Please note the following four interesting programs on the Polish-Jewish themes at this year’s Ashkenaz Festival in Toronto, Aug 30 – Sep 5, 2016.

For full listing of the festival events and additional information please go to www.ashkenaz.ca

We Keep Coming Back Canadian Premiere

Saturday, September 3, 8:30-10pm

Studio Theatre 235 Queens Quay West, Harbourfront, Toronto

Tickets – see the information below

A mother and son, both descendants of Polish Holocaust survivors, return to Poland in the hopes of finding their lost identity and using their quest as a way to reconnect their own fractured relationship. The plot, however, takes an unexpected turn when Michael and Mary discover a vibrant contemporary world of Jewish life in Poland. Unbeknownst to them, their journey will reveal a parallel narrative among Poles seeking a reconnection with lost Jewish identities. An unexpected story is born. We Keep Coming Back explores the politics of memory, trauma and stereotype, filtered through the complex investigation of a mother and son trying to repair their relationship to Judaism, each other and themselves. It is performed by real-life mother and son, Mary Berchard and Michael Rubenfeld, as well as Katka Reszke, author of “Return of the Jew”. It’s presented in a media rich environment, incorporating video footage, archival material, and music.

The performance will be followed at 10pm by a talkback in the Marilyn Brewer Community Gallery with the cast of the show, which will simultaneously serve as a lead-in to the 11pm screening of the documentary film “Raise the Roof.”

Tickets: $20 in advance / $24 day-of

Co-presented with:

Koffler Centre of the Arts

Sponsored by:

Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Toronto

Raise the Roof (2015)

Saturday September 3, 11pm

Studio Theatre 235 Queens Quay West, Harbourfront, Toronto

Directed by Yari and Cary Wolinsky (USA) 85 minutes

Free Admission

“How often do you get a chance to reach deep into history and bring something back?” -Rick Brown

Inspired by images of the magnificent wooden synagogues of 18th century Poland – the last of which were destroyed by the Nazis – artists Rick & Laura Brown of Handshouse Studio set out to reconstruct a replica of the stunning, mural-covered Gwozdziec synagogue. Working with a team of 300 artisans and students from around the world, using only period hand tools and techniques, the Browns finally realized their dream. In 2014, the show-stopping reconstruction of the Gwozdziec synagogue roof was unveiled as the centerpiece of the new POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, in Warsaw. Filmmakers Yari and Cary Wolinsky’s beautifully photographed and rendered film Raise the Roof, tells the story of this remarkable 10 year project against the backdrop of the 1000 year history of Jews in Poland.

Co-presented with:

The Toronto Jewish Film Festival

Katka Reszke Boston

“The Meshugene Effect”

Sunday September 4, 6-7pm,

MBCS 235 Queens Quay West, Harbourfront, Toronto

Free Admission

Since the fall of communism, thousands of people in Poland have discovered Jewish roots. Among them is a peculiar category of those, whose discovery was preceded by a ‘hunch’ – an irrational conviction that they were Jewish before they actually knew they were Jewish. “The Meshugene Effect” is a research-creation project, which explores cultural and discursive contingencies surrounding religion, gender and authenticity. Katka Reszke tries to make sense of the personal narratives of several Polish women (including her own), who embarked on a pursuit of Jewish identity following a feeling, an intuition, an uncanny precognition about their Jewish descent. These self-narratives reveal different ways of making sense of extraordinary experiences of memory and transition set against the landscape of troubled Polish-Jewish history and a new curious Polish-Jewish present.

Katka Reszke is a Polish-born, U.S.-based writer, filmmaker, photographer, researcher in Jewish identities, as well as an occasional performer (www.wekeepcomingback.com). She is the author of “Return of the Jew” and the screenwriter of “Karski & The Lords of Humanity”.

