REGINA — Rachel Milbauer was four years old when war came to her small Polish community in 1939 and life dramatically changed for her and her family.
She told her story May 3 at a Holocaust Remembrance Program to a Beth Jacob Synagogue audience who listened intently as she described years of deprivation and fear.
She met Adam Shtibel after the war; they married, moved to Israel, and eventually emigrated to Canada where she worked as a microbiologist research scientist and Adam worked in the aviation industry.
The lectern at the front of the synagogue had six small candles in round glass containers, each representing one million Jews killed in the Holocaust. Each speaker used a large burning candle to light one of the small candles in memory of Holocaust victims.
Saskatchewan Lieutenant Governor Vaughn Solomon-Schofield brought greetings and lit the first candle. She was followed by Saskatchewan MLA for Regina South Bill Hutchinson, representing the Premier of Saskatchewan, and Regina Mayor Michael Fougere who reminded everyone that this year marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the notorious Auschwitz death camp.
Well-known musicians Ed and Pauline Minevich performed a violin and bass saxophone duet of the theme music from the movie Schindler’s List. Then with no introduction, emcee Steve Wolfson invited Rachel Shtibel to come to the lectern and tell her story.
The war came to her village in 1939 when she was fours old, she said, but it was 1941 when life dramatically changed. They were forced to leave and live in the ghetto.
“We had to wear the Star of David on our arm which meant we chose to die. Life was horrible.”
They were assembled in the square each morning as the Nazis chose who was to die that day. Some people were buried alive, including her grandmother. Her grandfather refused to eat after his wife’s murder and starved to death.
They managed to escape in the spring of 1942 in the snow. They had no shoes. They hid in a dugout under the snow.
“There were eight of us and we were packed in like sardines together.”
They eventually made their way to a farmer’s barn where they hid under the straw and came out at night to find food, usually from the pigs’ trough. They were rescued by Soviet soldiers in the spring of 1944.
After the war she took four years of medical school; met and married Adam, who had had similar wartime experiences; took four years of medical school, then a microbiology degree from the University of Tel Aviv; emigrated to Canada and still lives in Toronto.
She was convinced to write about her story and the Azrieli Foundation published her book, The Violin. It takes its title from the violin her uncle buried in the yard of their home when they were forced to leave. It was retrieved after the war and she still plays it.