Felicia Posluns, interviewed by Alexander Pekic, 02 August 2016

Felicia Posluns, interviewed by Alexander Pekic, 02 August 2016

Abstract
Felicia speaks about her late father Henry Zagdanski (owner of NuMode dress company). She discusses his experience as a Holocaust survivor and that he was moved between many concentration camps. She also tells of his and his siblings immigration to Canada aided by a cousin. Felicia details the path Henry took to establishing his business from the bottom up into the successful NuMode Dress Company. She remembers him fondly, relaying her memories of him as a father, as a person more broadly and his talent for languages. Looking through photos, she names many people who worked for her father that she grew up around. She also discusses how she came to know of the internment and the connection between the Japanese Canadian and Jewish communities in Toronto. Felicia describes the ways in which her father passed on history and the value that history should be taught to the younger generations, or else it will be lost.
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Alexander Pekic (AP)
And we are recording now. So, it is Tuesday August the 2nd. We are speaking with Felicia Posluns Felicia corrects Alex's pronunciation of her surname, Posluns, my apologies. Felicia Posluns as part of the Landscape of Injustice research project. She is the daughter of Henry Zagdanski and we were interested in hearing a bit about that. So Felicia, please tell me about your father and the memories that you have, that you mentioned just moments ago.
Felicia Posluns (FP)
Ok so first let me just show you a picture of my dad when he, I don't have the dates on this, but it's pretty soon after he arrived in Canada.
AP
I've heard a lot about him but I've never see what he looks like.
FP
And this is when he’s young, and this is later on, this picture I think is in Germany Felicia show's Alex various photos of her father. My father took my dad -- my brother, that's one of my brothers.
AP
There's -- you guys, there's five siblings in total?
FP
Four. Three of them are right now here with your --here's my dad in later years. So just so you get a picture of who he is.
AP
Yes, absolutely, thank you.
FP
And here we found this picture, and I told you that he used to travel with his designers.
AP
Yes.
FP
There's a picture of him in Europe. I don't know if that's in England or Paris. Maybe you can tell.
AP
I'm not sure.
FP
I have a whole bunch of pictures of him in the factory. These are really great pictures and that's why I brought them out.
AP
Yeah, thank you.
FP
Here's my dad with some famous people, if you know famous people.
AP
This would be who?
FP
Begin, Prime Minister Begin of Israel.
AP
Ok, wow.
FP
This is my dad in Europe, right after the Holocaust. He taught himself to ski.
AP
He was born in present day Poland?
FP
He was born in Poland in a city called Radom. And he ended, was liberated by the American Army in Germany.
AP
Where was he during the war?
FP
He was in a lot of the camps. Auschwitz-Birkenau, a whole bunch.
AP
So he was transferred throughout?
FP
Yeah, like 5 years of hell and he did write a book and if you want to read that book I would be glad to give you a copy of it, honestly I would and I would have no problem in sharing that with you. It is -- Felicia makes a grimacing expression on her face
AP
I can only imagine.
FP
A book of his life in the Holocaust.
AP
So he is quite literally a Holocaust survivor?
FP
He is a Holocaust survivor. He passed away four years ago, just over four years ago now. Unfortunately he had dementia for the last almost 20 years of his life. So maybe 15, yeah about 20 years. So you know, not great.
AP
Wow, that's incredible hearing all of that and here he is in 1948 skiing.
FP
Oh you see, you got the date on it. That's great.
AP
See just even thinking about it there's goose bumps on my arm. Wow.
FP
He was quite -- to talk about my dad, you know of course, the best thing to do is talk about your dad in the best way and I only have the best things to say about my father. He was quite an incredible man. And maybe the word survivor is, you know, a good one for him. But he had smarts. Street smarts, book -- everything. He just was a happy natured person. Creative, stamina. He was a fighter and he had to fight to survive, but probably 90% of it was luck, but the other 10% was fighting for your life every day. So you know that's a whole other story. So he comes to Canada after the war because he was sent a letter -- they distributed lists around the world to say I survived. Maybe you have family in whatever. And a cousin in Toronto sent him a letter saying “I'm your cousin and I'm sending you a ticket to come to Canada.” You know my father was going to go to Israel. So he, my father said, “well I have two surviving sisters and one I am making a wedding for in Germany.” And he sent four tickets, so they all came to Toronto and settled here. And my father ends up going to night school to learn English. But my father was, my father spoke seven languages and one of them was a bit of Japanese because my father could learn languages. It was part of his talent. And he spoke German and Polish and Hebrew and Yiddish and English and you know a little Italian. He just could pick up languages. And he traveled a lot extensively for work. So, and his employees, so he picked things up. So he came here and he got a job in a fish market. And he would work there and go to night school at night and he couldn't stand it because every day he would go home and shower for 25 minutes and he couldn't get the smell of fish out.
