“Survivors and Heroes” program recognizes Christian saviours of Winnipeg survivors


By Myron Love

Reprinted with permission from the Jewish Post and News May 19, 2011.


              L-R: BELLE JARNIEWSKI MILLO (Chair of the Freeman Family Foundation Holocaust Education Centre), THE REVEREND DR.JAMES CHRISTIE,

Master of Ceremonies for the evening, and SHELLEY FAINTUCH (Community Relations Director of the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg).


                                  WALTER SALTZBERG                                                    ANJE VAN TONGEREN                                                             JOE RIESEN



Every Jew who survived the Holocaust experienced a miracle, a miracle that often involved someone else, someone who wasn’t Jewish, who was willing to out his/her life and the lives of other family members at risk to do the “right thing”.

On Thursday, May 5, in the last event of Holocaust Awareness Week, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg and the Freeman Family Foundation Holocaust Education Centre of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada recognized with plaques in their hon- our a small number of those Righteous Gentiles who helped make it possible for Holocaust survivors living in Winnipeg to have survived the Holocaust.

In some cases the rescuers were known to the Jewish survivors from before the war. Such was the case of Walter Saltzberg whose live was saved by Dr. Kazimierz Weckowski, a Polish Christian Doctor, who was a long time friend of the young Walter’s family.

Saltzberg recalled how Weckowski would slip into the Warsaw Ghetto from time to time to visit the Saltzberg Family. He tried to encourage the family to escape because he suspected that the ghetto was about to be liquidated. Walter’s parents and older brother, however, felt safe because they were working in the factories. They did agree to let Weckowski smuggle Walter out.

Weckowski hid Saltzberg in his apartment for two years until he himself was captured during the Polish uprising in Warsaw in the spring of 1945. Walter ended up in a Jewish orphanage after the war, where his sav- iour was able to visit him. They kept in touch over the years. Weckowski died just two years ago and was buried in Geneva.

The Shragge Family also knew their rescuers before the war. Sisters Betty (Shragge) Kirshner and Carmela (Shragge) Finkel recounted how the family was hidden by Tomas Gogala, a neighbour and former employee of their father, and his brother-in-law, Michael Ochocki and their wives in the Ochocki house. The Ochockis also hid a second Jewish family.


                    Sisters BETTY SHRAGGE KIRSHNER (on left) and CARMELA SHRAGGE FINKEL                                                                BARBARA GOSZER

After the war, Leon Shragge (Betty and Carmela’s father) kept in touch with the Ochocki and Gogala families, and regularly sent them money and medication to help them out over the years.

Dr. Stefan (Reicher) Carter, who was originally from Warsaw, was taken out of the Warsaw Ghetto in the autumn of 1942 by a cousin who had “Aryan” papers and arranged for Carter to be hidden with a number of Polish families over the remaining war years. He was first hidden by Hanna Herfurt-Gerwel and her mother. His longest stay - two years - was with Zofia Róycka and her mother. His aunt and uncle were sheltered by a Polish friend, Danuta Krzeszewska.

Barbara Goszer survived the war in hiding with the Stoklosa Family (Bronislaw and Maria and their daughter, Genowefa, and daughter and son-in-law Stefa and Josef Ginalski), a Catholic Family, who took in the 12-year-old blue-eyed, blonde Jewish girl in the fall of 1942 and cared for her until war’s end. The family also had a boarder, a German soldier by the name of Max, who knew the girl’s identity but kept the secret. Wanda and Jozef Wienckowski, another Polish Catholic family, hid Goszer’s future husband, Adam, his parents, Eliahu and Pesel, his brother, Boris, and sister Rachel (Szternfield Goldstein).

Joe Riesen (Riesenbach), his parents and two sisters survived the war thanks to his mother. The family initially fled into the forest. His mother went door to door trying to find a farm family that would take in her family and give them shelter. She found her family’s saviours at the door of the Bar family (Joseph and Julia and their daughter, Janina) who made a home for them in a hayloft. They lived in the hayloft from 1943 until liberation in 1945. Riesen and his family remained in contact with their rescuers to the end of their lives. In 2001, Joe Riesen went back to Poland to visit Janina and the graves of her parents.

“I will never forget them,” he says.


For the full text of Fanya's inspiring speech please see http://www.ffhec.org/Speeches.cfm

Also recognized during the course of the evening were three “Righteous Among the Nations” - two posthumously - with more direct Winnipeg connections. Father Taras Kowch, the parish priest of the Ukrainian Immaculate Conception Church at Cook’s Creek (35 kilometres east of Winnipeg), spoke passionately about his grandfather, Blessed Father Emilian Kowcz (whose name was put forward by the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg).

Born in 1884, the senior Kowcz was a Ukrainian Catholic priest in the city of Przemyslany, who may have saved as many as 10,000 Jewish lives (or more) by offering the Jews in the town baptismal certificates. He was never concerned with whether the Jews he baptized really wanted to become Catholics, said his grandson Father Taras.

He was eventually arrested (in 1943) by the Nazis for his efforts to save Jews and sent to Maidanek, where he became “the Parish Priest of Majdanek”. He was offered his release at one point but refused, because he felt that he was needed there. He was beaten badly as a result. He died in Majdanek in the spring of 1945.

Erika (Katy) Simons was born in Amsterdam, Holland on February 13, 1911 and died in Winnipeg, MB on February 16, 2005. She was the daughter of a Jewish father and a Mennonite mother. During the Second World War, Simons and other family members risked their lives to save Jewish people from the Holocaust. The Germans imprisoned Katy and, after six weeks, her mother managed to barter her release by giving a Nazi officer a handcrafted doll.

In 2002, Simons was awarded the Righteous Amongst the Nations Award from the Israeli government for her war efforts on behalf of Jewish people. Katy trained in England to be a nurse and came to Manitoba in 1961 to work in the T.B. sanitarium in Ninette.In her 60s, Simons enrolled at the University of Winnipeg to pursue her lifelong dream of a university education. She was a member of the Unitarian Church, Veterans Against Nuclear Arms, and the Humanist Association of Manitoba. She advocated strongly for peace and social justice.

Simons’ story was relayed by Daniel Stone, President of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada. Stone, a University of Winnipeg History professor, and his wife, Kay (a professor of English at the University), along with the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Winnipeg, proposed Simons for a memorial plaque.

Anje Van Tongeren was sponsored by B’nai Brith Canada for a plaque for “risking her life as a member of the Dutch underground by forging documents to help Jews escape the Nazis”. Her story was told by Pastor Rudy Fidel. Fidel notes that from 1942 to 1944, Van Tongeren and her mother helped escaping Jews as they passed through her village, providing them with clothing, food and forged documents. Her work ended in 1944 when she and her mother were betrayed by her father. They were both imprisoned, where her mother later died.

“Anje was 16 when she was released from prison,” Fidel said. “She was in despair. She had no place to go and contemplated suicide. She heard a voice urging her to live. She eventually married and left Holland with her husband - coming to Winnipeg in 1950.”

At 83, Van Tongeren is still alive and well and was able to attend the evening in her honour.

In her remarks, Barbara Goszer noted that at 81, she is among the youngest of the survivors. “The work of (Holocaust) education is becoming more difficult for us,” she said. “It is time to pass the torch to a younger generation. They have to be our voice in future. The Holocaust was not brought about by the actions of just a few people. The whole world was responsible and the whole world is responsible for preventing future Holocausts.”