“They shaved us, stripped us down, and pushed us into the gas chambers in Birkenau, then suddenly the door opened and they needed some workers and let a few of us out. This was Yom Kippur, 1944.”
This is just part of the remarkable story of Holocaust Survivor Jack Steinmetz, who was transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau from Northern Hungary as a young boy in autumn 1944. He survived, losing his entire family.
However, as I came to visit him in his beautiful home in Toronto earlier this week, to have him scribe a letter in the Holy Torah saved from the Holocaust we are restoring, it wasn’t his story of survival he wanted to first tell me about.
As I entered he walked me into a side room and showed me a plaque on the wall, a semi-faded piece of paper from November 1978, honoring him and his late wife for planting “A grove of 1000 trees in Canada Park in Israel”. What he was more proud of than anything else was this huge undertaking he took 45 years ago, in honor of his family murdered in the Holocaust. He was a hardworking motor mechanic, he took a 3 year loan from the bank to pay off this large cost, because of his love for Israel.
We had such a beautiful and meaningful time with his family and friends, and as I left he told me that he wishes people in Israel would stop fighting, “we need to get along as Jews” he told me, “because the other option is so much worse.”