"I live because I was not murdered." -- Robert Krell

Following the death of Rudi Vrba, Robert Krell became British Columbia's most significant activist/author pertaining to the Holocaust. Among his many honours, Robert Krell was admitted to the Order of Canada in 2020, in the same year as his friend, Yosef Wosk. A child survivor of the Holocaust, Robert Krell, a psychiatrist in Vancouver, has tirelessly organized and managed countless events and initiatives, such as the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, while his own extensive publications as well as his pioneering work as a psychiatrist have largely remained under the radar.

Krell has condensed a 400-page memoir into a new autobiography, Sounds from Silence: Reflections of a Child Holocaust Survivor, Psychiatrist and Teacher (Amsterdam Publishers, 2021), to be released internationally, from Holland, in 2021. It shares his poignant story as the son of two families. Like Yosef Wosk, Robert remains deeply inspired by Elie Wiesel, a teacher who they separately befriended as a colleague and who became a dear friend and mentor. In 2012, Krell brought Wiesel to Vancouver in order to receive an honorary doctorate from UBC. Robert interviewed Elie that same evening before a sold-out audience at the Orpheum Theatre. "Elie," he says, "has been a spiritual rock in my life."


Robert Krell was born in The Hague, Holland on August 5th, 1940. He was hidden from 1942 to 1945 with the non-Jewish Munnik family. He reluctantly returned to his parents, who had survived in hiding, in 1945. Both of his parents' families of origin were all murdered in Auschwitz and Sobibor and the forests of Poland.

When his family was told to report for "resettlement to the East" on August 19, 1942, his parents Leo and Emmy Krell were aware that none of their friends who had obeyed previous directives had returned. Trains were leaving for Auschwitz and Sobibor every Tuesday packed with 1,000 Dutch Jews, their destination was not yet known. His obstinate and brave father decided the family should flee rather than report. Robert's parents took absolutely nothing with them that could identify them as Jews.

Robert, at age two, was hastily handed over to a Dutch neighbour, Mrs. Mulder, who agreed to give him shelter for just a few days. "My mother had packed me a little suitcase," Krell recalls. "When she left, I apparently tried to follow her, dragging my suitcase behind me. When she told me this story fifty years later, she said that I looked at her in a way suggesting that I would never forgive her. Of course, I denied that, but she was right. She was much smarter than I was. Although she would save my life by having the courage to leave me with virtual strangers, I never forgave her for leaving me."

Because older Dutch couples such as the Mulders were being moved out of the city by the Germans, Robert was transferred to the care of Violette Munnik, again with the understanding that this arrangement would be temporary. Albert and Violette Munnik had no idea those few days would turn into three years.

In countries under German occupation, 93% of Jewish children were slain in hideous ways. Robert's parents went into hiding, then split up, causing a painful schism of distrust that would ruin their marriage decades later. They nonetheless had to simultaneously view themselves as the lucky ones because over 80% of Holland’s Jews were murdered.

The Munniks' teenage daughter, Nora, once dared to take little Robert out in a buggy, seemingly for a forbidden visit to his birth mother in hiding. "Except for that lapse," he recalls, "she proved to be a wonderful, older sister, hiding my existence from her school friends and coming home early to teach me how to read and write."

As a small child, Robert Krell did not know he was a Jew. Excessively quiet, co-operative and obedient, Robert never complained of pain or illness. He did not cry. With his dark-brown hair "in a sea of blondes," he was warned to stay away from the front window. Reunited with his parents, his first post-war school was a Catholic kindergarten where he was the Mother Superior's prize pupil, always well-behaved.

"My parents survived the war," he writes. "How lucky. And they came to take me back. How unlucky."

Very simply, he loved the Munniks and he did not know the Krells. Leo and Emmy Krell struggled to convince their son he belonged with them. A dual family dilemma would never quite abate: The cover image of Krell's first personal memoir shows Krell alongside his adoptive mother, Violette Munnik, following a tree-planting ceremony at the Avenue of the Righteous at Yad Vashem Memorial Museum in Jerusalem in 1981. His birth mother appeared on the back cover.

