Geddy Lee, in his autobiography, tells not only of his life in rock-n-roll, but that of his parents who fell in love in a Nazi concentration camp. Photo from Wikipedia

An unlikely love story

  • March 21, 2024

I’ve read many — far too many — Holocaust accounts, and despite too much familiarity with the horrors and depravity, my emotions usually get the better of me. It’s not unlike from what I’ve heard from friends who have walked under the Auschwitz concentration camp’s entrance gates and its ominous “Arbeit macht frei” — “Work sets you free” — and are reminded of horrors past: you arrive knowing fully well what to expect, yet the tears still flow.

So it was with some joy — for how can you truly feel absolute joy about a Holocaust story — when I read the love story shared by one Gershon Eliezer Weinrib, a love affair that began in the horrific Nazi extermination camps of the Second World War. Yes, the usual emotions flow as camp life is rehashed, but the author shares one couple’s youthful bliss and how they found each other despite the circumstances. As you hear the story, you can’t but help cheer on humanity’s victory over the inhumane.

Weinrib is better known as Geddy Lee, bassist and singer of the iconic Canadian rock band Rush. Lee has recently released his autobiography (written with Daniel Richler) detailing his life as a Jewish kid growing up in Willowdale in north Toronto, through the early days playing high schools and clubs to the stadium circuit that comes with full-fledged rock’n’roll stardom and eventual induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Lee is not shy in sharing the rock’n’roll tales, but there is so much more, including the perseverance of two young lovers, his parents, and how they persevered and overcame tragedy, the prelude that led to his being.

A quick synopsis: Moczek (Moishe) Wajnryb and Manya Rubinstein are young, Jewish strangers caught up first in the horror of the 1939 German invasion of their Polish homeland, and then victims — and eventual survivors — of the Nazis “Final Solution,” all for the “crime” of being Jewish. Never having met before their internment in the first of many camps, Lee recounts how his father met and courted his mother from opposite ends of camp, showering her with what little kindnesses he could manage, at one point even bribing a guard to gift her with a pair of shoes. Any little thing to let Manya know he was thinking of her. A courtship that bloomed as death was all around them, death that could come calling any day.

Miraculously, after several moves through various camps, including Auschwitz, each survived with a few of their relatives, though by the end of the war had lost touch when they were interned at separate camps. Yet the blossoms of love had flowered for young Moishe and Manya and they would not be kept apart as Moishe scoured survivors’ lists to find Manya, and she held on, shunning other suitors, in the hopes Moishe remained alive. They would seek each other out, eventually re-connecting in the war’s aftermath. I’ll let Lee’s words tell the next stage:

“On November 21, 1946, my mother and father were married in the Officers’ Mess Hall at Bergen-Belsen. What had been a roomful of coldblooded and ruthless persecutors was now a room filled with love, family and the promise of a new future together.”

Beautiful. And while the memories would haunt them, and be shared down the line, for the Waynrybs love would not be defeated by hate. How inspiring.

There must be similar stories, but for the most part they remain untold in the wake of the six million who did not survive the hate.

It can’t but make you wonder, have we learned nothing in this world? Apparently not. Hatred abounds, and we only need look at the current war in the Holy Land unleashed by Hamas’ attack on Israelis, 1,200 of whom were slaughtered in circumstances not unlike the Holocaust, hundreds more captured and thousands injured. And not to be forgotten are the thousands who have perished in the Israeli retaliation. So many innocents lost, in Israel and Gaza, in Ukraine and wherever the hatred sees man take up arms against man. And for what?

We may remain naive in believing that the swords will be beaten into ploughshares, but we can have hope.   

And we can only hope that in the face of atrocities, in the gloom of hatred, that there can be stories that can inspire us, stories like two lovestruck youth like Moishe and Manya.

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