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One man’s story – Barry Leipsic: choosing to serve his country during World War II

Capt. Barry Leipsic

By BERNIE BELLAN Over the years we’ve had many stories in this newspaper chronicling the stories of brave Jewish men and women who served in various armed forces over the years.
It’s one thing to read history books that describe wars, it’s another thing to read personal accounts of what it was like to be in an actual war.

Recently we were contacted by Peter Leipsic, who asked us whether we’d be interested in seeing correspondence from around the time of World War II which tells the story of his own father, Barry’s, experiences, serving with the Fort Garry Horse, a mechanized unit of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Among the artifacts Peter has in his possession are a number of letters written by Barry to his parents, Louis and Nell Leipsic, along with newspaper clippings describing some of the action in which Barry Leipsic was involved.

I note, after having read Peter’s own account of his family history in the Jewish Foundation Book of Life, that his mother, Yvonne, met her future husband in London, England, when Barry Leipsic was stationed there during the war. In Yvonne’s obituary, the story how she happened to meet Lieut. Barry Leipsic is told: “She recalled her blind luck when during the Blitz, due to a local fire, she was forced to spend the night at the hotel. In the morning, she discovered her entire apartment building had been leveled by a direct hit. It was at about this time that she was introduced to Barry Leipsic, a dashingly handsome 25-year old Lieutenant from Winnipeg, stationed in England with the Fort Garry Horse Tank Regiment. Yvonne and Barry were married in 1944. Like so many war brides she immigrated to Canada, to its winters and remoteness; a world even more foreign than anything for which England might have prepared her.”

While Lieut. Leipsic remained in England, Yvonne Leipsic – like many a war bride, came to Canada on her own. According to Peter’s account in the Book of Life, however, his mother, who was born in Vienna, was “accustomed to culture and refined living, and found adjustment to Winnipeg difficult.”
What Peter also told me was that his father was badly wounded during the war. Barry Leipsic lost his left eye, part of his right ear, and was also wounded in his left hand. Yet, according to Peter, his father never dwelled on his war wounds. In fact, he was prone to taking out his glass eye and playing with it – to the amusement of his children and later his grandchildren.

What follows are excerpts from letters, newspaper clippings, and telegrams, that give an insight into the character of Barry Leipsic – someone who grew up in a well-to-do Winnipeg family, yet who joined the Canadian army early on in World War II.
Here is an excerpt written to his mother in September 1939, when she was visiting in New York and Barry was in Winnipeg:
“Dearest Mother…
“You will be happy to know that your son is going to serve his country and the Jews. Yes, I have enlisted in the Fort Garry Horse (mechanized)….I was going to wait until you returned home but after giving it due consideration and thought I decided it would be easier for both of us, doing the good deed while you were absent. It will be a year before we are fully trained and equipped and by that time the war should be over. Please don’t think I enlisted just for the thrill or “getting away from it all” spirit…I do honestly believe that every Jew able to serve should do so at this time. In fact it is going to be very uncomfortable for a good many Jews if a good percentage do not enlist….
“Please wish me luck in my new vocation.”
“All my love to you darling and hurry home”

First enlisted as a corporal, it wasn’t long before Cpl. Leipsic received his first promotion – to sergeant. Here are excerpts from a letter Barry Leipsic wrote to his parents in June 1940, informing them of his promotion, during his training at Camp Shilo:
“Dear Mom, Dad, etal,
“A pleasant and somewhat expected surprise came today. Major Halpenny called myself and another Corporal into the Orderly Room and in a very solemn voice informed us that we were promoted to Lance Sargeants. Financially that means another 25 cents per day, we have the same standing, perform the same duties as sargeants and are addressed as sargeants. However, officially it does not take affect (sic) until tomorrow when it appears on regimental orders, so as to play the safe side better write me still as corporal.
“The reason for the last line is one can never be to (sic) presumptious (sic) in this army and here’s the reason why. It seems quite likely that we will be leaving camp tomorrow, as to our destination, that is yet to be seen but I am positive we will not be leaving Canada, it is even rumored that we might go to a prison camp at Fort Frances or Hudson, Ont. To guard alien prisoners, however that is only a rumor. Just as soon as I have anything definite I will let you know. This afternoon our advance party left, and all stores are being packed, kits inspected for shortages etc and above all the rumors are flying like bats in a haunted house. There is nothing official as yet and I suppose we will only know definitely when we get on the train.
“There is nothing at all to worry about and remember that I will let you know when anything further takes place.
“Until then I am your devoted son.
“Love Barry”

