Freda Raber: Mother. Wife. Golfer. Survivor. Born Feb. 28, 1930, in Zaleszczeki, Poland; died May 29, 2021, in Toronto, of lymphoma; aged 91.
Do you remember where you were the summer you were 11 years old? The summer of 1941 was one Freda Schiller would never forget. It was when the war came to her doorstep.
She was born in a town then in Poland, now in Ukraine. She was the youngest child of Paia and Leiser Schiller. The family remained on the run for years to avoid the Germans and their collaborators in the murder of Jews. After her father was killed, her mother kept them alive until they were liberated by the Soviets in 1945.
Postwar, Freda, her mother and two of her brothers, Paul and Moe, spent time in displaced persons camps. Her oldest brother, Tzi, had emigrated to Israel. Thanks to her mother’s sewing skills, which were needed in Canada, the family arrived as refugees, overcoming the “none is too many” attitude of the Canadian government at the time.
It was cold when the family landed in Winnipeg in February, 1948. On the way to their north-end apartment, Freda saw a sign for Winnipeg’s Yiddish language newspaper, Der Yiddishe Vort – in Yiddish! She wondered at the foolhardiness of the proprietors advertising that they were Jews.
Freda found a job at Oretski’s Department Store. She thrived as a salesperson and spoke with customers in Polish, Ukrainian and Yiddish, while at the same time learning English. Soon after, she met the love of her life, Bernard Raber, a fellow survivor, at a social event.
The following years were the best of Freda’s life. Three children were born – Marilyn, Lorraine and Steven – and in addition to the roles of wife and mother, Freda answered the telephone at Raber Electric. Bernard’s business phone was also the home phone, his office was in the basement and his warehouse in the garage.
Eventually, the family moved into a custom-built home on Royal Avenue that Freda loved and cared for fastidiously. A home movie from 1957 shows Freda with her hair coiffed and perfectly applied makeup, gliding through rooms pointing out the state-of-the-art amenities of their new home with pride.
Freda survived the Holocaust, but she bore its emotional scars. She had been hunted by men with guns and dogs and remained ambivalent about dogs for the rest of her life. She could, however, enjoy them from a distance. When Steven visited and tied up his dog outside her back door, Freda would throw a brisket out as a treat.
Freda’s experiences of prewar antisemitism and the Holocaust instilled a devotion to support Jewish organizations and causes. She volunteered at the local Talmud Torah school library and was recognized by the United Jewish Appeal for her exemplary fundraising work.
After Bernard’s retirement, they moved into a condo but spent winters in Florida. Freda took up golf and excelled at it. Bernard did not share her enthusiasm, but he played to keep her company.
Bernard’s death in 2009 marked a turning point in Freda’s life. So did a diagnosis of lymphoma in 2012. She soldiered on, but over time, lost her enthusiasm for golf and even wintering in Florida. Moving to Toronto to be near family, she uprooted a life of more than 70 years. Yet, she adjusted, established new friendships and, when asked, said she was content.
In her last months, Freda accepted her cancer with grace. She was proud to be a survivor of the Holocaust, proud the haters never caught her, proud to be a part of the Jewish people, proud of Israel and proud of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her family is her legacy and triumph over those who sought her destruction.
Steven Z. Raber is Freda’s son.
To submit a Lives Lived: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lives Lived celebrates the everyday, extraordinary, unheralded lives of Canadians who have recently passed. To learn how to share the story of a family member or friend, go online to tgam.ca/livesguide