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FP
So after I don't know how long, and the owner of the store wanted to make him a partner and open up another branch, but my father said “You know I have to be honest with you. I can't do this.” So he left and got a job begging on Spadina, which we called the 'shmata' business, the manufacturing. He'll sweep floors for nothing, pennies. So he swept floors and then became a floor manager and this and that and then he said I'm going into my own business. Somebody set him up with a partner, or somebody that he knew, and he went out and started. They went and bought a sewing machine, my father was very creative like I said. He made a cutting table. You got a sewing machine, a cutting table, Felicia taps the table with her hand you buy fabric, you start a business. And the business grew and grew into a very successful -- he was in business until he retired in his, I guess it would have been his seventies when he started getting ill. The business was bought by NuMode -- no the business was called NuMode Dress Company. It was bought at some point maybe a 50/50 from Dilex which was a big company that owned several manufacturing companies and retail like Fairweather's, Braemar, Thrifty's, these were stores that were in the malls, all the malls. So my father was one of those divisions that was bought and my father ran the business all on his own. They never bothered him and he made money and they were very happy to share in the profits. So there were many, many people who worked in this company called NuMode and my father -- what I know is that he had many Japanese people there. We were very friendly, we didn't think of them as unusual, just Japanese. He had people -- it was actually, as you know, Canada, was Multicultural. All kinds of people. And my father had an office, his office in his factory which he never sat in. One of the purposes of this little office was if anyone was having a fight, he'd say “You go in that room and you work it out.” There's not going to be any racial problems, any fighting. That was my father, people get along. So because -- he has his stories about that. So my father would hang out in the design room and that's where, you know, his top people were. The designers, if you don't have designers -- that's where I would say, if they were 5 or 6 people in the design room, 5 or 6 of them were Japanese. I'm trying to think of anyone who was not Japanese and it doesn't come to mind. Maybe one was another Asian country, maybe. I don't know. I mean everyone -- his front office, his head bookkeeper, his -- also Japanese. His top sales, I guess he would have been a salesman, they sold to the big department stores. They also sold two little stores from all over Ontario. So he had -- his top guy was a Japanese guy. His name right this minute -- Shin, Roy Shin. So his name is very famous in the Japanese community here with the Japanese Canadian Cultural Center because he was one of the founders. Roy Shin, he's passed away now too. So he would have the big accounts. He'd sell the 300 of this dress, 400 of that dress and however many. So we grew up with these people. This was not unusual, this was just, great. I have a picture here that I found Felicia reaches for the picture, July '67, so I was 5 years old and we went to the Japanese parade in downtown Toronto.
AP
Wow.
FP
And I remember that because I mean--
AP
That's you there in the middle.
FP
That's me and my two brothers beside me. We got all dressed up and you can see the, I only have that one little picture. So this is how we shared. We shared in each other's fun. It was all fun. My brothers talk about, they went with the Baba's, so Hisa and Haru Baba were two of the women that worked with my dad designing. They both traveled with my dad. My dad would go to Europe two or three times a year, to England, to London and Paris for the shows. He always took a designer with him, he never went alone. You see this pictures is on one of their trips that they -- he had a designer because of my father was very, had a good eye. And he would look at couturier, he would look at expensive dresses and say 'let's copy the shoulder, let's copy the hemline, let's copy the sleeves, the pocket, the whatever.' And the designer would sketch it out and they would see, it's always better to see for yourself.
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FP
My father was actually very good at taking pictures too. Had to do that a little bit clandestinely, copying laughs. So he turned a $1,000 dress into a $20 dress. My dad's clothing was for the masses. Women who wanted to look nice, but weren't buying name brand anything. So we just had a great relationship. These Baba were sister-in-laws and Sam Baba who you met with is an unbelievable guy. He's still, I mean as of 2 years ago, he's just driving everywhere, he's operating, it's great. So his wife and his sister-in-law worked for my dad. And so my dad went on, took my brother's of course, on fishing trips. The boy's trips. So they had fun times. But it didn't really mean anything to us that they were Japanese. We didn't know, honestly, I feel badly that I didn't know, I'd heard about internment, but I really didn't research it. It was only until the community came to us a few years ago and said 'You know did you know about this and did you know about this' that we really started to read up on it and see what was going on. It really was my father who -- amazing when you think about living through the Holocaust and then having no prejudices. And giving people opportunity. And if you were a hard worker and you were honest, that's all my father wanted. Just work hard, be honest and you'll have a good relationship. And that was it. So, like I said, I had many of them at my wedding. I was the second wedding in my family, but maybe the first girl. And it was a very large wedding so my father invited everybody. It was great. We always celebrated. Here's a pictures in the factory of somebody's retiring party Felicia pulls out a picture. That's either Hisa or Haru Baba. I think that is Haru.
