Becca Wertman

On this Yom HaShoah, tell their stories

My Dad, Babi, Zaida (z"l), and me at the USC Shoah Foundation. (Photo credit to author).

About a year ago, my 95-year-old Babi (grandmother) fell while in her assisted living home and was taken to the hospital, having injured her hip. She was transferred to Vancouver’s University of British Columbia (UBC) Hospital where she received excellent physiotherapy and rehabilitation care.

It was clear my Babi needed more care than her previous home could offer and so my Dad began the search to find a suitable place that would provide her with the care and also the company she needed, given that my Zaida (grandfather) (z”l) passed away two years ago. My Dad understood the best care for her was to be found at one of the public-government-funded long-term care homes, and so he began the application process and hoped she would be accepted into one that would provide for her unique needs.

After submitting her application, my Dad received a call from a social worker at UBC Hospital who would be “presenting” my Babi’s application to the new long-term care home. She began asking a series of prepared questions that would be used to help create a profile to determine whether my Babi would be accepted or not. She asked my Dad about my Babi’s favorite color and about her favorite foods.

But my Dad could not answer the questions as they did not represent her, because what is important is her story: That she was just 13 when WW2 began. That when she went out to get water from the well, she put too much in the pail and could not carry it, so her brother came out to help her and was taken to his death. That her father was too taken to his death. That her mother died of typhoid in the ghetto built around their small town of Komyonka Strumilova. That when the ghetto was liquidated, her brother hid her inside the wall. That she managed to find her way to another town and hid outside waiting for a righteous gentile Polish farmer to come out, to take her in, and to hide her in his barn with other Jews from the area. That she survived the Holocaust hiding in the attic of that barn, eating watery potato soup, but eating at least something. That she lost three siblings and both parents. That she is one of just 20 from a town of 3,000 Jewish people who survived the Holocaust and lived to tell her story. That 99.33% from her town were murdered, but that she survived.

Her favorite color or favorite food did not matter. What mattered was that she needed a safe place to spend the remaining years of her life and that she would have company from kind nurses during the pandemic when her family would not be allowed to visit.

Thankfully, the social worker at UBC understood that her questions did not apply in this special case and was able to present my Babi without those answers, but equipped with her story.

My Babi now lives in an incredible long-term care home where she receives the best love and care — Youville Providence Health Care, a Catholic-based organization — in a room she shares with photos of her loved ones, particularly my Zaida (z”l) who was also a Holocaust survivor with his own death-defying story and who she met in Poland after the war. She looks through pictures of their friends they met in Vancouver when they came in 1949, all having passed away by now, who too were survivors each with their story of how they beat the odds and survived the worst evil.

On this Yom HaShoah, listen, read, and discuss the stories. Understanding what my Babi, my Zaida, and others lived through is what will enable to us to keep the promise of “Never Again” and recognize that when hatred and discrimination ignite, we must all speak up.

About the Author
Becca Wertman-Traub is the Director of Research at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the advocacy agent of the Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA, representing Jewish Federations across Canada. Becca previously worked for Member of Knesset Michal Cotler-Wunsh as her Political Aide in Israel's 23rd Knesset and served as managing editor and was responsible for the Canada portfolio at NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institute. Born in Vancouver, Canada, Becca earned her BA in international relations from the University of Southern California and her MA in political science from Columbia University. Her articles have appeared in The National Post, The Hill Times, The Jerusalem Post, and the Macdonald Laurier Institute, among others.
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