(L-R Front) Honourees: Rachel Piuti, Manya & Herschel Wise, Luba Drewnowsky, Maya Toivis, Zenia Rybowski, Alex Levin.
(L-R Middle) Honourees: Herman Perl, Ora Markstein, David Rybowski, Gertie Gotlieb, Max Eisen, Itzhak Pilc;
MPP York Centre, Chair, Investment and Trade Advisory Council, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Economic Development and Trade (Investment Attraction and Trade) Monte Kwinter; the Hon. Premier Dalton McGuinty.
(L-R Back) Executive Director, Canadian Society for Yad Vashem Yaron Ashkenazi; Consul General of Israel to Toronto Amir R. Gissin; National Chair, Canadian Society for Yad Vashem Fran Sonshine; Honourees Syma & David Forberg, Joseph Peretz; Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, the Hon. Dr. Eric Hoskins; Honourees Leslie Meisels, Seymour Zweig.
TORONTO, April 27, 2010 – Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, with the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, honoured survivors of the Holocaust in the presence of Israel’s Consul General to Toronto Amir R. Gissin, paying tribute to 18 of those who have contributed significantly to their communities on April 26/10.
Said Fran Sonshine, National Chair, Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, “For the seventh year, Premier McGuinty graciously lent his support, time and the government’s cooperation, as he conferred upon specially-nominated Holocaust survivors a rare and distinguished honour recognizing Ontario Holocaust Survivors’ Outstanding Achievements and Contributions to the Province of Ontario.”
The 18 Ontario-based Survivors’ stories cover a range of captivating and engaging accounts of incredible survival, overcoming modern history’s darkest epoch to rebuild their lives in a new country with resourcefulness, resilience and courageous determination.
“In a fitting metaphor, 18 is the Hebrew numerological equivalent to the word chai, meaning life – as this extraordinary award acknowledges 18 honorees’ miraculous survival and their exceptional contributions to others’ lives,” she added.
The Holocaust survivors honoured: Luba Drewnowsky; Max Eisen; Syma and David Forberg; Gertie Gotlieb; Alexander Levin; Ora Markstein; Leslie Meisels; Joseph Peretz; Herman Perl, Itzhak Pilc; Rachel Piuti; David and Zenia Rybowski; Maia Toivis; Herschel and Manya Wise; and Seymour Zweig. Brief biographies below.
Premier McGuinty, with the Hon. Dr. Eric Hoskins, Ontario Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and Monte Kwinter, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Economic Development and Trade (Investment Attraction and Trade) MPP York Centre presented scrolls of recognition to the 18 Holocaust Survivors, who immigrated to and built new lives in Ontario. All honourees were recognized for having endowed the province with their many successful endeavours in family life, culture, business, community affairs and/or politics. They also demonstrated a commitment to Holocaust education, passing the torch of remembrance to future generations.
In addition, Israel’s Consul General to Toronto Amir R. Gissin, delivered greetings on behalf of the State of Israel. He said, “Israel was founded by the strength of pioneers, among them those that fled from the Holocaust. It is this strength for renewal which is embodied by the Holocaust Survivors we honour, and which is emblematic of the strength of the Jewish nation and the Jewish State as a whole.”
Added Executive Director of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem Yaron Ashkenazi, “We are extremely proud to recognize these Survivors who all have unique stories and have made unique contributions. It is a great privilege and honour to be a part of this outstanding event with the Premier paying tribute to those who collectively represent how mankind can bring a tremendous amount of light to the world, despite a past of darkness.
18 Holocaust Survivors Biographies
Luba Drewnowsky – Luba was born in Lodz, Poland in 1924. When the Lodz ghetto was evacuated she and her family were sent to Auschwitz. Miraculously, she and her sister were spared from the gas chambers when an SS doctor took them away in a call for those skilled and strong enough to work. Later, she was a slave labourer in an ammunition factory. She is a founder of the Lodzer Society, which evolved into the Lodzer synagogue. Today, she speaks at a number of schools – Jewish and non-Jewish – about the Shoah. She has also volunteered her time with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health assisting people with psychological problems. Luba has 2 children, 6 grandchildren, and 3 great grandchildren.
Max T. Eisen – Max was born in Moldava, Czechoslovakia in 1929. A survivor of Auschwitz and three other death camps, his entire immediate family including three siblings and his distant relatives perished. During the infamous death march, he was fortunate to have found a discarded paper cement bag which he wore under a flimsy shirt to protect himself from freezing. He arrived in Toronto in 1949 and owned his own manufacturing company in 1964, eventually employing 65 people. In 1991, he began speaking to groups about the Shoah, including schools and interviews, averaging 80 presentations a year. In 2007, he was presented the Tikun Olam Award from Elie Weisel, under the auspices of V’Ahavta. Max has 2 sons, 2 granddaughters, and a 15 month old great grandchild.
