Hands belong to a third-generation survivor.
Born October 15, 1933 | Slawatycze (Slovotitch), Poland
Died August 9, 2023 | Calgary, Canada
Henry personified his father’s advice: Get your education; no one can take that away from you.
Henry came from a long line of furriers in the Jewish shtetl of Slawatycze. When the Nazis occupied the town, they turned Henry’s home into a command post. His immediate family escaped, crossing the Bug River into Russia under cover of darkness. The Nazis rounded up Henry’s maternal grandfather and uncle, forced them to dig their own graves and executed them together with 39 other Jews. In June 1940, the Gitelmans were arrested as enemies of the Soviet Union and transported to a Siberian work camp. Henry’s father missed the train when he ran home to get bolts of linen and a sewing machine. He caught up with the transport 10 days later, and the family avoided starvation by making goods that they bartered for food. After the Nazis attacked Russia in 1941, the Gitelmans were freed and made their way to Dzhambul, Kazakhstan, where they remained until 1946.
Wanting to return home but fearing post-war pogroms, Henry’s family opted for Displaced Persons camps in American-occupied Germany. At Schlachtensee, Henry celebrated his bar mitzvah and apprenticed at Bosch, an electronics manufacturer. Sponsored by family living in Canada, the Gitelmans settled in Montreal in 1948. Intelligent and motivated, Henry learned English, attended high school and graduated from McGill University with a degree in mechanical engineering. He married Judy Fink in 1959; their family grew to include sons Lewis, Akiva and Jay and, later, three grandchildren. Henry’s testimony is housed at the Montreal Holocaust Museum. In retirement, he wrote his memoir and researched the Gitelman family tree. Travelling to Poland and Jewish genealogy conferences, Henry met other Slawatycze survivors. Together they rebuilt and rededicated the desecrated Jewish cemetery in their old shtetl. A widower, Henry lived in Calgary, close to family.
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