I am a child survivor of the Holocaust. Born as a Jew in Poland in 1942, I was raised Catholic just to survive. Instead of feeling joy prior to my birth, my mother was experiencing the horror of the Holocaust. My father had already been taken to a concentration camp and whole Jewish communities were destroyed mercilessly without a second thought. I was just a newborn when my mother and I took refuge with a Polish family, the Ziolos. As it became increasingly dangerous, my mother felt she must leave. She left me in the care of the Ziolo family and she joined the underground Polish resistance. The Ziolos raised me as their own for three years, taking extreme measures to save my life, risking their own every day. I own them a tremendous debt which can never be repaid.
My parents survived, and when the war was over, we reunited in Germany. We immigrated to the US in 1948 and to Toronto, Canada in 1958, where I have lived ever since. My aunt and two of my uncles also survived the concentration camps. They survived, but nearly 90 percent – i.e. 1.5 million Jewish people – in Poland alone did not.
Being a survivor of the Holocaust is sadly a part of our cultural legacy. These are scars that will never be erased or healed. But there are also triumphs. Many went on to rebuild productive and fulfilling lives. But can we ever forget? Should we ever forget? Some survivors tried to bury the past. My parents always found it too difficult to speak of their experience. But my uncle, David Zuckerbrot, chose to speak of it every chance he got – at schools, groups, events, etc. he never stopped believing in humanity and never let bitterness about the past get the better of him. He understood how important it was for our stories to be told.
My uncle inspired me by his example. Like him, I do my best to speak out, contribute and honour the legacy of the six million Jews who perished. You don’t have to be religious to be a mensch in this community – I am living proof of that. My own Jewish identity is defined by values of acceptance, tolerance and understanding – not just for our own community but for all races. To be a Jew is to be a citizen of the world – we must be in it together.
While my tzedakah is focused on Holocaust education and commemoration, my message to the next generation is that we must never forget. But remembrance alone isn’t enough. Each of us must also act, speak out, and provide financial support to the causes that will protect our future. If not us, who will?
The information about the late Dr. Henri Barik is the result of several telephone conversations with his wife, Florence Barik, who lives now in Jerusalem.
Florence Barik Googled the name of her late husband one day and found him among the “Remember Me?” children. She contacted the Museum and was very eager to help with information on his life for an update on the Museum’s Web site.
Henri Barik was born prematurely, as Henri Charles on June 16th, 1936, the third child and only son of his parents, who already had two daughters, Paulette and Raymonde. His mother, Elisheva (Lisa) nee Gutmann, had him when she was in her forties. His father, Mendel Menahem, originally from Warsaw, worked in the Renault factory in Paris. They met and were married there, probably in 1926.
As the family was preparing for Henri’s 5th birthday in June of 1942, his father was rounded up with other men, supposedly because a Nazi officer was shot in Paris. This group of men was sent first to Draney and then to Pithiviers. Henri often relived the trauma of his father’s arrest as he told him that he would have to become the ‘man of the family.’ Years later, when he talked about it, he would always cry. The family received a letter from the father in Draney but the letter was lost.
Mendel Barik was deported to Auschwitz on Convoy 35 on September 21, 1942 and according to ITS documentation, died there on December 3rd. Henri was never to know his father’s exact death date as he was led to believe that he died upon arrival which was the eve of the holiday of Sukkot, ironically Henri’s favorite holiday.
According to Florence, all three children were indelibly marked by their Holocaust experiences. All three were very attractive people, bright, and charming. They lacked self-confidence but each was capable in a different area. The family was religiously assimilated. After the father’s arrest, they remained in the apartment where they had been living, and although everyone in the courtyard knew that they were Jews, no one betrayed them to the police. Their mother did not allow them to wear the required Star of David, and they managed to get by that way because they did not look stereotypically Jewish, and their neighbors did not give them away. All her life Lisa, the mother, spoke with warm feelings about her French neighbors.