Syma and David Forberg – Syma was born in Opatow, a shtetl town in Poland in 1924, and was the only survivor of the Shoah in her family. David was born in Czestochowa, Poland, in 1922. Syma and David met in the Polish death camp of Chensachowa. After the war Syma learned English on her own by learning from her children and reading newspapers. After three years in a Displaced Persons camp, Syma and David boarded a boat for Canada with their two children. Syma and David began an upholstery business that became the second largest in Canada, Star Chrome Mfg. Ltd., which they ran for more than 30 years, employing approximately 90 people. They are involved in fundraising for a variety of charities, including UJA, Reena, Alzheimer’s, Baycrest and others. They have 4 children, 10 grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren.
Gertie (Gitla) Gotlieb – Gertie was born in 1920 in Stopnica, Poland. Gertie and her sister Mania were the sole survivors of their family. Gertie worked 18-hour days as a slave labourer in munitions factories and was sent to several death camps. She was liberated by the Russians near Leipzig, Germany, in 1945 while on a 38-day death march. Following the war, she traded in leather to make boots and shoes. During her younger years she was active in the Pioneer Women’s organization and a member of Hadassah Wizo. She is today a member of the Stopnica Society, bringing awareness to others about the Shoah. Gertie has 10 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren. Gertie has 3 children, 10 grandchildren, and 4 great grandchildren.
Alexander Levin – Alex was born in 1932 in Rokitno, Poland. He survived the Rokitno ghetto massacre, where his parents and younger brother were murdered. He escaped with his other brother into the forest and lived in a cave for more than a year. After a year in the woods, he and 20 other Jews also in hiding survived by stealing from farms, eating food in the wild and improvising footwear. Two of their group died from malnutrition and hypothermia. Upon liberation, he joined the Red Army in the field hospital, helping in the pharmacy and mailroom. In 1975 he immigrated to Toronto alone, and was joined by his family five years later. Alex speaks to thousands of students each year about the Shoah and has had his memoirs published by the Azrieli Foundation. Alex has 1 daughter and 2 grandchildren.
Ora Markstein – Ora was born in Rakospalota, Hungary, in 1924. She survived Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen, became sick with typhoid and was near death. Ten days after the war, Ora and her husband barely scraped together a prayer quorum amongst her town’s survivors, and were married. The couple left Hungary in 1946 on an illegal transport headed to Germany. Today she is an artist and sculptor whose work has been displayed around the world. For more than twenty years she has been involved in Holocaust education with various schools in her region. Ora’s artwork had one of the largest attendances at the Hamilton Art Museum. Ora is blessed with a son.
Leslie Meisels – Leslie was born in Nadudvar, Hungary in 1927. He survived slave labour at Auschwitz, Theresienstadt and Bergen Belsen. He fled Hungary in 1956 and landed in Toronto in 1967. With his two brothers, they built a successful business, FGL Precision Works Ltd, a world leader in structural foam mould, employing about 50 people of all ethnic backgrounds. They won awards for producing the spiral playground slide, seen worldwide. Leslie has devoted much time to Holocaust education, including documenting his experiences as part of Spielberg’s Shoah program. He is also an active member of the Holocaust Fund Advisory Committee for the Circle of Care, helping to allocate available funds to survivors in need. Leslie has 2 children and 4 grandchildren.
Joseph Peretz – Joseph was born in Belgium in 1921. Prior to the Shoah, he was a diamond cleaver and a furrier. He was in a Nazi labour camp for nearly two years, and escaped en route to Auschwitz. He found his way to France to rescue his sweetheart, Josie, who was living in a Catholic home under an assumed identity. In Canada, Joseph worked in the real estate business and was active in his synagogue, Temple Sinai. In his retirement, Joseph has authored two Holocaust related books, has spoken at many schools, and has been involved in Holocaust education. Joseph has 1 daughter, 2 grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren.
Herschel Perl – Herschel was born in Transylvania, Romania, and spent the war years in Esperachen concentration camp. He lost all his siblings- 5 brothers and sisters and his mother to the Holocaust. Upon liberation he went to Brussels, where he worked as a diamond cleaver. Mr. Perl came to Canada in 1950 with nothing. In Toronto, he had trouble settling into a job because he insisted on keeping the Sabbath. Finally, in 1954, he opened a small kosher butcher shop at Bloor and Euclid. He was the first in Ontario to sell meat and chicken already koshered. The company he founded, H. Perl Products, became one of the major Canadian suppliers of kosher deli products and the most successful kosher meat store in Canada. Mr. Perl has documented his experiences as part of Spielberg’s Shoah program and is active in his synagogue, Yisodei Hatorah. He has 6 children, 26 grandchildren and 14 great grandchildren.
Itzhak Pilc – Itzhak was born in Dabrowa Gornicza, Poland, the youngest of 11 children. Tragically, only Itzhak and four of his siblings survived. From the Shrodula ghetto, Itzhak was taken by the Nazis to work as a slave labourer to fix boots. For a time, he found refuge in the home of a Righteous Gentile. Eventually, he was turned in by the family’s son. On the run for most of the war, he and his family were taken to Auschwitz after evading capture for nearly five years. His family moved to Toronto in 1961, soon becoming a partner in Stroli’s Strictly Kosher Foods – which later became one of the largest kosher meat stores in Toronto. He has recorded his Holocaust experiences for Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation, and is active in his synagogue, Beth Tikvah. Itzhak has 3 children and 6 grandchildren.
