Interviewer: Irene Dodek & Cyril E. Leonoff
ID: So you were impressed with the escalator?
SW: With the escalator and the displays in the store and they had everything, you know, and when we came from Germany they had stuff but it wasn’t displayed so beautifully. It was actually almost immediately after the war, it was only a few years, and Germany was completely destroyed, completely destroyed and so we really didn’t see, and since I left Poland it was many, many years by then and so I liked everything, produce, I was impressed with everything. First of all it was so interesting that people were so easygoing and without any worries, no bad memories no bad experiences except maybe the Depression they went through but you know no cruelty, it was beautiful.
ID: That’s true, no cruelty.
SW: No disasters.
ID: The Canadian experience at least and there was a lot of it was food rationing, sugar rationing, and butter rationing, and so on.
SW: But nobody was going hungry.
ID: Nobody went hungry, of course there were young people lost in the war going to fight for the Allies.
SW: Yes, but they watched it from a distance, we saw dying, we saw dying of our closest friends, beaten up and mishandled and abused and cruelty all around and people who seemed to be friends who turned out to be traitors, those were very disappointing and painful things, but I was all over this now so I liked it so Monday morning I decided to go downtown and buy a hat and so Rose said, “How would you go, I mean you never went alone, you are here only three days.” I said, “Yes I will find my way, I can read and if you can read you have the whole world at the end of your tongue.” So she couldn’t come with me so I went alone and Ishu [Sophie’s husband Isaac Waldman] gave me some money, gave me $30; $30 in that time was a lot of money, a lot of money and I didn’t know the value of the money, the dollar. She told me which bus to take and I took the bus and I said to the bus driver, “Hoodsons Buy.” He looked at me and he said, “Hoodsons Buy.” He probably was a Ukrainian you know, there were lots of Ukrainians, his grandmother would probably say the same, so I sat close to him, next to him and when the Hudson’s Bay approached at the top of his voice he said, “Hoodsons Buy” [laughter] so I took off to Hudson’s Bay and I bought a beautiful hat and paid something like $22 for it when the average hat cost about three or four but that was the most beautiful and I didn’t know I just bought what I liked, I didn’t look at the prices, not because I was so lavish in spending money I just needed a hat. I came home and I gave the change to my husband and he said, “My goodness,” because all we had was about $80 to our name and we had to pay up for the flight and for our passage from the train.
ID: Where did you get the money for your passage, did the Waldmans give you the money to come?
SW: No, no we had money but we paid it up because I worked and he worked, I worked in the dispensary, I think I said I was in charge of the dispensary and he was director of ORT so not much but enough but not enough to come here and make a living so we had to work immediately and pay up these things.
ID: How long did you keep that hat?
SW: I had this hat for about 20 years, it was a beautiful hat as a matter of fact I went to a Hadassah meeting with Rose because there was a special opening luncheon right after Pesach you know to start the season and she invited me to come with her and I was the best dressed woman on the floor, I had a beautiful dress from Germany but we all used to wear hats at that time and I had the most expensive, beautiful hat and I was the best and people just couldn’t believe that this poor girl who came from Germany as a refugee was dressed so nicely, but that was my first experience with ‘Hoodsons Buy.’
JB: Sylvia, where were you born?
SH: I was born in Calcutta.
JB: And when were you born?
JB: Who were the first of your family to come to Canada and why?
SH: We were the only two, my husband and I.
JB: And what’s your husband’s name?
SH: George Augustus Hill.
JB: Okay, and why did you guys come to Canada?
SH: We came after the war and because my husband knew Canada as a child. He came when he was a boy of 15 from England and worked on farms here. And he always loved Canada. So then he went back to England after the war years and it was so drab and so difficult. And I came from a home that was fairly affluent and I didn’t do much work, house work or anything. So he said, “Look, let’s go to Canada. You will love Canada.” And so we came over to Canada.
JB: And where did you come at first?
SH: We came over at a time where England froze our money. 1948. England froze all our money and we came to Canada with 10 pounds. That was all the money we had. And my life really began here. I began to learn what it was to cook, to scrub, to wash. And really began life because before that we always had help.
JB: And did you come straight to Vancouver or?
SH: No, we stopped over at New York because I had relatives there. We visited for a while, borrowed money from my cousin, and then we came straight on to Canada. Very fortunately, very lucky, we met a family—this is interesting—we met a family when the train stopped at Regina. And an old gentleman was coming up to the train to get in. I was very pregnant, I was nine months pregnant. And he saw me standing in the doorway and he said, “Shalom aleichem [Hebrew greeting],” to me. I said, “Aleichem Shalom.” He said, “I knew you were Jewish.”