At the beginning of the war, Lisa went late at night to a restaurant across the street from the apartment and did cleaning work for which she was given leftovers for her hungry children. (The apartment house and the restaurant were still in place when Florence and Henri visited there in the early 2000’s.) Lisa was a heroic woman who resourcefully cared for her children. She was very intelligent and spoke several languages in a polished and refined fashion. Her French, which she learned as a teenager, was impressive. She was born in a small town in the Ukraine, but raised in Turkey where the family escaped to so that the father would not have to serve in the army. In Istanbul Henri’s mother was educated at a Scottish missionary school and for the rest of her life spoke English with a heavy Scottish accent. Eventually most of the family made its way to France in search of a livelihood and Lisa was brought to France when her mother was too ill to care for the family.
When the war raged on, it became clear that the small family would have to be split in order to survive. Lisa sent her daughter, Paulette, who was 16 when her father was arrested, to work as a nanny near Paris at Pouponiere. She was later sent to Hendye, a little village in the south of France near the Spanish border. Lisa walked to Lyon where she had wealthy relatives, sleeping in the woods on her way, but determined to get some money for her family. They were most generous and later in life she often spoke about them with affection and respect.
Henri and Raymonde, his ‘little mother,’ were sent to a farm in St. Bohaire outside of Paris. The school there had his registration records as well as those of his sister. His papers listed him as “quiet and shy but obviously brilliant.” They were on the farm for six months but when there was no more money to pay for their care, they had to return home where they were like “sitting ducks.” Henri saw German soldiers marching in the street and sometimes they would give him chocolate. He always said that when he saw German women soldiers pushing French men around, he felt personally insulted.
Henri had an uncle, Armand, one of his mother’s brothers, who was with the French Foreign Legion for twenty years. Because they knew that he was Jewish, during the war he was not sent to places where he would have been in greater danger for that reason. Several other relatives of Henri perished in the Holocaust and he made sure to submit their names to Holocaust memorial organizations. His mother was one of twelve siblings, several of whom lived around the world. During the war, Uncle Armand came once to see them in Paris. Henri knew almost nothing about his father’s family except that they were from Warsaw.
After the war, when American G.l.’s liberated them, Raymonde fell in love with a Jewish soldier, but her mother did not want her 14 year-old daughter to marry so young. Lisa had a good government job then and wanted to stay in Paris, but her wealthy brother who was living in South Africa pressured her to move to Canada where they had well-to-do relatives, an uncle in Toronto and an aunt in Ottawa, for the sake of the future of her children. They eventually immigrated to Toronto in 1948 when Henri was twelve, and stayed with the family. His uncle with whom they lived for a few weeks, made it clear that it was a temporary situation. His aunt Marie took him to Ottawa to make sure he had a Bar Mitzvah.
After a while, the family moved to their own place and Henri went to school. Paulette worked in a department store, and after Raymonde moved to New York city, she followed her and there was promoted to a very responsible position. She never married and lives in Manhattan.
Raymonde married a Frenchman who was not Jewish and had three children. In retirement she has lived in Poughkeepsie, NY, near a devoted daughter.
Henri was left with his mother, who worked in a bakery but was unhappy because she always wanted to return to Paris. As a compromise, they moved to French speaking Montreal where their situation was grim. They did not have enough money for food as Henri’s mother had but a menial job. He attended high school there and his performance was excellent. A very close friend in high school and the friend’s family helped Henri a great deal, but a year before he would graduate, they moved back to Toronto and Henri finished high school attending night school, scoring the highest marks in Ontario. This accomplishment was written up in local newspapers. While studying, during the days he worked in a candy factory and took other part time jobs to make ends meet. Later his mother lived on and off near her daughters in New York.
For his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, Henri attended McGill University on a full scholarship. He received a PhD from the University of North Carolina in Linguistics and Applied Psychology. Because of his charm and likeable personality, several times in his life Henri was taken in by loving families who helped him through the challenges that he took upon himself. He worked for many years at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) which is part of the University of Toronto. There he did invaluable work at the center of modern languages, especially in research on learning a second language. His publications continue to be relevant in the field.
Florence met Henri in 1979 and they had a very happy thirty-year marriage until Henri’s death in 2009, after a rapid decline from a particularly debilitating form of dementia. He was a bachelor until the age of 43 and never had children of his own but he was like a loving uncle and grandfather to Florence’s two daughters and her grandchildren.
Henri continues to be deeply mourned by his wife and sisters. His tombstone reads: A Wise, Compassionate and Generous M an. Florence insists that every word in the epitaph is true.