AP
Yeah I think on the cake it says Haru.
FP
Does it say Haru? OK. And that was Sam's, hmm, was that his wife or his sister-in-law? I think it was his wife, but I could be wrong about that. And you know when I got engaged, or, they would do things for us. This is a thank-you party Felicia pulls out a large thank you card. If you probably read all the names, you can see how many different names there are here. It's just names from all over the world.
AP
Yeah.
FP
People signing -- Peter.
AP
This one sounds Japanese there.
FP
Yeah. Low and Low, this, another one, Lee. I don't know maybe that's, Asian. Like I said, there are names from everywhere.
AP
And this was from your engagement party?
FP
Yeah, here is Baba, Hisa and Sam Baba.
AP
Yeah, that's right, yeah.
FP
No, this I think was my dad's retirement party. I think that was my dad's retirement party and I still have, I have tons of pictures here. Look at the faces, isn't this fantastic?
AP
Yeah.
FP
So when I tell you.
AP
This -- the KFC party.
FP
Here is Roy Shin.
AP
That was that gentleman you just mentioned, yeah. This collection of photos here was put together for?
FP
For, I think this is my dad's retirement party.
AP
Oh so this is just a memento from the retirement party?
FP
Well let's see what year. '87. Oh no that was in '87, maybe that was her retirement party. Maybe, I don't know what it was. Maybe it was a Christmas party. My dad did things all the time. So he didn't retire in 1987.
AP
This is interesting because -- here's the luncheon or whatever and there's the cake, there's Kentucky Fried Chicken and that looks like --
FP
That looks -- sushi.
AP
Sushi, yeah. That's incredible. Wow.
FP
Isn't that fun?
AP
Yeah. Yeah, you are right, looking at the these photos, a lot of the faces are clearly of East--
FP
Of Japanese descent.
AP
Yeah, wow.
FP
So all the cutting, the cutting room. So you know it was a big factory. Not only that, my father as we were told, by other people, he invented what was called the home worker. This is his front office Felicia shows a picture. The home worker, he provided a lot of jobs to people, to Japanese people, and others too.
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FP
But I guess you know what happens when one Japanese lady says “ you know I got a job, I'm sewing at home” and then her friend's says so I'm going to do that too. So that's how things happen like that. Maybe that's how my dad got so many employees of Japanese descent because you know one person said NuMode dress is hiring. But my father never spoke about , it wouldn't be something that he would have. He just, you know, my father wanted to build a business and he built it. Felicia talks about some of her photos to Alex. Ok, here's Haru and Hisa.
AP
That's Sam right?
FP
That's Sam. And that's Hisa, no that's Haru. So that's who he must have been, I don't know. Felicia discusses some other photo's and mentions the passing of one of the individuals. Ok does that tell you United Nations?
Felicia shows Alex a picture from a NuMode party that displays the diversity of the company's workforce
.
AP
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And this is all there in the factory?
FP
This is all in the factory.
AP
Where was it? It was off of Spadina?
FP
Here's a picture of the cutting room.
AP
Was it downtown, the factory?
FP
There's -- see this was his right-hand-man, Roy Shin, in sales. Okay so his first factory was on Spadina. Felicia discusses more photos. His first place was on Spadina, you know around Queen and Spadina, Richmond and Spadina. And then he moved, he was in an old building on a few floors. Then he moved to Adelaide Street to a new building, near Bathurst and Adelaide and he was on one entire floor. And so much more modern and new technology. When we were kids we would go down every Saturday and we'd play. We'd play there laughs. Daddy went to work for a few hours and we went to play, and we play hide-and-seek under the dresses. In that old building they had one of those elevators that had to be manually done and I was too young to do it but someone was there giving us rides laughs. And my brothers worked in the summer a few times there and I worked there a couple summers too. So we really knew these people, we knew -- I can't say I know these men at the cutting room Felicia points to a photo, I didn't spend time there. When we went to the factory which was all the time, we went to the design room, we went to the sales floor. The cutting room, that wasn't exactly a place that you hung around. There's machines. So we knew these people. When I needed a dress made when I was 16, they made it. If I was a bridesmaid, if I was anything, we can get our stuff down there. So they treated us like their own kids and to us it was always, coming to see -- it was a family. It really was. You really felt welcome, warm. It was like bring your kids to work and we were always there. They, I believe that they loved my dad, my dad loved them. Listen how do you have people stay there forever. They retire there. You can see those people don't look young. Felicia points to a photo. They started working there at the beginning of their careers here. So I was saying about these home workers as well, they had the bundles because we used to -- and they would come and get, you know, 10 bundles, sew it at home and bring back the dresses. And they get paid. So there was some very, what should I say, successful women today, sort of my age or a little older, who when we met them at the Sakura Gala, went “Oh my God. It because of your father, like, my mother stayed at home to look after me, but we could put food on the table because she was getting an income.” And I mean we were talking about two of them. It was quite the night at the Sakura Gala, I think it was November 2014. So we started finding out about this sort of in January of 2014 and we learned more and more and just the coincidences of who knows who and what, and can you believe? It was quite meaningful.