Included with the artifacts Peter Leipsic has in his possession is this amusing bulletin that was posted at Camp Shilo in June 1940:
“A large piece of Versht and two loaves of rye have been received by Bdr. Herb. Ludman, of the 20th Anti-Tank Battery.
“All Yiddlach are cordially invited to have dinner, today, at the 20th Battery Orderly Room tent at 1230 hours today, (8-6-40).
“Let’s see you there!”
“Herb Ludman
“Canadian Corps of Yiddish Suckers)”

The Fort Garry Horse was part of the Canadian group that landed at Normandy in June 1944. Members of the Horse fought their way across France, into Belgium, Holland, and finally into Germany.
In a clipping that Peter Leipsic has in his possession, an account written for the Canadian Press on August 2, 1944 describes some of the action encountered by the Fort Garry Horse in an article titled “Garry’s Heavy Barrages Stop Nazi Panther Tanks”:
“LONDON, Aug. 2—(CP Cable)—Two tank experts of the Fort Garry Horse, a Winnipeg regiment, told a press conference here Tuesday how Canadian tanks on the Normandy front are dealing with crack German Panther units.
“Capt. Harry Sleigh of Winnipeg said the Panthers are met by laying down a concentration of high explosive and Canadian tankmen had been highly trained in this type of fire.
“On the Caen front eight days ago, he said, the Fort Garry formation’s supply vehicles got within 200 yards of the tanks and 200 percent of the normal supply of ammunition and fuel were brought up within easy reach in order to keep up the fire.
Lieut. Barry Leipsic, Winnipeg, said German anti-tank weapons were good, particularly their 88-M.M. gun. He described the Canadian attack on Carpiquet airfield July 4 when battleships firing from the sea assisted the artillery barrage and tank-supported infantry to break through.
“Lieut. Leipsic, whose parents, Mr. and Mrs. Louis Leipsic, reside at 186 Dromore ave., joined the F.G.H. in September, 1939. In August, 1942, he graduated from the officers’ training centre at Brockville, Ont. He spent a short time the following November on leave here and then went overseas.”

It was in February 1945 – and by this time Lieut. Leipsic had been promoted to Captain – that Captain Leipsic was badly injured in battle. Yvonne Leipsic was first notified by telegram that her husband had been wounded, soon to be followed by this letter:
“Mrs. Yvonne L. Leipsic…
“Dear Madam,
“Confirming my telegram dated today I regret to inform you that your husband, Capt. Barry Leipsic, has been reported wounded 10 FEB 45.
“No particulars of the nature and extent of his injuries have yet been received, but I can assure you that any further information received here regarding your husband will be communicated to you immediately…
“Yours faithfully,
“(L.S. APPLEFORD) Major”

That letter was subsequently followed by this communication, on March 2, 1945:
“…I am directed to inform you that the following additional information has now been received regarding your husband, Capt. LEIPSIC, Barry, of the 10th. Armd. Regt.
“The diagnosis of your husband’s wounds is as follows: “Gunshot Wound of the Right Ear, the Left Eye and the Left Hand.”
“Yours faithfully,
“(L.S. APPLEFORD) Major”

Capt. Leipsic had been in charge of 19 tanks in Holland at the time he was wounded. He was hit in the head by machine gun fire. The bullet passed through his left eye, coming out his right ear.
Finally, on August 8, 1945, Captain Leipsic, who was now back in Winnipeg, received the following letter:
“Dear Capt. Leipsic:
“I have noted with regret that it is necessary for you to retire from the Canadian Army by reason of wounds sustained in action. Mere words may not seem of much value to you in these circumstances but you should not leave the Army without the assurance I now give you that your sacrifice has not gone unnoticed or unnhonoured.
“In the activities of this Nation I am sure due credit will be paid to those who, like you, carry with them into their civil life visible evidence of the highest patriotism. You are fully entitled to cultivate an inner sense of pride in your achievements and your honourable service in war for your Country’s need and for civilization’s salvation.
“I close with the hope that you may profit by the security and happiness in your civil life which you have done your utmost to earn and do truly deserve.
“(A. E. Walford),

Following the war, Barry Leipsic reentered the family business of Aronovitch & Leipsic. He and Yvonne had two children: Peter and Richard. Barry Leipsic died in 1983.