A special thank you to Eli Dadouch and other friends from our congregations who urged me to share my story of survival. Only survivors can fully understand my story. The rest of you can only imagine the horrors.
My name is Abby Beker I was born in a small town in Lithuania called Josvainiai. I’m a Litvak. The town had about 150 Jewish families, approximately 350 people. Life was very primitive, with no electricity or running water.
The synagogue. Our community was like one big family and everybody was always there to help out one another. My father was a merchant in cattle and lumber, and my mother was a very learned person she spoke Hebrew, German, Russian, and Yiddish. I have two sisters. The older, Rachel, is living here in Toronto, and my younger sister, Judy, lives in Santa Barbara. I attended a Jewish school where I learned about Jewish studies and the Torah. When my father died in 1938, life was very difficult but we were able to sustain ourselves. At this time my mother decided to move to Kovna, where she and my older sister would be able to find work.
In 1940 the Russians occupied Lithuania, I remember being in the street with my mother watching the Russian army marching into Kovna. Within a month, they had closed all the Jewish schools, the Slobodka Yeshiva, and all synagogues. We were sent to regular schools, and in the beginning of June they sent our school to a summer camp near the German border called Palnga. We were there only two weeks before the war began with Germany. On June 22, 1941 at 4 am, we woke up to the sounds of a big bombardment. Nobody knew what was going on and everybody started running towards Riga, Latvia along the Baltic Sea.
By noon the Germans overtook us and marched us back to the camp. All the Jewish kids were very frightened. I was determined to try and flee the camp as I listened to the Lithuanian kids talk about what the Germans had in store for us. In the middle of the night I snuck out from the camp. It took me five days and 5 nights to walk and partially hitch-hike to reach Kovna, which was 240 kilometers away. I was living in barns and begging for food from the farmers. When I arrived, I fell into my tearful mother’s arm, who never expected to see me again.
I soon found out that the Jewish boys that stayed in the camp were betrayed by the non – Jewish children and were selected by the Germans and subsequently killed.
The Jews of Kovna were in a state of panic. Before the Germans came into Kovna, the Lithuanian fascists had already murdered 10,000 Jews. We also heard that everyone in the small town where our extended family lived was killed. Four years ago, I visited Lithuania, and was taken to the sight of the massacre. There I stood on a hillside, my aunts, uncles, and cousins buried beneath me.
In August, the Germans decided that all the remaining 28,000 Jews should be moved to the Slobodka ghetto, which was a very small area of primitive housing and no running water. Life in the ghetto was hell; three families were settled in one room. Everybody over the age of 15 had to go to the assembly square and was assigned work.
On October 29, 1941, we were woken up at 5 am by the SS and the Lithuanian guards, and were forced to assemble in the square for “selection.” Ten thousand Jewish children, mothers and fathers were taken to the Ninth Fort and killed. The officer who ran the selection was Helmut Rauca. After the war he lived in Toronto. He was exposed in 1980 and it took the authorities 3 years to send him back to Germany to be tried as a war criminal. However, he died before his trial.
While living in the Kovna ghetto, I was assigned to work in the rubber factory by the name of Inkaras. We were making rubber boots for the German army. I joined the underground resistance movement in the ghetto. I only knew one other person in the movement. It was important to keep our identity a secret in order to protect one another in case we were caught.
One day a young woman came to me and told me about a Jewish policeman in the ghetto who was working with the Germans. The Germans came in and seized all the small children they could find. 43 children were still hidden in a bunker. This policeman gave away the hiding place to the Germans and the children were killed immediately. We knew that we had to eliminate this policeman. Three of us were assigned by the underground to this task. We did not know one another; we just knew what had to be done. We knew that he worked every night until midnight; we met just before his shift ended and waited for him to come out. When he came out we jumped him and threw him down a well. At the age of 15, I carried out what I was ordered to do, but I have lived with the memory ever since. This memory has caused nightmares which wake me in the middle of my sleep.