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FP
Because at that dinner -- It wasn't just that they were, they recognized the Jewish community, but they gave the award to my father as a representative of the Jewish community because they were many Jewish business owners who also hired them. Now I didn't do the research, I didn't say why they should pick my father or why they should pick someone else. I had nothing to do with it. But Cindy was the one who called me and said “You know they are doing some research” and I'm like okay, I just don't know. And I think it's probably pretty obvious that my father had many more than most people and who worked there until they retired. And so maybe that's why they chose my dad,w hich we are honored, of course my dad had passed away already, but we are very proud to be a part of it, to know that he did something good. And again teaching us, you know it is what you do, it's by osmosis. He didn't have to tell us that he hired anybody because, for any he just -- they are good people. Doesn't matter what they look like. Felicia's phone rings and she motions to Alex to shut off the recorder to take the call.
AP
Ok so yeah we are back.
FP
So, we, it was nice to be -- I'm going all over the place.
AP
Please do.
FP
When I think about it, and I so much think about the Holocaust, and I think about how my dad survived and I think about the hatred, and what could have been. And then I think about how we are exposed to so many people of all countries, colors, religions, and did not have -- you know, so what? Normal. Practice whatever you want. It's -- my father gave us the life that we could not have had better for so many reasons. So just things like that. Say hello to these people, be nice. There was no Felicia makes a grimacing face, there was no shock, no nothing. He loved people and you know, these were the morals and values that we grew up with. And I can see with my kids, of course you pass these things on, you don't even know you're passing them on, you do and you don't. And my kids are feeling the same way so I feel that my father gave us that opportunity to learn it very instinctively. Is that the word? To just be nice to people, say hello to people. Don't judge a book by its cover. There was no reason to. So when we heard all about the laws that were enacted, even in Toronto, that they weren't allowed to go into Forest Hill. I mean we knew nothing about that, and we were shocked. I mean we were like “oh my”, we had no idea how discriminated the Japanese people were in Toronto. My father, I'm going to say he didn't --not that I remember, I was young, I don't recall him ever telling us the stories, “do you know that they were so discriminated and I hired them.” I don't remember that. I don't think my brother's remember that either. They were young and going on fishing trips with the Japanese people, so that didn't seem any different to them or to me. So when we had this Gala, of course we got in touch with Sam and a couple of people, but she couldn't come. One of the, Hisa and Haru, we tried but she wasn't well enough to come. Because we wanted to share that with her. So these -- what is her name she's a radio host? Oh she's a big radio host of Japanese descent and she came up to us at this dinner, she was the MC, I can't remember her name now, and she said “Oh my mother and my aunt worked for your father” and you know all these people. Janice Fukukusa I think her name is, I think is the CFO of Royal Bank, I mean she's one of the most senior people at the Royal Bank. Her mother was a sewer for my father. So you know you give people, you give them a helping hand and the world, thank goodness, opened up for them, and it was horrible to know what they went through. Of course we would feel that more than maybe some other people because of my dad's Holocaust experience. This has been a wonderful bringing together of the Japanese and Jewish community. Again we didn't start it, we were called and told that the Japanese people were researching, the current Board of the JCCC, we're researching the Jewish community and figuring out a way of honoring the Jewish Community for what they've done.