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Brothers Arnie & Michael Usiskin’s Warkov-Safeer a throwback to days of long ago

Arnie (left) & Michael Usiskin

By MYRON LOVE Step into Warkov-Safeer on Hargrave in the Exchange District and you’ll feel like you’ve walked back in time to an earlier era. The shelves are crammed full of shoe-related accessories – soles, heels, laces, polish, threads, needles, dyes – and other leather-related needs. 
“There used to be a shoemaker on every corner,” says Michael Usiskin, whose family has operated the wholesaler for more than 50 years.  “People used to keep their shoes for years.  They might resole them ten times.  Now you might have five pairs in your closet – different shoes for different occasions, and buy a new pair every year or two.”
Usiskin adds that “there is no place else like us between Toronto and Vancouver.  When we moved here in the 1970s, this area was buzzing with garment workers and sewing machines. This was a hub of activity. It’s a lot quieter now.”
While the Usiskin Family has been connected with the company for 85 years, Michael Usiskin points out that the company – originally catering to the horse trade – was actually founded in 1930 in Winkler by the eponymous Warkov brothers – Jacob, Mendel and Morris – and their brother-in-law, Barney Safeer.  Larry Usiskin, father of Michael and his brother and partner, Arnie, went to work for the company in 1939, four years after the partners moved the business to Winnipeg (to a location at Selkirk and Main).
The late Larry Usiskin and his late wife, Roz, were leaders in Winnipeg’s secular Yiddishist community.  The Usiskin brothers received their elementary schooling at the secular Sholem Aleichem School at the corner of Pritchard and Salter in the old North End.
“Our dad was maybe 16 or 17 when he went to work for Warkov-Safeer in 1939,” Michael Usiskin notes.  “He would do deliveries on his bike to shoe repair shops.”
He never left.
Michael Usiskin relates that, during the war years, the company relocated to larger premises at King and Bannatyne to accommodate a growing demand for its expanding product lines.
Larry Usiskin bought the business in 1969 – with a partner – in 1969.  It was not a given that either Michael or Arnie would join the family endeavour.  Michael was the first of the brothers to come on board. That was in 1984.
Michael had been working for Videon Public Access TV for the previous seven years.  “I was a producer, editor and camera man,” he recalls. 
Among the programs he worked on were Noach Witman’s Jewish television hour and such classics as “Math with Marty”  and Natalie and Ronne Pollock’s show.
“Dad began talking about retirement,” Michael recounts.   “With budget cuts and lay-offs coming to Videon, it was a good time for me to get out and join Dad in business.”
Michael became Warkov-Safeer’s managing partner in 1995 on the senior Usiskin’s retirement.  Arnie joined his brother in partnership in 1998.
“I had been working for CBC for 17 years as a technician,” Arnie relates.  “A confluence of events presented me with the opportunity to go into the family business.”
Although Arnie bought out Michael’s previous partner,  he continued on at CBC for another four years before accepting a buyout. 
“I went from show business into shoe business,” he jokes.
Today, Warkov-Safeer has customers from Ontario to the West Coast. “Things have changed considerably over the years for our business,” Michael notes. “Our shoe market is now solely more expensive brands. And we also supply a lot of leather and leather-related products for hobbyists.”
He reports that a lot of their marketing has long been done by word of mouth.  “We used to go to a fair number of trade shows, but not so much anymore,” he adds.  “We now have a number of sales representatives throughout Western Canada and Ontario.”
“We’re not high tech,” Arnie points out.  “We have a niche market.  What we sell is a form of recycling – allowing people to look after and fix their shoes.  We see a trend developing in this area.”
While Arnie and Michael Usiskin have no plans to retire quite yet,  they do acknowledge though they are not getting any younger and would welcome someone younger to come into the business who might be willing one day to lead Warkov-Safeer into the future. 

