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Biographies of Honourees

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Biographies of Honourees

Office of the Premier

Premier Kathleen Wynne paid tribute to the following honourees of The Canadian Society of Yad Vashem at Queen's Park today: 

Martin Baranek

Martin Baranek was born in 1930 in Wierzbnik, Poland. He lived a happy life until Germany invaded Poland in 1939. Martin and other Jewish children were no longer permitted to attend school. Soon all Jews were forced to turn in their valuables, wear yellow armbands, and move to a crowded ghetto, whose conditions worsened over time. 

In 1942, the Germans prepared to liquidate the Wierzbnik ghetto. Martin and his parents had work permits for the local factories; however, a German officer confiscated Martin's permit and sent him to the line bound for the trains to Treblinka. At the last moment, Martin escaped. His younger brother, Yechskel; most of his extended family; and the majority of Jews in the area were transported to Treblinka, where they were murdered.  

Martin sneaked into the woodworking camp, where he found his mother, and worked as a slave labourer until July 1944.  He and his father were then transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he narrowly escaped the gas chambers twice. Tragically, Martin's father was not so fortunate.

In January 1945, after walking for days in sub-zero temperatures with no food, water, or shelter, Martin and other prisoners came to the Mauthausen camp in Austria. Disease and starvation were rapidly overtaking the prisoners when the US army liberated them in May 1945. 

Martin went to Palestine, where he fought in Israel's War of Independence and lived for several years. The Red Cross put Martin in contact with his mother who was living in Canada, and in December 1949 they were reunited. At first, Martin worked in the garment industry. In 1953, he married Betty. Martin started a supermarket and eventually opened up several more stores before retiring.

In his retirement years, Martin discovered a new passion when a group from Toronto--children of survivors from Wierzbnik--approached him in 2002 to lead them on a trip to Poland. Martin has returned to Poland on the March of the Living nine times and plans to go again in 2014. 

Martin and his wife, Betty, are blessed with four children and nine grandchildren.

Joe Betel

Joe Betel, the second of three children, was born to Pinchas and Bella Betel in Lodz, Poland, on June 30, 1929. Pinchas was a textile merchant and Bella a homemaker. The family lived a comfortable life. After school Joe attended Hebrew school, and on weekends his family often went to the cinema. Joe has happy memories of summers spent at a cottage.

After the invasion of Lodz by the Nazi army, Joe's father gathered his family and moved them to Stopnica, a shtetl in the countryside, just narrowly missing the deportation of the Jewish community to the Lodz ghetto. When the liquidation of Jews in the Polish countryside began, the family joined a community of approximately 80 Jews living in the Strzegom Forest. Living in constant fear, they suffered from hunger and freezing temperatures in winter. As a result of the harsh conditions in the forest, Sala, Joe's younger sister, died at the age of 6. Joe's mother and older sister, Hanna, were murdered during a raid by the Nazis. His father was killed while searching for food.

At the age of 15, Joe was an orphan. In the spring of 1944, Joe, along with only eight other survivors in the Strzegom Forest, was liberated by the Red Army.

In 1946, Joe moved to Israel. He fought in Israel's War of Independence, contributing his efforts to the establishment of a Jewish homeland. Longing to reunite with family, Joe then travelled to London, England, where he stayed for three months with an uncle.

Joe immigrated to Canada in 1951, where he met Carmela, whom he married in 1956. Joe went from upholstering furniture to opening his own store, Midtown Furniture, in Toronto.

Since retiring, Joe enjoys playing golf and tennis. He gives to many charities and hospitals and is a staunch supporter of both Yad Vashem in Israel and the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem.

Joe and Carmela have three children and ten grandchildren.

Helen Bleeman

Helen Malinowitzer was born in Dąbrowa Gόrnicza, Poland. As the youngest of eight children, Helen helped her mother at home and her father at his butcher shop.

In 1941, Helen, then in her late teens, was sent to the Grünberg labour camp in Germany. For four years, she was forced to work in a factory making uniforms for German soldiers. Her daily nourishment consisted of only a slice of bread or a bowl of water with a few potato skins.

In January 1945, as the Allies advanced, Grünberg was closed and the prisoners were led on a death march to Czechoslovakia. Helen walked for four brutal months, resting only when the soldiers were tired. She survived in freezing temperatures, wearing very little clothing, her shoes held together with rags, and with barely anything to eat and only snow to drink. She is still haunted by vivid memories of waking up on many occasions to find friends lying dead beside her.