Leo Spellman’s Lost Rhapsody:

A Documentary Film In-progress

Sunday September 4, 7pm

Studio Theatre 235 Queens Quay West, Harbourfront, Toronto

Free Admission

Since 2011, Director David Hoffert and Producers Paul and Brenda Hoffert and Jeff Preyra have been making an increasingly epic documentary film about the late Toronto pianist, composer and Holocaust survivor Leo Spellman. The story began with the discovery, re-orchestration and ultimate Canadian premiere (at the 2012 Ashkenaz Festival) of Spellman’s long lost orchestral masterpiece, “Rhapsody 1939-1945”.  Originally composed in 1947 in a German DP camp, the composition musically tells Spellman’s haunting and hopeful story of perseverance against all odds.  Two months after this landmark performance, Leo Spellman passed away at the age of 99.  The project appeared to be finished, until Spellman’s wartime diaries were discovered among his belongings. Representing some of the most significant, and harrowing, first-person accounts of survival during the Holocaust, the diaries added a new dimension to the narrative of the film. The documentary has continued to evolve over the last three years, taking the team to Poland for a triumphant performance of the Rhapsody with an eighty-five piece orchestra, and to Spellman’s hometown of Ostrowiec, where the mayor unveiled a plaque honouring their former resident. Join the filmmakers for a sneak peak at their work-in-progress, as it nears completion in the coming year. A new trailer will be presented along with preliminary sequences from the film, footage from the’ two trips to Poland, and excerpts of the unique animation that is being incorporated into the film as dramatizations of the material in Spellman’s diaries.


Montreal, 16.02.2016

Dear Members and Friends of PJHF,

It is with great sadness that we are saying goodbye to the long time friend and supporter of the PJHF, Dr. Victor Goldbloom who passed away on Monday, Feb. 15, 2016 at the age of 92.

He was a dedicated pediatrician, university professor, Quebec provincial politician and most of all, a devoted advocate of the dialogue and reconciliation between different communities, in particular between Christians and Jews.
During the years 1979 and 1987, Dr. Victor Goldbloom served as the president of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews.
In 1991, he was appointed Canada's commissioner of official languages, serving until 1999.
Last year, Dr. Goldbloom published "Building Bridges," a book of anecdotes and memories about his five decades in public service.
Dr. Victor Goldbloom is survived by his wife, Sheila and three children.

He will be dearly missed.

Board of directors of PJHF


Montreal, 25.04.2015

Dear Members and Friends of PJHF,

With great regret we are informing you about the passing of Władysław Bartoszewski, the prominent Polish politician, historian, writer and social activist. Member of the Underground Resistance, prisoner of Auschwitz and the soldier of the Polish Home Army, he was a founding member of Zegota - the Polish Clandestine Council for Aid to the Jews in Warsaw, and a participant of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. As an outstanding authority on the history of the German occupation of Poland during World War II, he wrote over fifty books and articles. One of them: "1969 Righteous Among Nations: How Poles Helped the Jews 1939 - 1945", was one of the first on the subject.

For us, members of PJHF, he was a mentor, a friend and an important contributor to Polish-Jewish dialogue and reconciliation.

In 1999 (along with the Canadian Foundation for Polish Studies) we had the privilege of hosting him here in Montreal. At the University of McGill, he gave the lecture "Polish Memory, Jewish Memory, History, Dialogue and Understanding".

Władysław Bartoszewski was an enthusiastic supporter of PJHF. Irena Bellert, the PJHF president at the time, recorded a long and compelling interview with Władysław Bartoszewski, available on our web site www.polish-jewish-heritage.org

Board of directors of PJHF

Conference Miejsce po - miejsce bez
April 9-10 2015 at Fabryki Emalia Oskara Schindlera, 4 Lipowa st., Krakow.
(conference program)

For live streaming of the conference, find the link (after April 7) at the museum's web site on this page.

Marta śmietana
Muzeum Historyczne Miasta Krakowa
12/619 23 31

Invisible Threads: Life Saving Sugihara Visas and the Journey to Vancouver

Private View & Opening Reception: April 9 2015, 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm
Supported by Consulate General of Japan in Vancouver
* This event is invite only * Tickets are limited so make sure you RSVP.

Exhibit: April 10 - July 1 2015
Vancouver Maritime Museum,
1905 Ogden Avenue in Vanier Park, Vancouver, BC V6J 1A3

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Vancouver and Yokohama's sister city relationship, the Vancouver Maritime Museum is proud to present Invisible Threads: Life Saving Sugihara Visas and the Journey to Vancouver.

