Fran Sonshine, National Chair

Manny Langer

Standing Tall

By pretending to be older than his years—standing up straight and talking in a deep voice—and joining the line of adults, Manny was chosen by the Nazis for work rather than death.

Born in Lodz, Poland, on June 6, 1929, Manny Langer was the youngest of a large Orthodox Jewish family with three sisters and two brothers. His family was in the dairy and grocery business.

When Germany invaded Poland, Manny’s childhood ended abruptly. In the Lodz ghetto, where his family was forced to move in 1940, 11-year-old Manny was trained in the leather industry. To supplement the meagre food rations provided to his family, the resourceful Manny traded in the black market. Due to the lack of medication available in the ghetto, Manny’s father, Joseph, died of pneumonia there.

When his family learned that Manny’s name was on the list of people to be deported to a death camp, they hid him. As punishment, the family lost their food rations for three months. Manny sold cigarettes so the family could purchase food.

In 1944, when the Lodz ghetto was liquidated, Manny was transferred to Auschwitz. As he descended from the cramped, stinking cattle car at the camp, Manny gave his mother, Leah, some bread. It was the last time he ever saw her.

Children, who were of no use to the Nazis, were sent immediately to the gas chambers. Being tall for his age, Manny learned quickly to pass as an adult who could work. Manny pushed into the middle of the men’s line. By this time, the British were bombing the railways used by the Nazis, and Manny was sent with adult prisoners to clean up the subsequent mess. Manny’s strategy of masquerading as an adult worked again once he was transferred to Bergen-Belsen.

Following liberation, Manny searched for any surviving family members. A Polish neighbour informed him that two of his sisters, Sylvia and Jean, were alive and gave him a photo of them. After displaying the photo at many DP camps, he was reunited with them in Linz, Austria. His mother, a sister, two brothers, nieces, and nephews were all murdered in Auschwitz.

At 16, Manny was sent to New York, where he attended school. He subsequently went to a large orphanage in Cleveland and then to live with a foster family in Detroit. He joined his sisters in Toronto in 1951, where he worked at odd jobs. In 1955, Manny married Natalie Bielak, who had been hidden as a child in Poland during the war by a Catholic family. That same year, Manny opened a furniture store. He later established the successful Ned’s Baby Furniture and invested in small commercial plazas.

Manny and Natalie were blessed with three daughters and seven grandchildren.

During a visit to Poland, Manny had a gravestone erected in memory of his family who perished during the Shoah. Sharing his experiences at numerous schools to educate young people about the Holocaust, Manny still stands tall.