Holocaust Survivor, Canadian Hall of Fame Figure Skater Dies at 95
A Holocaust survivor and recognized figure-skating coach died on Monday night at the age of 95, Canada’s National Post reported.
Ellen Burka survived the Westerbork and Theresienstadt concentration camps, and was honored in 1978 with the Order of Canada, which recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation. In 1996, she was inducted in Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame.
The late coach survived the Holocaust largely because she registered herself as the Dutch National Champion in figure skating upon arrival at the camps, according to The Huffington Post. She became a member of a special program of sports and amusement, and was permitted to show off her skills to the prisoners.
Burka, whose parents and grandmother died in the Sobibor concentration camp, met Czech artist Jan Burka in Theresienstadt and married him shortly after the war ended. The couple at first settled in the Netherlands, where Burka won a national skating competition and gave birth to her daughter, Petra. When the family immigrated to Canada in 1950, Ellen joined the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club and began her coaching career.
Her students included her daughter, Petra — who was the 1964 Olympic bronze medalist and 1965 world champion — and Toller Cranston, a six-time Canadian champion and the 1976 Olympic bronze medalist.
Following the Jewish coach’s death, Canadian Olympic figure skater Elvis Stojko, also one of her students, posted on Twitter, “I am saddened by the loss of Ellen Burka, a legend in figure skating & someone who guided me as a young skater to reach my dream. RIP.”