“Why can’t peo­ple get along”

Salut­ing the life of Philip Rite­man


Ihad read about Philip Rite­man and his life in the me­dia be­fore, but only met him for the first time when he came as guest speaker that day.

As part of the staff diver­sity com­mit­tee at NSCC’S King­stec Cam­pus in Kentville on Nov. 30, 2010, I had the priv­i­lege of invit­ing Philip Rite­man and his wife Dorothy to the col­lege. Mr. Rite­man gra­ciously ac­cepted the in­vi­ta­tion to speak to the stu­dents and staff on his life be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter the Sec­ond World War.

We have been good friends since then.

The gym­na­sium be­gan to fill up as stu­dents and staff be­gan to come in.

The gen­eral pub­lic were also in­vited to come. Peo­ple weren’t sure what to ex­pect.

I had the hon­our of in­tro­duc­ing Mr. Rite­man and so his talk started in the crowded room.

“You peo­ple don’t know how lucky you are,” he be­gan. “You’re liv­ing in a par­adise here on earth.”

He of­ten ques­tioned, “Why can’t peo­ple get along with each other? Why do peo­ple have to fight so much?” From time to time Mr. Rite­man would pause and gather his thoughts and carry on. Other times he would pull out his hand­ker­chief and try to stop the tears from com­ing and cry for a few sec­onds.

There were boxes of Kleenex placed through­out the room. The au­di­ence was very much en­gaged in his words and his story touched many that af­ter­noon as they also shed tears.

Mr. Rite­man had sur­vived sev­eral con­cen­tra­tion camps dur­ing the war, in­clud­ing Auschwitz, and still had night­mares from those dark and evil chap­ters of his life af­ter all these years.

Philip spent 28 years in the later part of his life speak­ing to thou­sands of peo­ple through his trav­els to schools, uni­ver­si­ties, mil­i­tary bases, the RCMP and churches telling folks to re­spect and love each other. He spoke at Hor­ton High School 14 years in a row. The teach­ers and stu­dents loved him.

In his younger years Mr. Rite­man trav­elled to Is­rael many times and took his com­pany’s em­ploy­ees along with him.

Once I told him that I also took groups to Is­rael each year, we be­gan ex­chang­ing news about that na­tion. I re­mem­ber him say­ing, “Lit­tle Is­rael is al­ways sur­pris­ing the world.”

I would drop in to the Rite­mans for a visit when­ever in Hal­i­fax and was al­ways greeted with a warm wel­come. They were the per­fect hosts and usu­ally put the teaket­tle on and out came a cake that Dorothy had made.

As you came in the front door Philip would proudly show me his New­found­land Con­stab­u­lary cap sit­ting on the ta­ble, which he was given while speak­ing at Memo­rial Univer­sity in St. John’s.

He loved the New­found­land peo­ple and what they did for him when he first ar­rived there. He said they showed him what love was all about and re­stored his faith in hu­man­ity.

Jews were re­fused en­try to Hal­i­fax Har­bour in 1939 by the then Lib­eral prime min­is­ter Macken­zie King. The MS St. Louis was car­ry­ing over 900 Ger­man Jews on board and were even­tu­ally sent back to Europe.

New­found­land wasn’t part of Canada then, so Mr. Rite­man was of­fered a home there.

Philip told me that Canada wouldn’t even have al­lowed Je­sus to en­ter the coun­try if he had wanted to at that time. Je­sus was Jew­ish.

Five years ago I was in Hal­i­fax at­tend­ing a Jew­ish/chris­tian event in Fe­bru­ary and we had a snow­storm that evening and the Rite­mans in­vited me to stay at their home that night rather than see me driv­ing home to the Val­ley.

Next morn­ing I shov­eled their walk and drive­way and we all went out for break­fast.

Philip liked to eat crois­sants with peanut but­ter for break­fast, so the next time I went to visit them I took a jar of peanut but­ter and a bag of crois­sants. You should have seen the ex­pres­sion on his face.

He al­ways had a sense of hu­mour, de­spite the hell he ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing those night­mare years of his life.

I’m truly amazed at this man and the re­siliency he lived in his 96 years. Many Holo­caust sur­vivors live long lives even though they have suf­fered for many years. It is a mys­tery how, through so much suf­fer­ing, these Jew­ish men and women have still some­how lived to an old age.

In late June I took seven of the peo­ple from our group who had gone to Is­rael for the first time last Novem­ber to visit Mr. Rite­man as he was not well at all. He had lost 70 pounds by now and was bedrid­den, but still wel­comed friends and vis­i­tors.

His wife Dorothy slowly walked all of us into their bed­room so we could have a visit. We stood solemnly there for a mo­ment and then said hello as he ac­knowl­edged us. We gath­ered around the bed and he started talk­ing to us, de­spite the weak state he was in.

I no­ticed a beau­ti­ful wed­ding pic­ture on the wall of Philip and Dorothy. They had been mar­ried for 68 years.

The group of us that Sun­day af­ter­noon stayed longer than we should have, but there was no sug­ges­tion or in­di­ca­tion that we should leave. Just be­fore we left he gave each per­son his book, Mil­lions of Souls. In the last part of his life he was still giv­ing of him­self.

On July 24 I drove in to Bed­ford to visit for what would be the last time. There was a friend there and we prayed over him that his health would be re­stored and that he would an­tic­i­pate and ac­cept the Jew­ish Mes­siah, the cho­sen one of Is­rael.

Thank you, Philip Rite­man, for your life and your years of ser­vice to the pub­lic in ed­u­cat­ing stu­dents young and old in pro­mot­ing love.

The photo I en­closed is one I took of Mr. Rite­man af­ter he spoke in Novem­ber 2010. (Photo is in­cluded in the Holo­caust fea­ture on our web­site). He had taped pic­tures of the masses of Jews suf­fer­ing and be­ing mur­dered by Hitler’s Nazis.

A group of stu­dents had crowded around lis­ten­ing to what he was say­ing. He was cry­ing out, “Lis­ten to me and what I’m say­ing.” They were spell­bound.

At the time the col­lege had a photo con­test and peo­ple were en­cour­aged to sub­mit their pho­tos in an open hu­man in­ter­est photo com­pe­ti­tion. This photo was cho­sen as the win­ning en­try and awarded first prize. You know what they say, a pic­ture is worth 1,000 words. On our next trip to the holy land of Is­rael we will do it in hon­our and mem­ory of Philip Rite­man.


Holo­caust sur­vivor Philip Rite­man at his Bed­ford home holds a fam­ily photo taken as a child grow­ing up in Poland in this file photo. Rite­man had spent the last 25 years vis­it­ing North Amer­i­can schools to teach stu­dents about his ex­pe­ri­ences as a Holo­caust sur­vivor.

Bob Wat­son, left, with Philip Rite­man.

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