This exhibition tells the story of the thousands of Jewish refugees who fled from Nazi occupied Europe during World War II and traveled to Japan using transit visas issued by Chiune Sugihara, Japanese Vice-Consul in Lithuania. Sugihara issued approximately 4,500 transit visas against the direct orders of his government, permitting the refugees to enter Japan. From the ports of Kobe and Yokohama, many Jewish refugees boarded Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK) cruise ships crossing the Pacific Ocean and arrived safely in Seattle and Vancouver.

A vast network of Sugihara visa recipients and their descendants now spreads across the world, connecting thousands of individuals. Vancouver is an important part of this network as many of the survivors have passed through our city and some have even made it their home. This exhibition features reproduced photographs and archival documents from Yokohama, NYK shipping lines and families saved by Sugihara, some of whom still live in Vancouver. Because of his compassion and selfless actions, Chiune Sugihara is forever linked, through invisible threads, to the lives of those he saved and the generations of their descendants.

About Chiune Sugihara:
Chiune Sugihara was born on January 1, in Yaotsu, Gifu Prefecture, Japan,
1900 to a middle-class family. Languages were his passion and he studied English at Waseda University. He was recruited by the Japanese Foreign Ministry where his charisma and talent for languages led to his promotion to Vice-Consul of the Japanese Consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania in 1939. From this strategic location, the Japanese government was able to use Chiune Sugihara to report on the movements of both Russian and German troops.
Chiune Sugihara and his compassionate nature have touched the lives of thousands of people. His generosity and courage is recognized the world over through memorials and museums which can be
found in Kaunas, Tsuruga, his birthplace of Yaotsu and even Los Angeles. In 1985, Chiune Sugihara was granted the honour of "Righteous Among the Nations" by Yad Vashem, Israel's official Holocaust memorial. The actions of this great man are also promoted through the organizations NPO Chiune Sugihara Visas For Life and the Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Society. This year also marked the inaugural presentation of the Wallenberg-Sugihara Civil Courage Award to former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh.

About Vancouver Yokohama Golden Jubilee Celebrations:
This year marks the 50th anniversary of sister-city relations between Yokohama, Japan and Vancouver, BC, Canada. Since 1965, this sister-city relationship has been well supported by individuals, local community groups, city officials and staff. To commemorate the milestone this year, the cities are working together in developing festivities and exchanges throughout 2015 to further enhance city partnerships and international grassroots exchanges.

About the Vancouver Maritime Museum:
The Vancouver Maritime Museum is a not-for-profit museum and gallery that celebrates the profound significance of the oceans and waterways of the Pacific and Arctic, through the preservation and growth of its extraordinary collection, and as a centre for dialogue, research, and experience.

For more information please contact:

Lizzie Brotherston, Marketing Coordinator

604-257-8302 | marketing@vancouvermaritimemuseum.com

Invitation to a meeting with eyewitness Marcel Kurzmann,
at the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow

Thursday March 12th 2015, at 18.00
The Eagle Factory, 18 Bohaterów Getta Square, Krakow

Marcel Kurzmann (b. 1935), will talk about his family's wartime experiences, being deported deep into the Soviet Union, returning to Krakow and experiencing the first post-war years. Marcel Kurzmann is the grandson of David Kurzmann, a known entrepreneur and social activist in pre-war Krakow who was killed along with the Jewish Dom Sierot orphanage charges during deportation from the Krakow ghetto in October 1942. After the outbreak of war in September 1939, Marcel Kurzmann and his parents fled eastward and ended up in Buchach, from where he was then deported by the Soviets beyond the Urals. After his release from the camp, his family lived in Samarkand, in today's Uzbekistan, and returned to Poland in 1946. In 1950, Marcel Kurzmann emigrated to Israel, where he still lives today.

The meeting will be hosted by Grzegorz Siwor, Polish scholar, teacher, and author of the book "Enoszijut. The story of David Kurzmannie".

Free admission!

