STORY TO COME
Name: Pearl Goldrich
Born: Tomaszow, Poland
Raised: Poland and Russia
Family before the war: My family consisted of my parents, myself, a sister and two brothers. On my mother’s side of the family, she had 3 sisters and a brother. My father had 4 brothers and 5 sisters. All of my aunts and uncles were married and had children. In total, there were approximately 80 family members.
After the war: My parents and sister survived. On my mother’s side, a brother survived ad he began a new family. On my father’s side, all 4 of his brothers survived. Some of his brothers had immigrated to the United States before the war.
War Experiences: When the war started, my father knew a non-Jew in the village so we went to hide in a shack. Then one day this man came home and said we had to leave because if the Germans found us, they would kill him. When we left, Russian soldiers caught us as they were capturing other people walking in the streets. My parents, my sister and I were sent to a camp in Siberia. We remained in Siberia for two years. After that, they let us out into a city in Russia. When the war ended, we went back to Poland. Upon returning there, we saw that the pogroms began and the Poles and Ukrainians were killing the Jews who returned. We escaped to Berlin, as it was close to the border.
Came to Canada: We applied to enter Canada, as well as several other countries. We arrived in Canada on August 20, 1951 and entered via Pier 21 in Halifax. We arrived in Toronto on August 22, 1951 via train.
Occupation: I went to night school and worked in a shoe factory. I got married in 1953.
Life in Canada: I got married in 1953 and started a family immediately.
Family Today: I have 3 children, Toby, Michael and Susan, who are all married and have children. Two of my grandchildren are married. I also have great grandchildren.
Aria Szmuel Karas was born on August 19, 1925, in Lodz, Poland. He was the son of Szaja Karas and Sara Kutner. He was the second of three children, with his older brother Menashe (a.k.a Mario), and his younger brother Reuven. Aria was only 13 years old when Poland was invaded ath the start of Worl War II.
His parents owned a large bakery in Lodz until it was taken over by the Nazis, and the family was forcibly moved to the Ghetto. There, he was a forced labourer in its bakery. According to accounts from relatives and acquaintances, he used to smuggle pieces of bread out of the bakery to help others in need.
After the deportation of the Jews from the Lodz Ghetto, he was sent to several concentration camps in Poland, until he was transported to Auschwitz, together with his parents and younger brother. Aria was the only survivor.
After being liberated, he wandered around Europe and lived in Salzburg, Torino, and resided for three years in Paris, where he intended to settle; however, his older brother, Menashe, who had escaped at the start of the War, found him and took him to Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1948, where Menashe had become a successful businessman and mechanical engineer.
In 1957, Aria married Ana Smoisman, the eldest daughter of Bernardo (Berl) Smoisman and Paulina (Perl) Klinbovsky, first generation Argentinean Jews whose families had emigrated from Besarabia (then Russia-Romania, now Moldova) as colonists, in the 1880s.
Aria and Ana had one son, Sergio Ruben, born in 1959. Aria was involved in a textile business in Argentina, and in 1980, he, his wife and son immigrated to Toronto, Canada, where he worked for several years in an upscale jewelry store until his retirement. His son, Sergio, became a well-known immigration lawyer who was involved in the pursuit of justice for Holocaust survivors claiming assets hidden in Swiss banks prior to World War II. His work, as well as Aria and Ana’s family story was profiled in the book “Hitler’s Silent Partner: Swiss Banks, Nazi Gold and the Pursuit of Jusitce” by award-winning journalist Isabel Vincent.
Aria was always active, keenly interested in politics, world affairs and justice for all. He was an ardent supporter of Israel, and an avid reader. Despite being deprived of a formal higher education as a result of the war, he was fluent in several languages and always displayed a vast amount of knowledge of current affairs. He loved to recite Yiddish poetry and often bedazzled others with his vivid recollection of Lodz Ghetto songs. He made friends easily and built long-lasting relationships. He was a devoted husband and father.
Aria passed away suddenly on August 14, 2014, while his was Ana was convalescing in the hospital after a serious fall. He said at the time it was too much for him to see her suffer. Ana passed away quietly and unexpectedly three weeks after Aria, on September 5, 2014. Some said that she lost he will to live after she learned of Aria’s passing. They had been married for over 57 years and were always together. They are buried next to each other in the Shaarei Shomayim section of the McCowan Road Cemetery in Toronto.
Ana and Aria are greatly missed by all those who knew them.
STORY TO COME
STORY TO COME
STORY TO COME
I was born in Stoczek Wegrowski, or Stok (as most Jews referred to it), Poland, November 5, 1935 (9 Kislev 5696). I was the second child to Yudel Najman (Polish spelling) and Sore Roize Rosenberg. My sister, Mania, was born November 13, 1928. My mother was the only daughter of Dovid Shloime Rosenberg and Esther Dobe Zelenetz. My maternal grandfather in whose memory I was named, was a “Soifer” a Scribe of holy works like Torah scrolls, Tefillin and Mezuzah parchments. He did this work as a holy calling, spending countless days and nights by dim light writing the holy words, never accepting money for his work, a true Tzadik. My father was one of five children of Motl (Mordechai) and Machia Najman.
My grandmother Esther Dobe was the breadwinner in the house. She had a food counter in the front of the house from which she sold eggs, cheese, meat and other staples, primarily on Mondays, market days, when people from surrounding villages would come to trade, barter, sell or buy products. She travelled 45 kilometres every week to Warsaw -by horse and buggy to Yadow and from there by train to Warsaw. My grandmother always brought back a special treat for Shloimele a cake, an orange, a banana, etc. She was always very kind to Mania and me.