Life in the ghetto became unbearable, we had very little food. I used to sneak out in the evenings to try and bring back some food for my mother and sisters. I was not afraid of getting caught because as long as I removed the yellow star from my clothes, I did not look Jewish. One day I was caught in the ghetto and taken to the railway station where I was put in a cattle car. It was winter and the snow was piled up on the sides of the train. We all knew that this was a journey that we would not return from. We moved over to the window which was covered in barbed wire and found a 2 x 4. When the train began to move we ripped off the barbed wire and broke through the window. Nine of us jumped out from the window and only four of us survived. The Germans had machine guns on the train and as soon as we jumped through the window they gunned down five of us. A bullet grazed my back and I still have a scar as a reminder of that day. The four of us who survived went back to the ghetto.
In June 1944 the Russian front came close to Kovna. The Germans decided to liquidate the Kovna ghetto. The remaining survivors were put in cattle cars on trains headed for Germany. The first stop was Stutfoff, where the women and children were taken off the train. That was the last time that I saw my mother. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until after the war that I found out that my mother had been gassed in the Stutoff concentration camp.
The train continued with the men to the Dachau camp. The Dachau camp had 11 satellite camps; we were assigned to camp number 1. We lived 50 people in a barrack under horrible conditions. Hunger and disease ran rampant throughout the camp. Every night the people who died were put outside of the door and the corpses were collected in the morning. Every day there was a wagon full of corpses.
One incident in particular I will never forget. Starvation and disease were the main causes of death in the camps. I saw them bring in a truck full of potatoes for the kitchen and throw them down a chute. I decided that I would go and get some potatoes to eat. I snuck out in the middle of the night, thinking that the potatoes would be right on top of the crate. This was not the case as they had shoved the potatoes further down. I opened the cellar door to get the potatoes and fell down inside. I remember I began eating the raw potatoes while filling my pockets. Climbing out was another matter. It was a straight, flat surface however; somehow I managed to get out by digging my nails into the wall and using every ounce of my strength; I ended up having to empty my pockets. I could hear the Germans yelling because they could hear noises coming from the cellar. I jumped out and ran back to my barrack and covered myself fearing I had been caught. I came very close to death, as the day before they hung a person for stealing potatoes.
In January 1945, things in the camps got very bad and we hardly had any food. I began to lose my will to live. 50,000 inmates from all the satellite camps were assigned to work on a project building a huge underground ammunition factory. During this time a German surveyor saved my life. He took me into his hut and gave me bread and soup, which revived me. He kept me there for three weeks helping me regain my strength. I helped him with the surveying for the project.
One day a transport from Hungry arrived bringing in hundreds of Hungarian Jews. We were veterans from the ghettos and more adjusted to the miserable life in the camps. The Hungarian Jews died by the hundreds as they could not cope with the conditions in the camp. One day the German surveyor brought a young Hungarian man back with him. I asked this young man his name and he told me that he was a Rothschild from Hungary. He died three days later in my arms because he did not want to live.
As the allied forces began coming closer to Dachau, the Germans assembled all the inmates from the satellite camps to the principle camp in Dachau. On April 28, 1945, after enduring the routine violence, overwork and starvation of camp life we were forced to march out of Dachau on what is now known as the “Death March”. When we left Dachau, we were 10,000 inmates. Many people who were too weak or ill from life in the camp died along the way. Food was scarce, so we ate anything that we could find on the side of the road. At night they made us sleep on the mountains. Due to the snow and cold many people never made it through the night. Their snow covered bodies would lie frozen until morning.
On May 8th early in the morning, I remember waking up to a rumble. As I opened my eyes I realized that the SS guards were gone and I saw an American tank. We could not believe that we had survived the Holocaust. Of the 10,000 who left Dachau, only 1,100 of us survived. We were taken to Munich to a camp called Artileri Kazerne, which was run by UNRRA. A small group of Jewish Lithuanian boys wanted out of Germany. We found an American truck depot and decided to take a truck and drive to Italy. During our journey on the top of the Tyrol Mountains the brakes in the truck failed. How we got to the bottom of the mountain alive, I will never know.
We managed to make it to the town of Modena where UNRRA was helping out all of the refugees. The Italian people were very kind and helpful when we arrived. While in Modena, a representative from the Olivetti factory came and invited five of us to come to Ivrea where the factory was located and learn the mechanics of typewriters.
The Olivettis were an assimilated Jewish family, who were determined to help the Jewish refugees. They found out that I spoke Hebrew and invited me to teach their grandchildren Hebrew. That was a very special time in my life as I was living in luxury, as they were a very wealthy family.