Robert Krell immigrated with his birth parents to Canada in 1951. As a UBC graduate in medicine, he later became one of the world's leading psychiatrists in treating traumatized survivors of the Holocaust or other prisoner-of-war circumstances. During these years, he built friendships with Elie Wiesel, Sarah Moskovitz, Sir Martin Gilbert and other educators while serving his community whenever and wherever possible.

Krell established a Holocaust education program for high school students in 1976, an audio-visual documentation program for recording hundreds of survivor testimonies in 1978 (long before the Spielberg Archives got started) and assisted with the formation of child survivor groups starting in 1982. He also served on the International Advisory Council of the Hidden Child Gathering in New York in 1991 and founded the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre which opened in 1994 and teaches 20,000 students annually.

Krell was keynote speaker at the International Day of Commemoration Ceremony in memory of the victims of the Holocaust, United Nations, New York, January 27, 2012. His careful prose is always deep and sane and universal. Here is a paragraph chosen at random. "When I think of David Ben-Gurion or Golda Meir, Menachem Begin or Yitzhak Rabin. I am aware of how little of consequence Canada's prime ministers really face. Their issues are serious where the daily lives of Canadian citizens are concerned, in matters of health and education, the status of First Nations, and the ever-present concerns about Quebec. But never, in all my years in Canada, has our government been faced with major threats to its security and the personal safety of its citizens, as has Israel. It is disconcerting how nations relatively free from immediate danger have so much to say about what Israel can or cannot do in order to defend itself."

It would take Krell six months to recover from open heart surgery in 2009 but far more alarming were his experiences at age twenty-nine when he was aboard TWA Flight 840 from Rome to Athens, en route to Israel. His plane was hijacked by Palestinian terrorists in 1969. Passengers feared there were explosives aboard and their plane would be crashed into Tel Aviv. "My first reaction was rage," he writes. "My second was of fear. The rage was instant, a primitive response to my having been hidden as a child in Nazi-occupied Holland. As far as I was concerned, the Arabs were about to finish the job that the Germans had failed to complete, my murder."

In a chilling chapter of his autobiography, Krell describes how and why he was once again successful in hiding his Jewish identity, concealing his passport as well as a gold ring made in Holland featuring his initials inside a Star of David. Passengers were advised to prepare for a crash landing. Instead, they landed in the new and yet-to-be officially opened Damascus International Airport.

Krell's chapter on Jewish hero Rudi Vrba is especially important. Outspoken, angry and intensely private, Vrba had frequently been ostracized because he repeatedly criticized Jewish leadership of complicity for their failures. Krell respected Vrba for remaining one of the world's most important and potent voices to counteract Holocaust denialists. Krell first arranged for the publication of Vrba's book in both English and Hebrew via Gefen Publishing, only to have Vrba kibosh arrangements and publish via the University of Haifa instead, with the added bonus of an honorary doctorate. Krell's subsequent friendship made him a rare confidante for Vrba who agreed to appear on the same Vancouver stage with Sir Martin Gilbert in 1999, one of countless events coordinated with Krell, as a mainstay of the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre.

Stricken with a terminal illness, Vrba initially asked Krell to make his funeral arrangements but plans for an appropriate site went awry when the wishes of Vrba's widow superseded. "I cherished my relationship with Rudi," Krell writes, "rocky though it was at times." He still hopes that someday Vrba could be reburied near the Holocaust memorial at Vancouver's Jewish cemetery. Krell was also privileged to become acquainted with Miep Gies, the woman who looked after the Frank family in hiding in Amsterdam, bringing them food, news and encouragement until late 1944. It was Miep Gies who found and safeguarded Anne Frank's diary. In 2018, Robert acquired a first edition of the diary and donated it to the VHEC where it is on permanent display. A rare find.