My mother was born August 21, 1904; my father, December 15, 1905. They were married in 1927. My mother was a beautiful woman, and we treasure the few photos we have of her when she was young. Unfortunately, her health was poor; she had serious stomach problems which required the removal of part of her stomach and replacement with the lining of a calf s stomach. This kind of surgery performed at that time was incredible. She had to be on a strict lifelong diet and much medication, yet she persevered and imbued us with love and kindness.
Life in Stok was simple and difficult. Our house, like most others, was a wooden shack in which we ate, slept and worked. We had very little but we didn’t need much. My only possession was a hand-me-down white rocking horse that I used to sit on in front of the house. I used to go Shul with some of the Landsleit, but not with my father, who was not much of a religionist. I would sit and watch the men “shekel” and recite prayers. I would often sit on the Bima and get a treat.
The village had a population of about 1,000. The Jews mostly lived in Novo Miasto, the new town, while most of the gentiles were in Staro Miasto, the old town. Most days were peaceful and quiet with everyone going about their business On Mondays, market days, the village was alive as Poles from surrounding areas came to town and my grandmother and mother carried on their affairs. Stoczek was fairly self-sufficient with its own Beis Medrish, which was attended by most tradesmen, as well as several “Shtibles,”
Life just went on day-to-day until September 1, 1939, when Hitler invaded Poland. Stok was virtually destroyed on September 10 and our family decided to flee to a nearby forest before the full onslaught. .From a distance, we could see the town on fire and the Wehrmacht as they rolled in on motorcycles, trucks, cars and horseback. This indelible image was reinforced recently when I discovered some photos of the invasion of Stoczek taken by a Wehrmacht soldier.
My grandmother heard the hospital was on fire and returned to see if she could help; that was the last time we saw her. We were huddled in the field and were told to get going before daylight.
We headed east and came across someone with a horse and wagon who agreed to take us as far as he could go. We somehow ended up in Bialystok, about 100 km from our town and close to the Belarus border. Bialystok became a refuge for many Jews from various parts of Poland.
Somewhere in the USSR
The Soviets opened their border to the fleeing families provided they would go wherever they were sent, primarily labour camps. We were on a train packed into old filthy cattle cars and began a journey to an unknown destination. There was no food or water on board; a hole in the floor served as the toilet. The air was foul and the temperature unbearable as there were no open windows and the doors could not be opened from inside. Several weeks and about 2,600 km later, we arrived at Syktyvkar, the capital of Komi, ASSR. It was late fall 1939, the onset of our first unbearably cold winter.
Syktyvkar is just west of the Ural Mountains and just south of the Arctic Circle, at roughly the same latitude as Yellowknife. The area, adjacent to the permafrost region, was essentially barren with lots of forests. The need was to build up the lumber factories and housing barracks, primarily by immigrants like ourselves. My father had no profession or building skills, but became a glazer working on some housing projects outside the town.
We were housed in one of the barracks, occupying a small room with another couple. Wooden planks served as beds, and we shared a Primus type burner for cooking. We would burn peat or “Kiziaki” (dried cow dung) in a metal barrel for heat. There were no sanitation facilities in the barracks, only some outhouses. There was no running water or electricity; for light, we used kerosene lamps. The rooms were separated by a long corridor which became the squatting place for those who did not have a room. One young squatter whom my father found was Moishe, the only son of my father’s brother, Dovid Leib. So Moishe entered our life and our family.
Life in Syktyvkar was brutal, especially in winter, which seemed to last eight months. The barracks had sawdust between the plywood walls for “insulation” and plywood floors without a foundation base. There was no heat and we slept in whatever we had to wear, huddling together for warmth. The place was overrun with huge rats, so someone had to stay up at night to fight them off. Diseases were rampant and people were dying like flies from typhus, malaria, tuberculosis, malnutrition and hypothermia. Food was scarce, the only source being ration coupons that were earned by the labourers. We had to line up for hours to redeem the coupons for bread and a few other staples. I used to forage in trash bins for scraps of food. I would often find potato peels that were later cooked in fat to make them edible. I would sometimes find a weed called “Krapiva” which was like a poison ivy that was cooked like spinach.
My father worked on a building project a few kilometres away and I would bring him his “lunch,” usually consisting of some bread, some kind of watery soup and whatever else was available. I had to walk across several fields and through a forest to get to my father. The fear of wolves was ever present as well as attacks by locals to get whatever food I carried.
The Soviets tried to take care of the children, hoping they would grow up to be good communists. I was sent to a “Yaslo,” a sleepover nursery school where we were reasonably well fed and slept on cots in warmed rooms. I was enrolled in the “Pioneers”, the communist branch for children. I was given a white shirt and red neck scarf and taught the appropriate political songs and stories… We somehow survived Syktyvkar for about three years. It was wartime: brutal and lethal, like no war before or since.
Somewhere in the Ukraine
There was a great need to start rebuilding the shattered republic, so we were shipped from Syktyvkar to a village in the Haivoron area in the Ukraine to work on rebuilding a burned out sugar factory. The Ukraine had a massive beet sugar infrastructure, but nothing was left standing. Our train ride of some 2,300 km was similar to the one three years earlier, but we managed to stay intact. We were housed in a room in the sugar factory barracks and befriended a nearby farmer and his family, the Mogilas. Unlike many Ukrainians who were pathologic anti-Semites, the Mogila family, who may not have ever met a Jew, were kind to us, especially to my mother, often sharing their meagre food resources like milk, cheese and eggs. I went to school a few kilometres away. One evening, my father was trying to move a kerosene lamp that was near my cot and dropped it. The lamp set my straw mattress on fire. I was awakened by screaming and was scared witless. Fortunately, my cot was near the window. Moishe heard the screams, saw the flames and pulled me out. He and my father stomped out the flames and we survived another day.
