The following is an autobiography written by my father.
I was born in in 1895 in a small village (Jewish agricultural colony) in Russia called Shiletz (Selets) I don't know the exact date since my parents kept track on the Jewish calendar, but when I arrived in Canada in 1905 and registered in school, It was February 2 and that became my official birthday. I am named after my maternal grandfather, who died at a young age, and my mother gave me the middle name Chaim which means tlife.
Shiletz was located 10 viersts, about 10 kilometers from a fairly large city Mogilev ne Dneper, It was on the Dnieper River in the Mogilev Guberna or Province. Shiletz had only one road composed of crust rocks running through it. The Jewish people lined at one end and the non-Jews at the other. The village was small, even smaller than the village in "Fiddler on the Roof”. They could afford a rabbi, but we couldn't. We couldn't afford to have a doctor but had what was known as a fleischer, which is equivalent to a nurse practitioner. The people in the Village weren’t too well educated. The men studied the Bible, and many read the Talmud. People were superstitious. When there was a hailstorm, they would throw brooms and shovels outside to stop it. When there was difficulty with the police the women came forward because the police would not use force against while the men kept in the background.
Our home was small with only an earthen floor. I don’t know how many rooms it had. There was a nicely furnished living room with drapes. The children slept over a large brick oven. There were two bed rooms, one for my parents and one for my grandfather.
I was taken to cheder (school) at age 5 where I learned to read Hebrew and to write Yiddish. I had no education in either written or spoken Russian. I went daily to the synagogue where woman sat in the balcony as was the practice in an Orthodox community. There were also some benches where a wandering Jewish beggar slept.
My father was the second youngest of the families 6 boys and 2 girls. He was the shortest of the boys and the only one who had to serve in the Russian army. In Russia, all young men had to had to report for military service when they reach twenty-one years of age but weren’t always taken. I even received a letter from Russian reminding me that I should report for military duty even though I lived in Canada. Russia considered anyone born there to be a citizen
When the Russia-Jaanese war broke out, my father, who was in the army reserves, decided to I go to Canada. He had a nephew living there. In Russia you needed a passport to travel about the country and certain cities were forbidden to Jews except in certain instances. My father could not get an exit passport because he was in the reserves. I do not believe he even applied for one. He and a group of others left Russia through backroads and bribing border guards. He told the story: at the last border crossing, while the guard was looking over the papers, one of the men in the wagon called out Schya, “hock the Pferd”, meaning whip the horses. The driver did and away they went.
My father must have had some money with him when he came to Windsor and he bought some dry goods, other merchandise, notions and a pack. He walked through the countryside selling them to farmers’ wives. He slept at farmhouses and ate only dairy products. He carried tallit and teffilin and said his prayers morning and night. The farmers were always nice and respected his religion. He would come back to Windsor on weekends to replenish his stock.
After my father had been in Canada for a year he had saved enough money to send “Schiffsearten”— boat tickets and money- for us to come to Canada. First, we went by train to a city called Libau in Finland located on the Adriatic and then by boat on the Elbe river to Hamburg Germany where we boarded a ship called the Patricia for America. I don’t know under what flag but I think it was probably British because of the name. We traveled steerage. All the bunks were double deckers together,
We landed at Ellis Island where we only remained a few days before sailing to Halifax, Nova Scotia. We then took a train to Windsor.
In Windsor, my father had rented a farm. We started at a nearby on the road from Essex to Leamington. We has a miserable time there. The kids made fun of us, particularly the kthe ind of stockings we wore. They would point at us and laugh. I don’t understand why the stockings would cause such amusement. The teacher was a Mr. Croivder who had an artificial leg. He was a miserable person lacking any understanding of our predicament, the language difficulty we faced and difficulties with the other pupils who would poke us in the back. I would turn around which was forbidden. I would be called to the front told to hold out my hand. He would then hit me across the palm with a wide strap which was painful. Occasionally I would pull my hand back and the strap would hit him on the leg infuriating him
In the Fall of 1917, I went to the University of Toronto with my brother who was in his third year of Medical School. I registered with no difficulty. I don’t remember too many of my instructors or professors but do recall one in the 1st year— Fredrick Banting, my demonstrator in Anatomy. He later became famous as the co-discoverer of insulin. I was not too impressed by him as a teacher. I do remember that he was a good storyteller. He usually had a juicy one every day he came to the lab.
In the Spring of 1918, the Canadian Army formed a new unit, the 1st Canadian Tank Battalion Company with Toronto University students and other educated businessman.. Some of my classmates were enlisting. There was no draft. If you enlisted, you did not have to take year end exams. My brother and I went down for a physical exam and were both turned down. Wearing 111 pounds, one, over the minimum, I was rejected because of my eyesight. But, being he persistent guy, I went back the next day, memorized the eye chart, and told the captain that my eyes had been tired the previous day. don’t know why he was turned down. I was turned down because of my eyesight.. However, being a persistent guy, although I don’t know why in this case I went back the next day memorized the eye chart and told the Captain that my eyes I had been tired the previous day. He tested me again and I passed.
When we got near England, we were met by a flotilla of destroyers. We landed and were taken to a camp Frensham Pond, located in southern England. We were housed in tents; ours was tent number 13. On rainy days it was the only one that stayed dry. While we were at Frensham Pond word came that Russia, our ally, had pulled out of the war. Since I was born in Russia, the Army decided I couldn’t be trusted in a combat battalion, end I was transferred to a Railroad Battalion. My Commander was a rather unfeeling Captain who had been promoted on the field from a noncom to a commissioned officer.
I decided I was going to do something about this. I had a letter with me from our family doctor, Dr. Gow, to his brother who was deputy Canadian War Minister, and he was located in London and I would seek transfer to the medical corps.
When the commander learned of my request, he sent me to France but when I arrived there I was assigned to the forestry division instead of the hospital. In my typical fashion I hiked over to the hospital and told the medical officer in charge about my dilemma. He told me to go to the barracks, get my things, and come to the hospital. I remained in the hospital for the rest of my stay in France. My status whether I was in the Forestry division or Medical Corp was never fully determined. I had a very good time in Alencon during my stay there although I don’t remember much about my activities other than learning to play cribbage.
Our trip back across the English Channel was quite rough. To return to Canada We sailed the late afternoon. We landed in Halifax, went by rail to Toronto and then were discharged. I was met on discharge by my brother, got on a train and left for Windsor.
I returned to medical school in 1919. The remainder of my time in medical school past without problem, and I graduated in 1923.
When I graduated from medical school, I decided I should inquire about an internship. I drove to Providence Hospital. And I don't recall whether I called other hospitals such as Grace and Harper I found out they had to internships at Providence; I took one and my cousin Leo Orecklin the other. The internship was uneventful except one incident when two interns were charged for two broken syringes. We felt it was unfair if you are only receiving $25 a month along with uniforms, room and board, and laundry. We went on strike and I guess the staff either paid for the syringes or the sisters dropped the charge. Then we all went back to work.