Holocaust survivor, husband, father, Pappa (grandfather), structural engineer. Born Sept. 14, 1923, in Budapest, died Oct. 27, 2011, in Winnipeg of congestive heart failure, aged 88.
Erwin spoke Hungarian, English, German and Italian. He graduated summa cum laude in 1941. But due to the anti-Jewish laws he was not granted admission to university. Not one to be easily deterred, and ever the optimist, Erwin decided to become a journeyman fine mechanic and work in that field until he would be allowed to attend university. Erwin was drafted to work in a munitions factory and later into a forced labour camp
In November, 1944, Erwin was rounded up for deportation with hundreds of other young Jewish men. Those who had protective Swedish documentation (Schutzpasses) were separated and spared. Erwin had no such papers, but took his chances and jumped into the group that did. His bravery and determination to live spared him from deportation.
Eventually, Erwin was able to secure a Schutzpass for himself and his mother through the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. Tragically, his father had already been deported and murdered en route to the Bergen-Belsen extermination camp. These Schutzpasses helped Erwin and his mother survive the Holocaust.
Following liberation, Erwin discovered that dozens of his relatives, including his beloved grandmother, were murdered in Auschwitz. These losses left him with wounds that endured to the end of his life.
Having lost his father, Erwin became the sole breadwinner for his family. He tended the family insurance business into the evenings while attending university during the day. In 1948, Erwin became the director of a Jewish summer camp, where he met his best friend, future wife and business partner, Judith Kopstein.
Erwin received his civil engineering degree in 1949. Following Judith’s graduation as an engineer in 1953, during Hungary's darkest, Stalinist days, Erwin and Judith defied the communist regime and were secretly married in a synagogue.
After the failed Hungarian revolution in 1956, they fled as refugees. They wished to start a new life in a democratic, English-speaking country away from Europe. They arrived in Montreal in August, 1957, with two backpacks and $70. Erwin's backpack contained his slide rule, prayer book, tallis and tefillin.
Shortly after, Erwin landed an engineering job with Winnipeg Hydro. In 1959, Erwin and Judith established Weiszmann and Associates Consulting Engineers. They became proud Canadian citizens in 1963. In 1965, Erwin left Hydro to devote all his time to the consulting practice. Over the next 42 years, he and Judith designed a large variety of building structures and specialized engineering works.
Erwin lectured for decades in high schools and universities about his Holocaust experiences. He hoped that by educating younger generations, hatred leading to such a cataclysm could be prevented in the future.
Despite many health challenges as he aged, Erwin remained an optimist. His strong will to live helped him survive a heart attack, bypass surgery and a stroke after which he had to learn to speak and swallow again. Erwin’s determination and unwavering focus on the positive will continue to be an inspiration to those who knew him.
Ann Weiszmann is Erwin’s daughter.
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