The journey of my life started in Poland and took me to this beautiful country, Canada. It has been a voyage filled with sweet childhood memories, intense pain and loss, rebirth from slavery to freedom and a new beginning here in Toronto. I have lost and gained during my lifetime. I have seen human nature at its worst and best. Yet, I still believe with all my heart in living and enjoying all that life has to offer. I have been blessed with a wonderful family who reaffirm for me that goodness exists in the world.
My late husband Ben, (z’l) and I were both born and raised in Poland. We survived Auschwitz-Birkenau and met on the day of the Liberation of Auschwitz. The significance of meeting on a day when freedom and hope reigned would echo throughout our lives. We fell deeply in love and were soon married in Katowice, Poland. Our first child Sharon was born in the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp where we lived before we immigrated to Canada. The very act of creating life after surviving such suffering proved our faith in humanity and our thirst for a better life. This feeling would continue throughout our relationship.
Ben and I came to Canada, landing at Pier 21, Halifax in December of 1948. We were followed shortly afterwards by my sister Jenny, brother-in-law Jacob and my parents Machela and Moishe Oksenhandler. Our families grew in Toronto, mine with two other children, Bernice and Michael. We started our livelihood in the Kensington area, like so many immigrants. We developed organizations for helping others and the State of Israel. My husband was on the executive of the Bergen Belsen Survivors Association and I was involved in the Zaglembier Ladies Auxiliary. I was the president for over 25 years. None of this seemed exceptional at the time. As I look back, I see that we were a part of Canadian Jewish history. We were a generation of incredible resilience, optimism and achievement.
Our children grew up in a household perfumed with love and respect for Jewish values. They have fulfilled all my dreams, each in their own way. I am proud of my six grandchildren and now my great granddaughter. Commitment to Tzedakah and the love of Yiddishkeit, that I shared with my husband Ben, lives on through them. Ben and I were devoted to so many causes, particularly when it came to Israel. Even in our winter community in Florida, we were involved in Jewish causes and became founding members of Beit Halochem, Florida.
I hope that my story will help to inspire others to have courage to face the challenges of life with optimism and to contribute to the continuity of the people of Israel both here in Canada and in Eretz Yisroel. By supporting the Toronto Jewish Foundation this can truly happen.