David Shentow was Ottawa’s best known Holocaust survivor and … – Ottawa Citizen

David Shentow, a Holocaust survivor who was born on April 29, 1925 in Warsaw, died recently. Sean Kilpatrick / Postmedia

When he was liberated from Dachau concentration camp on April 29, 1945 his 20th birthday David Shentow weighed just 76 pounds, but carried more memories than most men could bear.

He had survived the Nazi occupation of Belgium, a forced-labour camp, the Auschwitz concentration camp, the Warsaw Ghetto, a death march and Dachau.

He went home to Antwerp, Belgium, in the hopes of reuniting with relatives: Although he had heard his mother, father and two sisters had perished in Nazi death camps, he thought some of his aunts, uncles and cousins might come back to the Jewish Community Centre.

The lonely weeks that followed were the most painful of his life.

I realized Im the only one, he once told the Citizen. Out of 17 people, Im the only one who came back.

Shentow would start a new life in Canada, and go on to become one of Ottawas best known Holocaust survivors and educators. For three decades, he was a tireless witness to history, suffering his memories in classrooms, auditoriums and museums so that others could understand the truth of the Final Solution the Nazi policy that systematically killed almost two out of every three European Jews by 1945.

When I talk about it, he explained, I always feel Im not the only witness anymore. All these people who hear me, they are witnesses now.

David Shentow died Monday in a Toronto nursing home after a lengthy illness. He was 92.

My father was the most honourable man I have ever known, said his daughter, Rene Shentow, 66, of Toronto. He made it his mission to tell the truth.

David Shentow, photographed in 2010 on the eve of his 85th birthday, with wife Rose. Bruno Schlumberger / Ottawa

Debbie Weiss, chair of the Holocaust Committee for the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, said Shentow was a powerful witness because his testimony was so forthright, clear and honest. He also had a vulnerability, she said, that set him apart from other Holocaust survivors, many of whom were toughened by the horrors they experienced.

David was different: He was a gentle soul, said Weiss. He exposed a vulnerability that most do not have, and I believe it is what touched so many.

Carleton University professor Deidre Butler, director of The Max and Tessie Zelikovitz Centre for Jewish Studies, called Shentow profoundly courageous. He spoke with warmth and seriousness and a naked honesty about what he had been through and you could see his pain, she said. He did it without hatred and with a real conviction that it honoured the victims, and that it worked against Holocaust denial.

Shentow was born David Krzetowski in Warsaw, Poland in 1925. (He would change his name to Shentow upon arriving in Canada.) His family moved to Belgium while he was still an infant to escape the violent tides of Polish anti-Semitism.His father, Moishe, prospered as a tailor and the family put down roots in Antwerp.

David Shentows mother and father, Rifka and Moishe, moved from Poland toBelgium in 1925 to escape the violent tides of Polish anti-Semitism. They perished in the Holocaust. Bruno Schlumberger / Ottawa

On May 10, 1940, when the Germans launched co-ordinated attacks on Belgium, Holland and France, he packed his young family into a car and fled toward the French border, but the Nazis got there first. The family was forced to return to Antwerp.

In occupied Belgium, the Gestapo forced Jews to surrender their radios and bicycles, then decreed they could no longer attend school, go to the theatre or sit on park benches. They were made to wear the Star of David.

In August 1942, Shentow and his father were sent to a forced labour camp near Dieppe, France to build German fortifications. He was separated from his father, and months later, was loaded onto a train that took him across occupied Europe to Auschwitz, Poland, where he became prisoner 72585, a number tattooed on his left forearm.

In Auschwitz, Shentow would remember, the prisoners slept three to a bunk; their 12-hour workday began at 6 a.m.; they were fed once a day: two slices of bread, a thin soup and coffee. They worked through the winter in striped cotton pyjamas, a cap and wooden clogs.

I didnt know if I would freeze to death or starve to death, he once said.

Shentow credited a friendly Polish prisoner with saving his life by arranging a job for him inside the camp tailor shop.

In 1943, he was one of 4,000 prisoners sent to level what remained of Warsaws Jewish Ghetto, which had been razed by the Nazis after a spring uprising. In August 1944, as the Russian army advanced toward Warsaw, the prisoners were marched 100 kilometres west to Kutno, Poland, and crammed onto cattle cars bound for Dachau.

After the war, with no relatives left in Belgium, Shentow emigrated to Canada. He arrived in March 1949 and went to work in a womenswear shop in Toronto. There, he met a young woman visiting from Ottawa, Rose Feldberg, and the two quickly became inseparable.

Shentow moved to Ottawa and they married in February 1950. Shentow worked at Hudsons Bay department store for 28 years, and together with Rose, they raised two daughters, Rene and Lorie.

He was a doting father who kept his family close. He was funny and he always knew what to say to make me feel better, said Rene.

For many years, Shentow didnt talk about the Holocaust, not even to his children. He only began to recount his ordeal after Ernst Zundel and other Holocaust deniers began to make headlines in the 1980s.

My father was such a modest, understated kind of man, it was painful for him to talk about his experiences, but he felt it was important, said Rene.

Shentow returned four times to Auschwitz to take part in the March of the Living, a Holocaust education program, and appeared in several documentary films. He retold his story to students in Belgium, Israel and across Canada, and always asked that his audience not applaud. Im not an entertainer, he would admonish. I am a witness.

His health declined during the final three years of his life, and he moved to Toronto earlier this year so that his family could better care for him. He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Rose, their two children, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

aduffy@postmedia.com

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