SH: Just like that, I’d never met this gentleman before. And we started talking. And my husband who is never very far from me ever, he said, “Why not ask the gentleman into the compartment and talk to him rather than standing in the doorway?” So we did. He asked us if we knew anyone here. No. Had a doctor here. No. Relatives here. No. He says, “[Where are] you taking your wife?” So he said, “Now I’m going to telegram my sister in Vancouver and she’s going to meet you.”
JB: Do you remember what her name was?
SH: Yes, Fannie Segall. So Fannie and Peter Segall met us in Vancouver. And right away they came up to us and said, “You’re coming to stay with us.” Hadn’t met them in my life before. Of course my husband he was very, he said, “No I can’t. You don’t know me, and I don’t know you. I can’t just come and live in your house.” And he said, “We’re Jewish we can all live.” But he was rather adamant so we stayed in a hotel. But the very next morning Peter was at the hotel. He said, “Your wife is coming to our doctor.” And they looked after us in the beginning and, because I was soon, one week after I was here my baby was born.
MS: Did you also not have an involvement in 1949 with the redeemed children of Europe who were brought over by Canadian Jewish Congress? Could you tell us something about that?
LZ: Well, that came to be, also that came under as part of my responsibilities, the work of Canadian Jewish Congress and the Jewish Family Service Agency which was a functional part of the Jewish administrative organization so I became involved with the absorption of those children which had come in the same year that I had arrived. They had come some months before I did and had been placed in homes, some that came were actually adopted. But I became directly involved with them too. We organized a club that met to sort of retain the relationship that those youngsters had. They came with fears and with traumatic experiences and so on and they needed a lot of attention and a lot of support and this was given through Jean Rose and her committee and through the staff of the Jewish Family Service agency which about that time was, consisted of Jessie Allman, and so there was quite a bit of involvement with those children and in later years other waves of immigrants that came too.
ID: Rae what’s your full name? Is Rae short for something?
RT: That’s the only name I have is Rachel.
ID: Rachel. And your maiden name was?
RT: Yes, and I was born on a farm in Lipton, [Saskatchewan] which was a Hirsch colony and my mother came over to that colony with four children and a nephew. My father was still in the Russian army.
ID: She came by herself?
RT: She came herself with the four children. My two older brothers and my two older sisters and a nephew, Sam Rabinovitch, whom you must know. And we were given a piece of land, but there was nothing but a shack, a farmhouse, and really I don’t think it was worth living in but it was the best we had. The first thing my mother did was plant a vegetable garden because she had to feed her children. Well, when my father came out of the army he immediately left Russia and he came over with somebody else, I don’t remember, somebody in the family. I think it must have been my uncle [Mr. Greisdorf] who eventually married my mother’s sister. We lived there and then we moved to [Kelliher], Saskatchewan because my father wanted to open up a store.
ID: Before we go onto that, what year were you born?
RT: I was born in 1908.
ID: Okay, so how old were you when you moved to [Kelliher]?
RT: Well, I couldn’t have been more than a couple of years old, maybe less than that, because my father didn’t want to stay on the farm. He wasn’t a farmer. And my youngest brother was born in [Kelliher] and that made us a family of six.
LT: My full name is Leon Isaac Tessler.
ID: And your name in Hebrew would be?
LT: Leib Yitzhak Tessler.
ID: And you had your parents’ names?
LT: My mother’s name was Annie. My father’s name was Israel. He was one of five Tessler brothers. Originally there were five Tessler brothers in Winnipeg. He was the oldest of the five.
ID: Where did they come from Leon?
LT: Kremenets in Russia.
ID: Did your grandparents come out with them?
LT: No. I never met or knew my grandparents.
ID: What year did your parents come?
LT: In 1902.
ID: Directly to Winnipeg?
LT: To Winnipeg, yeah. Pardon me, my father first of all came to the United States to St. Paul where another brother had preceded him and they sent him to a small town in South Dakota, Sioux Falls, South Dakota as he was a tailor and this is where my father learned to speak English beautifully because there was no other Jewish people in this town and he had to learn English. My father spoke English without any accent of any kind and then somehow they heard that there were opportunities in Winnipeg. So my father came and then four other brothers at different times came to Winnipeg.
ID: When did you bring your mother over?
LT: My mother followed much later, she came with one of the brothers…
CL: Your dad, what was his name?
BA: Phil Adelberg.