The news reports on radio were much more positive as every day it was announced that the heroic Soviet armies, led by Marshall Zhukov, had advanced through Poland and were pushing to Berlin. I was in school when it was announced that US “Priezidient” Roosevelt had died.. The war ended May 7, 1945, and our next stage of life began. The Soviet government declared that any immigrants who did not wish to remain and become Soviet citizens would be able to leave under the auspices of the UNNRA. The decision was a no-brainer; we left.
We left by train and travelled nearly 3,000 km through Czechoslovakia and Austria, before finally arriving in the Soviet Zone of Lower Silesia at a town near Walbrzych called Boza Gora, We were moved into a flat that had been occupied by a German family. They bemoaned the fact that they were evicted from their home by the Soviets to make room for a family of Jews. It really galled them as their son was an SS officer whose photos and decorations adorned their home. The flat was palatial compared to anything we had lived in before there were good furnishings, bedding, linens, kitchenware, etc., which we could use while we were there. I also acquired my first ever treasure, an extensive collection of stamps that had been left in the house.
There was a Cheder nearby where the Melamed was very nice and always offered sweets and other treats. After several weeks, I learned some Hebrew and became familiar with the prayers and Broches and was given a “Tallit Katan” to wear. One evening, when we sat down for our meal at home, I recited “Hamotzi” and received a great whack on the side of my head from my father. My mother naturally sided with me. At that moment, I decided to learn Hebrew and study Torah and our prayers. Our family was isolated here but the Soviet soldiers left us alone and we marked time until our next adventure.
In the summer of 1946, we were sent on our next destination, a DP camp in the US zone of West Germany. The camp to which we were sent was a tent city near Bad Kisingen. We were united with my mother’s aunt Rifke and uncle Avrom and their daughters, who subsequently immigrated to Palestine and lived in Netanya. Life in the tents was grim, there was no sanitation or running water and the tents were like ovens in the summer heat. Everyone in our family, except me, became ill and had to be hospitalized for heat exhaustion and hypothermia. However, we survived to move to our next destination, Wetzlar aid Lahn, about 50 km from Frankfurt. We were housed in the barracks of a sprawling former SS and Hitler Youth Training Camp.
We were in Wetzlar for about two years, during which we were reunited with my father’s nephew Shulem and his wife Shulamit, as well as other landsleit. Life in Wetzlar was pleasant and we were well fed and cared for by UNRRA. We received CARE food packages, medical care and adequate clothing and were well treated by the US soldiers. I went to a Hebrew school, “Beit Seifer Tarbut”, and began learning Hebrew in earnest, soon becoming fluent. We were able to communicate with known relatives, especially Uncle Sam in Brooklyn. I had a bunch of friends with whom I played kick ball, went into town and watched movies. I acquired an Adler bicycle which I rode whenever I could. We later acquired a Leica camera, the most famous product of Wetzlar and the reason we have so many photos of life there. The city was home to the Ernst Leitz factory, where the 35mm Leica camera was invented, and was the manufacturing centre of the world’s foremost photographic equipment, lenses, microscopes and related products. The Leica camera was the main instrument the Germans used to compile their massive photographic archives of the war, the Holocaust and their atrocities. They were meticulous keepers of photo archives, records and statistics.
It was in the DP camps and places like Wetzlar that we began learning of the horrendous atrocities committed by the Nazis and their pathologic commitment to exterminate the Jews. Photos were circulated of the death camps after they were liberated, places like Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald, Majdanek and our own “local camp”, Treblinka, which was about 35 km from Stoczek and where most of our relatives and landsleit perished .. We met survivors and listened to their stories, looked at the concentration camp numbers tattooed on their forearms, held the bars of soap that the Nazis made and stamped RIF, “Reines Juden Fett” (Pure Jewish Fat). We held lampshades made from Jewish skins and were horrified to see so many survivors physically and emotionally damaged for life. We considered ourselves lucky and could not possibly feel sorry for ourselves, as what we had endured paled by comparison to what we witnessed and learned from the Holocaust Survivors.
Several years ago, we learned of the remarkable feats of courage and kindness of Ernst Leitz and his family. After Kristallnacht in November 1938, Ernst Leitz realized the lives of Jews in Germany would be in peril. To save many of his Jewish workers and colleagues, he secretly established what has become known as “The Leica Freedom Train”, a covert means of allowing Jews to leave Germany in the guise of Leitz employees being assigned to offices in the US, Hong Kong, France and Britain. Leitz’s daughter was jailed by the Gestapo after she was caught helping Jewish women escape to Switzerland, and other members suffered for their good deeds. This story was not told until recently because the family did not want publicity. Only after the last member of the Leitz family passed away did this story become known and become the subject of a book and film. I passed the Leica factory in Wetzlar many times, thinking only of the Leica camera, one of which I have kept and will treasure forever. Ernst Leitz, like Oskar and Emilie Schindler and thousands others, including many Germans, risked their lives to save Jews. Over 22,000 such people are honoured as “Righteous Among the Nations” at Yad Vashem.