Rachel Piuti – Rachel was born in Radom, Poland in 1927. She survived the Radom ghetto and five death camps including Auschwitz. Liberated six days before the war’s end, she returned to Poland and found that only her sister had survived. After a year in Italy and another year in detention in Cyprus, Rachel and her husband reached Israel a few days after it became a State. They moved to Toronto 1951. In 1976, she enrolled at York University, graduating seven years later with a B.A. in history. Rachel has published short fiction and is presently compiling her writings for a book. Rachel has 2 children and 2 grandchildren.
David and Zenia Rybowski – David and Zenia were both born in Lodz, Poland in 1923. In his late teens, David saw his city forced into a ghetto, and by June 1940, he was sent to a slave labour camp. He and hundreds of others were forced to build a highway, and later, ammunition. By September 1943, the Nazis loaded the factory’s Jews into wagons and shipped them to Auschwitz. There, he was forced to work with cement to build and maintain buildings that stored Zyklon B. Zenia worked as a garment maker while in the Lodz ghetto, and was shipped to Auschwitz. Later, she was forced to dig military trenches for soldiers. David and Zenia met at Bergen-Belsen, post war, where Zenia nursed the sick. Upon their arrival in Toronto, Zenia cared for their two daughters and worked for a button maker.
David would co-found his own business, Victory Handbags. David is a past president and founding member of The Lodzer Centre Congregation, having worked tirelessly to raise money for the organization which supports Israeli and Ontarian charities. Their stories of survival have been documented in the film Undying Love, which have been shown throughout the country. David and Zenia have 2 daughters, 5 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren.
Maia Toivis – Born in 1939, Maia grew up in southeastern Ukraine. She survived the Bershad (Ukranian) ghetto from 1941 to 1944, and was plagued by typhus. During Nazi raids her family would hide under the floor of their house. Townspeople and Nazi officers in her town raided Jewish homes and took whatever they wanted. Every day she saw the gates of the ghetto open, to see corpses by the thousands buried in a common grave. Her father, together with 300 men, was taken as a hostage, and all were killed and buried in a mass grave. Maia has written an extensive memoir about her survival during the Shoah. She has worked 35 years as a teacher of Russian language and literature in secondary school. In 1993, she immigrated to Canada together with her husband and two sons. Maia studied English and has worked as a proofreader in a Russian newspaper. Maia has 2 sons, and 2 grandchildren.
Manya Wise – Manya was born in Stopnica, Poland in March, 1922. While Manya’s family was poor, she was sent anonymously to deliver food to the sick and elderly. Due to difficult finances, Manya and her family moved from Stopnica, Poland to Warsaw in 1936, where she worked as an embroiderer. After Warsaw was bombed by the Nazis, Manya’s family returned to Stopnica, where they remained in the ghetto until the Nazi roundup in 1942. She was sent to the slave labour camp Skarzysko-Kamienna and worked there at the munitions factory.
Herschel Wise – Herschel was born in Apatow, Poland in 1918. As a young boy, Herschel was forced to work as a printer’s apprentice due to hard economic times. In the Warsaw ghetto, Herschel and his family mined stones and built roads for a German company in exchange for food. Herschel was rounded up by the Germans in 1942 and sent to the slave labour camp Skarzysko-Kamienna where he worked at an ammunitions factory. Most of Hershel’s family was killed in Treblinka. He was liberated at a slave labour camp by the Russians in 1945. Manya and Herschel met in the slave labour camp they were both sent to which was liberated in Jan. 1945. A month later, they married. Manya later gave birth to their daughter in a displaced persons camp in Germany. With no money, they landed in Halifax and eventually made their way to Toronto where Herschel worked at a grocery store. They sponsored a few surviving relatives to come to Canada and offered foster care to orphaned Survivors. They have both been active in charitable causes for the poor, aged, and bereaved. They have 3 children, 15 granchildren, and 15 great grandchildren.
Seymour Zweig – Seymour was born in Lodz, Poland in 1921. He grew up in Lodz, and during the war was targeted by the Nazis after they killed his cousin. He fled, first passing through Warsaw and continued onward to the Russian front. It was there that he spent the war years, with a year in the Red Army. After the war ended he worked at an aluminum factory. He headed back to Poland, when, after writing a letter to the Jewish Congress in Toronto, he was located and brought to Canada in 1947. His war-era life is also recorded on film through Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation. After the war, he discovered his entire family had been killed by the Nazis in Auschwitz. In 1947, he came to Toronto, where he married, and ran the renowned Reingewirtz Paints on Baldwin Street for fifty years. Seymour has 2 sons and 5 grandchildren