CHAR­AC­TERS OF STRENGTH

Shar­ing the sto­ries of At­lantic Cana­di­ans who sur­vived the Holo­caust.

Truro Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - BY ERIN POTTIE

“It’s like you were hunted.”

They met while try­ing to lo­cate lost fam­ily mem­bers. What they found in­stead was each other.

Anna Zuck­er­man and Her­shel Bl­u­farb had vis­ited the same dis­placed per­sons camp fol­low­ing the chaos of the Sec­ond World War. They were both the only known mem­bers of their im­me­di­ate fam­i­lies to have sur­vived.

As a young boy grow­ing up in North Syd­ney, Fred Bl­u­farb said his par­ents talked about their re­mark­able Holo­caust es­capes with some reg­u­lar­ity. It was his mother, how­ever, who was most forth­com­ing about the tale.

“Some­times she’d di­rectly en­gage you and she was very fo­cused,” said Bl­u­farb, who runs a sec­ond-hand store near the Marine At­lantic ferry ter­mi­nal to New­found­land and Labrador.

“And other times, she would kind of drift off as if she was see­ing it or re­play­ing it like a movie. Some­times she’d be just calm and some­times she’d be emo­tional about it.”

Fred’s mother, Anna, grew up in an up­per-mid­dle class home sur­rounded by fine fur­nish­ings. The Pol­ish girl’s life would be for­ever changed around age 16.

ANNA’S STORY

At the out­set of the war, there were 14,000 Jewish peo­ple liv­ing in the for­mer city of Tarnopol, Poland. By mid-march 1943, only about 700 Jews re­mained by of­fi­cial count, but sev­eral hun­dred oth­ers were be­lieved to be in hid­ing.

Nazi leader Adolf Hitler had be­gun bom­bard­ing Poland on Sept. 1, 1939, by send­ing some 1.5 mil­lion troops in what he re­ferred to as a de­fen­sive ac­tion.

Two days later, Bri­tain and France de­clared war on Ger­many, ini­ti­at­ing the Sec­ond World War.

Ger­man forces be­gan their ter­ror by loot­ing the homes of wealthy fam­i­lies such as the Zuck­er­mans.

Anna’s fam­ily, along with many oth­ers, would be sent into a cor­doned-off sec­tion of the city, where they lived in fear of per­se­cu­tion and death.

The big­gest help to Anna’s sur- vi­val came in the form of a writ­ten pass. It was given to her by a Ger­man of­fi­cer whose wife was helped by Anna’s fa­ther, a lo­cal healer and bar­ber.

“If there was an ac­tion com­ing she would say I’ve got a ‘Get out of jail free card,’ and she was able to get out,” said Bl­u­farb.

“Other times, I think she may have es­caped through fences.”

In to­tal, Anna had en­dured 18 killings over a two-year pe­riod but she was not im­mune to the wide­spread pain and suf­fer­ing. She wit­nessed un­think­able atroc­i­ties, none more painful than hear­ing her fa­ther say his good­byes as he was led out­side an apart­ment by Ger­man of­fi­cers.

Her­man Zuck­er­man would later be found shot dead in a marsh.

Anna also re­called see­ing a large crop of what her son be­lieves was cab­bage that grew atop a mass grave. De­spite wide­spread hunger, no one in the city wanted to eat the plump veg­eta­bles as they bore a red­dish hue when sliced open.

“That was one of her most prom­i­nent sto­ries,” Bl­u­farb said. “She re­ally wanted to drive that one home – that this hap­pened, this atroc­ity – the over­sized cab­bage and the red colours on the in­side.”

Anna would even­tu­ally by saved through her own skill and trick­ery.

She had learned to im­per­son­ate a Ukrainian woman so well, that in­stead of be­ing shot or sent to a con­cen­tra­tion camp, she was sent for two years to what her son be­lieves was a forced labour camp in Ger­many.

In 1945, Anna was lib­er­ated. It was a mix of emo­tion, said her son, as she and many oth­ers would suf­fer from sur­vivor’s guilt.

