While the literary works of Dr. Chava Rosenfarb (LLD ’06) have received great acclaim over the years, her daughter is convinced a tribute planned in Poland would have held a special place in her late mother’s heart.
To mark the birth of the great Yiddish novelist and poet 100 years ago, officials in the Polish city of Lódź declared 2023 The Year of Chava Rosenfarb. Celebrations to honour the Holocaust survivor’s profound contributions to literature and history include an academic conference beginning Oct. 17, and a reception at the Canadian Embassy in Warsaw.
“She would have been over the moon, she would have been so happy,” says Dr. Goldie Morgentaler of her mother’s reaction to the recognition. “And, quite frankly, I don't think during her lifetime that she ever expected anything like this.”
The occasion is particularly meaningful in that Rosenfarb was born in Lódź and never left of her free will. She was among the Jewish population of the Lódź ghetto who were sent by the Nazis to Auschwitz. She would survive that concentration camp and also Bergen Belsen, which was was liberated in 1945.
Rosenfarb immigrated to Canada in 1950 and settled in Montreal. She was one of the few Holocaust survivors who transformed their experiences into works of fiction, rather than memoirs. Her literary works include novels The Tree of Life: A Trilogy of Life in the Lodz Ghetto, Bociany, and, Of Lodz and Love, as well as a collection of short stories called, Survivors, all translated from Yiddish to English by Morgentaler. She received an Honorary Degree from the University of Lethbridge in 2006 and passed away in 2011 at the age of 88.
Morgentaler, a professor emerita of English at the University of Lethbridge, will attend the celebrations in Poland on her behalf and is keynote speaker at the conference, titled Chava Rosenfarb and Jewish Female Writers of the 20th Century. She will convey how pleased her mother would be with the celebration, what it was like to be her daughter, and some of the challenges that come with translating literary works from one language to another.
She will also update them on the latest translation of Rosenfarb’s work, just recently published. In the Land of the Postscript: The Complete Short Stories of Chava Rosenfarb consists of 10 stories about the afterlives of Holocaust survivors living in Canada. Rosenfarb speaks in these stories from personal experience at the same time as she allows her imagination to inhabit the minds of characters far different from herself.
Morgentaler believes the attention Rosenfarb’s work receives is even more important as the years pass.
“That history that she brings to life in fiction, that history is fading. There are fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors around, and I think it is important for people to know what happened,” she says.