Joneson, known affectionately in the Minyan as “Johnny”, was born in 1923 in Bilgoray, Poland, on the river Bug, near the German border. His courage and resourcefulness helped him survive exile, isolation from family, and harsh living conditions during the War years. Though Johnny’s family were employed in a successful business, producing flour sifters, Johnny was encouraged by his sister to learn the art of tailoring instead. After briefly attending Yeshiva, Johnny, aged 12, began his training with a skilled Polish tailor. As he now notes: “ Anything I could see, I could duplicate.” He was to join his married sister in Paris, but the outbreak of war in September, 1939, changed everything. When the town’s Russian authorities authorized the Germans to take over, the town residents were offered the chance to re-locate to Russia.
Johnny’s family and others walked all night in the rain to the train station. They reached Lvov in December 1939 and eventually found work in various towns. As he was the youngest and least likely to be arrested, Johnny was chosen by his family to go back to the German side and urge his extended family to come back with him to Russia. He got as far as Bialystock before being advised by others that it was too dangerous to try to cross the border. A frightened teenage ‘runaway’, Johnny realized he could only return to Russia by signing a five year contract forbidding him to live in a capital city or 100 kilometres from a border. In June 1940, he and many others were loaded on closed cattle wagons and travelled for two weeks, to ‘Zloto Ust’, The Golden Mile, 200 km from Siberia. Living in primitive barracks with limited food, Johnny decided to escape by sneaking into a moving coal wagon. He emerged three days later, covered in coal dust, in the city of Ufa. There he met sympathetic Jewish factory workers, who introduced him to Gurevich, the factory manager. Gurevich was so impressed with the ‘perfect jacket’ Johnny was able to produce, that he hired him on the spot. At age 17, he was conscripted into the Communist army and was again sent north, facing harsh conditions near Siberia.
During his time in the military, he sent letters to the Red Cross and was able to locate two of his brothers. With the help of the Polish police he was able to get the necessary certificates to allow his brothers a safe return. Johnny proudly relates how in the summer of 1945, at his Kawic army base, he suddenly heard young voices speaking Yiddish. He had stumbled upon 22 Jewish children, who, under the auspices of the Mizrachi organization, were hiding near the military barracks while trying to reach the Czech border. Along with other Jewish soldiers in his battalion, he was able to safely return the children to the Mizrachi organizers, who moved them from Poland to Berlin, and finally to the D.P. camp in Kassel, Germany. Johnny and his surviving siblings also reached D.P. camps in Germany where he once again found work as a tailor. In 1947, when his brother travelled aboard the Exodus, Johnny made his long overdue trip to Paris where he was told that sadly his sister had died in Auschwitz. Johnny joined her husband and three surviving children, living in Paris from 1947 to 1953. He moved to Montreal in 1953 and met and married his wife Esther within the year. In 1954. He opened “Lindy’s Textiles”, later “Lindy’s Textiles and Drapery” which he operated for 45 years. After the death of their eldest daughter they moved to Toronto and took an active role together with the daughter’s husband, in raising her children. Johnny today prizes his daughter Phyllis, son Simon, their spouses and his five grandchildren.
He is a slight and unassuming man who faithfully attends the Minyan twice daily, seven days a week. One could not imagine by looking at him what he endured during the War years. He attributes his survival to his religious faith and his uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time. His stoicism, dignity and courage helped him, both then and now, to deal with adversity. Albert was born in 1930 in Czechoslovakia. In 1932, he moved to a small town in Poland with his parents, two older brothers and two sisters. Following the outbreak of war in 1939, the Jews living in Albert’s town were rounded up by the Nazis in the town marketplace in 1942. Albert and his brother, Michael, were taken to a labour camp but brought back by truck, an hour later, because the labour camp was full. Albert borrowed a bicycle to ride to the town centre but was warned by a farmer to return to his house and stay there with his brother. Only days later did the brothers discover that their parents and sisters, along with almost all of the Jews in the town, had been shot to death, their bodies left in a single mass grave. Albert was twelve years old.
For the next three years, Albert and Michael were in three different labour camps in Poland, in Plaszow, Rakow, and Dora. Albert held various jobs, producing ammunition, fixing machines, and running electrical pumps. Some of the German engineers who worked with him would smuggle him food. A Jewish Kapo, annoyed at Albert for not working quickly enough, struck his hand so hard that Albert is now unable to straighten his fingers. Following a difficult march out of Camp Dora, Albert was liberated by the Russian army in April, 1945. He and Michael had been briefly separated but found each other in the British zone of Germany. He later was reunited with his other brother Henry who had returned to Czechoslovakia.
