When I meet Elly Gotz at a café close to his home, it doesn’t take long for him to tell me a joke.
“A priest, a minister and a rabbi discuss when life begins.”
It’s a joke from a bygone era but it immediately sets the tone for our chat.
At 90 years old, Elly is a tall handsome man, with thick white hair and a wide welcoming smile.
“I love to tell jokes,” he says.
It’s the perfect paradox to our serious discussion about his teen years before and after the Second World War. His time in the Kovno ghetto in Lithuania, later separated from his mother and barely surviving with his father in the Dachau concentration camp.
Growing up in Lithuania, Elly experienced the horrors of the Holocaust firsthand.
“I was 17 years old when I came out of Dachau,” says Elly. “When we were freed I spent six months in hospital” gaining weight back and rebuilding his strength.
Even though he was later deemed physically well, he admits that emotionally he was not and sought revenge on all Germans.
He came to the self-realization that it was unproductive to hold on to his anger.
“You can’t accuse a whole nation of being murderers,” he says. “I had to give up hate.”
By coming to terms with his past, Elly was able to build a future for himself and his family.
From childhood he dreamed of becoming an engineer and a pilot. During his time in the ghetto, he received skilled trades training from a worldwide organization called ORT and later attended university to earn a degree as a professional engineer.
In Canada he fulfilled his dream of becoming a pilot and flying his own plane.
He coined the phrase, ‘to do something well has healing properties’. The skills he learned in the ghetto gave him the opportunities that would build him a life.
Having run several successful businesses, he now volunteers for numerous charities including ORT Toronto, as well as Miles For Millions and his synagogue.
In addition, Elly continues to speak to over 100 schools a year about the Holocaust and the power of giving up hate and following your dreams.
“It's a good life. Don’t feel too bitter about difficulties, just deal with them the best you can.”
For more information, www.ellygotz.com
Elly Gotz (center), age 15, teaching metalwork at ORT school in Lithuania