Shar­ing the sto­ries of At­lantic Cana­di­ans who sur­vived the Holo­caust.

The Gulf News (Port aux Basques) - - Front Page - BY JOEL JA­COB­SON SPE­CIAL TO SALTWIRE NET­WORK

“I look for the good in peo­ple.”


Natan Nevo’s art work­room is filled with colour­ful land­scapes and ab­stracts, de­pict­ing his out­look on life to­day – bright, cheery, op­ti­mistic.

Dur­ing the Sec­ond World War in his na­tive Poland, while in hid­ing and later try­ing to find refuge in deep­est Siberia, Nevo didn’t have the same rosy out­look.

The Hal­i­fax man looks back at those days of liv­ing com­fort­ably in War­saw where his fa­ther, Me­nachem Jakubow­icz, was a wine­maker. Natan, then called Natek, and his older brother, Adek, lived among Pol­ish peo­ple. He says Jews faced no anti-Semitism but for out­breaks here and there, but it wasn’t bla­tant un­til the war started in 1939.

Natan was nine years old when the run­ning started. His fa­ther, by then in the Pol­ish army, was taken pris­oner by the Ger­mans and re­leased in Rus­sia. He heard of the Jewish per­se­cu­tion in War­saw and paid wine clients to bring his wife and their two sons to unite in the Ukraine. They were later sent to Siberia with hun­dreds of other Poles and Jews, trav­el­ling on an­i­mal trains, boats and open trucks to a vil­lage called Gorki.

His mother, Pola, well-ed­u­cated and able to speak sev­eral lan­guages, stressed learn­ing, telling her boys, “You are in the wilder­ness of Siberia but ed­u­ca­tion is ed­u­ca­tion, and you have to con­tinue it, wher­ever you are. Re­mem­ber this for­ever!”

The next day, Natan re­calls, “I was fear­ful start­ing school. I knew only Pol­ish and Ukrainian. It took me a year to mas­ter Rus­sian but I fit in and fin­ished first in the class.”

In au­tumn 1945, the fam­ily moved sev­eral hun­dred kilo­me­tres south to Sara­tov, where Adek started med­i­cal school and Natan, at age 15, fin­ished high school. By sum­mer 1946, with the war ended, Poles liv­ing in Rus­sia were per­mit­ted to re­turn home, the Jakubow­icz fam­ily among them.

Me­nachem re­built his wine busi­ness. Adek went to med school at Univer­sity of War­saw. Natan faced anti-Semitism at his school and re­fused to go, but con­nected with a Zion­ist youth or­ga­ni­za­tion that con­vinced him to go to Pales­tine and the Jewish home­land. Af­ter train­ing in France, Natan ar­rived in Pales­tine on March 15, 1948 and was sent to a kib­butz (col­lec­tive farm) to be trained as a sol­dier. Two months later, he fought in the army to estab­lish the new state of Is­rael.

A year later, he helped de­velop a new kib­butz, Megiddo, re­main­ing there for five years, ris­ing in mil­i­tary rank, and be­com­ing a math in­struc­tor. By now, Adek was a physi­cian in Is­rael and tried to con­vince his younger brother to study en­gi­neer­ing (a def­i­nite no), and try law school (that lasted a year).

“I found a job with a bank so I could live in­de­pen­dently rather than liv­ing with friends and fam­ily,” re­flects Natan. “I also de­vel­oped an af­fec­tion for the­atre, fell in love with a young woman, mar­ried, had a daugh­ter and later di­vorced when I dis­cov­ered my wife was un­faith­ful.”

He also changed his last name to a He­brew one, com­monly done in Is­rael, and chose Nevo, af­ter Mount Nevo where God showed Moses the promised land.

The mar­riage col­lapse con­vinced Natan to leave Is­rael. At 31, he went to France, speak­ing only a cou­ple of French words, but ready to start over in the­atre. He quickly learned the lan­guage at L’Al­liance Fran­caise and then the Sor­bonne.

He met his fu­ture wife Denise in Paris. Af­ter a quick re­turn to Is­rael where he couldn’t find work, Natan and Denise came to Hal­i­fax in 1965 to be with Adek, who was an es­tab­lished doc­tor there.

“I was 35, and spoke no English but found a job as a teacher at Cu­nard Ju­nior High where Wal­ter

“I of­ten dream of my fa­ther even though I was closer to my mother but he lived longer and we were to­gether in Is­rael. My brother died a year or so ago. He was 90 and I think about him a lot. I lis­tened to him and took his ad­vice.”

Fitzger­ald was prin­ci­pal. For two weeks, I watched tele­vi­sion to learn English and then started teach­ing French (in French) and Eu­ro­pean ge­og­ra­phy by us­ing slides and my lit­tle bit of English. Denise worked as a lab tech­ni­cian.”

Within a year, he was hired to teach in the French depart­ment at Dal­housie Univer­sity. Denise taught French at Dal, then Saint Mary’s Univer­sity and later at Mount St. Vin­cent Univer­sity.

Natan re­ceived a mas­ter’s de­gree in French at Dal, taught Rus­sian, de­vel­oped a Rus­sian depart­ment at Dal­housie, earned a mas­ter’s in ed­u­ca­tion, and then taught Rus­sian for many years at Aca­dia Univer­sity.

Natan stud­ied paint­ing in Paris. He took up the art as a hobby af­ter re­tir­ing from teach­ing in 2000 and hav­ing the sec­ond of two heart at­tacks in 2002. His work has been sold in gal­leries but he paints pri­mar­ily for plea­sure and re­lax­ation.

Natan re­turned to War­saw in 1988 but was very de­pressed with what he saw, “noth­ing like be­fore the war,” he says.

The war cost him many close rel­a­tives. His mother, who lived in War­saw af­ter the war, died there in 1948 of cancer. Later in life, his fa­ther lived in Is­rael, where he passed away.

“I of­ten dream of my fa­ther even though I was closer to my mother but he lived longer and we were to­gether in Is­rael. My brother died a year or so ago. He was 90 and I think about him a lot. I lis­tened to him and took his ad­vice.”

The Holo­caust cer­tainly had an ef­fect on Natan. He says he’s in touch with Pol­ish peo­ple in Hal­i­fax. “They’re nice peo­ple. They don’t show the hate of Jewish peo­ple that we saw in Poland. To­day, and al­ways, I look for the good in peo­ple. I try not to re­mem­ber the bad things that hap­pened.”


Natan Nevo sur­rounds him­self with colour­ful art­work at his Clay­ton Park home. The art­work rep­re­sents an out­look on life much dif­fer­ent than his days hid­ing in Poland and Ser­bia.


Nevo holds up a treasured piece that isn’t one of his own. The front page of The Pales­tine Post on May 16, 1948 de­clares the State of Is­rael is born. The pa­per would change its name in 1950 to The Jerusalem Post.


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