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lives lived

John Komlos.Courtesy of family

John Komlos: Family man. Holocaust educator. Mentor. Biker. Born Dec. 3, 1948, in Budapest, Hungary; died Aug. 17, 2022, in Toronto, of Alzheimer’s disease; aged 73.

John William Komlos was born Janos Vilmos Krausz in Budapest, Hungary, to survivors of the Holocaust. His surname was changed when he was a toddler to make it sound less Jewish. During the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, John remembers hiding under his bed from the gunfire outside his building. Given his parents’ experiences during the Second World War, the family left Hungary for Israel, the only place they could legally get to at the time.

In Israel, they lived in a refugee settlement called Kiryat Hof. Young John made friends and swam in the sea after school. In 1961, John and his parents immigrated to Canada to reunite with family, but just weeks before they were set to leave, John’s beloved father passed away. It was a devastating blow to a 12 year old.

Settling in Toronto, John had to learn yet another language with minimal support. He became withdrawn and wanted to quit school. At home, without his father, John felt lost, but an inner strength kept him going.

At 20, he was working as the part-time manager of a movie theatre when it was robbed at gunpoint. John chased the assailant down and apprehended him, holding him until police arrived. John earned a police citation that he proudly hung in his home. Buoyed by the confidence of his crime-stopping exploits, John began to blossom into someone far more outgoing.

Around this time, John met Erika, the love of his life, at Rouge Hill beach. Erika was captivated by his big, charismatic personality. They married in 1971 and three children Aaron, Daina and Stephanie would arrive over the next several years.

John opened a baby furniture store in Toronto, but a fire ended that endeavour. To support his growing family, he took on two or three different jobs for several years. The pace was exhausting and to better himself, John entered real estate sales and property management.

John knew the teachers at his children’s school and the names of his children’s friends; he was the fun dad who chose to join in with his kids rather than sit on the sidelines to watch. He was happiest when everyone was together at home and rushed home to share anecdotes and make up stories that he’d recount at bedtime.

John was also a worrier. Raising his family before cellphones, he insisted the children call home when they arrived at a destination, call when they left, and call when halfway to somewhere else. Even when they were adults, he worried when his kids would travel. Pushing back would only lead to him saying, “Is it the worst thing in the world that I love you so much? Let that be the worst thing you say about me.”

John’s mission was to make things better for others. He found the time to foster teens who’d lost a parent, becoming a “big brother” to many while balancing time with his own family. He quietly sponsored school activities for children whose families could not afford the costs, remembering his early days in the city when money was scarce.

John would think nothing of driving many hours to have coffee for 30 minutes with one of his children at university. As a grandparent of eight, he rearranged his schedule to babysit – the joy they brought him was without limit. At any family event, he could be found on the floor, playing amongst the children.

In later years, John volunteered as a docent with the Holocaust Centre of Toronto and March of the Living Canada. He felt it critical to pass on the lessons of the Holocaust to young people. He also let loose on motorcycles, forming lifelong friendships in the “Yids on Wheels” Motorcycle Touring Club. His bikes got larger over the years culminating in his favourite, the Honda Goldwing.

John used each of his life’s challenges to inspire his service and support others facing similar circumstances.

Aaron Komlos, Daina Bloom and Stephanie Haghani are John’s children.

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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