Jack Klajman’s Out of the Ghetto

Jack Klajman, a 69-year-old furrier in London, Ont., has written Out of the Ghetto, a book that describes how he survived the Holocaust. The book was published recently by Vallentine Mitchell, a British publishing house, and should soon be available at bookstores in Canada.

Out of the Ghetto details Klajman’s experiences as a child in the Warsaw Ghetto. Creeping through holes in the wall to get to the Christian part of the city, he posed as a Christian child and begged for food, which he smuggled back to his family.

In one incident, he met a machine-gun-toting German major nicknamed Frankenstein just as he was returning to the ghetto with a bag full of smuggled goods. Knowing Frankenstein’s penchant for shooting Jewish children, the boy begged for mercy, speaking in Polish and showing off the crucifix around his neck to persuade the man that he was a Catholic trying to make some money for his parents.

Miraculously, the ruse worked.

After he had fled to the safety of a nearby building, witnesses of the encounter surrounded him, amazed that he was still alive. “My boy, you have just been reborn,” one of them said. “You have just escaped the devil himself. If he did not take your life, it means God is good to you. He wants you to live. You are going to survive the war…. If you can make it past him, you can make it past anyone.”

Klajman called it “the scariest moment I ever had crossing the wall” and said he was traumatized for days afterward.

He fled the annihilation of the ghetto by hiding among dead bodies, and later fleeing through the sewers. He survived by posing as a Christian child and eluding authorities as much as possible. He lost his entire family and about 100 relatives.

“It’s a story I started to write 40 years ago,” said Klajman recently in a telephone interview. “I started to write a few pages and I got nightmares, so I threw it away.

“I had a customer who was a psychiatrist and he said, ‘Jack, you write it and it’ll be the best therapy for you. You might get nightmares again, but it’ll be worth it.'”

Klajman said the book took him six days to write. “The things that happened, you can never forget. It’s all locked in your head, anyway. A story like this stays with you for life.”

A son, Ed, a journalist, helped prepare the manuscript for publication.

Klajman reached Toronto in January 1948, when he was not yet 17 years old. Because his father had been a furrier in Warsaw, he apprenticed in the fur business with a furrier in London, Ont., at a starting salary of $10 a week. He opened his own store within five years.

He married his wife Sonia 41 years ago. They have three sons and a daughter. “I wrote it for the kids, and for my grandchildren,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking of publishing it in the beginning. But my son (Ed) said, ‘You have to publish it.’ So he took care of it.”

“I sent a copy of the book to Oprah (Winfrey) a couple of weeks ago,” he said. “It may take a couple of months before I hear anything. If Oprah’s staff really like it and Oprah gets to read it … it’s got to catch on in the States.”

Klajman still works as a furrier, although he is semi-retired. His store is called Klyman Furs and is located at 238 Dundas St. in London. ♦

© 2000