Bartosz Heksel, b.heksel@mhk.pl; 12/656 56 25

Maurycy Gottlieb

W poszukiwaniu tożsamości - Krakow National Museum


August 2014

With great sadness we say goodbye to Jan Jarczyk, a Polish-born jazz musician, Montreal pianist and McGill University professor who died on August 3rd 2014, after a battle with stomach cancer.

Jan Jarczyk was a very active member of the Polish community in Montreal. He will be remembered for his determination and dedication in propagating jazz and Polish music, for his involvement as the main organizer in the series of concerts "Jazzowe Zaduszki", that took place in the Polish Consulate in Montreal.

In April of 2012 he took part in a very important PJHF Gala Concert dedicated to the newly-created Museum of History of Polish Jews. That very evening Jan Jarczyk played, for the first time, a jazz composition specially created by him for that occasion, called "Klezmer goes Jazz".

He is survived by his wife and two daughters.


September 2011


Board of Polish Jewish Heritage Foundation

by Mila Mesner

Ala was my friend. Her frienship was very special to me. She was a sincere, loving, caring friend. We worked together on many interesting projects. Her good sense of organization and her willingness to be of assistance was heartwarming. Most of all her good ideas and wise advice was priceless.

Visiting her was always a treat. Ringing the bell downstairs to her apartment I could hear a melodious voice "Witam już otwieram". There she was standing in the open door with a smile and outstretched arms in a warm greeting. Inside the table was already set for a tasty treat. The atmosphere of her home was peaceful, orderly uncluttered and aesthetically pleasing. It was good to be in her presence.

I will miss you Alu.

I only wish that when my time comes to cross the threshold to the other side - there will be Ala's voice telling me...


A memorable journey to Ukraine

by Mila Mesner
June 2011

At the suggestion of Irena Belert, the former president of The Polish Jewish Heritage Foundation in Montreal, my wartime memoires, documented in my book "The Light from the Shadows", were first published by this organization in 2005.

The book covered the relatively happy period in my life in Zaleszczyki, (my home town in Poland, currently Ukraine referred to as Zalischyky), before the outbreak of the war on September the 1st, l939. I also detailed the tragic devastation and horror of the war in the years that followed. I was very pleased that many people found this book helpful and inspiring. I also discovered that it was also of special interest to some former residents, as well as the relatives of former residents of Zalischyky, who are currently spread out in various locations around the world.

This brought me to the realization that considering that Zalischyki is currently a Ukrainian town, with a handful of Poles and no Jews whatsoever, it is very likely that the new generation in that town are completely unaware that there were Jews, Poles and Ukrainians (each group constituted approximately 1/3 of the population before the war) who lived together in relative harmony until the war started. They are also very likely unaware that people like my family and me had to flee Zalischyky in 1940, as we no longer felt safe there. So, considering that I did not have any relatives or friends, nor any acquaintances left in Zalischyky, I decided to send a copy of my book to the attention of the mayor of Zalischyki. Two months later I received a response. The Mayor, Mr.Vladimir Beneviat who understands some English, read the book with great interest, and invited us (my husband and I) to come for a visit to Zalischyky.

As a result of this invitation Izio and I (age 88 and 84 respectively at that time), we undertook this arduous trip in June of 2008. I say arduous because it is not a place that is easily accessible. This trip involves long hours of travel by air, by train, bus or taxi on roads that are not always in the best of conditions.

Upon our arrival, we received an overwhelming welcome by Mr. Vladimir Beneviat and by the Director of the regional museum, Mr. Wasyl Olijnyk and his family.

During our many talks it was decided to have my book translated and published in Ukrainian so as to make it accessible especially to the new generation in that town. We also agreed to erect a monument on the unmarked mass grave of over 800 people, men and women of this town, of Jewish faith, who were savagely killed on November l4, l941.

As a result of this discussion, after three years of earnest cooperation and much good will, the book was published in the Ukrainian language, and received a very favorable review in the local paper. At the same time a very beautiful and dignified monument was erected and ready for an official unveiling.

April 27th was set for the official presentation of my book "The Light from the Shadows" in Ukrainian, and April 28th was set for the unveiling of the monument.

