Humber’s recently-formed Jewish club opened its North campus door on Monday to Gershon Willinger, a Holocaust survivor, to relate his experiences to students.
Many of the 20-plus students in the group come from Holocaust-surviving grandparents themselves, and Willinger provided them a different angle and perspective of the Second World War, when some six million Jews were systematically murdered by the Nazis.
“My whole life was affected by the Holocaust,” said Willinger.
Although Willinger, currently 75 years old, was only three when the war broke out, he has vivid memories of the time and a post-war life that was changed entirely.
After the war broke out, Willinger’s parents parted ways with him and placed him in a home for children in Czechoslovakia.
“A parent should never leave their child, but they did this for my safety and to get me one step closer to survival,” said Willinger.
When the war finally came to an end, Willinger was placed in foster homes. With minimal care available to him, he only became toilet trained at the age of eight. He would often scream in his sleep, and did not how to perform ‘basic’ acts.
“I was a troubled child, and I was also called ‘retarded’,” said Willinger
With Willenger’s lack of skills, he was placed in intensive psychiatric care. It was believed that he had something extensively wrong with him and needed to be ‘fixed’.
“And here I am with a Masters in social work,” Willinger said with a chuckle.
Willinger never met his parents and found out years later that he has a sister who has been living with his aunt in the United States. Raised in different lifestyles, they remain civil but never could find that deeper connection. However, they vowed that their children should be friends and learn to value the importance of family.
“I have a beautiful wife, three children and seven grandchildren. My life is wonderful,” said Willinger. “I love my life and everything that came with it.”
Students in the club commented after the meeting.
“That was an incredible story, and Gershon is an incredible human being.” said Shaya Kutnowski, a Humber student in the Plumbing Techniques program. “It is amazing how someone can be so positive after what he has been through. He is definitely someone to learn from.
Natalie Anteby, a student at University of Guelph-Humber said, “his story is incredible and I learned a lot from hearing his experience.”
Anteby who is interested in social work, ended up chatting with Willinger briefly about career and how he got to where he did
The Jewish Club is the first of its kind at Humber College. The group meets once a week on Monday afternoon from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at KX 206 and gatherings feature speakers, lounging, and kosher snacks.