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Now before you go jumping to conclusions or unfriending me, hear my story.

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My maternal grandfather, Otto Zhan, was a socialist bordering on communist. He vehemently opposed Hitler and the Nazi party. (Photo: Supplied)

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My story starts in the historic city of Mainz, Germany. Two families with two very different backgrounds. One Jewish, the other not. 

In the mid 1930s, with the rise of Hitler, Nazism and Antisemitism, my paternal Jewish great grandparents made the brave decision to leave everything behind and sail to a new life in British Mandate Palestine. At the same time across town my maternal side of the family continued life completely untouched.

When Hitler finally took power, many in my maternal side of the family joined the Nazi party. Some enlisted in the army, others joined the SS and others provided material and financial support to the Nazi party and its murderous machine.  

There was one exception. My maternal grandfather was a socialist bordering on communist. My grandfather vehemently opposed Hitler and the Nazi party. He was harassed, arrested and even jailed. Unable to find a teaching job in Nazi Germany, my grandfather had to travel to Italy where he found a teaching job at a Jewish school.

Upon returning to Germany, Otto Zhan was arrested and eventually conscripted to the army where he spent his time doing clerical work.

Each time my grandfather would return to Germany to visit family, he would take Jewish children back with him to Italy, to the Jewish school. Once  in Italy, my grandfather would place the children on boats that would take them to safety.

When WWII broke out, the Jewish school was closed and my grandfather was unemployed once again. Upon returning to Germany he was arrested and eventually conscripted to the army where he spent his time doing clerical work. 

Meanwhile, outside the apartment building where my mother grew up the Nazis erected a prisoners of war camp. The apartment’s balcony faced the prison camp across the street. The apartment was just high enough to allow my grandmother to easily throw bread over the fence to the prisoners. 

To ensure that she wouldn’t be caught by the Nazi guards she would always have the bath running and my mother and her sister naked in the tub. One time she was almost caught.

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Late one evening someone noticed something being thrown over the prison fence from the apartment building across the street. Nazi guards came knocking on the door. My grandmother answered. The guards walked in. The bath water was overflowing, my mother and her sister were crying, it was quite the mess. 

The Nazi guards quickly apologized to my grandmother for causing all the fuss and left. 

Otto Zhan was provided a special certificate - Opfer Des Faschismus - allowing him to gain access to essential services and rebuild his life. (Photo: Supplied)

Following the war my grandfather was recognized by the Allies as a person persecuted by the Nazis. He was provided a special certificate allowing him to gain access to essential services and rebuild his life. In a short period of time, he rose up the ranks of city council and eventually became the deputy mayor of the city of Mainz.

It was in his capacity as deputy mayor where the lives of my two families intersected. The city of Mainz was celebrating an important birthday and as an attempt at reconciliation, invited all surviving Jewish community members to attend the celebrations as guests of honour.

Amongst those who responded to the invitation were my Jewish great grandparents who moved to Israel. 

In my next column, I will tell the story of how my parents met and their trek to Israel to begin a new life. It involved a return to Mainz, Germany,  the meeting of two strong-willed individuals and the determination of one young lady to live her authentic life as a proud Jew and Zionist in the state of Israel.

Ron East is an educator, community leader and public speaker. He’s spent a decade teaching in the Jewish and public school systems and spent a significant amount of time in various leadership roles in the not-for-profit sector including Executive Director of Football Manitoba and the Manitoba chapter of CFHU. Ron has published numerous newsletters, award winning magazines and online publications and is currently the Publishing Director of TheJ.Ca.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

cOMING SOON…….

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