In 1947 I was very happy to find out that my sisters survived the war and had escaped from Stutoff during the liquidation of the camp. By sheer coincidence, my good friend with me also had a sister who had been liberated along with my sisters in Denmark. I found this out 1 ½ years after the war.
In 1948, Canada, through the Jewish congress, gave us visas to immigrate to Canada. We left Genoa in March 1948 on a boat by the name of Nea Hellas. I chose Toronto because it was near Lake Ontario and I liked swimming. We arrived in Toronto on March 22nd, 1948, during a record snow storm. Life in Toronto for newcomers was not easy, especially when we could not speak English. I spoke many languages but I did not speak English. I did my best to study very hard and eventually life became more tolerable. I was very lucky when I met my wife Simmie and after a period of romancing, we got married in 1951. Life has been very good to us. We have two sons and a daughter, all married, six grandchildren and one great grandchild. We have had much nachas from our family.
I want to thank everyone for coming here tonight. Especially a couple of my friends who were in Italy with me together, we have remained lifelong friends. Also here tonight is my good friend Eli Gotz who was in the Kovna ghetto and Dauchau camp with me.
In conclusion, I am very grateful to be one of the fortunate 10 percent of Lithuanian Jews to escape with my life. When I had the opportunity to visit Dachau with my wife Simmie and our grandchildren, Kelly and Dennis, a few years ago, it gave me a small bit of gratification to see that in the end Hitler didn’t win out. My legacy will be my children and grandchildren who keep the continuity of Jewish values that I was raised with. I am asking the Jewish community to please make a part of your children’s education at home and at school, the studies of the Holocaust. Let’s not have those 6 million murdered Jewish souls be forgotten.
Transnistria is a region in Eastern Europe that declared independence from Moldova in 1990. Geographically it can be found in an area between the Dniester River and the Ukraine. The Government of Russia supports the current regime. During World War II Transnistria was a Romanian administered territory. Many Jews were deported to Transnistria from Bessaria and Bukovina. It was used as a killing field. Mr. Arnold Buxbaum survived the horror of that time and shared a brief history with us at the luncheon:
MEMORIES OF A SURVIVOR
By Arnold Buxbaum
Rabbi Strauchler, Rabbi Diamond, Chazan Sultan, President Lass, Provincial Member of Parliament Michael Colle, Members of the Planning Committee, Fellow Survivors, friends and family.
I would like to thank the co-chairs of the “Heroes amongst us” Committee for organizing this special luncheon in our honour. We, the survivors, thank Hashem for our survival thus enabling us to attend such meetings.
It all started with the occupation of Bukovina by the Soviet Union in 1940. I was living with my father and stepmother in the City of Storozinets. The Soviets nationalized my father’s wood and flour mill businesses and I was forced to look for a job to help my family with extra income. I started working as a senior bookkeeper in the Soviet bank.
The Germans entered Bukovina in 1941 and they began to round up all the Jews. In nearby towns like Chudin, all six hundred and fifty Jews were taken to jail and shot upon arrival. In October, 1941, we were given three days to pack whatever belongings could be carried on our backs to the train station in nearby Storozinets. At the station, we were crowded into cattle cars, ninety to one hundred people in each car with straw on the floor and a barrel of water. This terrible trip with its unknown destination lasted for seven days. When it ended we were ordered to disembark and forced to walk about ten kilometers to a town in Bessarabia.
From here we started our four-week journey by foot toward Transnistria, while the German and Romanian guards rode horses or travelled in carriages. Roads were barely passable and mud reached up to our knees. We had to drink brackish water from the muddy puddles on the road Any person too weak to keep up with the pace of the march was shot on the spot. On the way, I was horrified to witness babies being tossed into the air by the gendarmes and impaled on their bayonets. We passed through many towns where Jews had lived before the war. In front of many of their houses there were small dirt mounds that were graves that the Jews were forced to dig themselves. The march went on relentlessly. Our last stop was in the Cosauts forest where we were robbed of most of our belongings by local peasants. We tried to fight them off but this was impossible given our weakened condition. We were exhausted, frozen and starved. This was our last memory of Bessarabia.
