JHSBC Oral History Collection
KK: When I was 20 I had to go to the army, that was the regulations for the tsar’s time. And it was in that year, in 1914, that was a matter of…like talking that a war would break out pretty soon. So I decided either to go to the army or better go either to United States or Canada. And I left my wife and child and I went to Canada because my mother had a brother in Montreal. To make this story short I would like to say that coming to Montreal I…went to, to my uncle. It was the first day of Pesach. I arrived in Montreal from Halifax. My uncle took me to the shul at Yontif. And introduced me to the Rabbi Garber. He was the chief rabbi in Montreal and I was very much acquainted…At that time my voice was so good I [inaudible], from time to time. And delighted me the way I doven [Yiddish for pray] for Yontif. So one time the Rabbi Garber, Simcha Garber he asked me what I was going to do. Well, I said I didn’t decided yet but, you know, I had something to do. He suggested to me, “You are a yeshiva bocher [Yiddish for young student], scholarly person, and you could sing. I would advise you…How’s about to have some Hebrew lessons, to give Hebrew lessons…”
MF: So he didn’t suggest that you become a cantor? When you said you were a dovening that means in English you were a cantor.
KK: No, not really that. Not a cantor but really a teacher.
MF: A teacher.
KK: A teacher. To take Hebrew and to teach Hebrew. After Pesach he says, “First I’ll give you my two eyniklekh…
KK: Grandchildren. And to give them lessons. And his grandchildren was one of the really famous people in Montreal at that time, Rosenberg, Greenberg, and some others. They had a big family. Even at present time, his son, Garber, was the president of the Congress, of the Jewish Congress, Rosenberg is. And I was, I succeeded in having so many lessons that was really impossible for me to handle them all. I went over to the board of education at the Talmud Torah to inquire if I could change instead of to give lessons to go around to one place to another during the winter time it was very hard and cold, so they asked me to come over to the Talmud Torah, and I was then a teacher of the Talmud Torah in Montreal. Two years later I became principal of the Talmud Torah in Montreal.
Interviewer: Jean Gerber & Cyril E. Leonoff
JW: So it was after my second year of university here that I decided to go into medicine which made my mother and father very happy.
CL: Did this school have a pre-med at that time?
JW: No, no. No, couldn’t take any…I stayed here ‘til the end of my second year then I tried to get some pre-med and they had nothing here. They…In those days you had to have the equivalent of high school Latin to get into medical school. And I hadn’t taken Latin, I had taken French in high school. Only two schools in Canada that had a preliminary course in Latin which was the equivalent of high school Latin; one was University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon and the other was Halifax, Dalhousie. So Saskatoon, I’d come from there so I went back to Saskatoon and took my pre-med there. And then I got into the University of Toronto Medical School.
JG: Now these were days towards the end of the Depression beginning of World War II when Jews did not enter medical school so easily.
JW: No, very difficult.
JG: How did you overcome this quota system?
JW: I just got very good marks. Didn’t get such high marks at the University of British Columbia. I was too busy fooling around, having a good time. But once I decided to go into medical school, my final year in my pre-med year I really got very good marks.
JG: Were there other Jewish—I guess at that time it would have been mostly boys, some girls maybe—trying to get in?
JW: Out of 120 in our class there were five girls. That’s all.
JG: So they would have had to be very good.
JW: They were very good and they were nice girls.
JG: Any other Jews went into medical school with you?
JW: Yes, yes, there were a few, not many. The University of Toronto strangely enough, although the city was an anti-Semitic city, and there many of the doctors were personally anti-Semitic and showed it, the policy of the school wasn’t that bad. I had difficulty finding a place to stay because many houses had ‘restricted’ signs on them. And restricted didn’t mean blacks because there were no blacks, restricted meant there were no Jews allowed. So I had difficulty finding a place to live.
JG: Where did you finally settle?
JW: Well, when I went to Toronto I stayed at the YMCA which is right near the University of Toronto in Toronto. And I stayed there, it was a dollar a day I remember. And I wandered around looking for a place. The university had lists of places that you could go to board and room. I wandered around to a lot of these places and a lot of them had restricted signs on them. And I was getting very discouraged.
I was in swimming one day, you know, at the Y, you go swimming with no clothes on, the YMCA in those days. So I see another guy swimming, he looked Jewish to me.
JW: So I got talking to him and I was telling him my problems and he turned out to be a medical student also and living in Toronto. And he says, “Well,” he said, “look, I’ve got a place for you to live.” He says, “There’s a Jewish medical fraternity.” He says, “Come and live at our place.” So I lived there for five years, cost $35 a month.
JG: What was the name of the fraternity?
JW: Phi Delta Epsilon and that is an international, Jewish—only Jewish students…
LK: In the days I went to university which was 1939 to ’42 there was a Jewish fraternity on the campus. It was small in number but we, there were only about a dozen or fifteen at the most Jewish boys that belonged to this. It was called Kappa Theta Rho and I can remember the names of some of the people who belonged during those days. There was Alvin Narod was the president when I joined.
EN: Oh yes.
