DB: I went to HaTzofim, it’s like Scouts here since I think I was in Grade 2, something like that. And we had camps every summer, we had camps during the holiday of Hanukah, we had camps during the holiday of Passover, whenever it was a big holiday from school like more than three, four days we used to go to hike, to help in kibbutzim. At that time, you know, we were, in Israel they developed agriculture something very important for the country and they didn’t have enough helping hands. And we used to go to kibbutzim in the summer sometimes for a month, for six weeks, to help them to pick up the apples, or the grapes, or the peaches, or the plums, or whatever, or the potatoes, or it’s, it was part of growing up in Israel and it was so much spirit around it. Because at night we used to have the bonfire and sit and sing and somebody used to play the accordion or the guitar. Those were really wonderful days.
MD: Earliest memories. Being called a ‘dirty Jew.’ Wearing a yellow star. Being called a ‘dog.’ Being thrown rocks at.
SR: What year was this?
MD: I would say 1940.
SR: You were born in what year?
MD: ’35. May 10, 1935. ’39, ’40, I would say. That’s the earliest memories that I have. The other things, the year when my brother Jean came home and started to yell at my mother which I knew, no children yelled at their parents in those days or raised their voice. And my brother Jean died, so did Albert. We were all separated at a time when Jean came home and yelled at my mother. I still know the story because I know now why he yelled at my mother. She believed in the propaganda from the radio when the Germans said if you register your family at the police station they wouldn’t pick you up. So my mother being a widow registered all the cousins and everybody, all the children at the police station and Jean found out about it and so we were all separated. And that was my earliest memory, the next one was living with different people. Kept moving around. Lived in a convent. Once sold by a nun, I know the mother superior came and woke me up and said I had to hide in the sewers of the convent because one of the nuns had called the Gestapo and found out I was Jewish and was selling me. Other memories, living on a farm, seeing people being picked up, I remember a man with no nails or no toenails. I found out later on that his nails were pulled out and he was tortured. Hunger. I don’t think I want to go into any more details than that. Orphanages, loneliness, feel nothing. I felt nothing, I became a void. Never any feeling at all. Fear was forgotten after a while because the bombs were falling, the shrapnels were falling.
SR: And where were you, you were going from place to place?
MD: Place to place, that’s right. Orphanages. Very sick.
SR: Always in Brussels?
MD: No, I was in Holland. I know because of the wheels, you know, the…[laughing] the [tulips], the flowers. I remember a place, now I know it’s called [inaudible] because of the flowers as well. This beautiful garden. I don’t know why I was there, but I was there. I remember different languages. Being in trucks, on motorcycles, walking. Earliest memory: a plane shooting down at us and people falling dead around us.
SR: You were by yourself, you didn’t…
MD: No, I was with my mother and Henri, and Esther and Jacques and I and we…My first toy, I can only remember a toy, was a little [dog] purse, it was a purse, I didn’t know it was a purse, and the other thing was a gas mask. That’s all I know of, that’s the only toy I’ve ever had in my whole life. And I lost it somewhere at the end of the war I think.
SR: But you kept it with you from orphanage to orphanage.
MD: And from home to home, I lived with Catholics, and different people. Never knew their names. Don’t think I was there long enough. Never…earliest memory, never being hugged. Only my mother. Last memory where I stopped crying was on my seventh birthday when I came home. The lady that was hiding me took me home and had arranged for me to see my mother. And as I was skipping down the road I saw my brother and Albert being shoved in truck and that was my seventh birthday. Today I know it wasn’t in May it was on July 2nd because I have the record of when my mother was picked up. The Germans kept a very good record and I have it now with me and I just got it a year ago.
B&W photograph depicts people standing in front of the S. Leiser and Hamburger general store in Wellington, Vancouver Island, BC.
Note: audio quality is quite poor.
BD: How was morale at the camp?
JR: It was pretty good. The only way one could survive that kind of thing was to think, ‘Today is here, and tomorrow something exciting is going to happen and we’re going to get out of here.’ And when tomorrow came, it was today again…and the next day, something exciting was going to happen. Some fellows were really sharp and smart. One fellow he told everybody that he had these dreams and he knew what was going to happen, and when it was going to happen. And of course we were ready to believe anything…the conditions were so awful, it didn’t take very much…If anyone said anything good, we wanted to believe it, because the status quo was so horrible. But he was smart. He always said, “Well, I can’t dream on an empty stomach. I’ve got to have something to eat. I dream better.” [Laughing]. So, every once in a while, he’d say, “I know something is going to happen, but I won’t be able to have a dream unless I have something to eat.” Fellows would take a little bit of food and everybody would give him a little. [Laughter]. Then he would dream, then he would come back and say, “In one hundred days we’re going to be free.” Everybody would take, you know they’d have a pencil on the wall and they’d mark off every day up to one hundred and when that hundred was over then something else would happen in another hundred and another hundred and another hundred. And we were there for over a thousand days, that’s a long time. That’s how we survived. I always knew I was going to come home, though.
ST: Where was the butcher shop?
RS: On Main and Hastings, in what was the City Market.
ST: So that was down in Strathcona?
RS: It was…No, on Main and Hastings. Strathcona was…
ST: Dunlevy and…sort of in that area. Where the City Market was?