In an in­ter­view be­fore her 1999 death, Anna spoke to Cape Bre­ton’s Mag­a­zine about her har­row­ing tale.

“Sur­vivors are not so many left,” she said.

“And no­body knows how long you’ll have them around to tell the story … I think I have to tell the story. So it won’t be said it never hap­pened.

“That’s what hurt the most, when peo­ple tell you it couldn’t be, it never hap­pened. And here, I lived through it.

“And I think maybe that’s why God let me live, so I can tell this story.”

HER­SHEL’S STORY

As Ger­many in­vaded Poland, many Jewish men had de­cided to flee on foot or by freight-hop­ping.

As a re­sult of Her­shel’s dar­ing ad­ven­ture, Fred Bl­u­farb and his brother Ben­jamin have an older half-sib­ling, Vladimir, who grew up in Rus­sia.

“You re­ally, re­ally, re­ally had to live by your wits,” said Bl­u­farb of his fa­ther’s es­cape at age 17.

Among the mem­o­ries Her­shel once shared with his son was hid­ing in tall veg­e­ta­tion as low-fly­ing Ger­man planes flew by on straf­ing runs.

Her­shel told his son about the im­por­tance of not wear­ing white as it could be spot­ted from above.

“It would be noth­ing for ev­ery­body to jump in the grass and lay down for cover and he would get up and the guy next to him wouldn’t,” said Bl­u­farb.

“I re­mem­ber my dad ba­si­cally say­ing … it’s like you were hunted, and if you were Jewish you were go­ing to be ex­ter­mi­nated.”

In order to fight star­va­tion, Bl­u­farb said his fa­ther was once forced to con­sume the meat of a dead horse.

Bl­u­farb said both of his par­ents would talk about anx­i­eties that were ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing bomb­ings. Both Her­shel and Anna heav­ily re­lied on their gut feel­ings.

And in one par­tic­u­lar in­ci­dent, Her­shel’s in­tu­ition saved his life.

“He got out of the build­ing and a few mo­ments later that build­ing got hit,” said Bl­u­farb.

“He al­ways won­dered, ‘why did God save me?”’

A NEW LIFE

For a time af­ter the war, the Bl­u­farbs lived in both Is­rael and Eng­land. They ar­rived on Cana­dian soil Jan. 10, 1952.

Their son be­lieves they landed at Pier 21 in Hal­i­fax and soon af­ter, sit­u­ated them­selves in Mon­treal, be­fore mov­ing on to New­found­land and even­tu­ally set­tling in North Syd­ney.

They pro­vided their sons with lov­ing child­hoods, but Bl­u­farb said they were over­pro­tec­tive par­ents.

“They say for­give and for­get,” he said. “I don’t think that took place for ei­ther of my par­ents but they didn’t live their lives filled with con­tempt for those that hated them.

“They em­braced life and lived life and raised their fam­ily with love and car­ing be­cause if you har­boured that con­tent you wouldn’t have been able to pro­vide a lov­ing en­vi­ron­ment for your own fam­ily. They never taught us to hate be­cause they were the re­cip­i­ents of hate so what would that give back? Noth­ing.”

Her­shel Bl­u­farb passed away in 1992. Anna died in 1999.

Be­fore her death, Anna was one of 50,000 sur­vivors to share tes­ti­mony to the USC Shoah Foun­da­tion – The In­sti­tute for Vis­ual His­tory and Ed­u­ca­tion, founded by Amer­i­can film­maker Steven Spiel­berg.

ERIN POTTIE/THE CAPE BRE­TON POST

For a boy grow­ing up in North Syd­ney, Cape Bre­ton, Fred Bl­u­farb wasn’t far away from the Holo­caust. His par­ents brought it home to him in their reg­u­lar con­ver­sa­tions of how they man­aged to sur­vive what claimed the lives of so many.

Anna (Zuck­er­man) Bl­u­farb and her hus­band, Her­shel, met at a dis­placed per­sons camp.

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