August 11, 1921 |
Ellen Burka was born in Amsterdam to Jewish parents who met in England. She learned German and English at home and Dutch and French in school. In the spring of 1943, she and her family were sent to the Westerbork transit camp. Her parents and grandmother died in the Sobibor extermination camp.
She met a Czech-born artist, Jan Burka, in the Theresienstadt concentration camp and married him after the war. The family moved to Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 1950. Ellen and Jan Burka were divorced in the mid-1950s. She raised her two daughters, Petra and Astra, as Christians and told them of her background when they were in their late teens.
Burka was a Dutch national champion in 1946 and 1947 before becoming a coach in Toronto. Finding Canadian figure skating rigid, she decided to blend it with ballet and modern dance.
She coached her daughter Petra Burka, who won a bronze medal at the 1964 Olympics and gold at the 1965 World Championships. In 1968, she became the coach of Toller Cranston, who won six Canadian national titles and the 1976 Olympic bronze medal. She was also a coach to Tracey Wainman and Christopher Bowman.
In 1978, Burka was made a Member of the Order of Canada "for elevating skating to an art form and for imaginative choreography on the ice."  In 1996, she was inducted into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame. In October 2013, she was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
A documentary about Ellen Burka, Skate to Survive, was directed by her daughter Astra and premiered at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival in May 2008.
Burka teaches at the Granite club in Toronto, Ontario.
- Fitz-Gerald, Sean (October 15, 2013). "‘A legend’: Meet the Canadian figure skating coach who survived the Holocaust, revolutionized her sport and still works at 92". National Post.
- "ELECTED MEMBERS: ELLEN BURKA". International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on May 12, 2013.
- "Famed coach skated under the radar of anti-Semitism". Jewish Tribune. November 25, 2008.
- "WHERE ARE THEY NOW: PETRA BURKA". The Globe and Mail (TSN.ca). May 18, 2009.
- Graham, Hugh (April 2006). "Ice Storm". Toronto Life. Archived from the original on February 5, 2012.
- Hersh, Phil (October 21, 1990). "Bowman changes style, not essence". Chicago Tribune (Baltimore Sun).
- Order of Canada citation
- "Ellen Burka". Canada's Sports Hall of Fame.