Life in Wetzlar and other DP camps across Germany was reasonably good and a sense of “community” prevailed. Zionism became strongly rooted among many families who wanted to immigrate to “Eretz Yisroel”. Several Kibbutzim were established to train people who wanted to make Aliyah and work in cooperatives. My political party was Beitar, created by Zev Jabotinsky, a right-wing nationalist whose mission was to free Palestine from the rule of the British and the threat of the Arabs. We attended meetings and listened to passionate speakers. We sang songs about the heroic exploits of heroes like Josef Trumpeldor and set our sights on returning to “Eretz Avoteinu” as the original lyrics of “Hatikvah” proclaimed.
After about a year in Wetzlar, we and others began worrying about our future. Those who wanted to go to Palestine knew it would be difficult under the British mandate. When the Partition of Palestine was declared November 29, 1947, there were pitched battles across the land, and making Aliyah became virtually impossible and extremely dangerous. The choices were a DP camp in Germany or a detention camp in Cyprus. The uncertainty in Palestine and the difficulty of getting visas to North America or Western European countries created huge morale problems. We abandoned any thought of Palestine, fearing my mother could not endure another debilitating voyage and the extremely difficult living conditions we tried to get into the US, but that proved futile despite Uncle Sam’s help, so the next target became Canada.
Moishe was the leader in our efforts to get into Canada and had many meetings with Canadian Immigration officials. Canada was notorious for its “none is too many” policy on Jewish immigration. At one interview with my family, we were told that my sister and I would be able to go, but not my parents, because of my mother’s ill health. A family friend suggested Mania and Moishe “get married” to see if that might improve our chances of getting in as a family group. They obtained a local “Marriage Certificate” and reapplied. We learned that Canada was accepting a limited quota of tailors who would be sent to Winnipeg to work in the growing garment industry there. Several prominent Canadian Jewish manufacturers, Horace Cohen, Max Enkin and the Posluns family, had petitioned the Government to allow tailors to come in and undoubtedly had to provide adequate financial guarantees, or “blood money”. My father had to become a tailor although he didn’t know one end of a needle from another. A cousin’s husband was a master tailor and agreed to pose as my father to take the tailoring test. Armed with my father’s “tailored” credentials and a marriage certificate, Moishe again appealed to an official with a “gift” of a Russian gold coin who was finally persuaded to grant our family a visa.
The next stage was preparing for the trip, scheduled for autumn 1948. Right after Rosh Hashanah, which we could easily interpret as a “New Life” and not just a “New Year”, we gathered at the railway station, accompanied by relatives and friends who came to see us off. We were given ID documents, deloused, given some CARE food packages and put on a train. This time we travelled in actual passenger cars, rather than cattle cars, and our spirits and expectations were high. After a train ride of about 430 km to Bremerhaven, we boarded our “Noah’s Ark”, the USS General Samuel Davis Sturgis, a transport ship for the US Navy in World War II.
Coming to Canada
Our family, together with hundreds of other families (the Canadian government has never revealed the number) boarded around October 8 and headed for Halifax, a journey of nine days. Yom Kippur occurred en route and a “Shul” was set up for services. There was ample food and the officers and crew were friendly. The initial stages of the voyage around The Netherlands, through the North Sea, the Straits of Dover and English Channel were comfortable, but things changed drastically as we hit the open waters of the North Atlantic. The weather was cold and stormy, tossing the Sturgis like a tin can and seasickness was the order of the day, every day. My mother was very ill and was cared for by the medical staff on board. I spent most of the time on deck gazing into the unknown while adding whatever was in my stomach to the Atlantic Ocean.
On Shabbat, October16, we landed at Pier 21 in Halifax. After various official checks, we were issued temporary passports, deloused and sent to the train station. I saw Georges Island with its famous lighthouse in the middle of the harbour. For me, it was the symbolic equivalent of the Statue of Liberty which I had seen in many pictures. Before boarding the train for Winnipeg, my mother was able to phone Uncle Sam, who told us he would meet the train on its stopover in Montreal. He was at Central Station to greet us. Our joy was boundless. He arranged to have us “sponsored” by the Petrushka and Krantz families, whom we knew from Kosov. We were allowed to leave the train and our Canadian life began in Montreal. We had arrived Erev Succot and I went to services with Henoch Petrushka.
Mr. Petrushka suggested that I be enrolled in Talmud Torah, the best parochial school in Montreal. He also told me that I would become Bar Mitzvah on November 11. My mother spoke to Uncle Sam who immediately sent a Tallit and Tefillin, which Mr. Petrushka taught me to put on. Right after Succcot, my mother took me to meet the president of the school, who told her that we would have to pay a tuition fee of $250. That would have been the end of my schooling at Talmud Torah if it weren’t for the principal, Mr. Magid. He saw me sitting in the hallway and asked why I was there. After a few words of totally inadequate English, he asked if I spoke any Hebrew. We continued in fluent Hebrew, as I briefly described my background. He declared that anyone with my command of Hebrew must attend this school free of charge and sent me to be registered in Mrs. Goldie Freedman’s office. She asked about my schooling and the spelling of my name, which at that time was Salomon Najman. She suggested our family name would be mispronounced, so we should change it to “Nayman”, and gave me the first name “Solly”. Later, when I needed a more mature first name, it became Sol with my middle name “David” added.
I started school October 27 and was sent to Grade 4 for about a week, then Grade 5 for a brief stint, and, finally, to Grade 6 for the remainder of the school year. The school had Shabbat Services led by Junior Cantors, students who had become Bnei Mitzvah and had good voices. On November 13, Shabbat Lech Lecha, I received an Aliyah as a new Bar Mitzvah. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to learn my Haftarah, so I have never recited it. My next milestone was my first job at Levitt’s, Montreal’s foremost Kosher Delicatessen. My shift was after Shabbat for about five hours and Sundays from about 5 to 10 pm. I was paid 30 cents an hour and earned $3 each weekend. My main responsibility was making hot dogs and fountain drinks.
