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Isadore Burstyn

Isadore describes the ghetto synagogue being surrounded by the Gestapo, who humiliated the congregation upon exiting and shot their rabbi.

Isadore Burstyn was born in 1929 in Otwock, Poland, to Shalma and Necha Burstyn. He had two older brothers: Chaim and Meyer. He grew up in a middle-class family and his parents owned a successful bakery. He attended both Jewish and public school as a child and recalls a ‘beautiful’ childhood.

When the war started in 1939, Isadore was 10 years old. He remembers a feeling of unease among his whole family and Jewish community. When Jews started being forced into ghettos, he recalls nobody understanding what they were or what the purpose of them was, even the adults. Isadore and his family were taken to a ghetto in Otwock. In the ghetto, they faced starvation, epidemic, and beatings. Isadore’s two brothers were taken to Treblinka Extermination Camp, where they both died, and his mother died from starvation when he was 11.

Isadore escaped the ghetto and found work on a farm in the nearby village of Głupianka. He would sometimes smuggle food into the ghetto for his father and remembers his father telling him not to return because there were rumours that the ghetto was being liquidated in the morning. Isadore remembers watching people be loaded into train carts, and the ghetto going up in flames.

To escape German officers, Isadore hid in fields and the forest when they came looking for Jews. Although he was discovered hiding multiple times, nobody found out he was Jewish. At the end of the war, Isadore was found by Russian soldiers. They told him he was the first Jewish boy they had seen in Poland and offered him a position at school in Moscow. He refused the offer to study in Russia because he wanted to stay in Poland to see if he could find any of his family members. Unfortunately he did not find anyone.

            In 1948, at age 18, Isadore immigrated to Canada. He moved to Edmonton, Alberta, where he met his wife Florence, who was also a Jewish Holocaust survivor. They got married in 1955, and had three children. Together they opened Vogue Shoes, a successful shoe business. Isadore then worked in real estate development in Edmonton and Calgary. Both he and his wife were active members of the Edmonton Jewish community, and Isadore was a founding member and co-chair of the Auschwitz Awareness Society.

Isadore Burstyn died July 29, 2019, and his full testimony is part of the Canadian Collection of Holocaust survivor testimonies. It is preserved in the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive and accessible through the Ekstein Library.

Isadore Burstyn

The entire synagogue was surrounded by the Gestapo.