Posted with permission from National Post
Chana Wallace came to Canada with little more than a suitcase and a life philosophy she shared decades later with 150 guests at her 100th birthday...
Chana Wallace was 106 and it was the end, or near enough to it. Her heart was failing. Her family was gathered around. She was in the hospital and wouldn't be going home again. But that didn't mean she was going to stop trying. She joked with her great nephew, who was really more like a grandson to her - and engaged to be married - that she would be attending the wedding and, yes, indeed, would be moving into his new house with his new bride once the marital knot was officially tied.
"My Bubbie was 106," says Brian Shifman, the grandson/great nephew. "When someone lives to be 106 it is hard to complain that they should have lived for even longer but, from a selfish perspective, my grandmother should have.
"My mother liked to say that if there is anybody that should live forever it was her - because she was unbelievable - with what she went through in her life."
Chana Wallace died on Feb. 16, 2014. She was a hero to her family, a marvel to behold, a walking, talking wonder of positivity, a Holocaust survivor who suffered from terrible nightmares but put her horrors aside each morning since, as she once said, "I have a family and I have to live for them."
And so she did, despite losing almost everything in Auschwitz; despite emerging from the camps to find that her son had also survived - only to be murdered by thugs soon after. Ms. Wallace came to Canada with little more than a suitcase and a life philosophy she shared decades later with 150 guests at her 100th birthday party.
"From childhood, I always said that you should never give up in your life," she said, speaking - for 20 minutes - without notes. "Have faith in God and don't give in. Never say 'I can't'. Don't look for trouble. Most importantly don't say, 'I had a bad day yesterday.'
"Think positive. Be grateful. Live for today and tomorrow, live for others before yourself - and be kind to people. Then you'll be happy."
Ms. Wallace, a Polish Jew, was the second youngest of eight children. Her father was a renowned violinist while her first cousin, Wladyslaw Szpilman, was the inspiration for the movie The Pianist. In 1997, she was interviewed for Survivors of the Shoah, Steven Spielberg's documentary project recording the testimonies of Holocaust survivors.
"Every morning I would wake up and another friend next to me would be dead," she recounted in the interview. "We were starving. We were freezing. The only reason I survived is because I had dreams every night that my mother brought me food. And when I woke up I wasn't full, but I wasn't hungry."
Her first husband, like their son, survived the camps but died soon after being liberated, after his son was murdered. His wife understood the cause to be a broken heart. But Ms. Wallace didn't quit. She immigrated to Canada. She didn't know how to sew, so she talked her way into a job as a seamstress in a Toronto factory, mastering the craft and eventually opening her own clothing store in north Toronto.
Ms. Wallace lived alone in an apartment until she was 104, doting on her descendants, discussing politics or art or music or business with her guests and staying active - and being kind. During one recent hot Southern Ontario summer a robin built its nest beneath her air conditioner. Thereafter she refused to turn it on, explaining to her relatives, "Why should I? I have a fan."
A bad fall and a broken hip necessitated her move to a seniors' home a few years back. But she didn't quit then. She rehabbed the hip to become the most popular resident in the home. Every visitor, every stranger - every day - was met with a smile.
"My grandmother had every right to be negative because of everything that happened to her," Mr. Shifman says. "But she always chose to be positive, and people gravitated to her because of that.
"And I think that is her legacy. She was remarkable. She was the most giving and thankful person I ever met."