In May 1945, American troops liberated Helen and her fellow prisoners. Helen was then hospitalized and underwent surgery as a result of the abuse she had endured. 

Of Helen's three sisters and four brothers, only one brother survived the Holocaust. 

Helen met her future husband, Harry Bleeman, in a displaced persons camp in Munich, Germany. Harry had survived a number of camps, including Auschwitz-Birkenau. The couple lived for three years in Munich, where they had their first child, David.

The family immigrated to Toronto, Canada, in 1951. Helen and Harry's second child, Renee was born in Toronto. Helen and Harry worked very hard to ensure their children had a good life. Helen dedicated herself to taking care of her family.

After Harry passed away in 1987, Helen used her nurturing skills as a babysitter, helping to care for large Orthodox families.

Today, Helen enjoys playing cards and is involved with the Zaglembier Society, a charitable organization. She is surrounded by her loving children, five grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

Judy Cohen

Born in Debrecen, Hungary, in 1928, Judit Weissenberg was the youngest of seven children in an Orthodox Jewish family. When the German troops entered her town, Judit, then 15, was prevented from completing high school by the increasing restrictions on Jews. Her family was forced to give up furniture, rugs, and money.

In June 1944, Judit and most of her family were marched through the streets while neighbours laughed. Packed in cattle cars for several days, Judit's family was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. There she and her sisters were separated from their mother "without ... having a chance to say good-bye." Her eldest sister, Erzsébet, tore off enough of her nightgown to make four scarves so that the sisters could cover their newly shaved heads and feel a bit more human.

Although Judit survived several camps and a death march, her parents, four siblings, a sister-in-law, an infant nephew, and most of her large, extended family were murdered. After being liberated by the US army, Judit, renamed Judy, spent two years at the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp, along with two siblings.

Immigrating to Canada in 1948, Judy worked in the garment industry in Montreal. After attending business school, she switched to office work. Judy married Sidney Jessel Cohen in Montreal, and together they had two children, Michelle and Jonathan. They moved to Toronto in 1961. Judy was one of the "pioneering parents" who helped bring about French immersion public schools in Toronto. After taking various postsecondary courses, she worked for many years in a public relations firm.

Since her retirement, Judy has done volunteer work with Alzheimer patients at Baycrest. She was the Co-chair of the Speakers' Bureau of Toronto's Holocaust Education Centre and is the originator and Chair of the centre's permanent exhibit "We Who Survived," documenting the experience of 89 survivors. She has spoken frequently about the Holocaust and anti-racism in schools and at special gatherings, as well as creating the website "Women and the Holocaust."

Alzbeta Friedmann

Alzbeta was one of five children born into a very affluent and aristocratic family. Her father, Herman Grosshandler, was a major landowner and employer in the region of Zemplinsky Branc, Slovakia.

Alzbeta survived the Holocaust with false documentation, working on farms, hiding in silos, and living with the partisans in the mountains. Herman, however, proudly refused to live under a false name, stating that he was born a Jew and would die as one. Herman was captured by the Nazis, who asked him, "Are you a Jew?" Replying yes, he was shot on the spot. Alzbeta's two youngest brothers, Leo and Richard, also perished in the Holocaust.

After the war, Alzbeta married Samuel Friedmann, a Holocaust and concentration camp survivor, and, together, they rebuilt their lives. Their sons, Peter and George, were born in 1949 and 1955, respectively. Alzbeta went back to school and earned a diploma in economics. Whenthe Russians invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, Alzbeta and Samuel decided to immigrate to Canada.

In Canada, Alzbeta spent the first 10 years working long hours in retail jobs. Unfortunately, Samuel soon became ill, leaving Alzbeta as the sole supporter of the family and caretaker for her ailing husband for five years. After Samuel passed away in 1976, Alzbeta opened a coffee shop, employing others and contributing to the economic growth of Canada while taking care of her sons. She continued to work until age 72 because of her desire to contribute to society.

Notwithstanding the numerous setbacks that Alzbeta has had to face, she has remained a strong-willed and committed Jew. To this day, she provides more help to others than she needs from them. She is a beloved grandmother to Jason, Samantha, Michael, and David to whom she is a source of living history. Alzbeta believes she has an obligation to educate others about the past so that subsequent generations are equipped to create a better world.       

