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I Have a Story to Tell You

Seemah C.Berson

Publication Year: 2010

I Have a Story to Tell You is about Eastern European Jewish immigrants living in Montreal, Toronto, and Winnipeg in the early twentieth century. The stories encompass their travels and travails on leaving home and their struggles in the sweatshops and factories of the garment industry in Canada. Basing her work on extensive interviews, Seemah Berson recreates these immigrants’ stories about their lives in the Old Country and the hardship of finding work in Canada, and she tells how many of these newcomers ended up in the needle trades. Revealing a fervent sense of socialist ideology acquired in the crucible of the Russian Revolution, the stories tell of the influence of Jewish culture and traditions, of personal–and organized–fights against exploitation, and of struggles to establish unions for better working conditions.

This book is a wonderful resource for teachers of Canadian, Jewish, and social history, as well as auto/biography and cultural studies. The simplicity of the language, transcribed from oral reports, makes this work accessible to anyone who enjoys a good story.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Series: Life Writing


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

"I HAVE A STORY—IN FACT, I have a number of stories—not about an important person or one who accomplished great feats in her or his lifetime. In fact, these aren’t even my stories, but they were told to me and I want to share them with you."

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pp. xiii-xvi

"BARUCH HA’SHEM! I am grateful to have completed this work, first in partial fulfillment of my M.A. thesis in 1980 and now in the voices of these Jewish immigrants.Why did it take so long? It is within the cradle of Jewish Ethics (Mussar) that I have found myself worthy of completing this work."

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pp. xvii-xxvi

"THIRTY-SEVEN YEARS AGO I had little knowledge about the Jewish immigrants who came to Canada, even though I am Jewish myself. My antecedents are not East European.My grandparents migrated from Persia (now Iran) and Baghdad in Iraq to India, where I was born and raised. I..."

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Rose Kaplan Barkusky

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pp. 1-7

"I DON’T REMEMBER anything about my childhood. The earliest I can remember is when Kaplan left home for America. I remember the day he said goodbye to everybody. I was sitting on a table in the living room. He said goodbye to everyone else in the house.When he came to say goodbye to me, he started to cry and an aunt of mine said to him,..."

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Rose Gordon

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pp. 8-14

"I WAS BORN IN 1906 in a small village with very few Jewish people,maybe half a dozen families, right there by the water.My father’s father and mother lived there.My father was born there but my mother was born in a big city. There was a cousin of my father’s and my father’s family and sisters. My...."

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Haskell (Harry) Ullman

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pp. 15-22

"AT THE TIME OF THE Russo–Japanese War in 1904–5,when I was seven years old, I remember I used to go to the market and see huge displays of pictures and illustrations about the war. I remember it as vividly as sitting here talking to you. In October of that year the Tsar gave forty-eight hours’ liberty to all. That was my earliest memory."

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Muriel Grad

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pp. 23-27

"I WAS BORN IN KOVNO in 1900.My mother was a dressmaker, a dressmaker what is making trousseaux for brides; and my father was a cabinetmaker, first class. So I start to work. My mother wants me to learn how to work to do sewing. I start to learn when I was ten years old.We were five children..."

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Fanny (Baba) Osipov

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pp. 28-34

"I AM COMING FROM—it’s a city, a big city, Nikolaiyev, right next to Odessa.When I was four years old we had a pogrom. (For whom you are writing this—they know what a pogrom means?) And the pogrom which started, for three days they come and they kill and they take away just from..."

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Abe Smith

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pp. 35-38

"I WAS BORN IN 1898 in Gomel—actually, in a little village about eight miles from Gomel. I lived there all my childhood. It was a little village and there were a lot of peasants. The peasants lived in their houses and we lived— it was our house but it was the landlord’s territory, in a compound, like. We..."

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David Shaya Kirman

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pp. 39-49

"MY FATHER WAS A HANDWORKER. A handworker is not a worker which works by somebody.He is self-employed and somebody could work for him, and he belongs to the handworkers union. You see, if a boy wants to apprentice, after he finishes his apprenticeship, he goes to this board—the..."

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Rose Smith

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pp. 50-53

"I COME FROM GOMEL (today it is called Homyel) in Belarus—it is not far from Minsk and on the way to Moscow. In the old days there were so many pogroms and my childhood was terrible. The pogroms, it happened all the time and I didn’t understand what it’s about. They used to raid father’s..."

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Nina Dolgoy Ullman

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pp. 54-57

"I REMEMBER WHEN I WAS A CHILD—there were so many of us— six in the family, brothers and sisters. I had an older sister.We were living in a tiny place with our grandparents and it was on a big, big hill.And we lived in a small little house and underneath the house was sand and clay.And the..."

