Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Winnipeg woman on stamp honouring man who rescued thousands of Jews

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It's been almost 70 years since Judith Weiszmann evaded wartime horror.

The 83-year-old Winnipegger survived being a persecuted Jew in Hungary thanks to a Swedish man named Raoul Wallenberg.

Now, she said, she's honoured a photograph of her has mysteriously turned up on a Canadian stamp created to honour him. According to Canada Post, "during the Second World War, in Budapest, Hungary, Wallenberg saved the lives of more than 100,000 Jews before disappearing into Soviet custody in 1945 at the age of 32."

"No question about it, that without him I wouldn't be here now," said Weiszmann, who was born in Budapest.

"It's an honour to be on the same stamp as Wallenberg."

Wallenberg created a document called the Schutz-Pass, with official-looking Swedish colours and marks on it. Canada Post said it honoured Wallenberg because "under increasingly dangerous circumstances, he handed (the pass) out indiscriminately to Jews, which helped protect them from deportation to the death camps.

The Schutz-Pass alone is believed to have saved up to 20,000 lives."

"It was sort of a mixture between a visa and a citizenship paper, and the German authorities, the Nazis, accepted that paper to a certain extent, and that saved our (lives)," said Weiszmann. Weiszmann got her pass when she was 14 years old, in August 1944.

"The Schutz-Pass (gave us) privileges. Except for being deported, we were allowed to stay in Budapest," said Weiszmann, whose image appears on the left-hand corner of the stamp.

"We were staying in a so-called international ghetto, which was basically organized by Raoul Wallenberg, and by establishing that international ghetto, he was able to save in that ghetto... between 20,000 and 30,000 Jews."

Life was still harrowing for those who had the pass.

"The Nazis, most of the time, accepted it. Not always. There were still people who were grabbed and taken to the Danube and shot into the Danube," she said.

"We were the lucky ones, with my family, who survived it."

That included a close call where, Weiszmann said, she narrowly missed being deported.

"We were caught with my mother at one time and taken to the Hungarian Gestapo, and then my family notified Wallenberg's office and they were searching for us, found us, and fortunately (they) were able to get us out with the Schutz-Pass practically hours before we would have been deported," she said. "To the best of my knowledge, the rest of them who were there and did not have a Swedish passport were taken the next day by a train... and they were taken to Auschwitz."

Weiszmann said in January 1945 they "were liberated by the then Soviet army."

She lived in the country in 1956, but then fled with her husband to Austria, and then applied to immigrate to Canada.

"Canada graciously accepted us as refugees and we arrived in August of 1957," she said.

Today, Weiszmann has a 52-year-old daughter in Toronto and a 47-year-old son in Winnipeg. She is a grandmother of two.

Her late husband, Erwin Weiszmann, also used the pass Wallenberg invented to survive, she said. The pair were married for 58 years.

"We never forgot the man who rescued both of us, and we were also very thankful to Canada that they accepted us as refugees, and we made a good life in Canada," she said. "Somebody made a very interesting note and said unfortunately Wallenberg was taken away by the Soviets, never to be seen again, and he never had a family, he didn't have children. But on account of saving so many people, he has so many thousands of children and grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren."

Weiszmann said it's a "mystery" how her photo ended up on the pass, but said she considers it an honour.

Years ago, she gave a copy of her pass to a relative of Wallenberg's as a thank-you after a statue was unveiled of him.

She still has the original pass at a safety deposit box in Winnipeg, she said.

Her daughter came by the stamp by coincidence after she saw a movie about Wallenberg in Toronto, and there was an announcement about the stamp.

"My daughter purchased a set of stamps; she thought it would be of interest to me to have a stamp of the person who rescued me," she said.

"When she went home, she opened up the package, and as she said, she almost fell over."

Ottawa-based Canada Post spokesman Jim Phillips said the photo of Weiszmann was purchased through Getty Images, and he's "so pleased" Weiszmann was identified. The pass used Weiszmann's maiden name. Research to try to track down the woman in the stamp's image was fruitless, he said. "We're so pleased that she's been identified, that she actually came to Canada. Who would have thought? We had no idea where she went," said Phillips.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 28, 2013 B1


Updated on Monday, January 28, 2013 at 1:35 PM CST: Corrects location of image on stamp.

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