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The Immigration Story of Vera Waldman (Czechoslovak Refugee)

The Museum reviews and accepts donated personal or family memories and histories into its collection. As a learning institution, the accounts help us understand how individuals recollect, interpret, or construct meaning from lived experiences. The stories are not modified by Museum staff. The point of view expressed is that of the author and not that of the Museum.

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Vera Waldman (nee Stern)

Born October 24, 1929 Racocina, Czechoslovakia
Died March 1, 2017 Toronto, Canada

My mother grew up in a farming village. Her father passed away when she was 5 years old leaving her mother to raise 5 daughters and 3 sons all by herself. My mother was the youngest child. She told me there was a cow, some chickens and a dog on their small piece of land. The house had wood floors and was heated by a wood-burning stove. She told me all the girls slept in one bed.

The Nazis came to her village in 1944 and all the Jews were rounded up and taken to the train station. They were packed into cattlecars. She never told me details. She was very concerned about my feelings and knew that it would pain me to hear such things. I only got bits and pieces of her life after her arrival at Auschwitz and those tidbits I kept safe in mind never asking her to explain further.

Upon arrival at Auschwitz, she told me the Jews were sent in two directions - some to the left, some to the right. My grandmother, who was 47 years old at the time, was sent to the right, along with her oldest daughter who was married with 2 small children. My mother was sent to the left along with her other 3 sisters. My mother tells me she ran to be with her mother and would not let go of her skirt. Her mother scolded her and told her to go with the other sisters. My mother couldn't understand why she could not go with her. My mother was 15 years old and this was the last time she ever saw her mother, her older sister and her young niece and nephew.

The next day after sleeping in a cold barrick on wooden slats with no blankets, she brazenly went up to a female guard asked where her mother was. The guard laughed and pointed to the smoking chimney stacks where the bodies were burning.

As I mentioned, I only got bits and pieces of my mother's life. She told me they were taken daily to work in a munitions factory. These innocent young girls' job was filling bullets with gun powder. On occasion someone would create a dud bullet. If they were caught, they were shot. Maybe that dud saved someone's life. I like to think so.

She told me of the time her friend was so hungry she ran towards the fence to try to climb over. The fence was an electric fence and my mother saw her electrocuted. She always remember smoke coming from her friend's body.

My mother was liberated after the war and was sent to London, England with other young orphans. She lived in a house run by a Jewish organization set up to try and reconnect survivors to families. One sister had gone to Israel, two to the United States, a brother to Sweden to recuperate from TB. One brother perished in the camps. When she was put in contact with a sister in the U.S., the sister told her to try to come over to North America. My mother, along with a group of young survivors were put on a boat, the Acquitania, to Canada.

She landed in Halifax in 1947. One of her survivor friends, Herman Newman, decided to stay in Halifax and became a prominent member of the Halifax Jewish community. My mother's sister again told her to try to come further west, trying to get her to come to New York where the 2 sisters were now living. When she got to Toronto she was sponsored by an amazing family, Mark and Lillian Levy, who would become her surrogate parents until they passed away in the 1990s.

She met my father in 1948 and were married July 7, 1949. My father was also an immigrant to Canada, escaping what would become Nazi occupied Poland, in 1930. He arrived with his parents and 3 siblings. The remaining family in Poland were decimated by the Nazis.

My parents were married for almost 68 years. They both were extremely grateful to Canada for letting them into the country. They had no home to return to in Europe. My father is now 92 years old and as far as I can remember, he has always told that Canada is the best country in the world. I, too, am grateful for having been born in Canada and am a proud Canadian.