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Sidney Sarkin

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pp. 58-72

"DURING THE FIRST WORLD WAR, the family in Canada was looking for ways and means of getting us over. They made proposals that we should go to Siberia, from Siberia to Japan. They tried everything under the sun. But things were impossible because of the Russo–Japanese War. The family also..."

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Mr. Shano

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pp. 73-75

"I WAS A SMALL BOY in the Old Country; what could I do? My father was already in Canada for four years. So I came here with my mother. Sometimes, sometimes, I can dream up something about what I had … I think I was instrumental in saving a man from being sent back to Europe..."

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Sam Greenberg

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pp. 76-79

"IN THE OLD COUNTRY, life was very hard. It was so bad that my stepmother, who was a nice woman, got sick. She was having her change of life and she was sick. She wanted to go to the hospital, but they didn’t take anyone unless they had an accident. So in order to have an accident she jumped..."

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Pauline Chudnovsky

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pp. 80-95

"I CAME HERE TO CANADA in 1921, in April, and the time was a terrible time then—it was a crisis. People were out of work and life was terrible. Why I came here is a lot to tell.We went out of Russia because of the pogroms of the pre-Revolution and because people were very militaristic. A very terrible..."

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Bluma Kogan

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pp. 86-93

"I WAS BORN IN PROSTORA GUBERNYA and my name is Bluma Kogan there and Bluma Kogan here. That’s my father’s name and I keep it all the time. Conditions in the Old Country for us were not very good. My father couldn’t make a very good living. So we were poor.And my Dad has cousins..."

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Norman Massey

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pp. 94-98

"WELL, MAYBE I’LL CONDENSE it a little! I left Poland when I was eighteen. I ran away from fascist terror and hopelessness, together with hundreds of thousands of young people, especially young Jewish people from Poland. I was active in the revolutionary youth in Poland and the police..."

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Albert Abramowitz

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pp. 99-112

"I WAS BORN IN LODZ, POLAND, and when I was about seven or eight months old,my parents moved over to a tailor town about twenty-odd miles from Lodz. This little town is known throughout Poland and throughout the Russian empire because of the nature of its work—it was a tailoring centre."

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Lil Abramowitz

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pp. 113-124

"I CAME FROM POLAND. I’m born in Austria, but during the whole mishmash of the wars and all that, Poland took over the last bit of the war that they had in 1921, and they chased out the Russians, the Bolsheviks at the time. Poland took over and that is when I started my schooling. I had my public school during the war and in between."

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Max Dolgoy

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pp. 125-132

I CAME TO CANADA in 1913.We were three children—my older brother, Louis, and an older sister,Annie, and myself—who came together.We are a family of six children. Three were left with mother.My father just managed to bring three of us over in order to help bring the rest of the family from..."

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James (Jimmy) Blugerman

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pp. 133-146

"I WAS BORN on 22 June 1887, in the Ukraine, on the river Dnieper, in a small village close to a bigger city called Kherson.At that time, Kherson was the capital city of one of the provinces, or as we called it in the Ukraine, the..."

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Samuel Nemetz

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pp. 147-156

"MY NAME IS SAM OR SAMUEL—which way you want, short is Sam. And Nemetz. You know how to spell it? I can tell you that I didn’t have no intention to go away to America. No. I was a fighter there in Dnepropetrovsk, in the Ukraine, at that time. Dnepropetrovsk is a city in the Ukraine."

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Sylvia Grafstein Klein

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pp. 157-162

"I’M MRS. SYLVIA GRAFSTEIN KLEIN. I came from Poland. I am here forty-nine years. And I came to my uncle Moishe Graftstein in Toronto. It’s a big story why I left Poland. I was nine months old when my mother passed away. I didn’t know my mother. I had never seen her. She was twentyone..."

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Molly Klein Goldsman

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pp. 163-164

"YOU REMEMBER THE POVERTY but you really didn’t know you were in it because everybody else that you lived with had the same problem. I know I didn’t see very much of my father because he was always … if he wasn’t working, he was on strike; if he wasn’t striking, he was picketing for..."

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Rose Esterson

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pp. 165-168

"I AM FROM RUSSIA, from the Ukraine. Like you have the province of Quebec, I am from the province of Kiev. I lived there from the end of the First World War, 1914 war, for seven years. I left there because the..."