Krell's privately printed work was titled Memoiries. This work nonetheless succeeds as a candid and careful confessional on behalf of haunted generations of Jews who have suffered from "an overdose of death."

Robert Krell remains an important B.C. author hiding in plain sight. His "window-evasive" personality has seemingly prevented him from finding a mainstream Canadian publisher for important works such as Child Holocaust Survivors -- Memories and Reflections (Victoria: Trafford 2007). Also, co-authored with Czech-born, Norwegian psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor Leo Eitinger and his research assistant Miriam Rieck, Krell expanded on their initially small bibliography of medical and psychological research pertaining to Holocaust survivors and their children and subsequently produced a work with 1,400 references dating from 1945 to 1985 for The Psychological and Medical Effects of Concentration Camps and Related Persecutions on Survivors of the Holocaust: A Research Bibliography (UBC Press 1985).

Hoping to produce an even more expansive work to be titled The Eitinger Bibliography, with a foreword by Elie Wiesel in honour of Dr. Eitinger, Krell was disappointed when this volume, co-edited with Marc I. Sherman was re-titled. The 2,461 bibliographic references, rather than being identified as a bibliography, was renamed Medical and Psychological Effects of Concentration Camps on Holocaust Survivors.

Retaining Elie Wiesel's introduction, Krell also re-wrote an English translation of Judith Hemmendinger's The Children of Buchenwald: Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Their Postwar Lives (Jerusalem: Gefen 2000), one of the most fascinating post-Holocaust books one can come across. It describes the rehabilitation process for 426 boys (out of 1,000 children liberated from Buchenwald on April 11, 1945) who were considered psychopaths or too irrevocably damaged by physicians and psychologists at the time. Nearly all of these damaged souls—including Elie Wiesel, Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau and Vancouverite Robert Waisman—confoundedly re-integrated into society with much success. Of the Jewish, male children and adolescents who arrived at Ecouis, France on June 8, 1945 for rehabilitation, there were 210 Poles, 118 Romanians, 49 Czechs, 43 Hungarians, 4 Lithuanians and 2 Germans.

Professional life: In 1951, the Krell family moved to Vancouver. Robert Krell graduated from the University of British Columbia with an M.D. in 1965, interned in Philadelphia at the Philadelphia General Hospital, and continued in psychiatric training at Temple University Hospital, Philadelphia, Stanford University Hospital in Palo Alto and then returned to the University of British Columbia. In 1970 he became F.R.C.P. (C) and in 1971 a Diplomate of the American Boards of Psychiatry and Neurology. He was appointed Assistant Professor in Psychiatry in January 1971 and served as Professor of Psychiatry until 1995, when he became Professor Emeritus. In his professional career, he was Director of Residency Training for ten years and for twenty-five years Director of Child and Family Psychiatry at the UBC Health Sciences Centre and B.C.’s Children’s Hospital.

As a volunteer in the community, Robert Krell served on the Board of Directors of the Canadian Jewish Congress - Pacific Region from 1972, as Chair (1986-1989) and National Vice-President (1989-1992). In 1975, he co-founded, with Dr. Graham Forst of Capilano College as co-Chair, and Professor William Nicholls, head of Religious Studies-UBC, the Standing Committee on Holocaust Education, which teaches more than 1,000 British Columbia high school students annually to this day. Outreach programs serve additional thousands of students in the Interior and on Vancouver Island. The program serves as an educational tool to combat prejudice, racism and anti-Semitism. In his private psychiatric practice, Dr. Krell has treated Holocaust survivors and their families as well as Dutch survivors of Japanese concentration camps.

Dr. Krell pioneered audiovisual documentation of Holocaust survivors in the Vancouver area in 1978 and expanded this program in 1983 and 1984 to tape 120 eyewitness accounts. In 1980 he urged the Canadian Jewish Congress to establish a national program which resulted in a nationwide audiovisual project taping 70 survivors. Being himself a child survivor of the Holocaust, he assisted with the formation of child survivor groups, first in Los Angeles between 1982 and 1984 and then in Vancouver. He served on the International Advisory Council of the Hidden Child Conference that organized a gathering in New York in 1991 for approximately 1,500 child survivors who came from many countries to meet for the first time and have met annually ever since.

