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The Mad, Mad World of Bernie Farber . . . Farber, of the Canadian Jewish Congress spoke at Northwestern University (Chicago) on Monday, January 20, 2003

[Glossary: Holocaust survivor: n., Somebody to whom nothing happened. --> Son of Holocaust survivor, n., c.1970: son of somebody to whom nothing happened. --> Deriv.: Bernie Farber: n., proper: Canadian son of somebody to whom nothing happened 5,000 miles away.]


The Daily Northwestern

Chicago, January 20, 2003


FarberSpeaker: Don't let history die with its participants

Son of Holocaust survivor tells crowd to preserve families' forgotten stories

By Greg Lowe


BERNIE Farber didn't realize he had two half-brothers until 21 years after they were killed in a Nazi death camp. Farber, the executive director of the Ontario region of the Canadian Jewish Congress, spoke Sunday to a crowd of about 25 people in the McCormick-Tribune Forum about his effort to learn about the life [that] his father -- and his father's former family -- led before the Holocaust. Farber was brought to campus by the Tannenbaum Chabad House, where he gave another lecture Friday night on the evils of anti-Zionism.

After escaping the fate of the rest of his small Polish village, Farber's father, Max, came to Canada and started a new life.

Until 1974, Farber and his brothers were unaware that Max had a previous family killed in the Holocaust. Since that revelation, Farber tried to learn his father's past. Max died in 1990 at the age of 92. "How did my father manage to start a second life?" he asked. "How did my father put away such pain and such tragedy?"

It wasn't until Farber's mother was dying that Max finally told his sons about his life in the Polish village of Botchki, a life that included a different wife and two children. While Max and a cousin survived by jumping off a train headed for a concentration camp, the rest of his family was killed in a Nazi gas chamber, Farber said.

David Irving comments:

I DON'T normally comment on news items like this, not even on the absurdity of a son of a Holocaust survivor stealing the door off a stove in his father's old home in Poland.
   The mind briefly boggles: How did he explain it to Canada Customs when he returned? "It's a door. Off an oven. A gas oven. It's okay. I'm a survivor, uh, son of a survivor."
   No, my curiosity is aroused by the ease with which Farber tells his crowded Chicago audience of 25, without any proof, that his other family of stepmother and half brothers were killed in a Nazi gas chamber.
   If it were my father, I'd be curious to know more. Which camp? Killed, or died in an epidemic? And how did my father manage to save his own skin, abandoning his wife and two sons to their fate? And how come that he never mentioned this tragedy earlier to his new Canadian son Bernie?
   As so often, stories like this seem to prompt more questions than they answer.

Related file:

Our dossier on some of the origins of anti-Semitism

Farber said he feels a spiritual connection to the half-brothers he never met. "I really only know them from an old, wilted photograph," he said. "When I look in their eyes, it burns a hole in my heart."

During the war, Max stayed with a farmer, not knowing what had happened to his family. When the war ended, he went to a displaced persons camp and eventually moved to Ontario, where he married Farber's mother. After discovering his father's past, Farber decided to research the brothers he never was able to meet. He visited Poland in 1992 and came across some of his father's papers from his time in the displaced persons camp.

"A Red Cross worker told me, 'It's like winning the lottery.' And it is like winning the lottery for the son of a Holocaust survivor," Farber said.

Farber also visited his father's home in Botchki, where he took the iron door from the stove as a memento.

"A piece of what had once been a source of warmth in my father's home," he said.

The door currently is framed and sitting on an easel in Farber's living room.

When he looks into the eyes of his own children, Farber realizes the pain his father must have gone through.

"To have children taken away in such a fashion and to outlive your children is a pain that will remain incomprehensible and inexplicable," Farber said.

Farber stressed the importance of discovering the history of families that were destroyed by the Holocaust, especially when many Holocaust survivors are entering their final years. "We must commit ourselves to history and to memory," he said. "It's our only antidote."

Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein, the director of the Tannenbaum Chabad House, said he brought Farber to campus to spread that message.

"I felt these issues are important with the increase of anti-Semitism around the world," Klein said.

 Letter  Letter: Bernie Farber explains how his father survived

Related item on this website

Index on Candian Jewish Congress
Dossier on the origins of anti-Semitism
Confidential Report by Bernie Farber on a 1986 lecture tour by David Irving
Farber named Acting Executive Director of Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC)
Farber reports on schoolteacher Paul Fromm, Jan 1997
Farber advocates torture of prisoners
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