives.
A decade ago, Danna was suffering from postpartum depression following the birth of her third child. She began to spend a lot of time with her grandmother, Margaret, who would come to the hospital and visit her. Danna recalls a moment when her grandmother said to her, “Look at me, Danna. I’ve had post-traumatic stress disorder [since the Holocaust], but I have this beautiful family! I came to this country…and we are free! You need to make a difference!” At the time, Danna did not realize the impact her grandmother’s words would have on her life.
Margaret passed away in 2008. At the funeral, Danna’s eleven-year-old daughter Sari prompted her to explain Margaret’s Holocaust story. Danna did not know how to answer, because although she had been told bits and pieces, her grandparents never shared their dark past with the family. Little did Danna know that it would be Sari’s question that would prompt Danna to embark on a lifelong journey.
The day following the funeral, Danna went to her husband insisting she needed to make a movie about her grandparents’ Holocaust story. Two and a half years later, what had once been a mere thought in Danna’s mind became a reality. Having spent hours filming her grandfather Arthur (90 years old at the time) and interviewing her entire family, the final product, Margaret and Arthur’s Story, became a testament to her family’s legacy as well as a tribute to Holocaust survivors and their families the world over.
The film chronicles the Weiszes’ experiences during WWII, their escape from Hungary and their new life in Canada. Told “through the eyes of living Weisz descendants,” the documentary discusses themes of love, survival and courage. It is meant to educate audiences in tolerance, understanding and a part of history that must never be forgotten.
Danna’s drive for making the film? “I was really making this movie to educate my kids,” she said. When she first showed the film to her family and close friends, her friend told her, “You have educated your family. Now you need to educate the world…you need to take this on the road!” It was at this point when Danna decided to quit her job. Now she works full-time travelling across Ontario (while also visiting Florida, New York, and Montreal) to present the film in schools, places of worship and other locations. She will soon be heading to Germany and Italy to present her program.
The film is presented as part of Danna’s organization, Margaret’s Legacy, an umbrella agency that “seeks to provide Holocaust education through tools such as the video.” Margaret’s Legacy “helps provide valuable lessons in tolerance and courage for use in classrooms around the world” while educating about the Holocaust to a younger generation. The presentation includes a screening of the film followed by a short speech explaining the creation of the documentary and a Q&A period.
To date, approximately 2,000 students have benefited from Danna’s presentation and have learned about the Holocaust. “My grandmother was my inspiration and because of her, I realized what I needed to do to make a difference in the world,” Danna said. “I am just going to keep going and god willing, [my kids] will take over the project.”
Danna’s drive and passion is clear. She takes pride in responding to questions she receives from students and viewers, often staying up until 2:30 following a day of presenting. The future is bright for Danna, her entire family and Margaret’s Legacy, and it is clear that she continues to live by her late grandmother’s words and is making a difference.
Danna Horwood is the Executive Director at Margaret’s Legacy. For more information about Margaret’s Legacy or the film, click here.