Father, survivor, bargain hunter, Berliner. Born May 4, 1924, in Berlin, died May 28, 2013, in Markham, Ont., of cancer, aged 89.
‘Klaus Barbie saved my life” made for interesting dinner conversation when Guenther Goldbarth was asked how he survived the Second World War. Of course, the saving was completely unintentional on the part of the Hauptsturmführer Barbie, who would later be called “the Butcher of Lyon” for his involvement in the deaths of 14,000 Jews and resistance fighters. Justice was denied until 1983, when Bolivia extradited Barbie to France, where he was sentenced to life in prison.
But Guenther, who was among 300 young German-Jewish refugees rounded up in Amsterdam in 1941, was the only one to avoid deportation and certain death at Mauthausen concentration camp.
At the headquarters of the Nazi Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service) on the Euterpestraat, Guenther told Barbie he was only 17 and that his mother was Christian – classifying him as a “half-breed” in Nazi Germany. As documented by German historian Inge Lammel in her book Judische Lebenswege, Guenther was released. His brother Horst was not so lucky. He was caught trying to escape to Switzerland and murdered at Auschwitz on Nov. 23, 1942. As was the custom, his mother had to pick up and pay for the ashes at the local police station.
Thanks to a Kindertransport from the Judische Waisenhaus (school) in Berlin-Pankow, Guenther had been relocated to Holland in 1939, where he spent 2 1/2 years at a castle (Eerde) converted into a Quaker school in Ommen. After the Barbie incident, he remained in Amsterdam till 1952, when he immigrated to Montreal. He would return to Germany many times, as a guest of the Judische Waisenhaus in Berlin-Pankow, for reunions with his former classmates.
Guenther married Olga Toschke in 1961, and in 1962 they had a son, Michael. Olga passed away at home from cancer in 2006 at the age of 76.
An accountant his whole life, Guenther worked in Amsterdam, Montreal and Resolute Bay in the Northwest Territories, before returning to Holland at home in Toronto, in the employ of Jan K. Overweel Ltd., an importer of Dutch cheeses and fish. He spent 20 years there. Thanks to his various experiences, Guenther could speak English, German, French, and Dutch. He loved listening to Mozart, swimming twice a week at the Stouffville swimming pool up until the summer of last year, and picking – as well as eating – strawberries at the Applewood Farm Winery.
Penny wise but pound foolish, Guenther did not purchase a water heater until last year, rented his Bell telephone for decades, and never invested in anything riskier than GICs. He shopped for groceries at Knob Hill Farms, often making trips to three different stores for the specials.
Guenther Goldbarth may have left Berlin, but Berlin never left him. He would always line up with his son Michael for a free knackwurst on a bun at Brandt Foods during their Christmas open house, enjoying Kaffee und Kuchen at the Dimpflmeier Bakery, and watching Berlin documentaries. Even though Guenther had seen the famous JFK speech dozens of times, he always cried over the last line: “Ich bin ein Berliner.”
Michael Goldbarth is Guenther’s son.