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Winnipeg-based singer/songwriter Orit Shimoni spreading her wings again after being grounded by Covid lockdown

By MYRON LOVE In the spring of 2020, Canadian-Israeli singer/songwriter Orit Shimoni was in the midst of a cross Canada tour. She had started in Vancouver, had a show in Edmonton and stepped off the train in Winnipeg just as the Covid  lockdowns were underway.  Shimoni was essentially stuck In our city, knowing virtually on one.
Four years later, she is still here, having found a supportive community and, while she has resumed touring, she has decided for now to make Winnipeg her home base.
“I really appreciate the artistic scene here,” she says.  “I plan on being away on tour a lot, but I have understanding and rent is affordable.”
Our community also benefits from having such a multi-talented individual such as Shimoni living among us.  Over the past 15 years, the former teacher – with a Masters degree in Theology, has toured worldwide as well as producing 12 albums of original works to date – the most recent being “Winnipeg”, a series of commentaries on her life experiences, wishes and dreams over the past couple of years – which was released last fall.
She has also produced an album of songs for Chanukah.
According to her website, Shimoni expounds on her “truths, her feelings and tells her stories” in venues that include bars, clubs and cafes, coffee houses and folkfests, theatres, back yards, living rooms, and trains.  Her music is described as a potpourri of “bold and raw, soft and tender, witty and humourous,” incorporating  empathy and condemnation, spirituality and whimsy,” and crosses different genres such as blues, folk and country and “speaks to the human condition, the human heart and the times  that we find ourselves in”.
She observes that the inspiration for her songs can come from anywhere, including conversations with others, nature, history, news and her own lived experiences.
In response to the ongoing situation in Israel today, she reports that she is trying to use her music to create positive energy in trying to foster a commonality between people.
In addition to adding to her musical corpus while in Winnipeg these past four years, Shimoni notes that she has used her enforced lockdown downtime to explore other ventures. One of those new areas that she has been focusing on is art.
“I have always had an interest in painting,” she says.  While she hasn’t had an exhibition of her painting yet, she has prints for sale and is available for commissions.
“My last two albums have my paintings as the cover art,” she points out.
Another area that the singer/songwriter has been developing over the past four years is writing and performing personalized songs for special occasions.  “I can bring to birthdays, weddings and memorials personalized songs to mark the occasion,” she notes.  “It is another way that I have diversified what I can offer.”
One project she completed last year – with support from the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba – was “singing the songs of our elders” in which she interviewed several Jewish seniors – with the help of Gray Academy students – and told their stories in song. 
Among other performances she has given locally over the past year was a special appearance before a group of Holocaust survivors at the Gwen Secter Creative Living Centre, a self-written, one woman show – called “The Wandering Jew” at Tarbut in November and, most recently, a concert last month at Gordie’s Coffee House on Sterling Lyon Parkway.
Another new area of exploration for Shimoni is animation.  In an interview with Roots Music Canada last fall, she embarked on an ambitious animation project based on her song “One Voice,” which she wrote a few years ago, and which perfectly reflects the anxiety that many people are feeling in these troubled times.
 Last October, she was back on tour – with renowned American songwriter Dan Bern  – after three years away from the road.  She did two weeks’ worth of concerts in American West Coast states and Colorado  – and. in late January, she began a month-long journey that started with shows in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal and stops throughout the Midwest as far as Texas.
She recently returned to Montreal for a show and is currently doing a series of concerts in Germany – with further stops in Belgium, Holland and England.
“It will be good to be back in Europe,” she says.  “I have developed a loyal following in Germany and elsewhere.”
A writer for one publication in Berlin described Shimoni as ‘one of the most interesting singer/songwriters I have met in a long time.”
Here at home, Winnipeg concert promoter Ian Mattey observes that “with each concert, her audience has grown – a testament to the wonderful balance of her lyrical genius, haunting voice and musical talent.”
The singer/songwriter feels grounded – in a good way – in our fair city – and we hope that she will be with us for some time to come.