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FP
It wasn't like the Jewish Community was saying “Hey, you know, we did so much for the Japanese, why aren't they thanking?” Felicia motions no with her hands At all. But that's how it's been unwinding and now we have spread the story to so many people. And this is a good story. I guess other people didn't know either, like I said, this furrier hired Japanese people, that -- I hear stories now, I've told this story to so many people. I've heard people say “ My grandparents had a Japanese couple living in their basement at around Bathurst and Lawrence.” And she remembers them telling that when they couldn't afford to pay their rent, the guy said “ Don't worry about it, you'll pay when you can.” So I mean it was definitely going on, but nobody sort of talked about it. You just help people if you can. So many more people that would have known nothing about this, including us, have learned so much. So I'm really grateful to the JCCC people for bringing this out because we need stories like this, we need happy stories, we need people helping each other because you can't go one day in this world, or even in Toronto, without a shooting, a stabbing, a racial this. It's tough, It's really tough and it's great to be touched by a good story like this and it doesn't take much to make the world a better place. Really, everyone here together has made the world a better place and I'm glad that we're part of it. When they honored, I told my brother's, we talk about this because it was so meaningful to us, and the Sugihara story. Do you know how they came together? So when they came to us to honor my dad and the Jewish community, they said we're doing a joint honoree this year. I think it was the 5oth year of the Sakura Gala and they honored the late Sugihara who saved 26, I think it was 2600, over 2000 Jews. So again we didn't know that story. So now we learn this story. Now there's a movie here, they brought it to the Japanese Film Festival and we invited 100 people. We just -- everybody is learning the Japanese story and the Sugihara story. And everyone walks out going ' that was so meaningful'. I know they're going to show this movie again, next year, I think in the spring of 2017. And again we'll be there to try -- the more people who learn of the good that people do to others, to help others. How this Japanese man helped, saved so many people. Today there's probably over a hundred, I mean who knows, how many people. I would say at the low end we're talking about a hundred thousand people, of descendants from the 2000 something that he saved. A lot of them were very orthodox, Jewish orthodox, and they had many children, and then many, many grandchildren. So it wasn't like two kids, and two kids. It was like 5 kids and then 10 kids. So that's why the numbers add up to something huge. But again we learned a lot of history about the internment and we met Chris Hope. So I asked you to go speak with Chris Hope. Chris was on, or still is, the JCCC board and he's a filmmaker part-time. He did, he made a documentary of his mother and the internment story. So he gave us a copy of the movie. So we watch that and how he went home. So much, we've just learned a lot. It's personal, very, very personal. Since the -- our honoring in November of 2014 there's been two more. Like the one after us I honestly can't remember who was honored. This year we went, we were able to go. They call us, they want us to come, they want us to be part of it. But what's being part of it is more than just oh they honored David Suzuki, got an honor, Brian Mulroney was honored.
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FP
These are fabulous people, these are really amazing. But, this year they honored the baseball team, the Japanese baseball team. Very cool, really cool information. But this Jewish thing, it's part of their -- it's now their history. They don't talk about it oh they honored him because this person did a really good something or another. It's 'we came to Canada and this is what happened to us', and it will forever be part of their history. Not just there was a famous Japanese guy, or there's a famous somebody else. So it's really, really is amazing to be part of that story. We can thank my dad if he can hear us from up above, wherever he is now watching down, we have to thank, we have lots to be thankful for. I don't know if I have anything else that I can add. There's lots of pictures.
AP
No, thank you for that. You mentioned that when you were younger that your mom got a kimono as a gift and that picture of you at the parade is really interesting. Like you mentioned you guys were friends with the kids of the employees and you spent a lot of time in your childhood. But at the same time you didn't know much about their community's history, like most people in Canada, including myself. I went through the school here. Do you remember anyone mentioning the story of internment at all? It seems like you don't, I'm just wondering what that was like, playing with these kids and--?
FP
So we didn't see so much their kids. One of them, when I was a teenager, so Roy Shin's son Micheal, he has passed away now I mentioned maybe it's five years, time goes fast, you don't realize, yeah maybe. So he started working for the company when he was a teenager, maybe after high school or something. So we would see him because like I said we would go to the factory all the time. And Michael he was maybe a year older than my brother but we always hung out together. But I didn't know any of their other, and I don't think they had too many children. So we knew them, a couple of the spouses, but we didn't know their kids. As a matter of fact you mention the kimonos. I still have the two kimonos. And when I mentioned it to Sam Baba he said “ I bought those for you” and I was like “I still have them” and I haven't found out, they're always in my closet, I don't wear them because, they are actually very long because you have to tie them up. So unless you know how to tie it up, you sort of can't wear it. But they're very beautiful. One day I'm going to figure out what to do with him. Keep them as a better memory as opposed to in my closet. My brothers again went on the fishing trips but I don't remember that they were any other young kids on those fishing trips because I've seen a couple of pictures, I don't know where they are, or who showed us, but somewhere there are the pictures of them on these fishing trips. But did I know about internment? I had heard, because, you live in Canada, but I wasn't a very good history student for one thing, but when you're learning that in school they would skip over these things pretty quickly. Because that wasn't something Canada should be proud of actually. So I'm sure it wasn't this extensive knowledge. So you heard about it, I knew the name internment but you knew that what they did was bad. We knew that that there was an apology, we knew, but that's later. But again we didn't tie it to anything the Jewish community did. It wasn't until they brought this whole story together about 3 years ago that we started learning, and people started to say “ oh yeah my father had someone living in his basement, oh yeah we had a Japanese person.” Like that. I have a feeling that when we had our first -- they came here to the office to make a formal ask to present the award to us. And actually they were maybe 5 people. Gary, do you know some of these people from the Japanese Cultural Center?
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AP
I might but I'm not sure.