In 1985, Krell founded the Vancouver Holocaust Centre Society for Education and Remembrance, also building a memorial for Holocaust survivors, unveiled in 1987 at the Schara Tzedeck Cemetery. Krell established the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre which opened on November 7th, 1994 in order to provide educational programs for high school children warning of the consequences of unchecked racism and intolerance. He remains active in the VHEC.

He has been awarded the State of Israel Bonds Elie Wiesel Remembrance Award (2008) and the Boston University Hillel Lifetime Achievement Award for "bringing solace and understanding to generations of Holocaust Survivors" (2011). The Holocaust Educational Foundation at Northwestern University recognized his "distinguished contributions to Holocaust education" (2012) and on December 5th he was awarded the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal, "as an outstanding human rights educator."

Krell received an award from The World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Descendants at its Gathering in Berlin (2014) and was recognized with a Governor General Caring Canadian Award for founding the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre and for his lifelong work promoting human rights and social justice (2016). On September 27, 2017, Krell was the keynote speaker at the Jewish Federation of Ottawa's evening event marking the Inauguration of the Holocaust National Monument. In December 2020, he was awarded the Order of Canada for his contributions to our understanding of mass ethnopolitical violence, and for his advocacy on behalf of Holocaust survivors.

He served as co-chair for the 31st World Federation of Jewish Child Holocaust Survivors and Descendants annual Gathering in Vancouver, November 1-4, 2019. It was the first time the event was ever held on the West Coast and only the second time in Canada. Over 400 survivors and their descendants travelled from across the world to attend lectures, workshops and panel discussions with others that had survived the Shoah.

Dr. Robert Krell is married and has three children and nine grandchildren.


Robert Krell has authored six books, co-edited three and written twenty-one book chapters and over fifty journal articles. His writing is always clear, rarely drawing attention to itself, much in keeping with Samuel Johnson's invaluable dictum: "Read over our work, and when you find something that is exceedingly fine, strike it out." One exception is this excerpt from notes for a poem, in 1979, to be called simply "god."

god has not been a friend of mine
since I have known
the truth of Auschwitz
nevertheless. I drift occasionally
toward a synagogue
sometimes to pray
sometimes to curse

but mostly to wait

for him to ask
to be forgiven

But poetry is hardly Krell's metier. It is more appropriate to cite his meticulous prose.

"I know that my life was scarred irrevocably by the Shoah. I am not drawn to it like a moth to a flame. The flames are drawn to me. They pursue me. They will seek to engulf me. I ward off the flames through confrontation, through Holocaust education, through recording testimony, for ultimately there is no escape. I live because I was not murdered. Other two-year-olds were thrown alive into burning pits. One survivor acquaintance once took me aside: "Robert, I must tell, but I can't... tell anyone. And I cannot write it down. I was a teenager. The Germans came. One went to the mother of a three-year-old, a blonde girl, a little angel, and asked if he could take the child's picture. He gave her an apple and posed her beside a tree. She was so pretty. Then he shot her in the head, picked up the apple, and ate it. I saw it."


Beiser M, Krell R, Lin TY, Miller MH (eds). Today's Priorities in Mental Health: Knowing and Doing (Intercontinental Medical Book Corporation, New York, 1978)

Fine S, Krell R, Lin TY (eds). Today's Priorities in Mental Health: Children and Families -- Needs, Rights and Actions (D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, Holland, 1981)

Eitinger L, Krell R. The Psychological and Medical Effects of Concentration Camps and Related Persecutions on Survivors of the Holocaust - A Research Bibliography (UBC Press 1985)

Krell R, Genesove T (eds). Guide to Video Archive of Holocaust Testimonies Volume 1 (Vancouver Holocaust Centre Society for Education and Remembrance 1992)