In December, 1941 we crossed the river Dniester into the Transnistria area of the Ukraine and came to the city of Obodovka. We then realized that Obodovka was a distribution centre. Jews arrived from all over and were distributed to various camps in Transnistria. We were ordered to march to the camp in Budi. Of the 940 Jews who arrived there late 1941 only 120 Jews were left by the spring of 1942 including my father and I. Budi was typical of other villages in the Ukraine, it consisted of a few thousand peasant farmers. Our family was part of the 840 Jewish deportees sent there to perish. Upon arrival we were told to organize into groups which would live together in the farmers’ barns. I recall that among the families that joined us were the Hechts, Kliegers, Greenbergs, Tressers, Bierkenfelds and Rabbi Ginsberg, the Chief Rabbi of Storozinets, and his family. There were forty-five of us sleeping in a space of eight by ten feet, on hastily assembled wooden bunks covered with a little straw. We found pieces of tin and built a stove. Animals were kept on one side of the barn, we were on the other.
The first winter was extremely cold and windy, the temperature often dropped to forty degrees below zero. That winter my stepmother died of typhus. Mrs. Clara Tressler’s leg froze and eventually fell from her body. Every morning we wondered who else might have succumbed to the nightly visit of the Angel of Death. The bodies of those who perished were carried out of the barn and were left lying there, because the earth was too frozen to bury them. By the spring of 1942 only thirteen people had survived in our barn. In the whole village only one hundred and twenty remained. Among the seven hundred and twenty who perished were Rabbi Ginsberger and his family.
While my father remained in Budi over the next three years, I saw and lived the misery of eight Transnistria camps, always returning to Budi. There we were finally liberated by the Russian army in April 1944.
How can I not remember the crowded cattle cars of ninety to one hundred people shipped to Bessarabia and Transnistria? How can I not remember the concentrations camps Budi, Obodavka, Nicholiev, Eindentz, Varvaorka, Slivono, Bgdaonvka and Stepanki, where I witnessed the atrocities committed by the Germans and the Romanian army? YEMACH SHEMAM. Thanks to the Almighty, I survived with my father and a few friends.
In Transnistria, four hundred and thirty thousand Jews lost their lives from starvation, typhus, pneumonia and brutal shootings. Transnistria was the largest area of killing in the Holocaust consisting of one hundred and thirty two camps of various sizes. It was not a labour camp as described by some survivors of the Holocaust. It was a brutal extermination camp. Many refer to Transnistria as the Romania n Auschwitz. I lost twenty eight members of my Bukovina family in Transnistria and about one hundred and fifty members of my Galicianer family in various camps in Poland. I will not forgive and not forget. I urge other survivors to tell their detailed stories to their families so that no one will forget.
After suriving the Holocaust, I faced the anti-Semitic Communist libel of being called a “counter revolutionary”, but that is another story ….
In 1962, with the help of the Sukalanna Rebbe (Rabbi Portugal) who assisted many other Jews to leave the country, I was able to leave Romania and come to Canada with my wife, who I met in camp, and my two lovely daughters who are now married and have children of their own – my grandchildren. Thanks to Hashem, I am zoche to have great grandchildren.
In a few days will celebrate Shavouos. I wish you all Chag Semach. One more time, I would like to express my appreciation to Rabbi Strauchler and Shaarei Shomayim for giving us the opportunity to share our history. Last but not least, I am grateful to Hashem for my survival and the welfare of my entire family. We should share more simchas together, experience peace in Israel and complete redemption. Let us be inspired to always ensure, with the help of the Almighty, the survival of the Jewish people. Never again. Am Yisrael Chai!
Ben Copelovici was born March 25, 1922 in the Town of Harlau, Romania. Harlau was a town that had three thousand four hundred Jews, and about one thousand five hundred gentiles. Mr. Copelivici boasts that on Shabbos, you could not even buy a nail because the town was shut down for the day of rest.
During the War Mr. Copelovici was taken to Besarabia by the Nazis to do forced labour. He built highways for four years and was only allowed home for ten days in that time. Mr. Copelovici’s father died when he was seven of appendicitis and he had a sister who died of meningitis. His mother and brother survived the war. His whole extended family survived and after the war lived under the Russians.
His wife was also raised in Barlau and they married in 1949. Although she had lived under the Nazis, he feels that they were not as mistreated as the Jews of Transnistria who were deported. Her whole family survived.
