Holocaust Survivors' Network
In Memoriam: Sarah Zaifman
By Jack Kuper
relative of Sarah Zaifman
September 15, 2004
Globe and Mail - Page A20
Holocaust survivor, mother, friend. Born June 7, 1926, in Poland. Died April 25, 2004, in Toronto, of natural causes, age 78.
In 1940, at the age of 14, Sarah was torn from her family in the Polish city of Radom, and for the next five years, slaved in German work camps: Czestochowa and the Starczysko munitions factory. There, at great risk, she secretly stitched together discarded gloves into garments, to keep her fellow inmates warm.
After liberation she failed to find even a trace of her family, and drifted to the city of Lodz, where she met and married Shmulik Zaifman.
Joining the postwar exodus of Jews fleeing Poland, the couple illegally made their way to a displaced persons camp on the outskirts of Munich.
That's where I, at 15, and orphaned by the Holocaust, met the vivacious young Sarah, with sparkling eyes and a contagious smile. Upon learning that her Shmulik and I came from the same town in Poland, Sarah proclaimed we were related.
A celebration ensued. Food appeared. Neighbours and friends were summoned to meet the newfound relative, Jankele.
I expected to bed on the floor of their cramped quarters, but they insisted I sleep with them, and many a night I wet the bed. Nothing was ever said.
Months later, when I was departing, Sarah's eyes were wet with tears. "We may not have much, but we love you." Showering me with kisses, she added; "You'll always be our Jankele."
In 1947, I immigrated to Canada, landing in Toronto. The Zaifmans followed two years later, settling in Winnipeg, where Sarah claimed to have found an aunt.
The newcomers rolled up their sleeves and worked in the garment industry. Within a year, they had put a down payment on a house on Salter Street, renting part of it out. In 1951, their son was born.
Just when the future looked rosy, tragedy struck: In 1957, Shmulik, died suddenly at the age of 36, leaving Sarah with a second child on the way.
"I cannot comprehend how she managed to cope with the circumstances she found herself in," said her son, Ken.
But manage, she did. During the day she altered clothes at Clifford's Ladies Wear, and in the evenings, she worked at home. There was a constant parade of women who, it seemed, could not find clothes to fit them at any price, and every garment required an adjustment. The actual alterations she performed were minor, but when coupled with her assurance that "it fits perfectly," or "makes you look taller, skinnier, elegant and younger," she left her customers feeling very satisfied.
Once on business in Winnipeg, when I called to say hello, Sarah insisted I check out of the hotel to stay with them. In the end, I did as I was told. Just as in the camp, I found myself being fussed over, plied with food and tucked into bed like a little boy. "Jankele! Jankele!" she beamed, lighting up the room with her engaging smile.
To the end, she always reminded me that though I had changed my name to Jack, to her, I was still Jankele.
Yet her children called me Uncle Jack. When daughter, Sharon, was in her 20s, she asked, "Uncle Jack, how are you my uncle?"
This hazy family connection was not the exception, according to her son. "Even when my sister and I were young, and with limited means, we travelled by train and by bus to spend time with aunts, uncles and cousins whose relationship was often hard to determine. Nevertheless, these ties endured for life."
Sarah Zaifman passed through this life with determination: battling all obstacles, with a smile, a kind word and, even in the gravest of times, without a complaint against man or God.