FP
They are very interesting people. I can get you their full names. I mention Chris Hope who was one of them. So Gary, I want to get his name right so I'll have to go back to it --they brought at that very first meeting the wife of the late Michael. So his father Roy also got some disease and passed away, I don't know if he was 10 years ago. And Michael had passed away too. The wife, her name is June, I think it's June, came at that very first meeting, somehow, because they all communicate with each other, and they told her because she -- her husband worked at NuMode for many years, and her father-in-law. So she came here and she sat right where you're sitting and she said “Do you remember me?” and we kind of looked at her and went, and then as soon as she said, I mean of course, my father was at her wedding. I mean she would come to the factory too. I'd seen her several times, but I hadn't seen her in probably 35 years. So I mean I'm sorry but I don't remember exactly, but as soon as she told us we knew exactly who she was. So that was really nice, for her to come and -- wanted to touch base with us. Which we are really open to, we were really happy. So we've gone, like I said, we went last year to the Sakura Gala. These are our friends, literally these are our friends now. Kerry Rothbart, does that ring a bell?
AP
No.
FP
So Kerry is actually Jewish, but Kerry is fluent in Japanese, his brother has lived in Japan for his entire adult life. His family had a, has, they sold out to a Japanese company, some kind of food business, which is like a huge multimillion-dollar business in Japan. I forgot the name of it, but there's a lot of history here. So he's on the board of the JCCC so he is also bringing the communities together. Really fun guy, really great guy and everyone that we're coming into contact with, it's been the most incredible experience. We really can't stop talking about it because it is just such a great happy, help people, people helping each other, and speaking about it. But the first meeting when they came here, they were explaining to us their community. If memory serves me correct, they only have about 20,000 people of Japanese descent living in all of Southern Ontario. Now 20,000 is tiny. So when you talk about intermarriage, it's hard to find another person you were going to marry who is of Japanese descent when you only have 20 000 people including young and old and everything. So they said it's very difficult to find a two Japanese people, our age, call it, people in their fifties, or forties or thirties -- forget it, getting married. I think it's, I have to think it's this generation, I'm talking about people who are thirties, forties, fifties who are doing the research on this internment. I'm getting -- because the two people that were here, who could speak to it, we're saying that their parents didn't want to talk about it. and you have that similarly with the Holocaust. Not my father, my father did speak about it. They had a saying, 'let's move on, let's forget about it, let's not bring up that story'. I think it's taking a long time for the next generations to say, wait a minute, let's learn about this story and let's talk about it, let's make a movie about it. Let's, documentaries, like you're doing the research project here now, to speak to those people. I think it was hard for them they were trying to make their life, they were trying to do everything they can. You can say the same thing for the Jewish community, it was really the same thing. And some survivors never spoke about it, and my father did. But he had that ability to speak about it without wanting to depress us, or oppress us. He didn't talk to us about it for that.
00:40:00.000
00:40:00.000
FP
He believed that everybody should know what happened. It should be a story that is told and his book is called, oh my gosh I'm losing my memory now, “It Must Never Happen Again - Memoirs by Henry Zagdanski.” You know you must speak about these things so these things don't happen again, you know? It's painful, difficult, it's not easy, but you have to pass that information on. And I think, it's my impression that it's this next generation of Japanese people who are saying, 'we've got to get this story out. Let's not wait till we have no more survivors of that era.' because they are also in their 80s, 90s, so I'm glad that you're getting to this. Your project is going to come to fruition and hopefully you get to these people. My story's not a very big story about the internment, I really know nothing. I've only learned what I learned here. It's how we are happy that our communities have come together now. And we share lots of common things, we have a world to keep exploring. There's no -- we'll grow from the experience. And as much as I'd like to say, help other people, I wish there were fewer to help, but there's always another oppressed people. There's just a constant oppression. So maybe we will, more of us will know how to help. Know that you can make a difference. I think that's the important story here, and also to get the history down from the survivors themselves. I called them survivors of the internment but I don't know that that's the right word, but they did, they really had to -- it was pretty awful from what I've seen of the couple of documentaries and the stuff that I've been reading. It's pretty disgraceful and I guess we try not to repeat these things.
AP
You're quite right in that most people mention that their parents that went through the internment and such, just didn't talk about it. And sometimes kids didn't know pretty much anything about their family's history from that time. You mention that your father spoke about his experience in the Nazi camps. I'm curious to know what that was like for you, if that's something you'd be comfortable talking about? Just his interactions with you, how he talked about it, his memories.
