Burston, Ben

Ben Burston was born November 29, 1924 in Kielce, Poland.  Ben’s parents made the decision to emigrate to Canada – to escape anti-Semitism and to find better economic opportunities.  They settled in downtown Toronto, in the Kensington Market neighbourhood.  Ben’s mother died when he was quite young, so he was raised by his father in an observant Jewish family.  Ben attended school and did all the normal things for a boy growing up against the backdrop of the Great Depression.  He also was attracted to Zionism, joining the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement; the events of the 1930s were confirming the fears of that group.  By the start of the war Ben was in high school, first Harbord Collegiate and then Central Tech, and he had seen his older brother and step brother join the armed forces.  His call-up eventually came as well, and Ben reported for duty at the Horse Palace, and subsequently to Nova Scotia for basic and advanced training.  He was shipped overseas late in 1944, and after a brief time in England he found himself in Belgium, moving closer to the front.  At this time he was assigned to the Queen’s Own Rifles, and they moved back and forth on the northern front, into Germany and the Netherlands on both sides of the Rhine.  Most of the time they were clearing areas, and on one occasion Ben was trapped in the open, and was shot in the leg.  He learned later that many of the men in his section were killed that day; Ben was left alone in a house, and he and many of the others were taken prisoner by the Germans.  After interrogation he was put in a POW hospital, and treated by British medical staff who had been taken prisoner at Arnhem.  Just over a week later the Canadians came through the area and liberated them.  Ben was returned to England, where he recuperated in hospital.  VE Day came during that time, so Ben was able to visit England a bit.  He took the opportunity to reconnect with Hashomer Hatzair, and he met a young woman and decided to marry.  The two of them returned to Canada, but from there they made the decision to head to Palestine, and to take part in the foundation of Israel, finding their way in the postwar rhythms there and eventually back in Canada.  Ben Burston was interviewed by Crestwood students at the Sunnybrook Veterans’ Wing, first over zoom and then in person in November 2022.