School was of utmost importance and it wasn’t long before I became fluent in English and French. We moved several times in the following year from St. Urbain to City Hall to Henri Julien near Pine, which became our home for many years. I worked during most of the summers except one year, when I went to Camp B’nai B’rith for several weeks. After graduating from Talmud Torah in 1950, I was enrolled at Herzliah Junior High. I was privileged to have Irving Layton as my English teacher; he became one of the most influential people in my life and the lives of countless others. Herzliah was a great school, and many graduates achieved great fame Irving Layton immortalized our class in his poem, “To the Girls of My Graduating Class”. His great passion and zest for life rubbed off on me. Hockey became my passion after I saw my first game at the Forum December 12, 1949. Canadiens beat the New York Rangers 3-1 with Maurice Richard scoring a goal; I was hooked for life, and “The Rocket” Richard became my idol. After losing my childhood, I was determined to live my youth and the rest of my life with gusto.
After graduating in 1952, I entered Baron Byng High School. The school was Montreal’s largest; almost all the students were Jewish kids from the surrounding neighbourhoods. I was active in school, sports and social life. Good grades came easily and I won several prizes in inter-school debates. I was appointed to represent our school on Eaton’s Junior Executive for the 1953-54 school year. This group was comprised of representatives from all the city high schools. We met at the great Eaton’s store on Ste. Catherine Street every week to discuss community events, participate in charitable functions and learn about retailing. Who knew then that it was to become my life’s work? I worked at Eaton’s during the summers of ’53 and ’54.
Among my best school friends was Morris Greenbaum who also arrived in Canada in 1948. He was a brilliant student, achieving the highest graduation marks in the province and later became a noteworthy architect. He suggested that I run for School President which I was reluctant to do as I wasn’t very well known, especially among the younger students, and I would have to run against Norman Samuels, one of the most popular guys at school. Morris offered to be my campaign manager and to recruit a significant team to back me. The next critical step was the final campaign addresses at the annual school assemblies.. I delivered two great speeches and to my surprise won the Presidency of BBHS in a landslide…by one vote. This was a remarkable breakthrough and gave me great confidence to tackle challenges throughout my life. My year as President was gratifying and maturing, and taught me much about leadership and team work.
After graduating from BBHS in 1954, I worked another summer at Eaton’s, then began my first year at McGill Engineering. University life was great and I enjoyed it fully. Unfortunately, my academic ambitions hit a snag when my beloved mother passed away March 17, 1955, just when several critical exams were scheduled. I lost several exams during Shiva and would have had to repeat several subjects the following year. This and lack of funds compelled a major decision. I chose to work during the summer and then decide what to do about continuing at McGill or enrolling in evening classes at Sir George Williams (now Concordia). Eaton’s was not accommodating former Junior Executives full-time, so I decided to try Simpson’s down the street. I had visited this store once previously, to get their ad in the school’s annual magazine. I was sent to the Personnel office to meet a Miss Sherman. She was very attractive and pleasant, and happened to be Jewish. In May 1955, I went to see her about a job at Simpson’s. Given my experience at Eaton’s and having been a Junior Executive there, I was hired immediately. My summer employee number was S-50, perhaps a harbinger of my 50 years in the industry. I was assigned to the Hardware Department as a salesman at the stupendous weekly salary of $36 plus 1% commission. At the end of summer, I was offered full-time employment and a raise to $38 per week. I needed the money and began full-time work and evening classes in Chemical Engineering. I was offered a promotion in Sporting Goods and as it is said “the rest is history”.
From School to Career and Family
Retailing was in, school was out. My advancement at Simpson’s was rapid, from Sporting Goods to Toys. At that time I first encountered Queenie Greenspoon who was an outstanding teacher at Talmud Torah. I then became Department Manager of Candies and Tobaccos, at a salary of
$5,500, and became engaged to Queenie. We were married August 27, 1961, at Sharei Zion Synagogue. On December 30, 1963, we welcomed our first son, Gary Mitchell; Stuart Ross was born November 29, 1965.
My rapid rise at Simpson’s continued. In June 1968, I developed a new contemporary advertising/marketing strategy for the Montreal market. In October 1969, another promotion brought us to Toronto. We were back in Montreal a little more than a year later. We had barely begun living in our first house in Dollard des Ormeaux, when we were promoted again to Toronto in August 1972. A succession of promotions followed. I ran the Downtown Toronto store – one of the greatest stores in the world – for nearly five years, always trying to beat our main competitor, Eaton’s. I enjoyed hosting such famous personalities as Sophia Loren, Charlton Heston, Conrad Black, Edward Heath, Isabella Rossellini, Peter Ustinov, and John Diefenbaker.
Simpsons (the apostrophe was dropped to find favour with Francophone customers) constantly provided me with every available opportunity to further improve my skills. In 1970, I was sent to the University of Western Ontario for its famous Management Training Course; in 1980, I was off to Harvard. I was subsequently appointed Vice President Merchandising, and people stopped asking “what’s a nice Jewish Boy like you doing at Simpsons”.
Queenie and I were blessed with much success. I worked for the family, while she worked for the community, especially the healthcare sector, becoming President of the Mount Sinai Hospital Auxiliary. We have been active members of Shaarei Shomayim since 1969, where I served on the Board for many years, and where our sons celebrated their respective Bar Mitzvahs. Sadly, Queenie’s father had passed away in May 1974 and was badly missed by the boys.