CL: Phil Adelberg. And he homesteaded in the Peace River. Peace River in BC? Whereabouts?
BA: The BC side, six miles from Dawson Creek going west or six miles east of
CL: When would he have gone there?
BA: Well we left Calgary in the winter of 1913 when I was a child. And we got as far as Athabasca Landing which used to be called Smith Landing and we stayed over the summer waiting for the freeze-up as there was no roads to go into the North Country. The freeze-up came in the fall of 1914 and we went up over the Athabasca River into Lesser Slave and Lesser Bear Lake or what was commonly known at that time as Dundreggan Hill which is a historical route into the North Country. And took up a homestead about six miles west of Dawson Creek or so many miles, I can’t remember south of Pouce Coupe.
CL: What was the instigation for him to go homesteading?
BA: Well, originally my father came from South Africa where he had done some trekking and farming.
CL: I see.
BA: And came to Canada. And my mother’s family were homesteading near Cochrane, Alberta, before the turn of the century like, in the 1890s.
CL: What were your mother’s family [called]?
BA: [Richevskys], we have one living aunt here still. And when my grandfather got killed as a very young man, she [Bernie’s grandmother] moved into Calgary and with her four daughters and opened the only kosher restaurant and delicatessen west of Winnipeg I presume […] Father came out in 19—after the Boer War, he was in the Boer War so he came out about 1903. And for, by which time my mother had moved from the farm back into Calgary with her sisters. And they were married and at that time my father, he was a builder, an engineer and he built streets and streets of houses in the city of Calgary up until 1913 the city went into bankruptcy which, he managed to hang on to enough money when he found 12 Irish Catholic families that came over from Ireland and they were interested in going to the North Country. So we developed this wagon train which you have a picture…
AJ: We had a, we had a synagogue. My grandmother brought a sacred Torah over from Russia with her. And they built a synagogue around the Torah. And we were the only synagogue between us and Regina which was 72 miles away. And people from the, people from the de Hirsh colony came to our synagogue, people in the surrounding towns. There were towns all over, 8, 10, 12 miles apart from each other and many of those people came to our town on the High Holidays. We had the synagogue, we had a rabbi who also acted as a mohel [person in charge of conducting circumcisions], he acted as the…
LR: Shochet [kosher butcher].
AJ: Shochet. He did everything.
LR: Wow. So growing up, I mean, your parents must have been fairly religious to have maintained…
AJ: Yes they were, yes they were.
LR: …everything while they were in such a small town in Canada.
AJ: Yes, that’s right. It was very important to them.
LR: And do they come from an Orthodox background then?
LR: And your father did he have any Jewish education back in the Ukraine, cheder [Jewish elementary school education], or yeshiva [Jewish higher education] or…
AJ: Well he had a Bar Mitzvah, he could read, he could doven [pray], he was certainly at home in a synagogue.
LR: Yeah, and he could read Hebrew.
LR: And spoke Yiddish I’m sure.
LR: Any other languages?
AJ: He spoke Yiddish and Russian.
LR: And Russian. And your mother…
AJ: And of course they learned to speak English, the same thing.
LR: The same thing. And was it difficult to keep kosher I’m guessing probably in such a small town?
AJ: No, well we had this [rabbi].
LR: Right, right and he was local, he lived right in the actual town?
AJ: He lived right in our town.
LR: Oh, that’s wonderful.
AJ: He was supported by the small Jewish community.
LR: Right, right, and so how many people in terms of numbers in the Jewish community were there?
AJ: We were about 12 families that lived in the town.
EL: Now before my brother’s birth in 1910, it must have been 1908—my father came to Canada. He was looking for a job…
ID: What made him go to Canada?
EL: Yes, my mother’s brother Nate Shineman—and I’ll come to him—had migrated and the Grand Trunk Railraod was being built across Canada and general stores were opened up along the tract that the boys went along—the boys made a living selling to the workers, hundreds and thousands of men with fairly good payroll living in these shacks, going along with the building of the railroad and it is part of the construction of Canada. While this was going on they became merchants and they sold them suitcases and suits and brass watches and all the rest of the stuff. Nate Shineman, who was the elder brother of my mother who died last year at the age of 99 in Jerusalem, came out to Prince Rupert and made his way along the Grand Trunk to Rupert. My father, I guess started the same pattern and on route they went across Canada. The train stopped every so often, you could get out, look around, buy a sandwich or spend three or four hours there while they fix the train up—somewhere outside of Toronto was a sign up that Silverman, a chap by the name of Silverman, Sudbury, where the nickel strike had just been made, international nickel. They needed a man there of artistic ability—they needed a man there who could write signs on windows. And being of artistic ability he took that job and worked for Silverman who was one of the known characters of that time. My father encountered the fact that some fellows came in with, it was a mining area, and some fellow came in with a claim and offered to sell him part of it but he wouldn’t have anything to do with mining—that was gambling and he said that the claims that were offered to him or parts that were offered to him are now the International Nickel Mines of Sudbury. So history has a way of getting hold of you.
