Skip to main content
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
Enjoy unlimited digital access
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
Canada’s most-awarded newsroom for a reason
$1.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Freda Raber.

Courtesy of family

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.

Story continues below advertisement

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.

Story continues below advertisement

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: lives@globeandmail.com

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

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies