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Biographies Of Holocaust Survivors

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Biographies Of Holocaust Survivors

Office of the Premier

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, along with the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, today honoured 10 Holocaust survivors on the provincial day of remembrance, Yom ha-Shoah. These exceptional Ontarians were recognized for their courage, strength and commitment to their communities.


The Honourees

Jack Buchman was born in Warsaw, Poland. At age 8, the German army occupied Poland, and his family found themselves living in the Ghetto. A few days before the famous uprising, they escaped and assumed the identity of a deceased Catholic family. As a young boy, he helped his father feed the family by polishing the boots of German officers, receiving watery soup and dry bread as rewards. One day before Liberation, the Nazis murdered his mother. More than 100 members of his family perished in concentration camps. After the war, he moved to Paris, France where he met his future wife, Roma, also a Holocaust survivor. In 1952, they came to Canada. Mr. Buchman opened a lumber and building supplies business, which prospered and became a chain of several stores. He was also involved in real estate development, and just retired this month.

Mr. Buchman lives in Toronto. He has a son and two daughters, and 13 grandchildren. He has been actively involved in many charitable organizations, including B'nai Brith, Baycrest Foundation, Mount Sinai Hospital, Tel-Aviv University and Israel Bonds. In 1992, he was awarded the commemorative medal for the 125th anniversary of Canadian Confederation for his contribution to Canada and the community.


Sidia Cowen was born in 1940 in Poland. After the war broke out, it was difficult for her family to find a safe hiding place. A farmer let them stay in his barn, but eventually they were asked to leave. Running and hiding became part of their lives. In 1941, Ms. Cowen's mother put her in a convent for safety. She was alone, hungry and scared. The convent was bombed and the children were moved to safety. In 1944, her mother returned for her. That same year, her father was killed, after being forced to join the Russian army.

Eventually a friend took in Ms. Cowen and her mother. On many occasions, her mother would return home from work and whisk them off into the forest to hide from drunken soldiers. For years after, Ms. Cowen had nightmares of being chased by soldiers. In 1945, she ended up in Bitom, Poland. A year later, her mother married and the family moved to Munich, Germany. In 1951, her family arrived in Canada and settled in Toronto.

Her parents bought a farm in Kemptville, Ontario. In 1953, the family moved back to Toronto and Ms. Cowen married in 1958.

She has two daughters and one son. In 1987, she became a registered real estate sales agent, and is still active today. Ms. Cowen has also been active in  B'nai Brith, Yad Vashem, Beit Halochem and other charities. She has four grandchildren. Today, she says "fear is her constant companion" and she lives and deals with it on a daily basis.


Sala Goldhar believes she was born in Poland in 1937. During the war, a Polish family took her to live on their farm in the Ukraine, where she pretended to be a family member. When people began to suspect that she was not Polish, she was moved to another part of the country and hidden until the end of the war. After Liberation, a Jewish doctor took her in and cared for her as no one had claimed her. She stayed in a Displaced Persons Camp until she was taken to an orphanage. Eventually, she contacted family in Toronto who sponsored her, and she arrived in the city in 1948.

In 2002, Ms. Goldhar returned to Poland to trace her roots, but found out her entire family perished in the Holocaust. She has been married for 50 years to Leo, and they have three wonderful children and five grandchildren. Ms. Goldhar has extensively volunteered, lending her support to the UJA Federation, Meals on Wheels, Hadassah, Council of Jewish Women, Weekend to End Breast Cancer (Princess Margaret Hospital), March of Dimes and the Canadian Cancer Society.


Joseph Gottdenker was born in Poland in 1942. At that time, his father was already in a concentration camp and his mother assumed a false gentile identity. Soon after a Polish family took him and his mother into hiding, his mother left and joined the Polish underground resistance. The family continued to care for Mr. Gottdenker. After the war, he was reunited with his parents and two uncles and an aunt who all survived. They spent three years in Germany as Displaced Persons and immigrated to the United States in 1948. In 1958, they came to Canada. Mr. Gottdenker attended high school in Toronto and university in London, Ontario.

He is a businessman who has been involved in manufacturing, real estate development, resort properties and some retail. He is engaged to Lori Tafuro, has three children and one grandchild. In addition to the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, he has been involved with the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal (Board of Trustees), UJA Federation and the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care (Foundation Board of Directors).


Faigie Libman was born in Kaunas in 1934, an only child. Her mother was a nurse and her father owned a successful bookstore. They lived an affluent lifestyle. In 1941, when Germany invaded and bombed Lithuania, more than 3,500 Jews were murdered. They were taken, mocked, abused, tortured and murdered. After the invasion, a ghetto was established in Slobodka, where Lithuanian Jews were sent and forced to wear yellow stars. Ms. Libman recalls being hungry all the time. During the next three years, her family lived in turmoil. In 1944, the Jews of Kaunas were transported in cattle cars to concentration camps. Her father was sent and later died in Dachau. She and her mother were shipped to Stutthof. Her mother dressed her to look older and told the Nazis she was 12, so that she could work and not be taken away to slaughter with the other children. After leaving Stutthof, they lived in three small labour camps. In 1945, the Russians liberated their camp. Ms. Libman and her mother were the only surviving members of their family. Her father died the same week they were liberated.

After living in a Displaced Persons camp in Austria, her mother located her sister in Montreal and they emigrated to a new life in 1948. For 52 years, she has been married to Benny Libman, also a Holocaust survivor. They have four children. Ms. Libman graduated as an accountant, but later went back to school to get her teacher's certificate. In 1972, they moved to Toronto, where she continued to teach Junior Kindergarten for more than 30 years. Today, the Libmans have 11 grandchildren.

Ms. Libman speaks about the Holocaust, racism and hatred at schools, synagogues, churches and assemblies. She is also involved in many organizations and charities, including the Jerry Lewis Telethon, Villa Hospital, Bloorview Hospital, MacMillan Centre, Wellesley Hospital, Jewish National Fund, Sunnybrook Hospital and Baycrest Hospital. She is an active member of Na'amat Pioneer Women and B'nai Brith, participates with the Christian and Jewish Dialogue and is a proud participant of the Dominion Institute Memory Group and the Holocaust Centre of Toronto.


Harold Rotman was born in 1928 in Szczercow (Stertzov). For 62 years, Harold says it has been extremely difficult to live with his past and the suffering he endured. After four years of living in starving filth and inhumane surroundings, his family were shipped from the Ghetto Lodz to Auschwitz/Birkenau.

He was separated from his parents and sent to work in stables, cleaning and feeding horses. After Auschwitz was liquidated, he was sent on a Death March through the mountains of Slovakia in freezing cold and then put on a railroad car to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. Many froze to death in the boxcars from disease, starvation and frost.

The American army liberated his camp and he came to Canada to join his only surviving brother. After working in a plastic factory in Toronto for a few years, he went into business. He and his wife, Rebecca, have three children and six grandchildren. Mr. Rotman has been active in synagogue life, where he has acted on the Board of Directors as a past Brotherhood President. He was also Chairman of the Adult Education Committee.


Sam (Simcha) Simchovitch was born in Poland in 1921. In 1939, he left his hometown for eastern Poland, which was soon after occupied by the Soviet Union. Until 1941, he lived in Khirgizia, Russia, where he survived the war years. His entire family -- father, mother, three younger sisters and one brother -- who remained at home -- were murdered in 1942 when the Otwock Ghetto was liquidated. In 1949, Mr. Simchovitch arrived in Canada, working for the first two years in a Montreal leather goods shop. He studied at the Jewish Teacher's Seminary in Montreal, and graduated in 1954 as a teacher. He has taught at the Peretz School in Montreal, the Hillel Academy in Ottawa and the United Synagogue Day School in Toronto.

Until his retirement in 1989, he was a librarian and museum curator at the Beth Tzedec Congregation in Toronto. He has a B.A. in Humanities from the University of Toronto and a Masters of Religious Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.

Mr. Simchovitch is an active member of the Yiddish Culture Council, the Committee for Yiddish of the Jewish Federation of Toronto, and continues to lead the weekly sessions of the Senior Citizen's Club of the Labour Zionist Alliance at the Borochov Centre.

