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Susan Garfield

By MYRON LOVE
Although just 11 years old at the time, Susan Garfield remembers as if it were yesterday the day that the Nazis marched into her native Budapest.
“It was March 19, 1944,” recalls the former Suzanne Loffler. “A group of us were rehearsing a play. “We were going to raise some money for the Jewish Agency. When we heard that the Germans had arrived, we all hurried home. I began telling people that the Germans were killing Jews. I knew because I had a girlfriend I had known since Grade 2 who was orphaned when the Germans killed her Polish Jewish parents.”

 

 

 

 

On December 8, Garfield will be adding her memories to the growing number of Holocaust memoirs in recent years when she launches “Too Many Goodbyes”, her own account of life under Nazi occupation and how she found a safe haven in Winnipeg post war. The launch will take place at 2:00 P.M. in the Berney Theatre.
“Too Many Goodbyes” is published by the Azrieli Foundation, which is dedicated to keeping alive the memories and lessons of the Holocaust as seen through the eyes of Holocaust survivors living in Canada.

“I always enjoyed writing,” Garfield recalls. “I started my first diary on the day of my 11th birthday.”
Garfield was born into a large extended family whose roots in Budapest and Hungary extended back several generations. Some of her great-grandparents were still alive when she came into the world.
Hers was a relatively happy childhood that came to an end in 1942 when her father, Bernat, who repaired and sold typewriters, was taken away by Hungarian authorities.
Hungary was allied with the Nazis at that time. And, while Jewish men were not allowed to bear arms, many, including her father, were conscripted to serve in labour brigades on the Russian front. “I remember going with my mother, Magdorna, and aunt to say goodbye to my father,” Garfield says. “He was with a large group of men standing around in a field. We never saw him again.”

After the Nazi occupation of Hungary, Garfield says, all of Budapest’s Jews were forced to move into designated Jewish houses. She further reports that the Germans rounded up Jewish women between the ages of 18 and 40 and Jewish men between 16 and 60. Her own mother was apprehended and shipped off to a concentration camp in Austria. While she survived the camp, Garfields recalls, she died of typhus on the way home.
The newly orphaned girl was put into a Red Cross home in the ghetto. “I didn’t stay,” she recounts. “Because I didn’t look Jewish – I was blonde – I just walked out of the ghetto. The guards didn’t try to stop me. I also had false papers later.”
Garfield spent the rest of the war living with an aunt, Malvina Pollak, one of her mother’s sisters.

She remembers clearly the siege of Budapest by the Russians in January, 1945. “There was house to house fighting,” she recalls. “We were all hiding in the basement. Then, all of a sudden, it was quiet. We cautiously went upstairs and were met by a Russian soldier. We knew we were free.”
Garfield notes that many of her relatives, including grandparents, survived the war. After the war, she resumed her schooling.

In 1948, representatives of the Jewish Agency came to Budapest. As an orphan, she was told that she was eligible to come to Canada, be adopted by a family and go to school.
“It was hard for me to leave my family,” she says, “but it was also hard for me to turn down the opportunity for an education in America. I remembered my father talking about going to America.”
She soon found herself – at 14, in Paris, with a group of war orphans heading to Toronto. To her disappointment, she learned that the plan was for the members of the group upon their arrival in Canada to be put to work in factories.
“I insisted that I wanted to go to school,” she recounts. “Since I was just 15 by this time, the Jewish Agency people found a family for me to live with.”
The only problem is that it wasn’t going to be in Toronto. She was going to be living in Vegreville, Alberta.
“It was a real culture shock,” she says. “I couldn’t speak English and, although there were five or six Jewish families in Vegreville, I was the only Jewish girl in the school.”
Nonetheless, she was welcomed into the home of Jack and Suzanne Klein. She recalls that one son, Hymie, was fighting with the Haganah and the other, Allan, was studying medicine in Winnipeg.

The teenage Susan proved to be a quick learner and mastered English well enough to excel in high school. After a year in Vegreville, she was moved by the Canadian Jewish Congress to Winnipeg where Dave and Esther Lipkin first gave her a home, after which she found shelter with the Blumes Family.
It may not have been Toronto, but at least she knew a couple of younger people in Winnipeg.
After finishing Grade 11, she enrolled in a business school. She met her future husband, Dr. Harry Garfield, in 1951 and they were married in 1954.
After the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, several of her cousins and her aunt, Melvina, joined her in Winnipeg. Her life was further enriched with the birth of her children, Gail, David, and Shelly and, later on, her grandchildren.
And Susan realized her desire for education later in life by going back to high school – Garden City Collegiate – to finish Grade 12 and followed that up with two university degrees. She says proudly that she won the Gold Medal in Honours Philosophy.
Some readers may remember her as a long time swimming teacher.
“Canada is the best country in the world,” she says. “And I have had a good life in Winnipeg.”

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