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SAUL and TOBY FELDBERG:
ONE STEP AT A TIME

 

I remember as a child, being afraid and hungry. We were in a dark room and I had cried myself to sleep. We had had nothing to eat. My father shook me awake and whispered he had a crust of bread for me. It was hard. I eagerly bit into it and consumed every crumb. When I finished, I and pleaded for more. He moved away from me and I could distinctly hear him crying.

Saul Feldberg

 

This is a story of two lives that melded into a single force, who built their lives on four cornerstones: love, respect, dedication and self-worth. Two lives, born in the midst of chaos, pain death and injustice - children of the Holocaust.

Saul was born in the town of Skarzysko, Poland, a community of 50,000 Jews and gentiles between Czestochowa in the south and Radom to the north. A community that later was the location of a German ammunition plant where Jewish slave labourers worked until there was no life left. A place where the mortality rate by percentage was higher than Birkenau.

Saul's father, Abraham was a tailor of men's garments, and owned a small shop; his mother Eva, a working partner in the business. Abraham loved live theatre and was an active participant in Yiddish plays produced for the local community. Saul also had a brother who never survived the war.

Toby's parents, Sam and Bella Elsner lived in Lodz, a thriving Jewish community of 170,000 Jews in the heart of Poland, a Jewish community that would be almost wiped off the map by the time the war ended. Her father was a women's tailor, a quiet man, devoted to his wife and two daughters. When the war broke out, her mother was four months pregnant with Toby. Her actual birth was Somewhere, Poland, but for the sake of record, claims Lodz as her birthplace.

When war came to Poland, Saul was four. His memories are few, but those he recalls were stark reminders of his Jewishness. "I vaguely remember the bombings, the running. I remember when the Germans put a yellow star on my arm. I can still see the fear in the eyes of my parents and grandparents." The Germans created a ghetto, in which to stay was to die. The young men were rounded up, including Abraham and shipped to a camp where he did hard labour. It was thought that he would never return. Saul and his mother were prisoners behind brick walls and barbed wire. Their future limited.

Toby's father was conscripted into the Polish army and went into battle against the Germans. The fighting lasted about twelve days before Poland surrendered. After being released he returned to Lodz to find his family, and with help was able to escape Poland, a fugitive, living by his wits alone.

Realizing that to stay in Skarzysko would result only in death, Eva and only Saul escaped. Saul's brother had already died. "My mother was a courageous woman. She knew my age group would not survive." Both natural blondes, she bluffed her way onto a train that took them away from certain death. With the help of the Jewish underground, Abraham escaped from the labour camp and joined his wife and son in hiding. For four long years they played hide and seek with the Germans, avoiding detection, living off the land, hungry, hunted and always on the move until the war ended.

The Eisners spent four years in hiding. Always on the move, only steps ahead of the Germans. They left Poland and entered Russia, to somewhere in Siberia, where they were able to survive until the war ended. In 1946, they returned to Lodz, hoping to find family, but found nothing but ruins and lists of the dead. They spent four years in Lodz trying to make a life, but it was in vain. Realizing that to stay was unrealistic, Sam Eisner made application for his family to immigrate to Israel.

The Feldbergs made their way to Berlin, Germany to a DP camp, where for the next three years they made it their home. The Zionist Organization set up a modern Hebrew school and Saul attended for three years. Abraham returned to being a tailor. Israel emissaries arrived and started a live theatre. Abraham returned to his love of acting.

They learned about Israel, and Saul thought they could make a life for themselves in this new country. "I realized that the only way the Jewish people could survive as people was by having an independent homeland", Saul said. He persuaded his father into immigrating to Israel in March 1949. They journeyed to Eilat. Life was hard. The country was only a few months old and Abraham had difficulty making a living. They lived in a border town near Gaza. "There was the tense situation of infiltrators stealing and killing every night. The same as today. It was very hard for my mother, just coming out from the Holocaust and losing everybody. More than 100 relatives perished in concentration camps." In 1950, Saul joined a kibbutz called Shfayim to continue his Hebrew education. Half a day in school and half a day doing backbreaking work in the heat on the farm.

