ETTY ZIGLER was born and raised in Bukovina, Romania. In 1941, Etty and her family were deported in cattle cars to Transnistria, a territory in western Ukraine given to the Romanians by Hitler as a reward for their alliance. Etty's grandmother died of dysenteric disease, her father of typhoid fever and her younger sister of tuberculosis. Etty emerged ravaged by a skin disease called lupus tuberculosis, which engulfed her nose, most of her face and left her horribly disfigured. In 1944, when the Soviets liberated camps, Etty learned that 90 per cent of her family had perished. In desperate need of medical help, Etty traveled to Czernowitz, where she received some help that halted the disease, but did not cure it. In 1945, she was reunited with her mother and received proper treatment in Bucharest. Her face critically deformed, she was encouraged to seek help in the U.S. In 1951, she had reconstructive surgery in New York, rejoined her family in Cuba and in 1961, immigrated to Canada with her husband and three children. It took more than 20 surgical procedures to reconstruct her face. Etty volunteered for ORT, helping and educating underprivileged children all over the world. She joined the Toronto Board of Education to educate students about the Holocaust and became a resource person by speaking about her personal ordeal. Later, she mentored children with behavioural problems. In 1986, Etty became a member of the Holocaust Education and Memorial Centre's Speakers' Bureau. Etty is currently the president of the Transnistria Survivors Association.
Unfortunately, I had to attend a funeral on Monday -- that of Etty Zigler.
I was not a close friend of this 84-year-old woman, but I'd known her from the time I got married and davened with my husband in a shtiebel, we lovingly referred to as "the old man's minyan". She was welcoming and warm to me, the new bride, even though I was 40 years her junior.
And when we moved to our current home just about three years ago, and began to attend one of two shuls, my husband and I were happy to reunite with the Ziglers, who'd given up their home a few years earlier and moved into a condominium not too far from us.
Every Shabbat, every Yom Tov, whether we were davening in their shul, or passing the Ziglers while we were walking to our other congregation, we always stopped to chat with the older but very able-bodied and able-minded couple.
Last year, Etty was one of several Holocaust survivors in Ontario,who were honored by our premier for their contribution to the community. Etty, with her tireless efforts to educate a younger generation of both Jews and Gentiles about the Holocaust and asserting that it should never happen again, had been chosen.
As a synagogue community we were honored to have Etty in our midst, this modest woman, who didn't know what to do with the recognition bestowed on her by the Canadian government. She was embarrassed by the attention drawn to her, but she did know that she was performing a much-needed task of educating people.
Unfortunately, Etty was hit by a car about three weeks ago, crossing the street just ahead of her husband. Her pelvis had been greatly damaged, but she was managing and underwent surgery, which was a success. But after some time, recovery from the surgery did take its toll her body, and she did not survive.
The funeral chapel was overflowing with men, women and young people on Monday afternoon -- a testament to the woman who used her memories to teach, and to the people whose lives she touched.
The world was made much richer by Etty's presence, and her absence will be greatly felt by many.
Etty Zigler, may you rest in peace.