He made his way from there to old Hazelton which was on route to the Grand Trunk and he told stories of sleeping in tents there in 30 to 40 below zero and being able to get up in the morning and barely move—taking a match between two frozen hands and rubbing the damn thing to start a fire. Ant that was part of a living at that time—it was tent and shack living with great hardships—but these were all young men.
JB: And did they come to BC right away or did they…?
BH: Yes, yes they came straight to BC.
JB: Okay, do you remember when that was?
BH: Of course. It was in September of 1923. About three, four days before Rosh Hashanah of that year.
JB: And why did they come?
BH: Why? Because of the revolution in Russia. And my father was a little bit considered of a capitalist and that’s not very good according to the Reds, you know? So there was a sort of an underground railroad, like you know in the States when the Americans had the underground railroad for the slaves, there was that kind of thing going on out of Russia where especially Jewish people were fleeing and that’s how we got out.
JB: Did you come to Vancouver?
BH: We came directly to—well we were met, when we docked at Halifax, we were met by a Jewish organization, HIAS I believe it was, I don’t know if you know of HIAS, it’s the Hebrew something Aid Society I forget but and, oh, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and, “Why don’t you stay in Montreal and Toronto and Winnipeg, the big Jewish centres?” And my father said he wanted to get as far away from Russia as he possibly could, so where could he go? And they said, “Well you can go all the way to the West Coast.” As it turns out, of course, you realize we are much closer to Russia than we would have been on the East Coast but that’s another story. And that’s why we came here, knowing nobody, having no relatives, no personal connections.
PH: We left at night and woke up next morning, we were going in a convoy of 20 or 30 other boats and on our boat itself we had a very important load of about 50 Air Force officers who completed tours of duty in the Battle of Britain and they were going to Canada to open aviation schools for the members of the Commonwealth. In addition there were about 900 enlisted men, Air Force as well as Navy, going to Canada to take over certain boats, liberty ships and so on. We had about 30 or 40 civilians, some diplomats, two gentlemen from Vancouver—a sales manager from H.R. McMillan and a sales manager for the Seaboard Lumber Sales, who were just returning from England [after] negotiating business with British timber companies,that was our first introduction to the lumber industry in Vancouver.
Also on the boat was a Canadian lady married to a British commodore with two small girls returning to Montreal to spend the duration of the war with her parents. On the boat we noticed the atmosphere was very pleasant, however we left on Friday night from Liverpool but on Monday when we woke up we found that we were outside the convoy already on our own going through but at the same time we felt there was some tension developing, notwithstanding of the blackout—the crew were doubling the blackout, putting lights out and getting ready for extreme conditions—and that night we have seen explosions and battle going in, on the horizon. It turned out later as we found out we were escorted by a plane from the Scharnhorst battleship and this is why there was such tension, also the boat was going at the highest speed ever obtained from that boat, over 23 knots, and it was rolling from one side to another like crazy so many people got sick.
On the boat also the Canadian lady, wife of the commodore, found out that my wife is a concert pianist and requested if she would give a concert for all the enlisted men who had left their families and so on and needed some moral and cultural support. My wife agreed provided that she could practice and she was allowed to practice in the dining room in the off hours and she performed a concert first for the enlisted men and the second night she performed for the officers and other people in first class. I mention that because it was the first time my wife was faced with the reaction of people whistling, whistling in Europe is usually like throwing tomatoes [laughs] and she was terribly upset, it took a long time before some of the people managed to convince her that it was appreciation and not bad ones [laughter] I think of that sometimes.
RS: Do you remember what she played?
PH: No I don’t. [Inaudible chatter]. There was some Chopin as well, Debussy‘s ‘Clair de Lune’, and some other stuff I don’t remember now. By the way, when we arrived to Canada we discovered that the attack we watched on the horizon on that Monday night was an attack by Scharnhorst which attacked a convoy going in the opposite direction to England and a small boat with one gun, Jervis Bay, sacrificed themselves by attacking Scharnhorst and giving time for the other boats to disperse and run away. Naturally the Jervis Bay was sunk very quickly.