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Refugees' soujourn

This photo reveals none of the trauma or turmoil that Sabrina Brik and her daughter, Miriam, have already experienced as they await an uncertain future in a Jewish refugee camp in Kishiniv, Romania. It is 1920, and their flight from Ukraine has been accomplished via horse-drawn cart and river ferry. Miriam’s head has been shaved to prevent lice or to stop infection.

Sabrina, fair and blue-eyed, was allowed to sit beside the cart driver, but five-year-old Miriam, dark-haired and dusky, was hidden under a tarpaulin. It was their second attempt to escape revolution-torn Russia; on their first they had been caught and put in jail. Sabrina’s husband, Joseph, had been killed as a conscript in the Russian Army in 1916.

For the next three years, Sabrina, known as Shifra, eked out a hand-to-mouth existence in Romania. Their fortunes turned when the Jewish Immigration Society arranged an exit permit allowing them to leave for Canada. The S.S. Madonna docked in Halifax on May 29, 1924.

Sabrina found work in a Toronto hat factory, went to night school to learn English, and saved enough to bring her mother to Canada. In 1938 she married Hershel Wasser, an accountant who later owned a women’s wear store. Miriam became known as Mucie and, because she had a late start in school, attended classes with younger children. She learned Yiddish at the Hebrew Free School, where she met her future husband, Kip Kaplansky. After their marriage in 1934, they went to Palestine, where they spent three years at a kibbutz. Their first home was in an abandoned chicken coop.

Mucie and Kip returned to Canada in time to escape the outbreak of the Second World War. Their daughter Noga was born in Palestine, and twin boys Ron and Joel were born in Toronto in 1939 — the year Canada turned back the Jewish refugee ship M.S. St. Louis, consigning its occupants to their fates in Nazi death camps. Kip became owner of a bakery, and Mucie worked as a school secretary. Shifra died in 1982, Mucie in 2010. She left ten grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Submitted by Ron Kaplansky of Toronto, son of Miriam, later Mucie (Brik) Kaplansky.


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