Renia: A Holocaust Memoir

Table of Contents

Sam Elsner.

Sam Elsner.

In the fall of 1979, after Pola had gone back to IsraeI, I was still in mourning for Gitta. I was very depressed and most of the time I stayed in bed, feeling sorry for myself. Friends talked me into going back to work. By that time I could have survived without working because the business was doing reasonably well. But I went back anyway, putting in three days a week. It kept me busy and I liked the work, which now included things like lash and brow colouring and leg waxing. I had regular clients and became quite friendly with some of them. We’d go for dinner or play Bingo or go to a movie. It was good therapy.

Avram and Hava Feldberg.

Avram and Hava Feldberg.

I’d known Sam and Bella Elsner almost from the time we moved to Toronto. Shortly after we arrived, at a surprise gathering we were reunited with Leon’s second cousins, Hava and Abram Feldberg and their sons, Saul and Philip, along with their wives, Toby and Rochelle. We subsequently met Sam and Bella Elsner, Toby’s parents, at the Bar Mitzvah of Saul and Toby’s son, David. After Leon died, Toby and Saul were wonderful to me. So were Hava and Abram and Philip and Rochelle. They often came to visit and frequently invited me to their house. Sometimes Sam and Bella would be there; sometimes I would run into Sam and Bella at other functions. I liked them both.

In 1981, I was in Israel visiting Eva, who had been working and studying there for a year and a half. Part of the time she stayed in Gitta’s house, close to Pola, who was like a second mother to her. One day I came in and found Eva crying and asked why. She said Rick had just called. “But why are you crying?” I asked. She said “Because I miss him,” and she went out. She went over to Pola’s and told her that Rick had called to tell her that Bella Elsner had died and that she didn’t know whether to tell me. It was a few days before I was to go home. Pola came back with Eva and they broke the news together. I sent a telegram right away and then called Toronto. The family had just come in from the funeral. When I got home, Rick picked me up at the airport and took me straight to the house where they were sitting shiva.

Sam fishing at Pinedale Inn in Gravenhurst.

Sam fishing at Pinedale Inn in Gravenhurst.

Soon, I went back to work and Sam and I would call each other occasionally. Or Toby would give me a call and invite me for tea. Sam was then living with Saul and Toby, not far away from my place, and he was working part-time at Global Furniture, his son-in-law’s office furniture business. But he was lonely. Sometimes we’d go for a walk together. We had a lot in common. We’d both grown up in Europe and survived the Holocaust; we’d both lost our spouses. It was good to talk about our lives. For years, I hadn’t been able to talk to anyone about Leon. Now, finally, I was able to.

Sam's brother Menashe.

Sam's brother Menashe.

Sam had been born in a small town, Piontek, near Lodz, Poland, on March 2, 1916. His father’s name was David and his mother’s Freidel. He had two brothers, Menashe and Chaim, and two sisters, Toby and Genendle. His father was a shoemaker. Sam became a tailor and by fourteen he was already working at his trade. In 1939, he married Bella, and joined the Polish army.

When Lodz and the area around it were overrun by the Germans in the early days of the war, Sam fled eastward toward Russia. He traded his army clothes with a farmer for civilian clothes and ended up in Bialystok, where in late 1939 he met Bella and Menashe, who were looking for him. Sam, Bella and Menashe registered to work in Russia and they were sent to Barnaul in Siberia. That’s where Sam and Bella’s oldest daughter, Toby, was born, in June 1940.

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