LK: And there was, there, Harold [Rome], there was…Harry Weiner, Ed Gross, Edward Gross. Ed won the Governor General’s gold medal on the graduating class in the year we graduated in ’42.
EN: In what field?
LK: In, it was, for the whole university, the top grad in the university. He was in arts. He eventually went on to become a professor of psychology and spent many years at the University of Washington. And then when he, when he retired from that job he went back and became, went into law and became a law professor.
LK: Strangely enough Ed was just recently in Vancouver and he phoned me, we had a chat on the phone.
EN: Oh, how interesting.
LK: Yeah. And who else remembers? Oh, Ralph James was a member of Kappa Theta Rho and Irving Koenigsberg, and…I don’t know who else.
EN: But that’s very good.
LK: Anyhow, Kappa Theta Rho was a local fraternity and we were affiliated with a national Zeta Beta Tau and eventually the year after, the year I graduated we finally became full-fledged members of Zeta Beta Tau.
EN: And is that fraternity still active on the campus today?
LK: No, I don’t know what happened. During the intervening years they went through some big years, they became very big on the campus, they had a fraternity house. And then I think all fraternities went into kind of an eclipse and they disappeared or they…Anyway, I don’t know whatever came of it, and there is now a new resurgence and my grandson is a member of the new Jewish fraternity on the campus [laughs].
HS: Other things like big presents like my mom and dad would go away and come back and Audrey and I were each given an English bike, a Raleigh, and they were beautiful.
HW: I was always a good, good athlete. When, in the early years, when we used to go to the rink in Winnipeg. Do you know Winnipeg at all?
CL: Oh yeah, born in Winnipeg, brought up in Winnipeg.
HW: Oh yes, well, you know the Drewery’s? Yeah, right by Drewery, alongside of the brewery. We used to go there Saturday night, all the Jewish crowd at that time. We’d all skate together. The Weidmans, the Wodlingers, the Zimmermans, the whole flock. And we’d skate there until whatever time, 11, 11:30 and about every three or four weeks we’d have a hockey game between the Weidmans and the Wodlingers. We had a team each.
CL: [There was enough of you].
HW: We had to bring in one boy only from Selkirk that was one of Sam Wodlinger’s, he was a goalkeeper for the Selkirk team. He used to come and play goal for us. Weidmans had a full compliment. We used to play…and all these Jewish people stayed to see these games, you know, after the skating time was over we’d take over the ice and have a game.
Judy Zaitzow was interviewed with her sister Dorothy Grad and Michael Zaitzow.
DG: Yeah, let me go back a little bit to our growing up years. Some of the activities that we did that which we haven’t talked about. Lillian and Judy were both excellent tennis players. Judy to this day still plays tennis. She never put her tennis racquet down. I put mine down and picked it up again at age 40 and played for about 15 years until I wrecked a knee. But Judy has carried on doing that. But I think these are sort of important activities that sort of carry on. And there’s a core of people who have carried on. I know some people sort of picked it up later on.
JZ: But we were interested in tennis because our mother was a tennis player.
JZ: And she got to the city finals in about 1912 or something so I mean, you know, that’s how we picked it up. But I used to, that was another activity we used to do in Stanley Park. They boys, we’d go down and play tennis with the boys when we were growing up.
DG: Yeah, yeah, the boys were good tennis players.
JZ: You know like Norman Archek and…
DG: Will Becker.
JZ: Will Becker who built western indoor tennis, I mean, you know, and he to this day plays brilliant and one of his kids was on the tour. And…Norman and who else played? Izzy Diamond played, we all played. I mean, we all went and played tennis when we were kids and I just never stopped. I stopped for about five years while I had children.
DB: I think we bring to the Jewish calendar a lot of new spirit. We celebrate at home, everything. You know, the Jewish holidays that people are celebrating here or even Jewish holidays that people are not celebrating here. Everything is getting special attention in our house. When we do, you know, the Seder it’s from beginning ‘til end. Again, like I mentioned in my family we bring in a lot of extra reading into the Seder table, we bring a lot of songs. We, the table is always full with people. And the last few years it’s basically with friends. And we try to give the warmth and the beautiful spirit of the Jewish tradition to our children, so I go above and beyond the call of duty of just celebrating. I celebrate it with meanings. I celebrate it with joy. I celebrate it with all the little details that I can bring into the, whatever ceremony it is. In Rosh Hashanah for example, you know, I try every year to give something new to every member that sit around the table. Just a little gift, it can be for a dollar or a $1.25 but something symbolic to celebrate something new. And you know, we sing a lot. Some of our children play musical instruments or they always help us with music and whatever. Nice, you know.
You see, we just had Tu Bishvat, so Tu Bishvat, you know, I will not go to plant a tree because I don’t, I cannot do to it here. In Israel I’ve done it. But for dessert the same night I will give some dried fruit and we will discuss it and we will talk about it. And basically what we discuss about is the recollection from Israel celebrating those days. But you know what, now my three children are basically not at home. And it’s not the same with me and Michael. It’s not the same even the Shabbat, you know, unfortunately. But whenever we try to celebrate, we try to do and we try to bring the beautiful spirituality behind our Jewish calendar.
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.
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.