In 1978 Simpsons was acquired by Hudson’s Bay. I was appointed General Manger Corporate Marketing of HBC, and was mandated to restructure and integrate the buying/ merchandising/marketing platforms. While my divisions outperformed virtually all others, the corporation was not performing well and was losing market share to specialty retailers and category killers. In early 1985, many of the executives at HBC were terminated, later including me. I decided to go on a ski trip with the boys and begin an earnest search for a new career after nearly thirty years. Enter Saul and Joe Mimran with whom I began an incredible relationship and founded Club Monaco. After opening the first store on Queen Street in September 1985, we grew at a pace of almost a store a month and had opened 48 stores in the first four years.
On March 19, 1986, my father passed away in Montreal after being hospitalized for several months. He worked hard, but had little to show for it. My father was a simple man, but he was highly intelligent and well read, devouring every word in the Yiddish newspapers. He was active in the Workmen’s Circle and was close to his Landsleit. He wrote many wonderful articles including a very touching story in the Stok Memorial Book.
We took Club Monaco public in 1987 and were later acquired by Dylex, at the time the most successful specialty retail corporation. However, Dylex soon began a rapid decline in market share and profitability. Despite a weak retail environment and poor results at Dylex, Club Monaco continued to grow, and we soon entered the US as well as Japan and Korea. I travelled extensively through Japan and Korea and even learned to speak Japanese. Early in 1997, we took the company public by buying out our shares from Dylex. In March 1999, we sold the company again, this time to Polo Ralph Lauren.
Gary graduated from what is now known as the Richard Ivey School of Business at Western in 1986. He married Nicole Pinto March 24, 1991; on January 10, 1995, we celebrated the birth of our twin granddaughters, Candace Brooke (Chinka Miriam) and Lauren Danielle (Lana Daniella). When I held the girls for the first time at Mount Sinai Hospital – one in each arm- I thought that I had gone to heaven. Later that year, we were saddened by the deaths of Queenie’s mother on December 21 and my sister on December 28. On May 5, 1999, we welcomed our first grandson, Maurice Noah (Moshe Baruch), and I had the privilege of being the Sandik at his Brit Milah. On January 27, 2007, Candace and Lauren celebrated their B’not Mitzvah at Shaarei Shomayim. It was an extraordinary milestone of joy and pride for the family and friends as the girls accepted their roles and responsibilities of Jewish women.
Stuart graduated from the University of Toronto Law School in 1991 and was called to the Bar in 1992. He was to join Stikeman Elliot in Toronto, but accepted an offer he couldn’t refuse from Shearman and Sterling in New York, and moved there in 1993. There he met Hillary Cooper and they were married May 17, 1998. On June 29, 2003, they welcomed their first child, our second grandson, Benjamin Aaron (Baruch Yehuda), and I had my second Mitzvah as Sandik. On July 6, 2007, Hillary gave birth to a daughter, Rachel Ava (Rachel Aviva).
We are extremely proud of our grandchildren. Witnessing their childhood has more than adequately compensated me for the childhood that I lost. I have been blessed well beyond my wildest dreams. I survived the Holocaust with my immediate family and built a new life in an extraordinary country, Canada. Whatever success I have achieved has been inspired and supported by family, friends and business associates. To borrow Newton’s immortal phrase, “If I have seen further than Descartes, it was by standing on the shoulders of Giants”. Of all the “giants”, clearly there is no greater one than my beloved Queenie, who has stood by my side for fifty four years.
This story is my tribute to all who enabled me to become who I am and a memorial to the beloved members of our extended families who perished in the Holocaust and to those who have passed on since then.
Dr. Mark Nusbaum
Mrs Edith Nusbaum z”l
31 Prue Avenue Toronto, Ontario M6B 1R3 Canada
Emails -Home: firstname.lastname@example.org
I was born on Oct/10/35 to Regina (nee Landau) and Abraham Nussbaum. My brother, Aaron was born 4 years earlier.
We lived in the ancient town of Sandomierz1. At the beginning of WWII, about 2,500 Jews lived there, of whom only about 70 survived. Of our extended family of 40, only 7 survived.
My father was a well-to-do business man owning an electrical business. He was generous, supporting the poorer members of our family. We had a comfortable life relative to the community.
On Sept/1/39, Germany invaded Poland. Sandomierz was occupied 2 weeks later. Life became more difficult. In April/40, my father, along with the other community leaders, was imprisoned in the local jail. Shortly thereafter, he was transferred to Buchenwald, and then to Ravensbruck. We corresponded with him regularly until we received notification from the camp in June/42 that “Herr Nussbaum succumbed to his illness”. We knew of course, that he, like many others, died because of exhaustive work, malnutrition and terrible living conditions. His watch and some personal belongings were returned with the notice.
By the summer of 1942, “Jewish” Sandomierz was being squeezed into an ever smaller geographical space, as Jews from nearby towns were brought into the city. In the fall of 1942, we and 3 other family members secretly left for Warsaw, as hiding there on the “Aryan side” would be much safer. Through family connections, we found an apartment where we could hide. We lived on the top floor, hidden behind a false wall in a “crevice” only 4’x15′. The entrance was through an armoire which had a false back. There, we hid quietly night and day, fearing that any noise could result in our certain demise. At night, we would leave the hiding place to catch a few breaths of fresh air by the window.
One event has caused me nightmares for many years. As my hair had grown long, it was decided that I should be taken to a barber. My Aryan-looking aunt hailed a “droshka”2 but, as we started to move, the driver turned and asked, “You are a Jew, right?” I (unwisely) replied, “you SOB”. He stopped the carriage and tried to strike me with his whip. Somehow I grabbed the end of it and managed to pull it out of his hand! We quickly ran out of the carriage, in different directions, with the driver pursuing me. As I was a fast runner, I was able to escape. Eventually, I found my way back to the apartment.
