The Unwritten Diary of Israel Unger
Publication Year: 2013
At the beginning of the Nazi period, 25,000 Jewish people lived in Tarnow, Poland. By the end of the Second World War, nine remained. Like Anne Frank, Israel Unger and his family hid for two years in an attic crawl space. Against all odds, they emerged alive. Now, after decades of silence, here is Unger’s “unwritten diary.”
Nine people lived behind that false wall above the Dagnan flour mill in Tarnow. Their stove was the chimney that went up through the attic; their windows were cracks in the wall. Survival depended on the food the adults were able to forage outside at night. Even at the end of the war, however, Jewish people emerging from hiding were not safe. After the infamous postwar Kielce pogrom, Israel’s parents sent him and his brother as “orphans” to France in a program called Rescue Children, a Europe-wide attempt to find homes for Jewish children orphaned by the Holocaust. When the Unger family was finally reunited, they lived a precarious existence between France—as people sans pays—and England until the immigration papers for Canada came through in 1951.
In Montreal, in the world described so well by Mordecai Richler, Israel’s father, a co-owner of a factory in Poland, was reduced to sweeping factory floors. At the local yeshiva (Jewish high school), Israel discovered chemistry, and a few short years later he left poverty behind. He had a stellar academic career, married, and raised a family in Fredericton, New Brunswick. The Unwritten Diary of Israel Unger is as much a Holocaust story as it is a story of a young immigrant making every possible use of the opportunities Canada had to offer.
Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press
Series: Life Writing
Title Page, Copyright Page
...ours. At the time I thought that in comparison to our hiding place and living conditions, Anne’s were palatial. I was equally struck by the fact that all nine people in our group survived while in Anne’s story only her father, Otto, survived. Shortly after Carolyn and I embarked on our project of writing this book, Carolyn asked what would a good title for the book be? She answered her own question with, “How about The Unwritten...
PART ONE: THE ONLY JEWS IN POLAND
...My father, Mordechai David Unger, came from a small village near Tarnow, Poland, called Ryglice in what was known as Galicia—a region that encompassed southeastern Poland and western Ukraine. He was born in 1902. He had eight brothers and sisters, but I do not know their names and we do not know exactly what happened to them other than that they were murdered by the Nazis. Unfortunately I did not ask my father...
PART TWO: SANS PAYS
...We lived about a year and a half in Tarnow after the liberation. I know now that the Kielce pogrom was July 1946. Kielce is not far from Tarnow. On 4 July 1946, a mob of locals, Polish government officials, and military attacked and killed forty-two Jewish survivors who had returned to Kielce. It was only one of many deadly assaults on Jews in Poland after the war. It is estimated that fifteen hundred survivors returning to Poland or coming out of...
PART THREE: CANADIAN THROUGH AND THROUGH
...I was so excited to spot land. As we approached Halifax the boat slowed down, the waves got smaller. We were arriving at the now famous Pier 21— the Ellis Island of Canada. One of the first things Canadian that I saw was a Canadian airplane that flew over the ship, circled it, and headed back to land. It was not a commercial aircraft, so we assumed it was an air force plane checking us out. We figured they had to go and have a look at...
PART FOUR: THE BUBBLE COUNTER
...It was 1958. I was twenty years old and had just graduated from Sir George Williams University. I left to do graduate work at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) in Fredericton and became independent. Fredericton was reasonably close to Montreal and it had a good reputation for chemistry. I was very excited. It was the first time in my life that I voluntarily left home. My initial impression of Fredericton was that it was...
PART FIVE: DEAN UNGER
...I certainly enjoyed my university career. It was multi-faceted. One main part was of course writing scientific papers. I wrote about fifty papers in all. When I was writing these papers, at first I was struck by inertia. I would collect reference papers and prepare myself for some weeks. Then, when I decided that a piece of research was at the point to be written up and I finally put pen to paper—I could hardly stop. When I did...
PART SIX: “THEY KNOW MY NAME IS SRULIK!”
...I did not spend much time thinking about the Holocaust until that first time I was asked to speak in Fredericton. It was not until my parents passed away that I realized I did not even know the names of my uncles and aunts on my father’s side. I had made some minor efforts to find out the names. The search led nowhere, which only reinforced my bad feelings that I had not done more. All I had to do was to ask my father when he was alive...
AFTERWORD: Writing The Unwritten Diary
...In 1991 I was invited to Berlin, Germany, to perform my poetry. I fell in love and stayed. My student activism days had left me with a yearning to find out about oppression and overcoming it. In Germany in the early nineties the silence around anything Jewish was oppressive. I had German friends who could barely say the word “Jewish.” By 1994 my...
...A personal thanks and much gratitude goes to the Weksler sisters. Upon finally finding Anna and Czesia Weksler (now Anna Sarid and Czesia Opfer) in Israel along with Anna’s daughter, Shoshi Macam, and Czesia’s son, Shamai Opfer, it was as if the book had gained a new family. This family opened their hearts to the project and helped make it possible in any way they could...
Books in the Life Writing Series Published by Wilfrid Laurier University Press