Krell R, Sherman M. Medical and Psychological Effects of Concentration Camps on Holocaust Survivors. Volume 4 of Genocide - A Critical Bibliographic Review (ed: IW Charny) (2500 references to the literature from 1945 – 1995), (Transaction Publishers, Rutgers University, New Jersey 1997)

Krell R. Messages and Memories - Reflections on Child Survivors of the Holocaust (Memory Press, Vancouver 1999 (updated 2007)

Hemmendinger J, Krell R. The Children of Buchenwald: Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Their Postwar Lives (Gefen Publishing, Jerusalem 2000)

Glassner M, Krell R (co-editors). And Life is Changed Forever: Holocaust Childhoods Remembered (Wayne State University Press 2006)

Krell R, Child Holocaust Survivors -- Memories and Reflections (Trafford, Victoria 2007)

Krell, Robert. Memoiries: Sounds from Silence (Behind the Book, Vancouver 2016)

Krell, Robert, Sounds from Silence: Reflections of a Child Holocaust Survivor, Psychiatrist and Teacher (Amsterdam Publishers, 2021)


Krell R: Alternative therapeutic approaches to Holocaust survivors. Healing Their Wounds:  Psychotherapy with Holocaust Survivors and Their Families (eds: P. Marcus, A. Rosenberg) Praeger Publishers, New York, 1989. 215-226

Krell R:  Psychological Reverberations of the Holocaust in the Lives of Child Survivors. A special publication of the United States Holocaust Research Institute of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Monna and Otto Weinmann Lecture Series, June 1997 www.ushmm.org/m/pdfs/20040908-krell.pdf

Moskovitz, S, Krell R with I. Moskovitz and A. Askrin: "The Struggle for Justice: A Survey of Child Holocaust Survivors’ Experiences with Restitution." Remembering for the Future: The Holocaust in an Age of Genocide. (Eds. John K. Roth and Elizabeth Maxwell) Palgrave Publications Ltd. Houndmills, U.K. 2001, 923-937

Krell, R: Emerging from the Shadows: The Life Journey of Child Survivors. In Z. Solomon and J. Chaitin (eds): Children in the Shadows of the Holocaust, Tel Aviv, Israel 2007. Hakibbutz Hameuchad (In Hebrew)

Krell, R: Canadian Voices, An Inspirational Collection, Inspired by Holdings Ltd. 2010, 54 – 59

Krell, R. (2020) Resilience. In I Brenner (Ed), The Handbook of Psychoanalytic Holocaust Studies, (pp. 41-51). Oxon, England, Routledge



"In 1991, we went to Auschwitz-Birkenau and Treblinka. Passing under the sign Arbeit Macht Frei into Auschwitz I experienced a violent shaking, a convulsion of my entire being. I thought I was having an epileptic seizure except that it did not reveal itself externally. I did not fall to the ground nor foam at the mouth. I experienced a seizure of the soul and was relieved it did not show. My grief remained a personal matter. I believe every Jewish child who survived was imprinted with this indelible grief and bereavement and loss. But I was beginning to speak about it." -- Robert Krell



Krell R: Holocaust families: Survivors and their children. Comp Psychiatry 20:560-568, 1979.

Krell R: Family therapy with children of concentration camp survivors. Am J Psychotherapy 36:513-522, 1982.

Krell R: Holocaust survivors and their children: Comments on psychiatric consequences and psychiatric terminology. Comprehensive Psychiatry 265:521-528, 1984.

Krell R: Guest Editor – Special Section on Child survivors of the Holocaust: Forty years later. J Am Acad Child Psychiatry 24:377-412, 1985.

Krell R: Introduction to the Special Section and Therapeutic value of documenting child survivors.  J Am Acad Child Psychiatry 24: 378-380, 397-400, 1985.

Krell R: Holocaust survivors: A clinical perspective. Psychiatric J University of Ottawa 15:18-21,1990.