In the spring of 1943 after the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto, rumours circulated that the Nazis were looking for Jewish citizens of foreign countries (USA, UK, Latin America, Palestine, etc.) to be exchanged for German citizens trapped there by the war. Our situation had become so desperate that we decided to go to the Hotel Polski and register. Since many of those citizens were no longer alive, their passports were being sold by the Gestapo and their collaborators at exorbitant prices. As well, many false passports were “being produced”. We could only afford the cheapest and least desirable available; the Palestinian passports. As it turned out, they proved to be the best ones! Somehow, miraculously, my mother resembled “Mrs. Moscovitch” while I resembled her son, “Marek”, a name I have retained ever since. We headed to the train station; it began to look as if “the exchange” was a reality! We boarded the passenger train to Bergen Belsen where we “lived” in barracks, surrounded by barbed wire, guard towers and were frequently called out to “Appels”3 Beyond the wire were mounds of corpses awaiting cremation, a picture still ingrained in my mind.
In April/45, with the Russians advancing, orders arrived that our group was to be moved. We received some rations and were marched to the train station, where we boarded a passenger train guarded by Nazi troops.
After some 6 days of starts and stops, the train stopped in a valley, as a tremendous artillery barrage was occurring from both sides. The next day, April 13, 1945, we were ordered off the train for an “Appel.” Unbeknownst to us, the guards had received orders, to march us to the nearby Elbe River to be shot and drowned. Miraculously, as we were being lined up, a USA tank unit commanded by Sgt. Cohen, arrived and we were saved, just in the nick of time.
After the war, we travelled to Antwerp, Belgium, to obtain Canadian visas and to join my uncles Pinchas and Sam (Landau) in Toronto. While in Antwerp, my mother decided I should learn French quickly in an “immersion course” and enrolled me in a French speaking camp in Knocke by the sea. The next day, the councilor asked a question, to which all the kids raised their hands answering positively. Not wanting to be an exception, I did the same, being unaware that he had asked “who could swim?” Unfortunately, I could not. While standing around on the pier, the tide had changed, along with sudden strong winds. I was swept off the pier steps and began to drown. Miraculously, someone saw my hand sticking out of the water, grabbed it, and I was saved! While this was not the planned French “immersion course”, I did learn to swim and to speak French within 3 weeks.
In 1946, my mother married Chi! Elbaum a Bergen Belsen survivor. Chil’s children, Charles and Esther, were as true siblings to me. In the spring 1948, our visas arrived, permitting our family to come to Canada. We arrived in Halifax on May 15/48, the very day that the State oflsrael was established.
I quickly learned to speak English while attending public school, and also attended the “Brunswick Talmud Torah” after school. After high school, with the encouragement of my mother, I enrolled in dentistry at the University of Toronto.
After graduating in 1960, I married my eshes chayil 4, Edith Juda, also a Holocaust survivor, who came to Canada from Hungary in 195I . Like me, Edith had lost her father and many family members. It was Edith’s business acumen which guided me in my dental practice, and in running the family business established by her brother, Arthu z”l.
Together, we remained committed to rebuilding our families and helping build and preserve our new Jewish community. The Almighty blessed us with four devoted daughters, Suzy, Shari, Naomi and Tammy, four wonderful sons-in-law, Mark, Dani, Larry and Josh and twenty three grandchildren, two of which were recently married.
As an expression of our Hakarat Hatov5 for the new beginning we were given, we are committed to the community. We do considerable work for the University (including assisting the Faculty Board and lecturing) and donate to various hospitals and institutions. Among our contributions are the Nusbaum Family Audio-Visual Lecture Theatre at the Faculty of Dentistry 6, a mobile Dental Clinic in the Shomron in Israel7, and two scholarships for post graduate studies at the Faculty. In addition, we are supporters of Hebrew University, Yeshiva University, Laniado Hospital, Ben Gurion University, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, etc.
My wife and I are ever so grateful to the Almighty for allowing us to survive the Holocaust and rebuild our families and our community. We also thank this wonderful country that gave us this opportunity to flourish.
Harry Perlstein was born on July 26, 1919 in Zolkiew, in the Eastern part of the Austro-Polish province of Galicia, which was then part of Poland. His mother was from a town near Lviv. He and his brother and three sisters grew up in their father’s city of Zolkiew, where his father owned a shoe store. They worked hard but struggled because the local farmers to whom he sold shoes often did not pay. When Harry completed school he went to Lviv to learn the fur trade.
World War II broke out and Harry was taken by the Nazis to a ghetto, then to a transit, labour, & extermination camp called Janowska near Lviv. Harry spent almost two years in the camp and lost track of his entire family. Harry tried to escape twice, his second attempt being successful. He met up Jewish and Russian Partisans who allowed him to join them and hide in the forests and around the mostly Ukrainian farms. Several months before the war ended, the Partisans had nothing and nowhere to go and were all still starving. He was separated from his comrades and attacked by German soldiers. They shot him in his right arm. He fainted and was left for dead. The partisans found him and Harry convinced his comrades to go to a veterinarian and get him a metal splint and some bandages for his mangled arm. Harry was alive but now had a crippled arm. When the war ended he went to a hospital in Lviv where they operated only on his upper arm, leaving his hand still badly maimed. Harry survived by obtaining suits which the Russian soldiers had brought back from Germany and working with a tailor to restyle them to sell. This survival strategy was the blueprint for how he would earn his livelihood, buying things of little value and fixing them up and selling them for more: never, cheating anyone but always making an honest living.
