Tribute to my Father
Eulogy for a Hero

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Striking a jaunty pose on an Ozarow street in 1936.

Mechel Flicker was born in Ozarow on April 12, 1913. He was booked to sail to Quebec in June 1928 on the same ship as the translator's father, but two weeks before, the cousins who had sponsored his immigration, fearing that he would become a burden to them, withdrew their sponsorship, dooming him to remain in Ozarow until the German invasion. A skilled mechanic born into a family of wagoners, he expanded that tradition by operating two taxis with a couple of partners during the late 1930's (see page 80). He survived the Holocaust by heading for Russia, where he was arrested and sent to a labour camp in Siberia for two years.

After his release, he wandered on foot through the former Soviet Union, supporting himself by doing odd manual jobs. At the end of the war, he elected not to return to Poland, where he bad no one and nothing left. He was placed in a displaced persons camp in Germany, and from there finally emigrated to Montreal in 1947 - 19 years later than he had planned. He had a family and owned a small scrap metal business. He became a pillar of the Ozarow synagogue in Montreal, Congregation Anshei Ozeroff, and he was zealous in the perpetuation of the memory of the town. These are the words of love and tribute spoken by his son David at his funeral in Montreal on September 26, 1996.

"I stand before you to speak of and to honour our father, Michael Flicker. I stand before you on behalf of myself, my sister Gail, and my wife Ruth, who was a daughter to him in every sense that truly matters.

How to encapsulate the life and spirit of a man in a few words? I cannot do so, but most of you who are here today knew him well - knew his strengths and weaknesses (the former far outweighing the latter) and the profoundness of his ability to love and to give of himself. My father needs no eulogization: his life speaks for itself and it speaks far more eloquently than I ever could.

Nonetheless, it is altogether proper and fitting to speak of our loved one, and so I will briefly do.

Michael Flicker was buffeted hard by the turbulent winds that blew over 20th century Jewry. He was born in Ozarow, a small Polish town. While he was still a baby, the town was razed as armies swept back and forth across south-eastern Poland; and my father's parents spent the next few years as refugees before they could return home to Ozarow after the war. Ozarow made my father what he was: he was begotten of and shaped by the life of the shtetl. By the mishpochah, by the cheder, by the marketplace, by the beis hamidrash, by all the richness and tempestuousness, by all the liebschaften and all the broiges that contributed to the ornate brocade that was Jewish life in Eastern Europe.

But my father also had a technical side. Time and circumstance denied him any formal education, but he was a master mechanic. Around my father, machines were simply happier and ran better. His work may not have been aesthetically pretty, but he always made things work. Much of his learning was self-taught and his technical skill innate, but part too was acquired when he served four years in the army as an engineering sapper, the most arduous of all services in the Polish army. My father never tired of telling his children and then his grandchildren of his exploits in the army. My father was a very "talentful" man.

And he was a survivor. He survived infancy in war-torn Europe; he survived poverty and want, often going hungry to cheder; he survived cancer in his later years; and he survived the greatest tragedy of them all. After a year of German occupation, a soldier told him that he must escape for the next day the Jews of the town would be slaughtered. My father ran to the town elders, but they refused to believe him - "Of course the Germans are bad, but they are not animals. Such a thing could never happen. Not here and certainly not now." That was the last day that the Ozarow he knew existed. On the morrow, the SS moved in to perform their abominations. My father in his later years crafted a remembrance tree on the leaves of which he inscribed the names of every family member he lost that day and the days that followed. There are a 112 names on the leaves of that tree.

My father escaped the Germans, but his trials had just begun. He was quickly arrested by the Russians as - of course - a capitalist spy and sent as a prisoner to Siberia where he survived for two long years. All around him, people simply lost the will to live and succumbed. But my father did not. He survived! And why? Because he had an implacable thirst for life. On Shabbos, when we would gather around the table my father would point to Ruthie, to me, my sister, and each of his grandchildren and say that this was why he had survived. This was why he had told himself every day that he must live just one day more. That he would rebuild the family life that had been torn from him. And he did!

During the war he met my mother in the far eastern Soviet Union and theirs was a marriage of true love. My father was a man of strong will and perhaps had a highly idiosyncratic way of manifesting his love, but it was nonetheless unmistakable. He honoured my mother and she honoured him. And it was good. It was so good, in fact, that they were married three times ... to each other. The first marriage was under a "chuppah kiddushah;" the second was a Russian civil marriage that, as my father delighted in recounting, cost a grand total of four kopeks; and the third by a US chaplain in a DP camp in Bad Reichenhal. My father got a lifetime of very good value for his four kopeks.

The years in Canada were good years. Somehow he had the moral strength to emerge from the blighted and blasted ruins of Europe and to rebuild a life ... to take a small step and then one step more and then to stride. Think of the courage that he and his generation have displayed. There is something to this Yiddishkeit that enables our people to say "Mir zeinen do" no matter how terrible their travails.

Our home, though never rich, was always warm and loving. Our door always open. Our needs never unsatisfied. My father was protector and provider. He worked very hard: his days were long and his hours filled with toil. But there was somehow a sense of joy in his work - he was providing for his family and that was a source of great satisfaction to him.

But to give to one's own is not really tzadakeh. My father enthusiastically helped others. From the family members he brought to Canada, to the loans he signed for his friends, he gave wholeheartedly and unstintingly. And perhaps, most of all he gave back to Ozarow through his tireless devotion over nearly 50 years to his beloved Ozarower Shul, Anshei Ozeroff, of which he served as an officer for many years.

My father was not a saint nor was he a simple man. He needed to do things his way and it was not always easy for him to get along in institutions or in large groups. He was quick to learn and hard to teach, needing to understand intuitively rather than through instruction, but he cherished learning nevertheless.

I will conclude with a brief personal anecdote that goes a long way towards portraying the man my father was.

Our son Paul was in grade 1 at ]PPS, (Jewish People's and Peretz School), Sarah was entering nursery school and Charles was a newborn. Ruthie had just decided to cut back to working half-time. Child care expenses were high and I was not yet earning very much. We didn't know how we would make ends meet with all the expenses we were facing. On a Friday afternoon, my father, still sweaty and dirty in his work clothes, came to Ruthie. He took her hand and placed in it a fist full of money. The amount was far more than he and my mother could easily spare, but he said just four words: "Far der Yiddische Schule." Then he smiled and walked quietly away."

Photo, top: Mechel Flicker (front left), proudly posing with his two partners in front of the two taxicabs which they owned and operated, 16 May 1937.

Photo, right: Mechel Flicker on his motorcycle, cir 1936.

Ożarów 6
photo and written excerpts from "Memories of Ożarów: A Little Jewish Town That Was" by Hillel Adler. Translated by William Fraiberg.




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