Acclaimed Canadian actor, director and producer Saul Rubinek recounts his refugee story as part of #Canada150 celebrations, and to celebrate the contributions that refugees have made to Canada since confederation.
My parents Israel and Frania Rubinek, and I came to Canada by ship as refugees in May of 1949. I was 9 months old – I was born in the refugee camp Föhrenwald, a former slave-labour munitions camp, outside of Munich, Germany. Growing up in Montreal, I learnt a combined language of Yiddish and French. It is only when we moved to Ottawa in 1963 that I learnt English.
In 1986 the CBC, through a series called “Man Alive”, co-funded a documentary film I produced called “So Many Miracles”. The documentary is about the reunion of my parents with the Polish farmers that hid them for over two years during the Holocaust.
During the filming in Poland in the summer of 1986, we visited the house in the town of Pinczow, where my mother grew up, and there, sitting on a shelf were two candlesticks. My parents remembered the candlesticks particularly because they were lit for Rosh Hashanah, The Jewish New Year, in the fall of 1942, on the very day that the Gestapo started their round-up and evacuation of Jews in the town. My father was married to my mother at the time of the round-ups and he was there too. The candlesticks were the last things they saw in that house before they fled.
The candlesticks were given to us by the people who lived in the house and we took them back to Canada with us in the summer of 1986. Since then, every Jewish holiday at our house begins with lighting these candlesticks and recounting the story to family and friends.
For me, the candlesticks, which had been in my mother’s family for generations, represent both what was left behind, and where they eventually arrived.
For me, the candlesticks, which had been in my mother’s family for generations, represent both what was left behind, and where they eventually arrived – since it was a Canadian-made documentary film that brought the candlesticks back to them. The two 18th century brass candlesticks, to me, represent my parents Israel and Frania Rubinek and my journey as immigrants to Canada.
Saul Rubinek is a Canadian character actor, director, producer and playwright, known for his work in TV, film, and stage.
Photos courtesy of Saul Rubinek.