Malvina աբabes, known to friends as “Vizia”, was only 10 years old when she, her parents and a nanny fled their native Poland to Siberia. It was 1939, and the Nazis had just invaded. The family did it successfully, only to find themselves in labor camps in Siberia. Malvina died in Toronto on November 10, 2020, as: coronavirus broke out in his nursing home. He was 93 years old.
Despite the horrors of his youth, “he was probably one of the kindest people you would ever meet,” his son, FFF Shabes, told BuzzFeed News. “He was always worried about everyone but himself.”
By all accounts, he led an extraordinary life. A mother of two, a friend to many, she has never shied away from her life story. “He was rare in the sense that he was willing to talk about life in Siberia, what life was like during the war,” he said.
The son said that his family, born in 1929 in Krakow, Poland, “miraculously” escaped the Nazis.
In her stories, Malvina portrayed the gloomy image of the Soviet Union. After the German-Russian aggression pact, hundreds of thousands of Poles were deported to Siberia and other parts of the USSR, both sparsely populated and cold. Like other Polish men, his father had to work in a labor camp when many of his countrymen could not stand it.
The family had a small apartment with “minimal heat,” she told her son. “Often there was not enough food.” Malvina had to go to a Russian-language school; it was a language he did not understand, although he eventually learned it և “adapted to some extent,” said ff eff. When she met Joseph Ozeb Shabes, she rejected him because she was eight years older than him. He recognized her through her father. Both were committed to resisting the Soviet regime. “They were a kind of free prisoners,” recalled his son. Over time, Malvina and Joseph fell in love. They died 63 years ago.
Siberia has never felt like a place where a family could make a home. Thus, after the war, Malvina և her husband, whom she had not yet married, traveled between Poland and Germany. Because the lovers were Jewish refugees, a cousin in Canada was able to bring them home. Malvina’s husband left first, and she, then 18, was waiting to marry him again.
As a new immigrant to Canada in the late 1940s, Malvina found herself in a new place to learn a new language, but this time in a country she loved. Based in Toronto, Joseph Ozef ran a printing company, while Malvina worked at the Simpsons department store, which bought the Hudson Bay chain in 1978.
He took a break from work after the birth of his first son, ff. At first she was returning to work part-time, but after a miscarriage she quit altogether. Ff ef still remembers that time. he kept her company until he recovered. “I did not understand why he was in bed, but I was making him sandwiches, we were watching soap operas,” he said.
Most of all, Malvina is remembered for her community in Canada, making friends wherever she goes. Over the years, she was a staunch patriarch, even caring for her husband and mother until their deaths.
George Vorj Kovac, a family friend of more than 50, said Malvina was always kind and welcoming. His life was centered around his friends and family, even as he began to develop dementia. “The family went through a lot of stress, the pressure to escape Nazism, the Russian system,” Kovacs told BuzzFeed News. “It shows me how much Canada has benefited from their experience.”
Her husband died at first, followed by her dog, Pepsi, and Malvina’s dementia worsened. His family decided to look for a nursing home where he would be able to have social interactions, music and art. In November he was one of eight residents at his home, who died of COVID-19 during a second wave outbreak. The last time ff eff saw his mother, he could not hug her.
“I called her ‘mother’, I said she’m fine, she can miss that we love her,” said ff. “The next morning, at 7 o’clock. “On the 30th, we talked to the doctor, and he said he was barely breathing with 100% oxygen.”
He said that it took time and effort to transport his mother to the hospital, the positive diagnosis was received only by the staff of the medical center and not in the nursing home. He would like the house to do more, to raise alarm, to be more transparent about a situation he did not fully know at the time.
“The house did not call to find out how he was,” he said. “The house has done nothing.”
After his death he told his story to CBC to humanize people who have died from coronavirus. His request was heard by the Prime Minister of Canada Just Astin Trudeau, who a few days later spoke about Malvina in a nationwide message,
“Every person we lose because of this virus has family, friends, loved ones, plans for tomorrow, things they wanted to do. “I think of a woman in Toronto who survived the Holocaust and recently passed away at COVID-19,” Trudeau said. “I extend my deepest condolences to his loved ones for your loss. And for thousands of other families who have lost someone because of COVID-19, my thoughts are with you. “Every loss is a tragedy. Every story reminds us of what is at stake in this epidemic.”
Malvina was a playful fashionista, a skilled baker, a stubborn woman whose hard life taught her to build a community around her wherever she went. Ff is happy that Trudeau mentioned his mother և and hopes that his story will inspire other people to tell their loved ones who died of COVID-19.
“My mother is the one who said, ‘I do not want attention, do not make a fuss about me.’ He always said: “Ff eff, put yourself first,” he said.
But he does not listen to her advice to explain the aftermath of the epidemic.
“My goal,” he said, “was my mother’s story.”