Frank Junger

Frank Junger was born in Valea Lui Mihai, Romania, in 1930. His parents were landowners and businesspeople. In 1936, the Romanians expropriated most of his family's land. In 1944, Frank, then 14, was in school when the Germans came and occupied his hometown. Shortly thereafter, he was deported to a ghetto in Hungary and then to a succession of concentration camps: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Gunskirchen, Melk, and Mauthausen.

While Frank endured atrocities that are beyond comprehension, a compassionate gesture by Frank's close friend--giving Frank a pair of long underwear to keep him warm-- likely saved his life. After liberation in 1945 by American forces, Frank discovered that of the 1,760 Jews in his community, only 56 survived; among the murdered were his parents.

After living with an uncle from 1945 to 1949, Frank chose to settle in Canada because he heard it was a prosperous and peaceful country. In Canada, Frank first worked for an automotive company and then went into the bakery business. In his travels as a bakery salesman, Frank met George Bick, and in 1951 Frank became a part owner of and distributor for Bick's Pickles.

Frank married Eliane Ligeti in New York in April 1962. Together they have two children, Steven and Kathryn, and three grandchildren.

Although Frank did not speak for many years about his horrendous experiences during the Holocaust, after his retirement he became a regular speaker through the Holocaust Education Committee and the Holocaust Speakers Bureau of the UJA Federation of Hamilton, addressing thousands of students over the last 15 years. When sharing his story with students, Frank tells them, "Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it in the future." Frank is doing all he can to ensure the Holocaust is not forgotten.

Fay Kieffer

Fay Wolpianska was born in Bieniekonie, Poland, in 1928. Her happy childhood was shattered in June 1941 when the Nazis came to her village. Instead of attending school, Fay, then just 13, was forced to lay railway ties in a labour camp. She returned home one day to find that her family had disappeared.  Fay recalls, "You didn't know which animals to be most terrified of, the wolves howling in the distance or the humans with fear and hatred in their eyes."

Fay spent months begging for food and shelter. She hid in barns, the woods, and fields.  As a young teen, she was brutally raped and infested by lice and had to walk barefoot in the snow when her boots fell apart. For two years, Fay was on the run. When partisans found her, Fay's feet were frozen in the material wrapped around them, her skin peeling off with the material. After a long, painful recovery with no medicine, Fay stayed with the partisans, helping the sick and wounded.

After liberation in 1944, Fay returned to her hometown and learned that of the 600 Jews who had lived there, only 14 survived. Her father was murdered in a camp in Estonia, and her brother and sister were gassed in Auschwitz.

Fay arrived in Toronto in 1948 and was joined by her mother the following year. Fay married Moritz Kieffer in 1952, and together they had two sons, Norman and Rudy, and two grandchildren.

Today, despite declining health and missing her family members who perished in the Holocaust and her late husband, Fay remains optimistic. She credits her young brother for keeping her going when life seemed hopeless during the Holocaust. He implored, "You must survive to tell the story." Fay has indeed told her story at schools across the GTA and, in so doing, has touched the hearts and minds of many young people. Her advice to them is, "Be proud of who you are, and do not forget what your parents went through just for being Jewish."

Joe Leinburd

Joe Leinburd was born in 1922 in Suceava, Romania, into a musical family. Joe became proficient at the violin. He spoke Yiddish, German, and Romanian and understood Russian.

In 1939, Joe, then 17, was playing volleyball with friends when he heard a radio announcement declaring Germany's invasion of Poland. Two years later, all the Jews of Suceava were ordered from their homes with whatever possessions they could carry. At the train station, 80 to 100 people were packed into each cattle car before the doors were slammed shut and bolted from the outside.

At the end of this horrific journey, Joe and the other passengers--exhausted, starved, and very confused--could hardly stand. Joe saw fields littered with dead bodies. In the bombed out village of Ataki, they met survivors from earlier transports, dressed in rags, wandering aimlessly. Romanian soldiers led Joe and the others to Murafa. Those in charge told them, "It is here where you are going to live or die." Joe and his family found a Jewish family with whom Joe's father bartered for a 10-foot by 10-foot room with no running water, heat, plumbing, or electricity--not even an outhouse. The family traded their few possessions for food to survive.

