Remembering Moishe Kantorowitz: Holocaust Survivor
My father, Moishe Kantorowitz was born on February 6, 1923 in the Jewish shtetl, Shereshev in Lithuania. He was niftir, just 1 week short of his 85th birthday. During his lifetime he lived through some of the most tumultuous times that have affected the Jewish people. 51 members of his immediate family—parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were slaughtered in the Holocaust. Dad was the only surviving member of his family from the Shoah.
Dad witnessed the rebirth of the modern state of Israel. As an ardent lifelong Zionist, initially as a member of Betar, it was literally a dream come true. Dad made his first trip to Israel in honor of my Bar Mitzvah. This was in 1965, long before it became a popular activity and certainly not something anyone in St. John’s, Newfoundland had ever done. It was his first opportunity to see family and friends who had left for Israel before the start of WW II. I was not yet 13 and vividly remember my fathers reunion with “Sheine Rochel” as she came running towards him in the vegetable market yelling “Maishke, Maishke”. In later years Dad would use every opportunity for a trip to Israel and would manage to get there at least once a year from 1965 to 1995.
1965 was eventful for an entirely different reason—one might even say a bookend for the trip to Israel. If traveling to Israel was a glimpse into the future, then this was a reminder of the past. In early March Mom & Dad were shopping in Woolworth’s when Dad saw a group of Polish fisherman. He thought he recognized one man and went over to speak with him.
“Are you Polish?” “Yes,” he answered. “Have you ever been to Auschwitz?” The man looked inquisitively. Slowly nodding his head, he said: “Yes.”“Is your name Leon Kulowski, Auschwitz number 805?”
Leon Kulowski is the man Dad credited with saving his life in Auschwitz. Nothing dramatic—just a transfer from a hard labour task whose only exit was death, to an inside machine shop job. Dad never forgot him and sent him clothing, medications and anything else that would ease his life in Communist Poland. Dad brought him to my wedding in Newfoundland. He attempted to have “Uncle” Leon recognized as a Righteous Gentile through Yad Vashem.
Considering the deprivations Dad suffered in the camps it will not surprise anyone, the value he associated with food and particularly bread. He insisted on eating bread with almost every meal. His 3 children and 5 grand-children (Orly, Eitan, Erez, Ariella and Genevieve—or Fredelle as Zaida called her) will forever remember that no conversation was complete until Zaida asked if we were hungry, if we had eaten, if we had enough to eat.
My father was always concerned that no one would remember all those who perished in the Holocaust. While living for over 30 years in St. John’s, Newfoundland he was active in Holocaust education, speaking to students in schools and at Memorial University. He continued to speak out after he and Mom moved to Toronto. When Dad retired, he spent 12 years writing his memoir first in Yiddish and then translating it into English when he realized the next generation would be unable to glean his message. For his efforts he was awarded an Honorary Degree by Memorial University of Newfoundland.
How can a child thank a parent for all they have done?
It is written in Gemorrah Kedushin, Daf - Kof Tet, Amud - Aleph: A father is obligated with his son to give him a Brit Milah or circumcision, a Pidyon Haben to redeem him, to teach him Torah, to take him a wife, to teach him a profession, and some say to teach him to swim. Dad took his parental responsibilities seriously offering myself, and my sisters, Sharon and Aviva, the opportunity to learn secular and religious subjects in Israel. For a time when Dad was responsible for Jewish education, and there was no Hebrew teacher in St. John’s, he personally taught the Hebrew school classes while continuing to work full time supporting his family. In the swimming department, I was the biggest oldest kid at camp in the shallow end, but with his encouragement I eventually graduated to the deep end.
I could not express Dad’s ideals any better. His love of family and the Jewish people knew no limits.#