Moskovitz S, Krell R: Child survivors of the Holocaust: Psychological adaptations to survival. Israel J Psychiatry and Related Sciences 27:81-91, 1990.

Krell R: Aging Holocaust survivors: Memory, nostalgia, and treatment issues. And The aging child survivor and the problems of memory/nostalgia in Selected Proceedings of the First National Conference on Identification, Treatment and Care of  the Aging Holocaust Survivor. Published by The Holocaust Documentation and Education Centre, Inc. Southeast Florida Center on Aging, FIU, March 29-31, 1992

Krell R: Children who survived the Holocaust – strategies of adaptation. Can J Psychiatry 38:384-389,1993.

Krell R: Children who survived the Holocaust – reflections of a child survivor/psychiatristEchoes of the Holocaust (ed: S. Robinson) Bulletin of the Jerusalem Center for Research into the Late Effects of the Holocaust, 4:14-21, 1995.

Krell R: Confronting despair: the Holocaust survivor’s struggle with ordinary life and ordinary death. Can Med Assoc J. 157: 741-744, 1997.

Krell, R, Suedfeld, P, Soriano, E: Child Holocaust Survivors as Parents: A Transgenerational PerspectiveAmer J of Ortho Psychiatry. 2004

Krell, R: Facing memories: silent no moreThe Hidden Child. (Newsletter published by Hidden Child Foundation) ADL. New York. Vol. V. No.1 p 6, 2005

Krell, R: Elderly Children as Grown-Ups: Child Survivors of the HolocaustPsychoanalytic Perspectives V (1):13-21, Winter 2007


Life Fellow, American Psychiatric Association, 1989
The Elie Wiesel Holocaust Remembrance Medal, New York, New York, November 15th, 1998
Government of Canada Citation, 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1998
Dinner and Public Lecture by Sir Martin Gilbert in recognition of founding the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre and the establishment of the Robert and Marilyn Krell Endowment Fund, State of Israel Bonds dinner, Vancouver, BC, April 25, 1999
Award from the August 15, 1945 Foundation for assistance to Dutch survivors of Japanese concentration camps. August 14, 1999
10th Anniversary Vancouver Holocaust Centre Society’s Gala Dinner in Honour of Robert Krell and Robbie Waisman. Four Seasons Hotel, Vancouver, BC. May 29, 2005
The Hillel Lifetime Achievement Award for “bringing solace and understanding to generations of Holocaust Survivors”. Boston University Schools of Law and Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, October 23, 2011
An Evening with Elie Wiesel: A conversation with Robert Krell. Vancouver Jewish Federation Annual Campaign Opening, The Orpheum Theatre, Vancouver, BC, September 10, 2012
Award from the Lessons and Legacies and the Holocaust Educational Foundation in recognition of “distinguished contributions to Holocaust education”. Evanston, Illinois, November 2, 2012
Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal in recognition “as an outstanding human rights educator”. Victoria, British Columbia, December 5, 2012
Special Recognition by The World Federation of Jewish Child Survivors of the Holocaust and Descendants, “as a friend, a brother, one of our ‘guiding lights’ who has helped us to recognize, define, and own our experiences as Child Survivors of the Holocaust, and continues to make the world aware of the impact those experiences had and continue to have on our lives”. Berlin, Germany, August 24, 2014
BC Community Achievement Award, in recognition for “dedicating life to anti-racism, anti-Semitism and Holocaust education……establishing the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre, pioneering audio visual testimony and help in formation of Child Survivor groups”, Victoria, BC, April 24, 2015
Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award, in acknowledgement of the significant contributions he has made in promoting human rights and social justice in Canada as well as founding the Vancouver Holocaust Centre.  Vancouver, BC, March 4, 2016
Order of Canada, C.M., 2020

[BCBW 2021] Alan Twigg / HolocaustLit


Leo and Emmy Krell outside their home in The Hague, 1940, with baby Robert.