Skip to main content Skip to search

Holocaust Survivors of Winnipeg

  • News

In the decade after the Second World War, more than a thousand survivors of the Holocaust settled in Winnipeg.

Survivors represented more than 5% of Winnipeg’s Jewish population. One of those survivors was the late Philip Weiss.

Philip Weiss

Philip was born in Drohobycz, Poland, on February 11, 1922. As a Jewish teenager he was thrown into a ghetto with his family by the Nazis. Later, separated from his family, he was a slave labourer in various camps, including the Płaszów labor camp, made famous by Oskar Schindler, the German businessman who saved hundreds of Jewish prisoners through his factories. And whose story became the subject of Steven Spielberg’s Oscar award-winning film Schindler’s List. On May 5, 1945, he was liberated from Mathausen concentration camp outside Linz, Austria by the American army.

When the war ended, the British Broadcasting Corporation released survivors’ names over the airwaves. Through this service, Philip was reunited with his parents and siblings. They were one of the few Polish Jewish families to survive the war intact.


After the war, Canada needed garment workers, and he arrived in Winnipeg in 1948 to begin a new life. Two years later, he became a self-employed businessman, starting his own furniture manufacturing company, Philip Weiss Ltd.

In 1950 he married Gertrude Goot, and they had three daughters.

“My dad loved Canada, says Fran Winograd, Philip’s eldest daughter. “He was grateful for its freedoms, even though as a newcomer, times were demanding and challenging.”

“He didn’t really speak about the Holocaust and what he endured that much.” She recalls.  “But every May 5,” says Fran, “My dad would commemorate the day without fail.”

In 1967 the German government invited Philip to Bremen to testify at the court proceedings of a high-ranking officer of the SS, Freiderich Hildebrandt. Renata Reinke, a former member of the Hitler youth and a daughter of an SS officer, came every day for months, documenting the witnesses and trial. Teachers and students also attended court, and Philip realized he could no longer stay quiet. He needed to tell his story and the story of all those who didn’t survive to as many people as possible. Returning to Canada, he set about his decided mission.

Manitoba Memorial for Holocaust Victims | Photo by Marylou Driedger

Philip went on to chair the Holocaust Remembrance and Memorial committees. On September 6, 1990, under his chairmanship, a memorial to the victims of the Holocaust was erected on the Legislative grounds in Winnipeg. This was the first monument of its kind on public property in Canada. In 1991 he received the Manitoba Government Department of Multiculturalism Prix Award for distinguished service in cross-cultural awareness. Over the years, he spoke to many groups of students, educators, and religious and ethnic leaders of all backgrounds about his experiences as a Jewish victim of Nazi terror.

On Christmas Day, 1993, Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List was released in theatres. For Philip, the Oscar-winning film became the vehicle for Holocaust education. He provided free screenings of the movie to hundreds of students. He spoke to thousands more across the province.

“He was a survivor,” says his daughter Fran. “He was resolute not to be silenced, and the boxes upon boxes of notes he received from students prove they heard him.”

In 2003, Philip was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Winnipeg — a gratifying culmination for his many years of Holocaust education. He published a book, Humanity in Doubt, which included his reflections and essays about pre-war Poland, the role of the church and the war years in Europe.

“He was an unrelenting champion of remembrance for those six million murdered in the Holocaust,” says Fran. “His past as a Holocaust survivor defined him but never overshadowed his essence: one of strength, intellectual depth, determination, honesty, compassion and love.”

Philip Weis passed away in 2008. On his headstone, the epitaph reads, “Survivor and witness.”

“That’s what my dad used to always say when anyone ever asked him why Holocaust education was so important to him,” recalls Fran. “I am a witness. In life, you have certain responsibilities. This one is mine.”