A group of us, consisting of four nieces, a nephew, as well as friends from England, United States, Austria and the Ukraine (Lviv), travelled to Zalischyky, to take part in this solemn event. In addition there were representatives from B'nai Brith organizations in Lviv and Tarnopol, as well as the Honorary Canadian Consul in Lviv Oksana Wynnyskyj The ceremony was officiated by Rabbi Koffmansky from Chernovtsy.

On April 27th, we (my husband and I, my nieces and nephew, as well as a couple of friends from Austria) arrived in a mini bus accompanied by Mr. Wasyl Olijnyk and his family, to the school where the book launch was to occur. We were greeted by several students in colorful regional costumes, standing poised in two rows on either side of the entrance way to the school. The director of the school Svetlana Bodnar, as well as the mayor Mr. Vladimir Beneviat greeted me with flowers and warm embraces.

We were led to the school auditorium filled with students and teachers as well as visitors. On the stage there was an enlarged photo of the back cover of my book (including my photo) and a panoramic photo of Zalishchyky from many years ago.

The ceremony started with a young girl dressed in Ukrainian costume slowly approaching us with a gracious offer of a Paska (Ukrainian Easter bread) and salt on a beautifully embroidered towel. This gesture was followed by a number of dances and songs, poetry readings, speeches and as well as readings from my book.

I was moved to tears. I felt the outpouring of good will all around me. There were smiling faces everywhere. Everyone tried their best to show us that they appreciate me and my book and that they were grateful for my efforts.

That same afternoon our little group was invited to participate in an official ceremony to commemorate the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. My husband and I felt honored to be asked to plant a tree in memory of the victims of this terrible event.

The next day, Thursday April 28th, was designated for the unveiling of the monument.

As we approached the monument we were gently beckoned by the beautiful sound of Lacrimosa Deis Irae (The day of tears and mourning) from Mozart's Requiem. It was a sunny day although a strong wind was blowing as the guests from Canada, United States, Austria, England, Oksana Wynnyckyj the honorary Canadian consul from Lviv, Gregory Pikman, the representative of B'nai Brith from Lviv and Tarnopol, Rabbi M. Koffmansky from Czernovitsy, representative of various institutions in Zalishchyky, a number of students, and towns people, the mayor, the director of the museum , my friend Olena Luczka from Lviv (with whom I shared the same school bench during my high school years) all gathered around the monument.

The mayor laid a wreath on the monument. The offering of additional bouquets from friends and the representatives of the B'nai Brith followed. Most poignantly a group of elderly Polish women, current residents of Zalischyki, brought lots of beautiful red tulips from their gardens, and lovingly spread them on the monument.

The Rabbi said a few words and a prayer and then intoned El Mole Rachmim. The Canadian Consul and various other representatives from various organizations had moving speeches, and than it was my turn. As I was speaking in English a young grandson of Wasyl Olejnik, stood beside me reading the translation in Ukrainian. This is what we said.

Unveiling address
Prepared by Mila Mesner,
Montreal Canada

It has been almost three years since the four of us, the mayor of Zaleschiki Mr. Wolodimir Beneviat, the Director of the Regional Museum Wasyl Olijnyk, my husband Ijio Mesner, and I stood together in this field, discussing the importance and possibility of erecting a monument to commemorate the lives of over 800 people of this town, who were brutally murdered 70 years ago, on this very spot where we stand today.

My personal thanks and gratitude go first and foremost to Wasilij Olejnik without whom this project could not have gotten off the ground. Thank you my dear friend for your dedication, your thoughtfulness, and your kindness, not to speak of the countless hours that you have spent in realizing this project. I am also very grateful to Mr. Wolodimir Beneviat who paved the way for us to be able to stand here together to dedicate this stone to the memory of those martyrs.

I would like to begin with naming some of these people whose lives were cut short. I knew many of them personally. Some of them were young people who went to school with me : Sabina Stettner , Dziunka Schwebel, Dziunka Hackmayer, Rozia Wolkowicz and Ditta Wolkowicz, Tonka Meyer. Some were members of my family such as my cousins Mina Elberger, Pepka Wenkert, Berta Wenkert, Lola Wenkert and Fanka Wenkert, my aunt Frima Wenkert, and my uncle Jancio Elberger. There were among them people who served our town in many ways. There was Dr. Rosen, who helped heal the sick, the architect Morice Schwebel who designed beautiful buildings in our city. There were tradesmen like carpenter Holtzman who was my neighbor, as well as a roofer, a tinsmith, and a carriage driver whose names I do not remember. All these people had hopes and dreams like everyone else for themselves and their children.

