The Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program

Max Bornstein

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Born
November 12, 1921 Warsaw, Poland

Map of Mukacevo, Czechoslovakia

Immigrated
1947 Toronto, Ontario

Not quite two when he immigrated to Canada, Max Bornstein returned to Europe in 1933, the year that Adolf Hitler came to power. Barely surviving as a stateless refugee in 1930s Paris, he escaped France when it fell to the Nazis only to be interned in a Spanish concentration camp.

About Max

Max Bornstein was born on November 12, 1921, in Warsaw, Poland. After the war, he arrived back on Canadian soil on June 25, 1947. Max and his wife, Min, were married for more than sixty years. Min passed away in 2010; Max Bornstein passed away in 2015.

Photos and Artifacts

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    Max's paternal grandmother with her second husband, date unknown.

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    Max's maternal grandparents, Chayala (née Kahnneman) and Mordechai Zalman Korman, date unknown.

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    Max's aunt Jennie, left, standing beside an unknown relative. Max’s maternal grandmother, Chayala (centre), is seated beside his Aunt Pola (right).

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    Max's aunt Pola and her husband, date unknown.

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    Max's aunt Sadie and her husband, Morris. 1920s.

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    Max's aunt Jennie and Liba, his mother, at Liba’s wedding. Warsaw, Poland, 1920.

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    Max, age 3. Winnipeg, 1924.

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    Left to right: Max's aunt Jennie; his sister, Clarice, age 2; and Max, age 5, standing in front of his mother, Liba. Winnipeg, circa 1926.

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    Max, age 10, at B’nai Brith summer camp. Gimli, Manitoba, 1932.

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    Max's cousin Max Kim, at about age 11. Winnipeg.

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    Favel and Sarah Silberstein, who sheltered Max, his mother and his sister in Paris in August and September 1939. Paris, circa 1934.

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    Max's relatives in France. His aunt Leah is seated in front (centre) beside his cousin Chai Liba (Luba); in the back row, left to right, are his cousin Philippe; his uncle Joseph; and his cousin Pierre. Paris, 1936.

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    Max in Paris with his first bicycle, circa 1936.

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    Max at 16. Paris, 1937.

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    Max's cousin Luba (left) and Aunt Leah in the late 1930s.

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    Max and his family with Aunt Jennie when she came to visit Paris for the International Exposition dedicated to Art and Technology in Modern Life. Seated in front are Max and his sister, Clarice; standing behind, left to right, are his father, Chiel; Aunt Jennie (centre); and his mother, Liba. Paris, 1937.

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    1938 passport photo of Chiel, Max's father.

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    Max's aunt Pola (left), Aunt Jennie (centre), and Pola’s daughter, Hélène, 1937.

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    Max's cousin Philippe in his French army uniform, 1940.

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    Max's cousin Jack, Aunt Pola’s oldest son, in Canada, date unknown.

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    Clarice, Max's sister (left), their mother, Liba, and father, Chiel, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, circa 1940. The purse Liba is holding was a goodbye present from Max.

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    Max (right), with his friends Jock (left) and Hershorn (centre) in the Miranda de Ebro camp. Spain, 1941.

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    Max's sister, Clarice (left), and his mother, Liba, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1942.

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    Max in early 1942, soon after arriving in England.

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    Clarice, Max's sister, in her Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) uniform. England, circa 1944.

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    Max in front of the gates at Hyde Park, where he liked to walk. London.

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    Max (seated) and his cousin Pierre (right) during Max’s first post-war visit to Paris, 1946.

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    Max's cousins Solomon and Hélène, Aunt Pola’s son and daughter (standing), with Aunt Jennie (centre) and Hélène’s eldest daughter, Paulette. Paris, 1946.

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    Max's cousins Solomon and Hélène, Aunt Pola’s son and daughter (standing), with Aunt Jennie (centre) and Hélène’s eldest daughter, Paulette. Paris, 1946.

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    Max's friends Irma and Eddy with their child. London, circa 1947.

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    Wedding photo of Max's sister, Clarice, and George Stein. Toronto, early 1946.

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    Max's sister Clarice (left) and Aunt Jennie at Clarice’s wedding.

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    Max and Minnie’s wedding, Toronto, July 4, 1948. Standing in the back row, left to right, are Solomon, Max's cousin; his wife, Anne; Dave Moskowitz, Max's cousin; Aunt Sadie; Aunt Jennie; his sister, Clarice; and her husband, George Stein. Seated in front, left to right, are Chiel, Max's father; Minnie; Max; and Liba, Max's mother.

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    Liba, Max's mother (left), Aunt Sadie (centre) and Aunt Jennie (right) at Max and Minnie’s wedding. Toronto, July 4, 1948.

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    Max with his wife, Minnie, and Aunt Sadie, who visited them while they were on their honeymoon. Toronto, 1948.

