The Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program

Nate Leipciger

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Born
November 30, 1927 Chorzów, Poland

Map of Mukacevo, Czechoslovakia

Immigrated
1948 Toronto, Ontario

Nate Leipciger, a thoughtful, shy eleven-year-old boy, is plunged into an incomprehensible web of ghettos, concentration and death camps during the German occupation of Poland. As he struggles to survive, he forges a new, unbreakable bond with his father and yearns for a free future. But when he is finally liberated, the weight of his pain will not ease, and his memories remain etched in tragedy. Introspective, complicated and raw, The Weight of Freedom is Nate’s journey through a past that he can never leave behind.

About Nate

Nate Leipciger was born in Chorzów, Poland, in 1928. He immigrated to Toronto with his father in 1948, where he attended high school and eventually obtained a university degree in engineering. In 1982, Nate chaired the Toronto Holocaust Remembrance Committee, later becoming an executive member of the Canadian Jewish Congress National Holocaust Remembrance Committee. Nate was a member of the International Council to the Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau for fifteen years and has been an educator on March of the Living trips to Poland and Israel for fifteen years.

Photos and Artifacts

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    Elka (née Hochman) Percik, Nate’s maternal grandmother. Photo obtained from a gentile neighbour after the war.

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    Nate’s maternal grandfather, Shimon Percik, with Nate’s great-grandparents before the war. In back, Shimon; in front, Gitele and Avrum-Itzak Percik.

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    Nate’s mother, Faigel Leja (Leah), 1938. Nate received this photo from his grandmother’s housekeeper, Stasia, after the war.

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    Aunt Zosia (née Percik) Winiarz, 1938.

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    Aunt Rozalia (Ruzia) Percik, 1938.

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    Ruzia’s husband, Antek Uziemblo, 1938.

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    Nate’s father, Jack (front, left), with his siblings Tobias (back, left), Mirla (back, right) and Leon (front, right). Chorzów, circa 1919.

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    Engagement photo of Nate’s parents, 1924.

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    Nate’s father, Jacob (Jack) Leipciger. Circa 1920s.

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    Nate’s paternal grandfather, Abraham Hersch Leipziger, circa 1930.

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    Nate’s paternal grandmother, Rudel (née Biernbaum) Leipziger, circa 1930.

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    Nate’s paternal aunts and uncles. In back: Uncle Tobias (left) and Nate’s father, Jack (right). In front, left to right: Aunt Mirla; Mirla’s husband, Kurt Nadelberg; Aunt Dora; and Dora’s husband, Samuel.

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    Nate’s mother, Leah.

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    Nate’s sister, Linka (Blima), circa 1933.

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    A photo of Nate’s sister, Linka, that was given to him after the war by Linka’s friend, Krysia. The inscription on the back of the photo reads, “To my dear Krysia, I present this photo as a souvenir of our happy time together.” Sosnowiec, June 21, 1942.

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    Linka, Sosnowiec ghetto, 1942. Inscription on the back reads, “To my dear Krysia, that she may never forget me.” Krysia gave this photo to Nate after the war.

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    Nate’s post-war identity documents; the earliest photos of him after liberation. 1945.

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    Nate’s post-war identity documents; the earliest photos of him after liberation. 1945.

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    Nate, September 1945.

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    Nate and his father, Jack, after the war. Bamberg, 1946.

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    Jack (left), with his boss, Ed (centre), who sent Jack’s letter to Uncle Dave in Canada, and the man who got Jack the job in the army (right). Bamberg, Germany, 1946.

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    Jack working for the US Army base in Bamberg, Germany, 1946.

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    Nate’s friend Helen Ruff. Bamberg, 1946.

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    Nate and his friend Barbara Goldfischer. Bamberg, 1946.

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    Nate and his friend Ira Goetz. Bamberg, 1947.

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    Ira and Nate in Munich, 1947.

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    Nate’s uncle David Leipciger (far right) who sponsored Nate and his father to come to Canada. From left to right: Nate’s cousin Grace, his aunt Helen, cousin Joe and Uncle David. Toronto, 1948.

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    Nate in Toronto, 1948–1949.

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    Nate in Toronto, 1948–1949.

