Gropper, Rae

Rachel (Rae) Gropper (nee Kruger) was born March 3, 1941.  Her parents came from Poland, where they had made a life for themselves in prewar Warsaw.  They shared memories of that with Rae at a later time, as she was born during the war, and they also told her about the bombing of Warsaw in 1939, an event that never left Rae’s parents’ memories.  When September 1939 unfolded Rae’s parents were fortunate to escape the city, making their way east to Bialystok and then into the Soviet Union.  They were detained by Soviet soldiers, and along with hundreds of thousands of other Polish Jews they were forced onto trains and cattle cars and dispatched to the east, ending up in gulags in Siberia and other areas deep inside the USSR.  Rae’s parents did brutal hard labour there, working in coal mines during the era of the Five Year Plans.  They were later sent to Uzbekistan, where they worked in wheat fields, this time enduring the heat of the steppe instead of the Siberian cold.  The war finished while they were there; now liberated, the family managed to secure a truck for the long return trip to Poland, where antisemitism was still rife.  They made their way west, ending up in a DP camp near Salzburg, Austria.  While there they learned about the creation of Israel and had thoughts of emigrating, but Rae’s grandmother was ill, and an offer came from Canada at that time, as the International Garment Workers Union was looking for skilled workers, and Rae’s mother’s background as a milliner opened that door.  The family lived and worked in Montreal, and that’s where Rae grew up, finding her own way in postwar Canada.  Rae presently is on the board at the Montreal Holocaust Museum, and she is an impassioned speaker and presenter whose words have reached thousands of students and adults, including Crestwood students who were able to zoom with her in March 2023.