His has authored 19 books of poetry, prose and literacy criticism in Yiddish, Hebrew, English and Polish (published in Montreal, Toronto, Tel Aviv and Warsaw), which have earned him several awards. He also contributes to book reviews and local reports to the Yiddish Forward in New York and to several other Yiddish periodicals in the United States, Israel and Poland. He is married to Freda, and they have two daughters and one grandson.


Sigmund Soudack was born Sigmund Silber in 1935 in Poland. He was the youngest of three children born to Israel and Bronya Silber. After the Germans invaded in 1941, his family was restricted to the Jewish ghetto in their town and forced to wear yellow stars and armbands. Many Jews were murdered in their sleep. Fearing deportation, his family fled into a nearby forest. By 1943, his parents were dead and his siblings were forced to fend for themselves. In 1943, a Seventh Day Adventist group seeking converts arranged for them to join another group of survivors also hiding in the forest. From spring 1944 to 1948, they lived in a succession of children's homes in Russia, Poland and Austria.

In 1948, after successful lobbying by Canadian Jewish agencies, they were brought to Winnipeg, Manitoba, three of 1,100 orphans who were settled with families across the country. Unfortunately, they were not able to stay together, but Mr. Silber was lucky enough to be adopted by the Soudack family, who already had three of their own children. Both he and his brother graduated from the University of Manitoba with degrees in engineering. His sister worked to put herself through United College and obtained her social work degree.

For 40 years, he has run a consulting structural engineering firm, specializing in high-rise condominiums, currently employing 22 people. He is happily married to Linda Cherry Soudack and they have two sons and three grandchildren. Mr. Soudack has volunteered for the past 35 years for the United Jewish Appeal.


Goldi Steiner was born in Hungary in 1938. At age five, her family was rounded up in the local ghetto and transported in cattle cars to Auschwitz. Thanks to a deal between the Nazis and the Hungarian Jewish underground, they were among the few hundred hostages re-routed and temporarily stationed in an Austrian concentration camp. Some of her family was annihilated, but most survived and returned to their homeland after the war. They were forced to flee again after the Soviets invaded. In 1953, her family arrived in Canada, filled with the promise of a brighter future. 

In Canada, Ms. Steiner got involved in the real-estate business with relative success, from which she is now retired. She is dedicated to full-time volunteering and has been involved in several efforts. These include taking on the task of building the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial with her sculptor husband and the Society for Yad Vashem. She also chaired the Raoul Wallenberg Memorial Committee and has been chair of the Continuing Holocaust Education Committee, working with teachers across Canada.

Ms. Steiner has also been a member of the Yom ha-Shoa (The Holocaust Commemoration) Steering Committee, Justice for Jonathan Pollard group, an Ad Hoc Committee dedicated to aiding the destitute primarily in the Middle East and the Toronto District School Board Equity Schools Committee.

She currently sits on the Toronto District School Board -- School Services Program Steering Committee, which is involved in creating a genocide program.

Ms. Steiner is the proud mother of two children and has four grandchildren.


Henry Leonard Waks was born in Poland in 1928. He was raised in an assimilated and affluent Jewish home. His father owned a clothing-manufacturing plant and a store in Gdansk. In 1941, his family was forced to live in the Lodz ghetto. He was put to work in a salami factory. In 1944, his family was sent to Auschwitz, where his mother and sister were killed. With his father and brother, he was sent to a labour camp in Hanover, Germany and then moved to another camp in Ahlem. In 1945, his father and brother were killed shortly before the camp was liberated.

After the war, he found a surviving cousin in Munich and together they moved to be with an aunt in Lobz. Mr. Waks then moved to Paris, France where he spent eight months in a hospital being treated for tuberculosis. In 1949, he came to Toronto and began working in an embroidery factory. In 1952, he married and entered the construction business. With his first partners, he began to build houses and apartment buildings, before settling on developing small shopping centres and strip plazas.

Together with his wonderful wife, Sylvia, they have lived in the same house for almost 53 years. Sylvia and Henry have been blessed with two sons and seven beautiful grandchildren.

Mr. Waks has been involved with the United Jewish Appeal, Canadian Friends of Hebrew University and the Jewish National Fund. With his close friend, Alex Grossman, he is also a contributor to his pet project, Massuah, which educates this generation's children on the Holocaust.

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