Holocaust survivor, comfort food maven, distiller of the human condition. Born Feb. 12, 1919, at Vasarosnameny, Hungary, died June 30, 2012, at Vancouver of congestive heart failure, aged 93.
Rose Lewin was the last surviving sibling of 11 children.
She was born Rose Weiss in a village in Hungary in 1919. Her father was a poor cobbler who had lost his first wife in childbirth. He remarried Berta, my mother’s mother.
When the Second World War broke out, Rose moved to Budapest, found work as a seamstress and sent money home to the family.
In October, 1944, she was taken to Bergen-Belsen and held there for several months until the concentration camps were liberated in the spring of 1945. She had typhus and was severely malnourished.
Somehow, she made it to Paris. She was hospitalized and fed with bread and margarine. She never ate margarine again; she could smell it in food a mile away.
Helen, her sister, brought Rose to Vancouver in March, 1948. She met Yuzek Lewin at night school learning to speak English. They married in February, 1950. Yuzek worked as a peddler, then a scrap metal dealer. In 1965, the family moved to Laurel Street, where Mum lived the rest of her life. She loved that house. When told that palliative caregivers were coming to make her more comfortable at home, she protested: “My home is very comfortable.”
Rose’s three children, Eddy, Karen and Sharon, were the beneficiaries of excellent mothering. She had little money and no education, but she raised them with love, candour and an interest in everything they did and experienced.
Her instincts were rarely wrong. She was able to tease out what was good about a situation, a job, a friend, or the way her children were raising their kids. She was a distiller of human nature.
Rose never invented anything. She never wrote a book. She never made a public speech, and she never learned to drive. She cooked, baked and fed people. She talked to people and listened to every word they said. She sewed clothes and fed some more people.
She made life better for every person she touched: her kids, their spouses, her grandchildren, her nieces and nephews, the teller at the bank and the waitress at White Spot.
In a phone conversation six months before she died, she said something she had said hundreds of times: “How did I get to be so old? I’m almost 93.” But then she said something I’d never heard. She said, “I used to be the life of the party.”
When people invited her to a party they would say, “Rose, you have to come. You’re the life of the party.” I don’t know if my mother really was the life of those parties, but she was the life of my party and she was the life of our family party; she was the life of her grandchildren’s party.
Two days before Rose died, I said to her: “You know we really love you.” She looked at me and said: “I was a really good mother.”
Through words, actions and deeds, she created an 11th Commandment: “Honour Thy Children.”
That’s what she did, and her children worked very hard in turn to honour their children, who will carry that forward to the next generation. Perhaps that is Rose’s greatest legacy.
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