They traveled to Israel after the State was established, but then returned to Europe until their papers came through for Canada. Ben picked up English doing manual jobs in this country and spent part time as a student at Ryerson. Soon enough he went to work in a furniture store “Olympia Furniture” on St. Clair Avenue. After a time, the owner took him on as a partner. They bought two buildings in 1957. In 1970 he sold the property and went into the wholesale furniture business, traveling to Italy and South America to buy inventory. He established “CDR” – Combined Distributors and Representatives as the years went by. Over the years, because of business and for pleasure he has traveled to thirty three countries.
Mr. Copelivici is a proud Canadian. Over the years he has sponsored twelve people to come to Canada. At the time he was sworn in as a Canadian citizen, the Judge told him that he had an opportunity to anglicize his name. He proudly told the Judge that he was content with “Copelivici”. He is a supporter of Baycrest, the Mount Sinai Hospital and the Hebrew Day Schools. He has generously donated to the Shaarei Shomayim Synagogue.
Mr. Copelivici’s wife has passed away. He describes his life as “soup without salt”. He dearly loves his children, son Jack, a lawyer, and daughter-in-law Ida, who works with him and is a musician; granddaughter Rebecca who is Deputy Director with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, as well as grandson David who works in the sound industry. He is justifiably proud of the fact that grandson had his bar mitzvah at Massada. His son and daughter-in-law have done volunteer work in Israel over the years, a very worthy and commendable activity.
In his nineties now, Mr. Copelivici leads a meaningful and active life. He gives thanks for all the goodness that has come his way but is still cognizant of very trying times that he endured.
STORY TO COME
In his testimony, Dr. Feinman described growing up in eastern Poland, in what is now the Ukrainian city of Rivne.
The German invasion forced his parents into hiding while the future Dr. Feinman and his brother, who were teenagers, were conscripted into a railroad crew supervised by Ukrainian police auxiliaries working for the Germans.
Once, he picked up a piece of coal that fell off a train. A Ukrainian policeman took him to the train station. Dr. Feinman overheard the Ukrainian calling his German supervisor and asking: “What should I do with him? Should I shoot him?” The Ukrainian was told to give Dr. Feinman 20 lashes with a metal-buckled belt. Fortunately, a group of German mechanics walked in and interrupted the flogging.
In August, 1942, the brothers, who were now 19 and 15, were deported to the Janowska concentration camp in Lvov. “We were stunned.… We knew that it’s going to be something bad,” Dr. Feinman recalled in his video. At the camp, those who couldn’t work anymore were executed in a ravine, the gunshots ringing in the camp nearby. One boy who escaped was recaptured, then flogged and hanged before the entire camp population.
Dr. Feinman’s parents managed to pay off some of the camp’s functionaries to help the brothers run away by getting them transferred to a cleaning squad that worked outside the camp. The family then fled to Zimna Woda, a village near Lvov, hiding for more than a year with seven others inside a farmhouse.
When people came to the house, they would retreat to an underground hideout accessed by a narrow tunnel. A pipe circulated air and the entrance was concealed by manure and rabbit pens. The farmhouse’s caretaker, Julian Ulanowski, was a Polish Christian, a widower with two young children and a Jewish girlfriend who was passing as a gentile.
“Despite his poverty and the constant danger, with police searches of his house and rumours about his children’s caretaker being Jewish, Julian Ulanowski took care of the Jews from the spring of 1943 until their liberation in the second half of July, 1944,” according to Yad Vashem, Israel’s centre on the Holocaust.
The fugitives never went outdoors. They had to worry about disposing of the waste generated by 11 people. They learned to live together, putting up with the snoring and the cramped conditions.
To pass time, Dr. Feinman read German-English textbooks, teaching himself English and then passing his knowledge to the Ulanowski children.
Then, one morning in 1944, they heard a voice above, addressing Mr. Ulanowski in Russian. The Red Army had arrived.
Dr. Feinman said that day felt like being born again, “like a new gift of life.”
He remembered that, one day in Janowska, the camp commandant, Gustav Willhaus, had mocked the prisoners during roll call, saying that they would all die.
But Dr. Feinman survived and, as he concluded in his video, the payback he had on the Nazis was that he went on to have children and enjoy a long, productive life.