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