Abraham could not establish himself in Israel. He wanted to come to Canada. He had a brother in Toronto and was told life was better. Saul wanted to stay in Israel, but was now persuaded by his parents to join them. In 1953, the Feldbergs: Abraham, Eva, Saul and a younger brother arrived in Toronto. Saul was seventeen.

Abraham opened his own business in 1953, in the Bloor and Jane area; Saul joined the work force. "My education had come to an end. Whatever I learned came from experience." Saul apprenticed in an upholstery company and after several years became the production manager at 21. "I had a lot of experience improvising and making a product with my own hands. I understood the process from beginning to end."

In 1955, he met Toby. In 1957 they were married and a year later became the parents of their first child, David. Over the next several years, they had Bernie, Janice and Joel. In those critical getting adjusted years, Saul and Toby immersed themselves in the Jewish community in whatever small way they could. There was a mutual acceptance that for their lives to be meaningful, they had to be active in the Jewish community. "I'm a great believer in doing things for your conscience, without making a big noise," Saul said. "Like the Bible says, if you do something good and do it quietly, you do double its value." It was this philosophy that became one of the cornerstones of their lives.

In 1966, Saul, at age 30, wanted to be his own boss, do things his own way, to use his knowledge and experience, and accomplish his dream. He established Global Upholstery Co., manufacturing office furniture - a meagre beginning, but a beginning. Saul was the salesman, Toby did the deliveries and Sam Elsner, her father, sewed.

From Skarzysko to Toronto, Saul learned discipline and determination. "I always remembered the suffering when I was young. When in business I got knocked down, I would pick myself up and move forward." In all this time, whatever extra money was available found its way into the coffers of several Jewish organizations.

And the company grew.

In 1975, Abraham died. "He was only 65. We are a very close family not only with our children, but also with my mother and our siblings. His death affected us all."

In the mid-eighties, Global established a foothold in Israel. "We are proud that it employs about 300 people, many of them Russian immigrants. We are proud that the helpless refugee kids from yesterday could contribute to a realization of a 2,000-year dream of a Jewish State."

Today, Global and affiliate companies, privately and publicly held by Saul Feldberg employs more than 9,000 employees, has over 2,000 dealers throughout the world, with combined sales of about 2 billion dollars. In its almost forty years, there has never been a layoff of staff at Global. "We didn't let anybody go because it would do irreparable damage and generate mistrust. We keep telling our people, 'You're part of the Global family,' and it has never been an empty statement."

Success has not changed Saul and Toby Feldberg. Whatever they accomplished it was done with the two as one. "Nothing is built without some degree of pain." Toby reflects, "To accomplish what we have, Saul has had to be absent from his family too often. I regret he couldn't spend more time with his family. As our children grow older, I hope they will understand what it is that drives their father."

"I remember my youth," Saul said. "It is a constant reminder. My dream is to live to see the day when we can celebrate having seven million or more Jews in Israel, and with that to secure the existence of Israel and to live in peace forever."

The Feldbergs support many charitable organizations in Canada and Israel. These are only some: Mount Sinai Hospital, Princess Margaret Hospital, Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care, Reena Foundation (for the mentally challenged), She'arim Hebrew Day School (for children with learning disabilities), Beit Halochem, Lmaan Hachajal, Jewish National Fund, United Jewish Appeal, State of Israel Bonds, CISPO, Tel Aviv Foundation, Haifa Foundation, Jerusalem College of Technology, Gesher Canada, ORT Canada, Jewish Russian Community Centre of Greater Toronto, Seneca College, Aish Hatorah, The Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel Cancer Research Fund, and Yad Vashem, among many others.

 

ROOTS, Jewish National Fund: 2002