From the 1930s to the late 1940s the Canadian government had a very restrictive immigration policy regarding Jewish immigrants. Brenda (Breindl), born in Poland, was one of the few Jews admitted to Canada during this period. Mrs. B. Roseman of Kitchener, Ontario submitted a successful application in 1937 to have Brenda, then in her early twenties, come to Canada to assist with domestic work. While government records identify Mrs Roseman as an aunt, Brenda in her interview with Ester Reiter, notes that Mrs. Reitman was a friend of Brenda’s sister, with government connections. The Approved Order in Council for Brenda's admission to Canada ends with the comment that William Daum Euler (Federal Minister of Trade and Commerce from 1935-1940) was "interested in this case." In their application, the Roseman's had to indicate the value of the stock in their furniture store, the total monthly sales, the amount in their savings account, and the value of owned properties and mortgages and rental income for those properties. As well, they assured the government that they would make sure that Brenda was provided for.
Brenda, from her childhood was very keen on learning, and while in Poland was a member of Hashomer Hatzair, a Jewish socialist youth group. Brenda finished school at 14 and spent her time helping her mother at home (hers was a family of seven children plus an orphaned cousin) and working in the family store. Life was tough economically and politically for the Jews in Poland. Brenda describes it as living the "life of [an] orphan in everyday life." Brenda's only dress was a gift from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a Jewish Humanitarian organization. Brenda wrote to her sister who had immigrated to Canada in 1928 and asked for her help in getting to Canada. Her sister arranged for the Roseman family to sponsor Brenda as their maid. While her parent's disapproved of Brenda's boyfriend Dov, they agreed to their marriage in an unofficial religious ceremony just before her departure to Canada in 1937. The young couple hoped that they would shortly be together again. As her immigration papers had been processed as a single woman, she kept her marriage secret from government officials and her family in Canada. After the war broke out, Brenda became very concerned for Dov's life, and would have returned to Poland if transportation had been possible.
In 1939, Brenda was working for her brother-in-law and learning how to sew from her sister. By 1943, she was living in Toronto as a dressmaker. She became a naturalized Canadian on April 8, 1943. As soon as she received her Canadian citizenship, Brenda enlisted in the army. She hoped to go overseas and find Dov. When she applied at the enlistment centre, her English was so limited that she initially returned the application papers blank. After six months of basic training at Kitchener, she was assigned to work on costumes for the newly created army show. While Brenda did go overseas in 1943, her posting was to England with the army show. Once in England she approached various military officials for permission to go to Poland, but was unsuccessful in securing authorization to travel to the war zone. Despite this setback, Brenda had positive memories of her years in service.
When the war was over, she tried without success to locate Dov through the various Red Cross agencies and the Canadian Jewish Congress. Brenda lost Dov, most of her family, and many of her friends in the Holocaust.
Upon her return to Canada, Brenda worked at the National Ballet and the Stratford Theatre making performance costumes. Brenda continued with her socialist leanings and her love of learning. She joined a Yiddish reading circle and the Toronto Jewish Folk Choir. Brenda later married widowed Holocaust survivor Nathan Fischauf. A very feisty and independent woman, Brenda, in her 90's travelled on her own to Cuba for a two-month vacation. Apparently when she immigrated to Canada, the Polish officials could not find any records of her birth so they made her a twin of her sister who was two years older. So, although her obituary reports that she passed away at the age of 103, Brenda was in fact only 101 in 2015.
Artwork inspired by Brenda's story.