111-year-old Ottawa woman survived concentration camp
‘Your health is always important. So is your family’
Eufrozyna Kaminski survived three years in a Siberian concentration camp and many years in Tanzania as a postwar refugee before settling in 1950, at age 52, in Ottawa.
That is when her life became truly remarkable.
She lived 59 more years and in the later part of her life, in the words of her niece, felt that on “some days, it is like God has forgotten about her.”
Born March 7, 1898, she died Thursday afternoon at age 111, surrounded by family members, in the nursing home where she had lived for the past nine years.
Though her age has not been officially verified by the international body of gerontology, Kaminski was believed to be the second-oldest living person in Canada.
“At 4:30 (p.m.) she just stopped breathing, like the system shut down almost,” said her son, Jan Kaminski, 73.
Jan said his mother’s mental state had deteriorated over the last few months, and she had trouble recognizing family members.
“No matter how it is, it’s such a final state in life, so we all feel sad,” he said. “But then again, we know we couldn’t expect much more — after 111 years, it’s a long time.”
In a Polish-language interview with the Citizen on her 109th birthday, Kaminski — who never learned to speak English — was asked what had been important to her:
“Your health is always important. So is your family.
“Work, that is important, but every day will bring plenty of work. You should never worry about work because it will always find you.”
Like millions of Europeans in the 20th century, her life was shaped by the terror and tumult of the Second World War.
Kaminski was born in Gwoznica, then part of Poland, now in Belarus.
Before the Second World War, she and her husband, Kasimier Kaminski, ran a farm with their three children in Poland.
When the Soviets invaded Poland in 1939, the family was sent to a concentration camp in Siberia.
“We lived in the barracks until my dad built us a place that he dug out of the ground and put a roof over,” said Jan, who was four years old when he arrived at the camp, recalled in 2007.
“We were there for two years, and you just could not imagine the living conditions.”
With the Germans closing in on Russia three years later, and the Soviets now aligned with the allies, the family was released so Kasimier could join the Polish army.
The couple’s older son, Stefan, died of dysentery in an Iranian refugee camp while en route back to Poland.
“We were split up in Uzbekistan,” Jan told the Citizen in 2007.
“My mother found us in Tehran, but by the time she found my brother, he was al- ready buried. She blamed herself.”
They wound up in a refugee camp in Tanzania, in east Africa, before finally emigrating to Canada.
Her husband found work on farms and at the Lord Elgin Hotel, and they bought a home on Sweetland Avenue in Sandy Hill. Kasimier died in 1983, at age 89, but Eufrozyna stayed on alone until 2000.
At age 102, she finally gave up her beloved house, moving into St. Patrick’s Home.
“She was still gardening then,” Jan recalled.
“Always gardening. Everyone on the street got tomatoes from her.”
Perhaps because the middle years of her extraordinarily long life had been so riven by warfare, she always longed to return to the house in Sandy Hill.
On Saturday, Jan said his mother’s tumultuous experiences may have given her the strength to live such a long life.
“She had a very hard life, so I guess that’s how she survived that long — she was tough,” he said.
Kaminski was being studied by researchers at the Harvard School of Medicine as part of a longevity study, Jan said, adding that longevity runs in the family.
Her sister and her father lived to 102, and her grandfather lived to be more than 110, Jan said.
Despite the length of his mother’s life, Jan said she wasn’t much for publicity when she was alive, “and I’m not going to try to create it for her now.”