Once Harry had made a little money he bought a train ticket back to his old city of Zolkiew to see if any of his family was still alive. On the train he encountered a Christian butcher who he had known in Zolkiew. The butcher was with a Russian widow, who had lost her soldier husband and had no ticket. The kind hearted Harry gave her his ticket because he felt sorry for her and knew he had enough money to buy another one if necessary. The conductor never came to get his fare, but this favor was returned by the woman because at her destination she had a house where he was able to stay overnight.
His own house was still barely standing, the wooden stairs had been taken apart for firewood and no one from his family had survived. The only familiar face was a woman dentist who had pulled a tooth when he was a boy, who recognized him.
He remained there for two years, but what he really wanted to do was go to Israel. To facilitate this, Harry went to Boiten, Poland to a Mizrachi Kibbutz which had been set up there. However, with his bad right hand it was not clear how he could survive in Israel. After a few months in Poland, Harry moved around Europe and he ended up in Milan, Italy in a refugee camp funded by American money through UNRA, living in former army barracks with an active synagogue constructed from a bare hut. He fortunately met up with a wonderful “Landsmen” from his community, who had been friends with his older brother.
The friend recommended going to Rome, and a landsman friend there brought him to the big orthopedic hospital in Bologna where we underwent corrective surgery to fix his hand. This surgery changed his life. Although still impaired, he could now use his thumb and two fingers. This same landsman got him a job in the fur trade. Harry learned how to take scraps of fur and stretch and block them in order to make pieced garments out of them. This skill got him the reference he needed from his employer to immigrate as a fur worker to Canada. This was possible through the auspices of a Canadian furrier, Mr. Federman, who had gone to Italy to help fellow Jews get immigration papers to Canada to work in the fur trade.
Mr. Perlstein and the other Jewish immigrants arrived in the port of Halifax. With the help of the Jewish Congress, they took trains to Montreal and then to Toronto. Harry arrived just before the Jewish holidays and was given an apartment to stay in on College and Parliament Street. The first meal he had was in Ledofsky Restaurant on Spadina, where the new immigrants were treated to a big parave breakfast of fish and soup. They received tickets for services so that they could attend the Londoner Shul on Rosh Hashana. After Succot they all started to work. For the next 2 ½ years Harry worked 46 hours a week and made $37.00 a week, which was a very nice salary in those days. He belonged to the union but did not want to help organize the workers because he did not feel qualified to do that. Eventually, after working for different manufacturers, Harry decided to take work home and work for himself free-lance. He would buy scraps of fur from manufacturers and match them up and make bundles of matching skins which could be sold in parcels for a good profit.
Eventually, Germany started to pay reparations to refugees like him, and with that help plus the money he made through his work, he bought his first house for $6,000.
Harry was introduced to his wife Rose by friends. She was also a survivor and had lost a husband and two children in the war. Rose and her family had been taken by the Nazis, but somehow on the way to the concentration camp, Rose’s sister, who was stronger than her, pried open the window of the train and the two of them jumped out as the train slowed to take a curve. A kind Ukrainian girl took them to her attic and taught them the Christian bible so well that they could pass as a Christians. They both managed to pass as Christians and found work as a Nanny/housekeeper. They survived that way until the end of the war. In Toronto, Rose, who spoke Czech and Ukranian perfectly, worked in a shoe store on Dundass for Ukranian people. Rose and Harry married while in their thirties and were blessed with a son, Abraham, who unfortunately passed away at a young age.
Mr. Perlstein and his wife lived frugally and worked very hard. Once, when travelling to Montreal to sell his bundles of matched skins, Harry came across a man who sold watches. Harry bought the watches and sold them in Toronto for a dollar more than he had bought them. Later on he successfully borrowed $50,000 from a friend to start a business buying anything he could manage to sell for a higher price.
Harry and Rose joined the Mackay shul, which was ultimately absorbed by Shaarei Shomayim, on St. Clair and has been a member of our shul over 40 years.
When Mr. Perlstein was in his 50’s, he bought a property with a skeletal structure, an incomplete house, north of Steeles. Harry learned all kinds of carpentry skills, rented equipment to do the construction, and learned how to read blueprint plans from a friend. Almost single handedly, at night after a full day’s work, over the course of the next four years, he built a beautiful house for himself and his wife, and lived there for many years.
In 2009 Rose passed away. Rabbi Gottesman helped him through this very tough time and Rabbi Strauchler came to the funeral as well. Harry stayed in the house for another year, but when the taxes became very high he decided it was time to sell. The house he built had not settled, it was still rock solid, having been so well built and he made a good profit in this last transaction. He went to live at Kensington Place, a Jewish kosher assisted-living community.
Since then Mr. Perlstein has remained a member of Shaarei Shomayim, while being an active member of the minyan at the shul in his complex. He has given generously to those in need all of his life. In 2011 he finally went to Israel, accompanied by his friend Leon Lenchner. There, Harry donated money to Beit Halochem through the Association for Soldiers in Israel/Canada in memory of his parents and family. He also donated an ambulance in Israel in memory of his wife Rose. In addition, he gave money to build the Perlstein Beis Midrash at Ner Yisrael Yeshiva in Toronto.
Today Mr. Perlstein, is still a very modest person living a simple life. He retains a positive outlook, and is full of wisdom gained from surviving and thriving in a new land. He has overcome many obstacles while maintaining his integrity. Harry continues to inspire all who meet him.