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A Backwards Family Tree

author Janice Weizman/cover of "Our Little Histories"

The following review first appeared in the February 15, 2024 issue of Lilith Magazine Reprinted with permission.
What does Jennifer Greenberg-Wu, an American-Jewish museum curator working on a reality show in rural Belarus, have to do with Raizel Shulman, a Russian mother desperate to save her triplet sons from being drafted into the czar’s army? The answer spans three continents and nearly two centuries, and it is the spellbinding tale that Janice Weizman weaves in Our Little Histories (Toby Press, $17.95), a novel that unfolds back-wards to tell the story of a family’s history one generation at a time.
Each of the book’s seven chapters focuses on another branch of the family tree that connects Jennifer back to Raizel. We witness the encounter between Jennifer’s mother Nancy Wexler, a young feminist hippie from Chicago, and her distant cousin Yardena, 25 years old and happily pregnant in Tel Aviv in 1968. In the next chapter we meet Yardena’s mother, Tamar, who, while smuggling guns for the Haga- nah, engages in a fateful act of betrayal with a visitor to her home on Kibbutz Hadar, where she has made her home ever since her parents sent her off on a train from Minsk in 1927. In the next chapter we meet Tamar’s distant cousin, Gabriel Schulman, a literature teacher in Vilna, who is attacked in a dark alley in Tamar’s impassioned letters pleading with him to come to Palestine before the situation in Europe gets worse for the Jews. “To be a Jew in Vilna, or Poland, or perhaps anywhere, is to find courage where you thought you had none, to feel it flowing through your veins like blood,” Gabriel thinks in the seconds before he is attacked.
Set one year earlier but thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean, the following chapter focuses on a third branch of the family—not those who stayed in Europe or settled in Palestine, but those like Nat Wexler, a first-generation American journalist in Chicago who is also Tamar and Gabriel’s cousin. Nat understands Yiddish but cannot speak it, and prides himself in his assimilation into American culture; he dreads bringing his fashionable, light-hearted Jewish-American girlfriend to the Yiddish theater with his mother, who is eager to meet her. The penultimate chapter takes us back forty years earlier to turn-of-the-century Belarus, where Gabriel’s father Yoyna is sent on a mission by his own father to reunite with his father’s two brothers; all three brothers were separated at a young age. In the book’s compelling, heart-wrenching final chapter, we meet three triplet boys, one of whom is Yoyna’s father, and we learn the reasons for their tragic separation by their mother Raizel in the shtetl in 1850, where “every year, right around the short dark days leading up to Hanukkah, the boys of Propoisk become scarce…gone for weeks or even months at a time.”
Like A .B. Yehoshua’s Mr. Mani, which follows a Sephardi family back in time, Our Little Histories is a book that demands re-rereading, backwards, from the last chapter back to the first. Connecting threads link one generation to another, and serve as leitmotifs through out the book, like the poem in three stanzas that Raizel Schulman pens just before she parts from two of her triplets so as to spare them from the czar’s army; each son receives one stanza, and the poem is published in a 1914 Yiddish anthology which Yoyna gives to Gabriel, who mails it to Tamar, who donates the slim booklet to the Yiddish library in Tel Aviv, where Yardena and Nancy find it; Nancy will give that booklet to Jennifer to take with her to Belarus for her reality show. When Jennifer’s mother hands her that booklet, she is convinced she has seen it before, and her deja-vu mirrors that of the reader, who will encounter and re-encounter the anthology, and Raizel’s poem, in each of the book’s seven chapters.
Our Little Histories is masterfully constructed, such that the book’s final chapter is both inevitable—it couldn’t possibly have been any other way—and yet impossible to predict. The three branches of Raizel’s family, who make their homes in Europe, Israel, and America, offer us an intimate window into aspects of Ashke- nazi Jewish history—pogroms and Zionism, yeshiva culture and the assimilation, the kibbutz and the shtetl. We have all tragically witnessed how the legacy of persecution has reverberated even in the Jew- ish homeland, a reminder of the unbear- able sacrifices and the acts of raw courage that continue to forge us as a people.

Our Little Histories is available in paperback and kindle on Amazon.

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