Albert’s two brothers eventually settled in the United States. Albert, along with other Jewish orphans, was assisted by the Canadian Jewish Congress to come to Toronto, Canada in 1948. He opened a gift store at Bathurst and College, later moving the store north to Eglinton Avenue. He met Corene in Toronto and the couple were married in 1955. Sadly, Corene passed away from cancer in 1983. Today, Albert lives with his daughter Gail, his son-in-law, and his granddaughter, Sarah, age seven. Albert’s battle against fascism did not end in Europe. In Canada in the 1960’s he fought a more private war, keeping a watchful eye on those he terms ‘undesirables.’
Albert’s psychological scars are less visible than his physical ones. He suffers from nerve damage and an arthritic condition that requires him to use two canes when he walks. His present stiffness comes partly as a result of ‘too many days sleeping outside on the cold ground.’ Despite his experiences, Albert carries on, displaying a grim sense of humour and a quiet resignation. He joined
Beth Sholom in 1973 and is deeply appreciative of the kindness and attention he has always received there.
When asked about the obligation of prayer, he states simply: “A Jew has to daven.” Raised in an orthodox family, he feels his faith was bolstered by one fateful meeting during the War. In the labour camp in 1944, he was approached clandestinely by two young women wanting to purchase cable to be used for explosives. One of the women, a Jew, had escaped fascist Italy for Palestine where she had been trained by the British but worked secretly for the Underground to help Jews hiding in the mountains of Poland. “Do what your heart tells you,’ she whispered to Albert. ‘Keep your faith in God and you will survive.” Albert nodded, noticing only then the gun she carried hidden in her clothing.
Albert is a beloved member of the daily Minyan.
Jack was born in the beautiful port city of Agadir, Morocco in 1938 and was raised in an observant Sephardic home. In 1950, the fledgling State of Israel sent Zionist educators to Jewish communities throughout Morocco, encouraging parents to send their children to France for Zionist education programs. The work of the “Aliyat HaNoar’, the Aliyah of the Youth, was to bring these children to Israel where they would be cared for, educated, and encouraged to remain permanently in the country. The immigration plan was not revealed outside of the Jewish community, as it would not have been allowed by the Moroccan government. In December, 1950, 12 year old Jack was one of 200 Jewish children in Agadir taken by bus to Casablanca, and by ship to Marseilles, France. He vividly recalls the overnight ride to Casablanca as he sat with his brother Amram and his neighbours two nine year old twin girls, who fell asleep on his lap.
As thrilling as the bus adventure was, he was faced with the stark reality of leaving his home and family, perhaps forever. The children remained in France for three months, living and learning Hebrew just outside Marseilles in a former chateau converted into a camp complex complete with synagogue. French authorities cooperated with the Israeli government, aware of the plan for aliyah, but keeping it a secret from the Moroccan government. In February 1951, Jack and his group boarded a boat to Haifa. He and others were then interviewed and assigned to various kibbutzim, according to their religious affiliation. Under the Poel Mizrachi movement, he and fifty other children were sent to an orthodox kibbutz, Be’arot Yitzchak, near the city of Lod. Jack remained on the kibbutz from 1951-1955. The group became one ‘mishpacha’, spending half days on their studies and half days at work. When offered a choice of specialization in either agriculture or a trade, Jack chose to study interior design work, a familiar field that his father had practiced in Agadir. From 1955-1958, Jack served in the Israeli army, joining the elite Golani division. Distinguishing himself with his physical strength and discipline, he became the ‘first soldier’, i.e. the one chosen to carry the flag. He fought in the 1956 Sinai campaign as a sergeant, heading a unit of ten soldiers. In 1958, Jack studied at a college of design in Jaffa. From 1959-1960, he apprenticed with Karo International design firm and continued to work there until 1961.
Later that year, he immigrated to Canada, joining his sister Rachel and her husband in Toronto. There he found employment with Knoll International, which coincidentally was another division of Karo, his former place of employment in Israel. His firm designed the new City Hall and Jack is proud of the plaque he received from former mayor, Phil Givens. By carefully managing his finances, he and Rachel had the resources to bring over the rest of their family from Morocco. Having left there in 1950, Jack recalled the airport scene with amazement. His father lined up five younger siblings that Jack was meeting for the very first time.
Jack describes his link to Beth Sholom as a ‘fateful coincidence.’ In 1999, after running two design showrooms, Jack was ready to purchase his own commercial building. He lived in North York, but purchased a house at Eglinton and Oakwood which he planned to renovate into a showroom. While working on the property on Glenholme Ave., he stopped in at the nearby Beth Sholom Minyan. Enjoying the warm welcome he received, he stopped by the next morning and the next. He soon came to the decision that rather than use his new property as a showroom, he would simply renovate it and make it his permanent home. That way, he would remain close to the shul and to what he describes as his “Beth Sholom family.” Jack brings many gifts to the Minyan: he regularly assists by leading services and he will readily recite kaddish for those whose families cannot attend.