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    Max and Minnie with their daughter, Linda, at Queen’s Park. Toronto, 1949.

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    Families of Max and his sister, Clarice. Back row (left to right): Max; Chiel, Max's father; Liba, Max's mother; and Aunt Jennie. Front row (left to right): Minnie, Max's wife, with their two children, Jeffrey and Linda; and Clarice with her two sons, Allen and Morris. Toronto, 1955.

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    Max and Minnie's children, Jeffrey and Linda, circa 1956.

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    Max and Minnie with their children, Jeffery and Linda, at Coronation Park in Burlington, 1957.

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    Max's relatives in Paris in the late 1960s. In the back row (left to right) are Uncle Joseph; his second wife, Esther; and cousin Pierre’s two daughters, Nadine and Lorette; seated in front (left to right) are Pierre; his son, Philippe; Aunt Sadie, and Pierre's wife, Simone.

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    Jeffrey, Max's son, at his bar mitzvah, 1966. Left to right: Sadie, Max's aunt; Minnie, Max's wife; Jeffrey; Linda, Max's daughter; Max; and Liba, his mother.

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    Max’s great-granddaughter’s bat mitzvah. In the back row, left to right, are Max’s granddaughter, Danielle Warman Toledano; her husband, Gilbert Toledano; Max’s daughter, Linda Bornstein Warman; his great-granddaughter Samantha Warman; his grandson, Jordan Warman; and Jordan’s wife, Lisa Menaker Warman. In the front row, left to right, are Max’s great-granddaughter Jesse Toledano; Max; and Max’s great-grandson, Joshua Warman. Toronto, February 2012.

The Book

Cover of If Home Is Not Here

If Home Is Not Here

I dove into the frigid river, the sudden shock leaving me gasping.... Somehow, I managed to reach the shore – the unoccupied zone of France and my entry into freedom.

Explore more of Max’s story in Re:Collection

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If Home Is Not Here

Occupation and Escape

I noticed that at regular intervals the German guards strolled over to the next post quite a distance away, stopping to chat for up to half an hour at a time. Everything seemed to be in my favour except for the fact that the sun would soon be setting and it would be much too difficult to make my escape in the dark. I didn’t look forward to the prospect of spending the night in an open field, but there didn’t seem to be any other choice. Fortified by the wonderful sandwiches my aunt had prepared for my journey, I settled down for what felt like the longest night I had ever experienced. As twilight gradually turned into pitch darkness and I could no longer see anything through my binoculars, I tried to use my backpack as a pillow and fall asleep. But try as I might, I couldn’t get comfortable and I spent a very cold and restless night. Daylight couldn’t come soon enough.

By the time dawn broke, all I wanted was a hot café au lait. My wristwatch told me that it was five o’clock, and it was becoming fairly light out. When I looked through my binoculars, however, I wondered if I was hallucinating. There were no Germans anywhere. By some strange miracle they had all vanished, leaving me free to safely make my escape across the river. I was so nervous that I kept checking to make sure that they weren’t just napping or hiding, ready to jump out and grab me. I gathered up my courage, picked up my backpack, slung it across my back and cautiously moved toward the German control post until I was near enough to see that, beyond a doubt, the German sentry was not at his post.

To say I was baffled would be an understatement, but without any further hesitation, I took advantage of the situation and went straight to the river and took off all my clothes except for the bathing suit I wore underneath. I then packed my clothes into the backpack and strapped it tightly across my shoulders. With one final look all around through the binoculars to satisfy myself that I was alone, I plunged into the frigid river. The sudden shock left me gasping for air and my cumbersome backpack made every stroke more laborious than the last.

I wasn’t a particularly strong swimmer and could only swim short distances before running out of breath. I also tended to panic unless I stayed close to the shore. Under the circumstances, I had to rely entirely on willpower to keep me going. The freezing water temperature was only a minor concern compared to the far more serious problem of remaining afloat. As my strength waned, my arms felt as heavy as lead, forcing me to stop and rest. I went into a real panic when several times I swallowed mouthfuls of water. When I checked my progress after these incidents, I saw to my dismay that I had only covered about a third of the distance. Using every ounce of energy to increase my pace, I forced myself to labour on mechanically, afraid that my strength would give out at any moment.

The realization that the Germans might spot me and shoot me gave me the impetus to keep going. By the time that I had covered two-thirds of the distance and was within reach of the free zone, however, my strength began to seriously fade and I was consumed with fear. I was so exhausted that I could only occasionally kick my legs. At the very moment when my strength gave out completely and I was no longer able to stay afloat, on the verge of going under, I found within myself a renewed energy that came from pure determination. I managed to fight off my fatigue and before long I found myself grasping the shores of the unoccupied zone of France and my entry into freedom.