Passover , My Great Aunt, and Death With Dignity

I would get very excited every Sunday. I knew my Aunt Jeannette was coming out to my Grandparents for a visit, and she was bringing some kind of special treat with her. One week there were donuts, one-week chocolate cupcakes, and always kosher liverwurst.

Aunty Jeannette could only be described in one word ‘’Lady’’. She was the epitome of a class act. She was kind and caring and loving and smart. She was generous and interesting and she loved her Brother (my Grandfather Philip and my Grandma Jenny) with her heart and soul.

My family came from Germany to Canada to escape the Nazis. They left on a chilly cold day. All their major possessions were in crates. As they got on the ship to leave they saw their boxes being carted away in a direction far from the ship, they had all been stolen including beautiful art work. On the Whitestar Cunard line crossing the Atlantic from Rotterdam to Halifax were my Grandmother and Grandfather, My Uncle Otto, my Aunt Claire, my Dad Joe, and his brother Carl.

My family knew the Nazis were a real threat. They knew they had to get out of Germany. My Dad was sent to school in England (Buxton College) and often went to London and Canada House to make our case. He provided all the documentation that was needed and Canada issued the papers allowing us to migrate.

While in England, my Grandpa and Uncles were rounded up by the local Nazis on Kristallnacht. My Grandma went to the local Police station and paid for their release. A couple of months later we left Germany forever. After hundreds of years, it was no longer our home.

My Aunt Jeannette was married to Solly Kaufman and they went to Holland with my Great Grandmother, Sarah Schwarz. They found a place in Amsterdam to hide out and felt relatively safe. With them in Holland were my Aunt Margaret and Uncle Max and their very young daughter, Marianna.

Neighbours discovered my family in hiding and reported them to the Nazis. I pray those people ended up in hell. Many Dutch often say they were brave and supportive of the Jews during the Second World War, I often question that.

Upon capture, they were sent to Westerbork Transit Camp and then to Bergen Belsen. My Great Grandmother Sarah was murdered in Bergen Belsen. My Aunt Jeannette did whatever she needed to do to protect Marianna. She never went into details about what she had to do to make sure she and Marianna survived, but I think her heroism was something she just didn’t feel comfortable discussing. Marianna always looked at her as a Mother and knew she was her guardian angel. My Aunt couldn’t save her Mother, but she made sure she saved a child. Interestingly enough, they were in Bergen Belsen at the same time as Anne Frank.

At liberation, my Uncle Solly was given food by the allied forces and he died immediately. His system couldn’t handle food after being so malnourished for so long.

My Aunt eventually found her way to Canada and she stayed with my Grandparents as she slowly rebuilt her life. She eventually married Israel Cott and settled into life in Toronto.

Aunty Jeannette always had a special dignity about her. While Uncle Sroolie was an atheist and didn’t believe in Gd, Aunt Jeannette never lost her faith. It was amazing. I saw her pray more than once when he wasn’t around.

As a child getting to know my Aunt Jeannette I felt blessed. Being a Great Nephew was a privilege and we became very good friends. I really loved her. She was smart and very interested in world politics.

When my Uncle Sroolie passed, Aunt Jeannette sold her house and moved to the Baycrest Terrace. It was Jewish Home for the Aged. The caveat was that people had to be self-sufficient or they couldn’t live there. Aunt Jeannette was always scared that if she got sick and had to go to the hospital they wouldn’t let her back in. She never seemed to get sick.

Her best friend at the Terrace was a retired Judge named Rose. A very bright and lovely woman. The two became almost inseparable.

When she had her 95th Birthday party at the Terrace, my Great Aunt was very upset with my Mother. My Mom had made the mistake of putting Aunt Jeannette’s age on the birthday cake and she didn’t want people at the Terrace (for some strange reason) to know her age.

When Marianne’s sons, Dan and Aloni went into the Israeli Army, Aunt Jeannette was extremely proud, but was in a constant state of worry that anything should happen to them. She often said, that Israel was the Jewish peoples best revenge against the Nazis. A thriving, wonderful Jewish nation.

One Sunday in November, while visiting Aunt Jeannette at the Terrace, she told my parents to go to Florida and enjoy themselves for the winter. She said she would hold on until they returned but then it would be time for her to pass on. They of course yelled at her for talking that way, but she seemed resolute and serious.

When my parents came back from Florida they had a nice long visit with her. She was in an exceptionally great mood. Aunt Jeannette told them that when Gd decided to take her, she didn’t want to make any trouble for anybody. My parents again were upset and told her not to think or talk that way.

Looking back, I was an idiot. I had arranged with a camera person to do an interview with my Aunt about her life, but feeling lazy one morning I canceled it. I told her we’d do it after Passover which was imminent.

There are two Seders on Passover. After the first Seder which was held at the Terrace my Aunt went up to her apartment. The next morning housekeeping came to pick up sheets, and she didn’t answer their knock. They opened the door and she was sitting in a chair looking out the window. She had passed quietly and like her life with dignity.

There was no Shiva (seven days of mourning) during Passover, so after the funeral, that was it. She passed on April 10th. She is thought of all the time.

On her headstone, it is written that she was a Holocaust survivor and lady of quiet dignity. She was much more than that but it sums things up.

Aunty Jeannette never had children of her own, she had step-children from Uncle Sroolie, but we all loved her with our hearts and souls. She was a very special person. She really was the Great in Great Aunt.

The fact that she passed on Passover is very significant as we will never forget her. She in many ways acted like Moses, she helped lead my cousin Marianna out of hell that was Bergen Belsen to the Promised land.

I hope someday my Nieces and Nephews and Great Nieces and Nephews think about Aunt Jeannette and other members of the family we lost to the Nazis and those who survived. I hope the lesson gets passed on, Aunt Jeannette could have been bitter and miserable person but instead chose to live with a sense of optimism and class.

I feel blessed that I was her Great Nephew, she was a role model for the ages and proved that no matter how terrible life could be, if you don’t give up, there can be a happy ending. She was an amazing human being.

Alan Schwarz loves life. He is the founder of JAMS Productions, a television production company based in Toronto . His passion is writing.

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