FP
So my father had a personality, you know you're born with a personality. You could learn morals, values but you are born with a personality. And my father's personality was really special. This love of people, positive outlook. and he -- I'm sure that is what helped him tell us about the horrors in a way that wasn't to make us suffer. That was never his intention, never, never, never. He was always there for us, he was a father very different from most people of his generation. My father was out at our school. We went to Hebrew school, all of us, Hebrew school until we graduated high school. And my father, even though he was working very, very hard, working all the way downtown and our school was uptown, he was at -- every time one of us had a speech, a play, anything that he could be possibly invited, my father is at the school to watch it. And other parents weren't there. That was a priority for my dad, and to bring us to Israel and the teach us why, the importance of Israel. And why the importance of having your traditions of Jewish, and why we have to learn what happened in the Holocaust. But it wasn't to -- and I spoke to my brothers about this because we are involved in Holocaust education and things, and people have very different experiences. Our experience, from my father, none of us feel that we were scared. These are stories that we have heard, 'our father would make us hide under the bed' --no, my father didn't do anything like that. It was told as a history, this is what we have to know. He didn't, I don't know, maybe it was his tone of voice. He took us, I went to Poland when I was 10 years old. My brother was 12 and one was 13.
00:45:06.000
00:45:06.000
FP
And my brother had his Bar Mitzvah, we had been to Israel before, once for sure and maybe this is our second time, we went to Poland for a few days, 5 days maybe and we went to Israel after that and celebrated my brother's Bar Mitzvah in Israel. And I'm talking taking your 10 and 12 year old to Poland. It was just like it was. I remember that trip like it was yesterday, I don't remember my work from yesterday, but I remember that trip. It was quite something. It wasn't traumatic, it was, this is the history, this is the truth, and this is what you have to know. So we can't not tell what happened. You have to know what happened, and not belabor on it. Thank God he survived, he lost most of his family. And he just did what he could to keep the history and to support charities like Yad Vashem, which is an incredible Institution, and support Israel. And he always said if we had Israel then, maybe there wouldn't have been a holocaust, they would have had a place to go. They got turned away from Canada, they got turned away from everywhere. But he -- we didn't feel that he was punishing us by talking about the Holocaust. And I know other people have had that experience. And I'm involved in a symposium that's going to be in the fall, November I think. That is a second generation. So I'm called the second generation. And only 2nd generation people are invited to this. It's only going to be about 250 people, because of the room, it's the first time they are doing this. But I'm on the steering committee and I'm listening to this room of about 15 people commenting and I'm “wow”, like I'm really -- it's people older than me and some of the things that they're saying, my brothers and I never experienced. Because I've come back to them and said “Barry did you feel like this you know, kind of fears and that they were doing a disservice, my father is doing a disservice to us to talk about it?” And we all say no. It just didn't happen that way. Maybe that was just his attitude. He had a really good attitude. There's people that are downers, call it that. There are people who are downers and there are people who are uppers. My dad was an upper, so he could teach us without making this go to bed afraid or without -- there's different things about you know sure, you've heard this I'm sure, 'Eat what's on your plate. you know I was starving during the war.' Ok, that's teaching you values, you know you work hard to put food on your plate. If I left a piece of chicken on my plate I don't remember my father ever saying “ You better eat everything.” That didn't happen. He would just as a point of sharing, you know people were starving so we tried to take what we can eat. So just sort of teaching as opposed to the negative of making us feel if you don't eat something, something bad is going to happen. He wanted to help people, he wanted to give what he could during his lifetime and he did a good job. Unfortunately, I would say his life was cut short by dementia, even though he lived probably 20 years with it. After the first maybe 8, he was not very coherent. He wrote his book just in time, just in time. Even at the end of writing this book, he had a ghost writer. He would talk into recordings and we'd edit it, and edit it to the point where it stills sounds like my father. If you knew my father you'd say that sounds like my father. It doesn't sound like Elie Wiesel, beautiful written book. My father was a Polish guy who learned English, and he was pretty darn good, ran huge, huge businesses. And when he told the story it didn't come out like 'in 1936' -- stories came out here and there and then they had to put it together. So the book was, I think that was the best part for us, for my brothers and I and our kids, when the book was finished it was in a chronological order. Whereas when he would tell the stories all through our lives it wasn't chronological. It was just a story here, and a story there and this is what happened as opposed to 'I went from here, to here, to here, to there'. So we are grateful for that, really, really grateful to have that, it's good history.
