After WWII, they came to Canada as tailors. Now their children will meet for the first time

Until a year ago, a piece of Ed and Issac Applebaum’s family history remained a mystery.

They knew their parents, Chela and Chaim Applebaum, grew-up in Poland.

They also knew they both survived the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

But it wasn’t until the brothers read an article on the CBC Toronto website that they figured out exactly how their parents ended up in Winnipeg.

“It turned out that we were part of the Tailor Project,” Isaac said.

Formerly known as the “garment workers’ scheme,” the Tailor Project was an immigration program that brought more than 2,000 displaced people, more than half Jewish, from Europe to Canada in 1948 and 1949 to work in the clothing industry.

It was the first program after the Second World War that permitted large numbers of Jewish adults to make new lives in Canada after years of restrictive immigration policies.

Larry Enkin, 90, the son of Tailor Project lead Max Enkin, recently decided to try to find tailors involved with the program to better document and share their stories.

“I was always interested in what happened to the tailors,” Enkin said. “Their stories are profound and varied.”

Since starting his hunt last year, he’s located more than 300 family members.

They’ll meet each other for the first time Wednesday, at an event marking Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, at the Holy Blossom Temple at 7 p.m.

“We’re trying in every way possible to build on this legacy and educate and provide knowledge to future generations,” Enkin said.

A common thread

Enkin enlisted the help of Impakt Labs, a non-profit organization conducting social research, to help track down names.

Due to privacy laws, they had trouble, so they scanned through ship manifests at both the Ontario Jewish Archives in North York and the Alex Dworkin Canadian Jewish Archives in Montreal.

“From then on we did some advertising in various publications and through that we were able to elicit a number of people beyond our expectations,” Enkin said.

With dozens of families coming forward, Enkin said he’s heard stories of resiliency, strength and survival.

“They were able to take the adverse conditions of their arrival, the difficulties that they faced in language and understanding Canadian customs, and slowly but surely become part of the national fabric of this country,” he said.

‘The war did not destroy the Applebaum family’

Issac and Ed Applebaum can relate to the journey.

After the war, their parents found all of their remaining relatives had been killed.

They spent years at the Bergen-Belsen camp before their father applied to the tailor project.

The project had emerged in response to an unexpected economic boom, which left a labour shortage in a number of industries, including in the Jewish-dominated garment industry.

Although their father had never worked in textiles, he was successful — all they had to do to qualify was sew a button — and he dedicated himself to the trade.

Meanwhile, their mother opened a grocery store.

“They endured so much, and people like them endured so much during the Holocaust,” Ed said.

“It was only their will that allowed them to survive and it was so important to them that their families would be able to have a chance at a better life.”

Sharing their parents’ story of struggle is important to them, especially in the wake of violent events around the world, they said.

“It’s not just anti-Semitism, it’s hate,” Ed said. “It’s unfortunate that after all these years we still see that this is a topic … and it’s still prevalent.”

The brothers are sharing their parents’ story all these years later as a way to honour them.

They’re also eager to meet others who share their parents’ history.

“It would be valuable and meaningful to them to see us here talking about the war and showing that the war did not destroy the Applebaum family,” Isaac said.

The Applebaum family’s story, as well as the 300 others as part of the tailor project, will also be shared in an upcoming documentary, a book to be released in 2020 and a travelling exhibition.

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