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by Rhonda Spivak, October 26, 2011

Thirty-one new names were added this year to the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba’s Endowment Book of life, at a signing ceremony that was attended by over 325 people held at the Shaarey Zedek synagogue.
The thirty one signers made a promise to leave a bequest to the Jewish Foundation and at the same time had their family stories inscribed in the Book of Life.
As Steve Kroft, President of the Jewish Foundation told the crowd that six of the signers, including himself are under the age of 45, with Richard Tapper, age34, being the youngest signer ever. Kroft suggested he had to sign now in order to still fit in the under 45 category.
As Kroft said, “The Jewish Foundation has a capital base of 73 million” and some 30% of the Jewish Foundation’s capital can be attributed to realized bequests, many of them promises through the Endowment Book of Life program.
Karyn Lazareck, who has served as a board member of the Jewish Foundation, and Isaac Gotfried, a Holocaust survivor, were called upon to present their stories.
Lazareck told the story of “my beloved grandparents” on her mother’s side, Anne and Joe Levin.
“My mother Ruth Neiman and my Aunt Selma Shearer are the two daughters of Anne and Joe and I am the eldest of five granddaughters. Ruth was always the family historian, but sadly is no longer able to fulfill that role. She has Alzheimer’s disease. In retrospect, we should have taken the initiative and asked her to record an oral history while still in the early stages. Our family underestimated how significant the loss of her memory would be to all of us.
“Fortunately, Selma was and still is the family archivist having collected a treasure trove of family memorabilia including photographs, important certificates and even the ship’s manifest documenting my grandfather’s arrival at Ellis Island. By serendipity and good fortune, 4 of the 5 Levin granddaughters were able to meet last summer. We convened around Selma’s kitchen table with the goal of creating a synopsis of our grandparents’ lives. Each one of us came to the table with particular memories and perspectives viewed from our unique place in the family lineage. What I never could have anticipated was what a magical evening it would turn out to be. Through our collective reminiscence it was as it Anne and Joe were there, present once again, a young couple starting out with nothing more than hopes and dreams.
From the perspective of adults, we, their grandchildren had the pleasure of imagining Anne and Joe as they must have been at 21, with their whole future ahead of them. It was gratifying to recognize how much of their legacy was passed on to each one of us. It was the experience of coming together to tell their story that gave us a greater appreciation of our shared history and a stronger sense of connectedness both to them and to each other.
The process of creating our Endowment Book of Life story served to remind us of who we are, where we came from, and the importance of family.”
In recording her grandparent’s story, Lazareck wrote “Joe and Anne married on August 10, 1919. She would often joke that he gave her an engagement ring “with a stone smaller than a mustard seed”. At the time, Joe was working with his father on the family farm and Anne was working in the notions (buttons and ribbons) department at Eaton’s. Although it was well known that Eaton’s did not hire Jews, Anne had managed to land employment there as a result of her non-Semitic looks and name. Upon marrying, the newlyweds moved to Rossburn, where Joe had found a job working in Mendel Peikoff’s general store.
Isaac Gotfried, received a standing ovation after re-telling his story of survival, one filled with horror and pain, that visibly moved the audience.
Since 1992, Gotfried has shared his message through hundreds of visits to high schools and community groups. I pray that my story will resonate with the people I reach—especially the youth—and that all people will pursue peace and brotherhood.
Godfriend, who was born in Czestochowa, Poland, in 1925, said:
“My teen years were interrupted dramatically by the German invasion of Poland. Our town was overtaken by the Nazis on the third day of the war. Shortly after the fall of Sosnoviec, I recall witnessing the shooting of the town’s teachers, lawyers, union leaders, and others whom were feared by the army as people who might organize a revolt. My brother and I were among those commanded to bury the corpses.
“Then came the yellow Stars of David and the ration cards. The war had hit home and it was clear that life would never be the same for Europe, for Jews, or for me.
“After working in a factory for four months, I was shipped to the Gross-Rosenslave labour camp. The labourers were overseen by soldiers; the sounds of their barking German Shepherd dogs haunted me for years. We marched to and from our worksites and laboured 12 hours a day, surviving on artificial coffee, small chunks of bread, and cabbage or beet soup. A good day meant a spoonful of marmalade at breakfast and a sliver of potato in the evening soup.
Conditions were terrible at Gross-Rosen, but not as bad as they were in Buchenwald, the concentration camp where my 2,000 fellow prisoners and I were ultimately sent. On the very crowded train to Buchenwald, some passengers threw Jews out the windows of the cattle cars to make more room. I saved my life by praying out loud in Polish, as I learned to do in elementary school.
“Upon arrival at Buchenwald, the SS captain greeted us by asking one of his Capo men to pull a prisoner out of line and
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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