00:50:05.000
00:50:05.000
FP
My father, that's why I'd like to give you the book, my father in the beginning of the book writes -- we paid for the book, we published it, paid for it, paid for everything that it cost to make the book, because even though maybe he could have sold it, he didn't want to sell it. He didn't want to ever be accused -- when he wrote it people were just starting to write their stories down. You know people twist and the Holocaust never happened, and my father said, you know, be horrified if someone accused him of writing a story for-profit. He said ' I'm not profiting from this. I fortunately can afford to do this on my own and I want this done and I'm not going to sell the book.' We made 800 copies, we gave it to libraries, we gave it to anyone that would want to read it and all we say is “please don't leave it on your bookshelf after you've read it.” If you're going to read it pass it on to someone else who can learn from it. So that's the thing. We've given out a few hundred, but we've never sold the book. People say “oh can we buy it on Amazon?” or something. I'm actually trying to get it into that format, so that people can read it wherever they are. My kids keep bothering me about it but I'm busy and I haven't had the time. So I intend on getting the book however scanned, something, so that anyone could read it. That's what my father wanted, people to read it. It's not like it was -- it's his personal story, fine, but you don't have to listen to the personal stuff. Go on and read and learn from it if you're able to. I never give it to someone saying “ I hope you like the book” No, it's not, like the book. It's I hope the book is meaningful to you. And so he got the book done, we are very happy about that. He took us to Poland. I've been to Poland three times. Twice with him, and once without him when he was already not well and on group trips. The first one was just our family, our immediate family of six. and the next one was on a Jewish Appeal group, maybe there were 40 people ,I'm not sure exactly, but I would say a busload. And then the next one we are also want a big bus load of about 50 people, all first cousins, all uncles and aunts and 5 different survivors. Very, very, very difficult. I mean whatever my father told me wasn't half as painful to me as going on these trips. Especially the last trip. I think as you get older it affects -- it affects me more. And my brother say the same thing. It does affect us more. Because you know you're older and you realize what you lost, and what you didn't have, and what, the pain that your parent went through. because if you become a parent and grandparent, you get emotional. So you appreciate different things the older you get. So it becomes much more painful for me to handle that kind of History. But I said there's the March Of The Living trip. I've been, but never been on the March Of The Living Trip, and my kids didn't either. It's a grade 11 trip now. But they've all been, so we didn't feel -- if they wanted to go with their schools they could have. One did. One of the nine grandchildren did, but the other ones, I think one maybe two, because we had been, didn't have to go again. And I said , for me to go, would be torture, it would really be torture. I know what I felt 10 years ago, the last time I was there. It was physically painful. I would do it only if I was better than somebody else in terms of passing on the information. If I could do better than what the options were, and they said please we need your help, I would do it. But I wouldn't volunteer for it. That's difficult for me. So I told you these people sitting around the symposium, it's going to be very interesting to see all the different stories that have come out and some people were, I don't want to say damaged. But their lives were changed, and that's what it is, right? We were lucky. My father was an amazing person, as a father, as a mentor, as a business person. He was athletic, he was always up for an adventure. So my father was like a father to a lot of kids. Like all of the friends would be at my house, and all of my brother's friends. They were at our cottage. He was always doing something with the kids and shared the stories. And I think they appreciated it.
AP
I know you're pressed for time because it's your work day, so if you're happy with leaving that as your--
FP
Did you turn it off?
AP
No we are still recording.
FP
Oh, ok.
AP
Perhaps we could leave that as your final thought, unless, I'm happy to hear any last thoughts that you have?
FP
No I hope this is helpful in some way to your project here. It's a great research, I think it should be done. I ask when it's all done and put together I get to read this and help to promote it.
AP
I'll explain all of that to you.
FP
Yeah, after the tape. I think really have told you everything I can. I appreciate all that you're doing and appreciate that you took your time to come out here.
AP
It's my pleasure. Not my pleasure, but it's really something.
FP
To push forward on this project and hear-- I told you I really don't have much to say about this.
AP
I knew you would.
FP
Alright, thanks a lot.
AP
Thank you very much.
00:56:43.000

Metadata

Title

Felicia Posluns, interviewed by Alexander Pekic, 02 August 2016

Abstract

Felicia speaks about her late father Henry Zagdanski (owner of NuMode dress company). She discusses his experience as a Holocaust survivor and that he was moved between many concentration camps. She also tells of his and his siblings immigration to Canada aided by a cousin. Felicia details the path Henry took to establishing his business from the bottom up into the successful NuMode Dress Company. She remembers him fondly, relaying her memories of him as a father, as a person more broadly and his talent for languages. Looking through photos, she names many people who worked for her father that she grew up around. She also discusses how she came to know of the internment and the connection between the Japanese Canadian and Jewish communities in Toronto. Felicia describes the ways in which her father passed on history and the value that history should be taught to the younger generations, or else it will be lost.

Credits

Interviewer: Alexander Pekic
Interviewee: Felicia Posluns
XML Encoder: Stewart Arneil
Publication Information: See Terms of Use for publication and licensing information.
Setting: Felicia Posluns' Office, Toronto, Ontario
Keywords: Toronto ; Israel; Poland; NuMode Dress Company ; Japanese; Jewish; business; internment; Holocaust; 1930s-present

Terminology

Readers of these historical materials will encounter derogatory references to Japanese Canadians and euphemisms used to obscure the intent and impacts of the internment and dispossession. While these are important realities of the history, the Landscapes of Injustice Research Collective urges users to carefully consider their own terminological choices in writing and speaking about this topic today as we confront past injustice. See our statement on terminology, and related sources here.