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    Nate in Toronto, 1948–1949.

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    Nate in Toronto, 1948–1949.

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    Nate in Toronto, 1948–1949.

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    Nate in Toronto, 1948–1949.

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    Nate with his stepbrother Al Waxman, who is wearing the goose sweater that Nate was teased about at school. Toronto, circa 1949.

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    Nate enjoying his summer at Balfour Manor Camp in the Muskokas, 1950.

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    Nate’s stepbrother Benny Waxman.

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    The first photo Nate gave to Bernice, one year before their marriage. 1953.

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    Nate and Bernice on the occasion of their aufruf, a ritual celebration a few weeks before their wedding, 1954.

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    Nate’s father, Jack, and his wife, Toby Waxman, at the aufruf, 1954.

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    Nate’s family at the aufruf. From left to right: Uncle Dave, Aunt Helen, Toby and Jack. 1954.

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    Nate and Bernice’s wedding photo. September 7, 1954.

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    Nate at Auschwitz-Birkenau, during his work on the International Council to the Museum at Auschwitz-Birkenau, circa 1990s.

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    In front of the ruins of gas chamber iv.

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    Nate and his family in the courtyard to his former residence in Sosnowiec, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Nate’s liberation. In back, left to right: Nate, his son-in-law Zvi Litwin, and his son-in-law Steve Pinkus. In front, left to right: Bernice, and Nate and Bernice’s daughters, Lisa, Ronda and Arla. Not pictured: son-in-law Cary Green. 1995.

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    Nate and his family on the occasion of Nate being honoured by Facing History, an educational organization Nate has been involved in since its inception in 2008. Back row, left to right: Dan Olyan, Jason Green, Cary Green, Josh Teperman, Jordana Pinkus, Jonathan Pinkus, Steve Pinkus, Joshua Litwin, and Laura Wilchesky. Middle row, left to right: Jennifer Green, Jody Nightingale, Ronda Green, Lisa Pinkus, Mira Pinkus, Lauren Greenwood, Arla Litwin, Zvi Litwin, Gary Litwin, Adam Litwin, and Samantha Landy. In front: Bernice and Nate. Toronto, 2014.

The Book

Cover of The Weight of Freedom

The Weight of Freedom

To avoid thinking I repeated the words “after the war.” The words stuck in my mind like a mantra. After the war. The words blended into the clang of the wheels. Will there ever be an end to the war? It did not seem possible. I could hardly remember when there was no war.

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The Weight of Freedom

The Slow Roar

Later, in 1941, we would be ordered to wear a yellow Star of David with the word “Jude,” which had to be sewn onto each piece of our outer clothing. Wearing the yellow star, my mother explained, was an ancient method used to keep the Jews separate from the Christians. We were not allowed to leave the house without the yellow patch on our outer clothing. This made it much harder to mix with the Polish population.

Selling anything on the street was considered “black marketeering” and prohibited by the Nazis. To make a point, the Nazis convicted six men caught doing business on the black market and sentenced them to death by hanging. The hanging was to be public to let us know what the consequences of black marketeering were. A huge stage with a scaffold was erected – built high so that everyone could see – in one of the city’s squares and everyone was compelled to attend. To me it appeared as though people wanted to attend this public display of barbarism. The square was ringed with four- or five-storey buildings, and all the windows were packed with onlookers. My family’s friends had an apartment overlooking the square and we were invited to see the spectacle from a good vantage point, right across from the gallows. From the window, we could see the entire square and as far as I could see, the square and streets were packed with people. The mood appeared high, anticipatory, if not festive. No one had ever seen a public execution.

Soldiers and police surrounded the square as the six men were lined up on the scaffold. The executioners put ropes on their necks. A Gestapo official read a short verdict and the trap was sprung. It felt like the crowd uttered a shudder as the men fell through the trap. Their knees jerked, then dropped, and their bodies swayed. They were left hanging for twenty-four hours. The crowd’s mood changed to sombre, and people left either crying or in silence. I heard that the families were allowed to retrieve the bodies for burial the next day. This exhibition understandably caused everyone to take notice, and my mother stopped me from going on the street to sell or trade.