I also want to tell you about the life in our town during the time I was growing up. The population of Z was almost evenly divided among the Ukrainians, Poles and Jews. There was little socializing or mixing between the Ukrainians and Poles, and even less between the Jews and non-Jews. Nevertheless all three groups had a lot in common.

First of all everybody loved the land we lived on. We loved the river Dniester, the high cliffs towering over the river, the blooming orchards, the chestnut trees, the black fertile soil, the wonderful summers full of music and life and the summer tourists bringing relative prosperity to our town. This was the land of our ancestors, Ukrainians, Poles and Jews, who for centuries lived here, worked here, produced goods, and died here.

All the people regardless of their culture or religion, shared the same fear of the unknown and the feeling of helplessness in the face of calamities. Everybody got up in the morning hoping for a good day without unexpected tragedies and unpleasant occurrences. Most people started the day with a prayer. The Ukrainnas with Otcze nasz, the Poles with Ojcze Nas, and the Jews with Moidi Any. Some crossed themselves three times, some only once, and some turned to the Eastern wall facing Jerusalem praying to the higher power we all called God. We all asked that our wishes be granted. We wanted protection from evil and misfortune. We prayed for good health, for ourselves and for our loved ones. We prayed for our daily bread, and a little bit of extra money to be able to give our children a good education and a secure trade. We all wanted our children to have a better life than their parents had. These prayers, rituals and practices were passed on from generation to generation, from parents to their children. Each and everyone thought that their way was the right way to reach the attention of the Almighty, who in the end was the only one who could protect us.

While our celebrations, and rituals were different, our sentiments were the same. We all shared much joy during the birth of a new baby, at weddings of family members and friends. We all feasted at family gatherings during various holidays. We also shared the sorrow and sadness that illness and death inevitably brought to all of us.

Unfortunately, life was and continues to be full of misfortunes and catastrophes. The situation in Germany after the First World War was catastrophic. Inflation, unemployment played havoc with the lives of people there. This became a fertile ground for the most evil and destructive form of government -Nazism. In times of difficulties the common practice is to look for scapegoats. The most frequent targets were the Jews. The victims were innocent people who could not defend themselves, such as the Jews who are buried right here. The Nazi doctrine promoted a culture of hatred that resulted in brutality, sadism and hideous crimes against humanity. Some people profited materially by robbing and stealing from those who were helpless. They benefitted from other people's misfortunes. Those who were humane and who cared for the people who were persecuted, were punished by death. Here in this earth, under our feet, are some of the victims of this monstrous regime.

Now I would like to say a few words to the young people who are here today. Our beautiful town of Z, is now inhabited by a new generation of people, far removed from all those horrors . It is up to you whom you will elect to govern you, what new progressive laws will be enacted, and what ethics and morals will guide you and your children. You are lucky to be born after the horror and depravity of those war years. The people who witnessed or committed these crimes are almost all gone. The world we live in and the future of this land is now in your hands. You are the future generation that will be deciding what is just, what is humane, and what kind of a society you will build.

I am so grateful that you came out today to stand together to affirm our joint humanity and to promise to each other that we will do individually and collectively everything we possibly can to eradicate hatred and prejudice in our communities, in our towns and in the world.

How do we do that you might ask? Think of the Golden rule. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". This rule can serve as a guiding light that will point you in the right direction. And let this monument be a symbol, a reminder and a promise that NEVER AGAIN will Zalishschyky be a witness to such horrendous brutality.

When all the speeches were done, and just before the ceremony ended, a few drops of rain began to fall gently unto the monument. Rabbi Koffmansky finished his speech with a blessing and a comment that these raindrops are the tears of the people who are buried here. Some of us imagined that these tears were perhaps tears of gratitude from these martyrs, gratitude for remembering them.

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