They were liberated by the Soviet army in March 1944. Joe met Claretta in Suceava, and they wed in 1946. Leaving Romania, which was under Communist rule, they spent nearly three years in DP camps in Austria and Italy. Although he had earlier dreamed of being in medicine, Joe took a course in men's clothing design and then in mechanics in order to qualify for Canadian immigration.  

Arriving in Winnipeg in April 1949, Joe and Claretta worked at various garment manufacturers. In 1961, the family moved to Calgary where Joe opened up his own factory. The Western shirts they produced were shipped across Canada and exported to other countries. Joe and Claretta moved to Toronto in 1997 to be near their two children and four grandchildren.

Joe says: "It is our deep desire to transmit to the future generations what we lived through in these dark times .... We survivors are ... beneficiaries of a legacy that informs our Jewish identity and can stimulate our revival and our purpose. We are Jews despite and not because of the Holocaust."

Bill Nightingale

Bill Nightingale was born in 1924 in Klobuck, Poland, the youngest of seven children. He lived a comfortable life with his large, loving family. Prior to the war, Bill worked as an apprentice in his father's shoemaking shop.

During the Holocaust, Bill endured unimaginable horrors in five different slave labour camps. He lost most of his family and all his possessions. In 1947, two years after the war, Bill was granted the right to emigrate from Poland to Canada.

Not knowing a word of English and with only the clothes on his back, he began to rebuild his life. He temporarily settled in Northern Ontario where he worked as a manual woodcutter. Moving to Toronto in 1950, Bill returned to work as a shoemaker in his own shop. After he married Frances Goldman, the couple moved to London, Ontario, in 1952 to start a family. They were blessed with two children, Howard and Rochelle. In London, Bill went into business with a relative at a grocery store. He worked at the grocery store as a butcher until the grocery store was sold. In 1971, Bill opened up a small but successful department store where he spent the remainder of his working life. When his wife fell ill in 1998, he decided it was time to retire and look after her. After his wife's passing in 1999, Bill sold the store and moved to the GTA to be closer to his five grandchildren. 

At 89 years old, Bill is a role model for his grandchildren. He is always smiling and courteous to everyone. A very active and fit man, he has gained notoriety in the Jewish seniors' community for his dancing skills. Nicknamed "Happy Feet," Bill often is complimented for his nimble footwork, many even asking to dance with him. Very generous and appreciative of the life he has, Bill is very close with his family, has many close friends, and enjoys a joyful life with his companion, Surely, of almost 10 years. Although he has been through unspeakable hardships in his life, he continues to live a positive, energetic, and inspirational life. 

Rose Zimmerman

Born in 1926 in Dąbrowa Gόrnicza, Poland, Rozia Gliksztajn was part of a large happy family. She lived on a farm with her parents, Sylvia and Jacob, six sisters, and two brothers, where she enjoyed riding the horses.

When she was 13, Rozia returned home from school to find her mother lighting the Shabbos candles and crying. When Rozia learned that the Nazis had taken her brothers away to a labour camp, she pleaded with the soldiers at the door to send her brothers back home, offering to go in their place. She was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she was branded with a number on her arm and made to work in a factory for long hours every day. Her job was to check that all the sewing machines on which Nazi uniforms were made were running properly. Missing her family and always hungry, Rozia shed many silent tears.

Several years later, Rozia was transported to Bergen-Belsen, where she met Ziga Zimmerman, who gave her hope. She says, "He saved my life."

Of Rozia's large family, only one sister survived.

After liberation by the Russians, Rozia and Ziga were married in 1945 and stayed for a few years in Bergen-Belsen, which had become a displaced persons camp. Their first daughter, Sylvia, was born there. They moved to Israel in 1948, where they lived for five years and where a son, Jackie, was born.

In 1953, the family moved to Toronto. Ziga worked as a painter while Rozia, now called Rose, devoted herself to taking care of her family. They had another daughter, Gloria. Tragically, their son, Jackie, died in an accident. Their youngest daughter, Helen, was born a few years later.

Bubie Rose, as she is now known, is a strong woman who is devoted to her children and five grandchildren, for whom she has babysat, cooked, and knit blankets. She has helped to educate young people about the Holocaust by speaking about her experiences at schools. Rose recently welcomed a great-grandson into her family, who is named after Rose's departed and much loved husband.

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