‘Never a story like this’: Canada Post honours Holocaust survivor saved by Swedish diplomat
‘ I’m still sort of stunned by the stamp,’ Judith Weiszmann says. ‘I hope it gets people talking about Wallenberg. He was fearless… None of my family would be here without him.’
It was all very clever, Judith Weiszmann tells me. Clever, and kind of sneaky, at least to begin with, at least before the BIG secret was revealed Thursday morning at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre in mid-town Toronto.
But there is a time to be sneaky, and that time was this week when Ms. Weiszmann, an 83-year-old with enviable posture, twinkly blue eyes, the shoulders of someone who swims regularly and the firm handshake of one accustomed to getting a straight answer, was fed a tiny white lie by her daughter, Ann, a fib in which her two grandsons, Gabriel and Adrian, were complicit, as was her son-in-law, Daniel.
“My daughter told me there was a gallery opening at the JCC and asked if I wanted to come to it and I said, ‘Why not?’ ” Ms. Weiszmann says.
“I didn’t know about the surprise until I was standing in this very spot.”
The very spot is next to a podium, and next to that is a large, tastefully framed display featuring a Canada Post commemorative stamp honouring Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jews in wartime Budapest by providing them with bogus identity papers, or “schutz-passes.”
Ms. Weiszmann was among the Jews Mr. Wallenberg saved. A copy of her schutz-pass, including a picture of her as a 14-year-old girl, appears on the Wallenberg stamp. An amazing sight made even more remarkable by the fact that Ms. Weiszmann didn’t know she was on the stamp until her daughter bought a booklet of them back in January and was astonished to see the girlish image of her mother alongside the man who saved her.
Canada Post was similarly shocked. They didn’t know Ms. Weiszmann was on the stamp, or that she lived in Canada, or anything, really, until I wrote about the mystery girl — who survived the war, married another Wallenberg Jew, settled in Winnipeg and enjoyed a distinguished career as an engineer — in the National Post in January. (Ms. Weiszmann was also the girl on a Swedish Wallenberg stamp, another mystery now solved.)
Which brings us to May, and a Thursday, and a wood-paneled room in a Jewish community centre with a podium and the president and CEO of Canada Post, Deepak Chopra, on hand to say a few words before presenting Ms. Weiszmann with a framed souvenir of the stamp.
“We do lots of historical stamps and each one has a great story, but never a story like this,” Mr. Chopra says. “To know that the person on the stamp is actually alive, and here to tell her story — it is just amazing.”
Amazing, for me, was meeting Judith Weiszmann. We spoke over the phone for the initial story. She was in Hawaii, escaping a Manitoba winter. I was in my kitchen, suffering through an Ontario winter.
“You did such a nice job,” she tells me as I blush a shade of red that, a few minutes before, had been full-blown crimson when in a surprise twist I was also presented with a framed stamp and asked to say a few words at the podium.
Ms. Weiszmann, of course, was the star attraction. This was her day, even if she didn’t see it coming. She tells me that in the wake of the article she received a letter from a young man in Germany. He read the story, told all his friends about it, and became interested in learning more about Wallenberg, the hero — a diplomat who disappeared after the war and is presumed to have been murdered by the Russians in 1947.
“I’m still sort of stunned by the stamp,” she says. “I have never been a public person. I just hope it does some good. I hope it gets people talking about Wallenberg. He was fearless.
“He is the one who deserves the awards. None of my family would be here without him.”