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Joshua (Joe) Gershman

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pp. 169-179

"THE FIRST THING I REMEMBER is when I was a kid, together with my brother,we were so disturbed because we saw two little kittens running and so we picked them up,we brought them into the house, and put them in the oven. You know, in the Old Country, the kind of ovens that they used to..."

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Jennie Zelda Litvak

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pp. 180-192

"MY NAME IS JENNIE LITVAK—by second marriage.My maiden name was Switzman. Actually, my first name is Zelda. It’s an English name. By coming to this country, a lady decided that it should be Jennie because she wanted to give me a ring—a golden ring.My father was a boarder there in..."

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Hyman Leibovitch

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pp. 193-205

"I COME FROM ROMANIA.When Romania started to fight Bulgaria and Hungary, I was only eighteen years old and they took me to the army for three months for training. This was in 1914. So I made the three months in the army and I left because they gave me my privilege to go home. Instead of going..."

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Ena Ship

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pp. 206-211

"I COME FROM A SMALL TOWN in the Ukraine, the Soviet Ukraine.We were not exactly working class because there was not much of an industry, but there were some people, shoemakers, and all kinds of tradesmen. I went to a Soviet school and was very much involved with activities around the..."

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Masha Goldkind

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pp. 212-214

"I CAME HERE TO CANADA because I had my sister here, who was also in the same tailoring trade. And I had my brother too. I didn’t know them, as I was little when they left. They all left. They wanted to get away from home. It took me a long time to get here. I went through the war, the First..."

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Mary Kevalko

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pp. 215-219

"I’M FROM THE UKRAINE—my name is Ukrainian: Kevalko.We came in 1912 right before the First World War—because in 1914 already the war started, and I don’t know anything about it.What I know is from the papers. I was interested to know everything—but we came before the war and the..."

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Max Povitz

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pp. 220-234

"I REMEMBER A LOT of things. When I was nine years old, my father gave me away for to be a tailor. It was a military tailor in the Old Country and this was in Latvia. At that time my father was not so rich. I had three brothers and one sister. They worked in a match factory. My father was a..."

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Art Browner

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pp. 225-232

"I WAS BORN IN POLAND in 1900 … I’ll be seventy-four in a few days, on 10 July! I left the Old Country and came here because I had relatives here. I was already working in the Old Country. I started to work when I was eleven years old. I came from a little town where I learned the trade, the tailoring..."

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Bertha Dolgoy Guberman

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pp. 233-246

"MY MOTHER MADE ME a new winter coat and before I left my shtetl, my village, in Russia to come here, my mother said to me, Leave your coat for your cousin here. You are going to..."

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Max Yellen

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pp. 247-250

"I ARRIVED HERE IN MONTREAL in 1912 from Russia—at that time it was Russia—before the First World War, and I was thirteen years old then. I got to be an orphan: no father, no mother at that time, and I was raised by my grandfather and grandmother. They died off, and so a cousin of mine..."

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Dave Ship

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pp. 251-256

"I WAS FIFTEEN YEARS OLD when I came to Canada from Russia—the White Russian Republic, not far from the capital city of Minsk. Life in my early years was very interesting. The times were of great importance to Russia because those were the formative years of the new republic. I was born..."

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Ben Abrams

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pp. 257-259

"I WENT INTO THE NEEDLE TRADES around 1928 as a pleater working for other people. It was not a union shop. There were about twelve employees: pleaters, button makers. My job was calling on the trade—the dress trade and cloak trade. About 1928, I started working..."

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Abraham Taylor

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pp. 260-263

"IT’S NOT OF MUCH INTEREST to say how I was born in a poor family. I was handicapped. I was short-sighted from birth. You couldn’t fit me with any glasses. The first glasses I got was over here when I was eighteen or nineteen years old. And they didn’t give me 100-percent sight, but they..."

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Simon Harris

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pp. 264-272

"I LEFT SCHOOL and I went into the woollen business. This was in 1932 and this gave me a background on cloth. I never intended ending up in the clothing business except that my father at that time—it was during the Depression—was not successful; having gone bankrupt, he went in with my..."

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pp. 273-276

"IN THIS BOOK, I HAVE tried to recount, in their own words, the rich experiences of Eastern European Jewish immigrants who came to Canada between 1900 and 1930.Most of those immigrants went into the garment factories of Montreal, Toronto, and Winnipeg. Listening, I developed three..."


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pp. 277-280


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pp. 281


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pp. PS1-PS10

E-ISBN-13: 9781554582389
E-ISBN-10: 1554582385
Print-ISBN-13: 9781554582198
Print-ISBN-10: 1554582199

Page Count: 324
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Life Writing