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Phillip Weiss


By Rhonda Spivak, October 1, 2009

Phillip Weiss, a survivor who educated thousands of  school children in the province about the Holocaust by sharing his painful personal experiences,  died September 3, 2008 at the age of 86.

At his funeral, in the packed Shaarey Zedek synagogue,  he was referred to by Rabbi Alan Green, and  Rabbi Shalom Rappaport, as the “Elie Weisel of Winnipeg.”  

His younger brother Leo, who, unlike Weiss, was spared the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps called him  “ a sensitive soul,” and “an unrelenting champion of those who could not speak for themselves.”  

 “ He saw that his mission as a survivor of the Holcaust was to bear witness. …He [Weiss]led the campaign to  place  a Holocaust memorial [ statute] on the grounds of the Manitoba Legislative Building,” said his son in-law, Brian Schwartz. 

“This  was the first monument of its kind ever erected on public on property in Canada,” said his daughter Francie Winograd. 

Weiss was 15 and living at his parent's home in Drohobycz, Poland, when the Nazis seized him and put him in his first concentration camp.  He was imprisoned in three labour camps and two concentrations camps during the Second World War.

The retired award winning designer and craftsman of furniture  spoke  about the Holocaust to high schools and universities in the city and across the province.  Weiss also gave free screenings of the movie Schindler's List for thousands of children.  

He was able to connect to thousands of students, leaving many in tears after they heard his personal story.

He also provided financial assistance to students in the Asper Foundation Holocaust and Human Rights program, which sends youth to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. 

Weiss was also given an honourary doctorate of laws from the University of Winnipeg in 2003, for his life's work in educating young people about the Holocaust.
There were  two numbers Weiss said he never forgot. One was the number the Nazis tattooed on him – 87226. The other number was May 5, 1945, the day American troops liberated the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria where he was being held.

In  2007,  at the age of 85, Weiss self-published a book on his experiences in the Holocaust titled Humanity in Doubt.   Weiss’s “will and endurance” saw that this project was completed before he died, said Schwartz. 

In 2004, Weiss was presented with the Negev Award in appreciation for his contribution to Holocaust education, the Winnipeg community and the State of Israel.

 “On many occasions he [Weiss] rose to say kaddish for those who had no relatives,”  Schwartz  recalled.  “He was a loyal son of his God and his people,”  a  courageous, resilient man “who remained committed to his  mission [to bear witness].”

“He was able to transform the darkness of the Holocaust into light” said Rabbi Green. 

At the end of the war, Weiss was reunited with his parents, Solomon and Celia, his sister Erna and brother Leo, all of whom survived the Holocaust. Weiss’s family was “one of the few Polish Jewish families to survive [the war] in tact,” said Rabbi Green.

For several years Weiss -- like many Holocaust survivors -- didn't talk about his experiences.  “He kept the worst of all of his memories within him-close to his heart,” said Schwartz.

As Lindor Reynolds, columnist in the Winnipeg Free Press, wrote of Weiss on  Sept 6, after his death “This was a real man.  This was a survivor determined not to be silenced. Throughout his life through his determination and his courage, Philip Weiss ensured the terrible facts and lessons of the Holocaust would not be forgotten.  Now that he’s gone, it’s imperative that history and his example not be forgotten.”

In 2004, Weiss was presented with the Negev Award in appreciation of his contribution to Holocaust education, the Winnipeg community and the State of Israel.
Besides two daughters, Weiss is survived by seven grandchildren, and his sister and brother. He was predeceased by his wife, Gertrude, and daughter Shelley.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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