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TailorsBy NICOLE BRYK Special to the JP&N
Some of them were tailors, some of them were not. Some had families and some came alone. Some of them had survived concentration camps, others hid during the war or survived other atrocities by fleeing.
 

 

But these families all have a few things in common. They had survived the Shoah, were living in displaced persons camps in Europe, and had come to Canada as part of the first Canadian immigration program bringing Jewish families to Canada; the Garment Workers Scheme. Very little is known about the tailors and their families. For the first time, Impakt Labs, with funding from the Max and Larry Enkin Family Foundation, is seeking the stories of Canada’s tailors of 1948.

 

Beniek (Ben) and Genia Sosnowicz were two of 2,000 Holocaust survivors who were brought to Canada following the war and who found employment in the garment industry.

Winnipegger Harold Sosnowicz recalls growing up in a home that also served as a tailor shop. “He (Harold’s father,  Beniek Sosnowicz) would have women come to the back door of his home with a jacket and call out, “Benny, can you do this for me?”
He then would do the custom tailoring at night on the old Singer sewing machine, and he and my mum would work in the factory by day in Winnipeg,” said Harold Sosnowicz to me in a synagogue in the north end of Winnipeg. “My father was a master tailor born in 1914 in Zambrow, Poland. He showed inspiring resilience by surviving Zambrov, Auschwitz, Dachau and a displaced persons camp called Feldarink near Munich where Ben met and married Genia. For him tailoring was more than just the shmata industry.”


In 1947, five men began the planning process for the Garment Workers Scheme, now referred to as the Tailor Project. Survivors of the war had been in DP camps for a few years trying to rebuild their lives, start families and reconnect with any family they had left. In this time of rebuilding, many countries closed their doors to Jewish families, including Canada. The Canadian Overseas Garment Commission, actively supported by the Canadian Jewish Congress, persuaded the Federal government that there was a need for tailors in Canada and that bringing tailors to Canada from DP camps in Europe was something that would be mutually beneficial.
After receiving approval from the government to bring approximately 2,500 tailors to Canada to work in garment factories, five men, including Max Enkin, David Solomon, Bernard Shane, Samuel Posluns and Samuel Herbst set off for Europe. Upon arrival in Europe these men visited 19 different displaced persons camps to spread a message of hope to those living there.
For Harold Sosnowicz, what resonated with him was learning for the first time the story of the five men that went to Europe. “Knowing that five men went overseas to go to a number of DP camps to bring hope to these people is inspiring. These men are heroes for Canada. I wish my father was around, not even just to talk about his story, but to know the story of these men and how they managed to bring to Canada over 2,000 tailors.”


Thousands of people applied to come to Canada through this program. The application involved a sewing test of either sewing a button hole or sewing on a pocket. Many people were so desperate to leave the DP camps at the time that sometimes real tailors were paid to take the test in place of pretend tailors looking to come to Canada.
There were some rules imposed by the Canadian government. First, no more than 50 percent of the tailors coming could be Jewish. Secondly, none of the families coming over could have more than two children. Last, single people were allowed to come alone, but if you had children you had to be married.
Military ships began to bring families to Canada in early January 1948 until April 1949. The ships were very rocky and many people crossing over were sea sick. Locations were assigned to tailors. Tailors were told that they were either going to Winnipeg, Toronto or Montreal and that there would be a job waiting for them upon arrival. When the families arrived in Halifax they were put on trains and sent to their final destinations. The Jewish Immigrant Aid Society ensured that every tailor and their family had a place to stay. Often these places were just a room in a house with a shared kitchen and bath. There could be many families that survived the Holocaust living in one house.
In most cases, Holocaust survivors became like family to each other because they had lost their immediate family in the war. In addition to the rooms provided, the garment manufacturers that had hired the tailors were requested to give their new employees an advance of $25.00 for married men and $15.00 for single men. This amount of money was deducted from their wages until it was paid back to the manufacturer.


The Tailor Project research team is interviewing tailors and their children to find out what happened to them, where their lives took them and how the second generation of immigrants faired in Canada. Through the research, the team has connected with 65 families that came to Canada through this initiative. The research team has interviewed families in Winnipeg, Toronto, and Montreal, the three main cities that tailors were sent to. During a trip to Winnipeg in early November, five families were interviewed. Many of the families’ stories will be shared in a book that Impakt Labs is writing. The Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada also had a collection of articles from the 1948 Congress Bulletin that covered this initiative.
The city of Winnipeg welcomed 193 tailors to Canada in 1948; including their families, this amounted to 342 individuals. Following upon the Tailor Project model, similar programs were able to bring over furriers and milliners, also leading to the creation of the Jewish Vocational Service of Toronto founded by Max Enkin.
The Tailor Project research team and the Max and Larry Enkin Family Foundation are so grateful that these families have welcomed us into their homes and their lives. It has been an honour to and privilege to speak with these families. If you, or someone you know may have come to Canada through the Tailor Project please connect with us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we would be happy to provide you with more information on the research.

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