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Arnold Frieman

Community Leader, Family Man, Philanthropist, and Holocaust Survivor Arnold Frieman Passes

by Shelley Robertson posted here April 9, 2019

Arnold Frieman — family man, philanthropist, businessman and Holocaust survivor  —died peacefully on Friday, April 6, 2019, surrounded by his family.

            Arnold is survived by his adored wife of 58 years, Myra — the love of his life, partner and advocate — and their beloved daughters and their husbands, Nona and Ashley Leibl and Gina and Jea Guertin. He also leaves his cherished grandchildren Marli Leibl and Josh Vickar, Lexi Leibl, Benji Leibl, Mara and Benji Ostrove, Cayli Weinberg and Sara and Warren Gardiner. He was thrilled to welcome into his family his cherished great-grandchildren Emerson and Brooks Vickar and Cameron Ostrove. He also leaves his sister, Elizabeth Samuel, his sister-in-law, Rita Silver, his nieces and nephews and many friends.

            Arnold’s family is his legacy — and his revenge against the murderous tyranny of Hitler’s Nazis.

            Arnold was born in Hungary in 1928, one of six children in a tight-knit Orthodox Jewish family whose happy life was destroyed by the Holocaust. He went to a Jewish elementary school, but his town lacked a Jewish secondary school and his parents sent him to relatives in Budapest for further education. He was there when he heard that Jews outside Budapest were being rounded up and shipped out of the country. To help save his family, he headed home, but by the time he arrived his family was gone. Everyone — his mother, father, two brothers, three sisters and his maternal grandfather — had been deported to Auschwitz. 

            As a teenager, alone, Arnold survived an odyssey of flight, capture, forced labour, prisoner-of-war camp and miraculous escape across four countries. After the war he was selected for transfer from a displaced persons’ camp near Bergen-Belsen to Norway, where he received medical care, returned to school and eventually studied electronics. In 1947 he was recruited to fight in the Israeli War of Independence. In the Israeli Air Force he put his electronics training to use and — another miracle —discovered that two of his sisters, Elizabeth and Edith, had survived Auschwitz and were living in the nascent Jewish state. Despite their happy reunion, at the end of 1949 he returned to Norway.

            In 1951 Arnold’s desire to see imagined worlds drew him across the Atlantic Ocean to Canada. He was on his way to an arranged job in Windsor, Ont., but on a whim headed for Winnipeg — where he hoped to find the Wild West he had fallen in love with as a child through the movies. He arrived in Winnipeg in May 1951 penniless, alone and knowing four languages, none of them English.

            He found a job and new friends, one of whom, Minnie Heft, encouraged him to pursue a university education. He hesitated, fearing that poor English and a lack of money would stand in his way, but he passed the entrance exam. With a $1,000 gift from Mrs. Heft, he was able to start a business to finance his studies: He fixed and re-sold car radios purchased from wrecking yards.

            Arnold’s four years at the University of Manitoba were transformative. He had been a wild teenager and young adult, but the university experience stabilized him. Arnold graduated in 1960 with a bachelor of arts degree and a renewed belief in possibilities — as well as the love of Myra Thompson, whom he had met on her 18th birthday at a Hillel House debate he was moderating. Seven months later they were married. Their daughter Nona was born a year later, their daughter Gina 17 months after that.

            Persuaded to go into business by Myra, Arnold in 1962 bought a two-person television sales and service shop from which they also sold car radios and the hot new thing — television sets. Within 12 years, the shop had been transformed into Advance Electronics, a multi-million-dollar business with 170 employees. It remains the largest independently owned retail and professional electronics stores in Western Canada.

            One of the great joys of Arnold’s success was his ability to give back to the community. He and Myra have supported nearly 50 provincial, national and international organizations and institutions. They range from iconic arts groups, such as the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and Manitoba Opera, to small, grassroots causes. Among the beneficiaries of his generosity was the premiere of I Believe, a Holocaust oratorio that helps people everywhere appreciate the importance of peace and justice. He was a devoted supporter of Israel and his many contributions to his alma mater include support for the University of Manitoba-University of Szeged Partnership, which funds exchanges between Hungarian and Manitoban scholars. Arnold’s inclusive style of philanthropy encouraged creativity, kindness and many of the other qualities that he treasured in his adopted home.

            Over the years, his achievements have been recognized with numerous honours, most notably his induction into the Order of Manitoba in 2006 and the awarding of an honorary doctor of laws degree in 2018 by the University of Manitoba, which cited him as an exceptional global citizen and builder of his community.

            A funeral was held on Monday, April 8, 2019, at Shaarey Zedek Synagogue. Arnold’s dear friend Rabbi Alan Green, the former senior rabbi at Congregation Shaarey Zedek, returned from Iowa to deliver the eulogy. Burial was at Shaarey Zedek Cemetery.

            Pallbearers were Ashley Leibl, Jea Guertin, Norman Silver, Shane Silver, Michael Silver, Josh Vickar and Benji Ostrove. Honorary pallbearers were Peter Robertson, Robby Olynik, Steve Samuel and Oded Samuel.

            Memorial donations may be made to the Jewish National Fund or the Benji Leibl Special Needs Fund through the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

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