RS: Strathcona was more the Commercial Drive area…
ST: No, it was in Dunlevy and…in that area right around the synagogue, right around Heatley.
RS: Well, that is further up. I mean, it’s not that far but the City Market...There was the Public Library was there…
ST: The Carnegie Library?
RS: It was the old Vancouver Public Library, I think now it’s a museum, a museum there on the corner of Hastings and Main…
ST: And the City Market was right next to it.
RS: It was right, that building right next to it. Oh, it was rat-infested; there was nothing but rats running through the butcher shop. [Bell chimes in the background]. Oh, it was awful! Just awful! It was so cold, and no heat but we worked there all the time.
ST: Did you work on weekends?
RS: Yes, I worked every school holiday, and every Saturday. Sunday was a day off.
ST: How about after school did you have to go?
RS: After school sometimes I had to go, but not always after school. But always on Sports Days. I was never allowed to participate in anything else…it was work! And my brother worked. We had a kosher shop there also. We had a non-Jewish butcher shop and a kosher butcher shop, that was the only kosher butcher shop in the city, right there in the City Market. My dad started that. Then my brother used to make the night deliveries and worked in the shop full time. He quit school and Sonny became a butcher.
Interviewer: Sid Israels, Ann Krieger, & A. Myer Freedman
SI: …And you graduated just as the Depression started in 1929, is that correct?
SI: And made your way then to Vancouver for your interning and where did you intern?
JM: At the Vancouver General Hospital.
SI: Was this unusual to get a position like that in 1929?
JM: In a way yes because Jewish doctors weren’t exactly welcome but as it happens the superintendent at the time was Dr. S. C. Bell and he was hard pressed for interns; there were only approximately 12 or 13 interns and he was very pleased to accept me. And I stayed on there for a year and I decided that I would like to see what some other centres had. So as it happens an opening occurred at Chicago in a hospital and one of my fraternity brothers, George Stream, who was a resident at the time in Chicago, he phoned me. I got permission from Dr. Bell to accept the internship at Chicago and I was there for about nine months.
Now, I decided then that I would stay in practice in Chicago. I was the second or third assistant to Dr. [Delee], Dr. Joseph [Delee] and I was directly junior partner of Horner, Dr. Horner and they had a system there that in grades, Dr. Joseph E. [Delee] would only take on or two cases a month. His desire was teaching, mostly teaching and he had set a limit that he can only accept cases that would pay approximately $7,000. Now, any case, under that Dr. Horner got and anything below that was the next in line. So then I decided I would stay in Chicago and Dr. Horner then interviewed me…and the Head of American Medical Association who had formerly been superintendent of hospitals in Vancouver at the Vancouver General Hospital and he arranged for me to have an interim certificate that I would eventually become an American citizen and carry on a practice. Well I started with Dr. Horner in June and it was a very satisfactory way of practicing medicine, as far as I was concerned because twice a week you were in an office downtown and the rest of the week you were always at the hospital. You saw private cases in the hospital, it was your office away from the downtown. Along came the latter part of the fall and it was a very cold winter in Chicago, in December it was just simply awful and I packed up my suitcase and I left Chicago on a moment’s notice and came back to Vancouver General Hospital.
Interviewer: Sid Israels, Ann Krieger, & A. Myer Freedman
SI: And this is, we’re talking here now in the early ‘20s, late ‘20s. Did your parents keep a kosher home?
JM: Very much so.
SI: How difficult was that?
JM: Very. One of the interesting factors was there wasn’t any means of attaining kosher meat so the only locality that had it was Calgary, Alberta, and it was used to…the butcher would send the meat by express on Friday and every Friday morning at five o’clock in the morning, I used to get up in the morning and go out to the express office to pick up the week’s meat. First of all it was the time that I could easily attend and the other was we didn’t want to leave the meat too long before it spoiled.
SI: You say you were, the rest of the families in the area were Orthodox as well, they would have obtained their supplies at the same time. Tell me, winter—I grew up in that same environment as you did—must have been a godsend for you, because you now had natural refrigeration.
JM: [Laughter]. No, as a matter of fact, it didn’t worry us a great deal because we had one of these old fashioned ice boxes where you put in a block of ice about 15 or 25 pounds and that lasted a certain length of time and then you replaced it.
ID: I know that you were instrumental in getting the Gleneagles Golf Course going, tell me about that and the Richmond Golf Course.
EL: Well, the Gleneagles Golf Course, we’d reached a stage where we had quite a few fellows playing and they were playing at the public golf course and a bottle of scotch got you on and if you didn’t have a bottle of scotch you had to go line up under an umbrella and Dave Sears came to me and said, “This estate has Gleneagles for sale.” I think they wanted 52 or $53,000 for it and I called two or three meetings at our house with Dave Sears and there was Alfie Evans, Meyer Brown, Norman Brown, the whole crowd was there then and the interesting thing was that we had a hell of a time persuading them that if they put up $500 a piece you might buy it and while this as going on they were investigating and searching title. I put up $500. A friend of mine ran the trust company at that time, I went to see him and he incorporated a group there and he held the shares in trust and over a period of time we were able to collect enough money from guys to pay off $50,000. That was the beginning of the golf course. We bought this property with 30 lots surveyed complete.