Family History

Human kindness, compassion, common decency

As the child of a Holocaust survivor, I have been raised under the weight of the idea that I am alive only because of selfless human kindness. If not for Julia, Jozef and Janina Bar, my father's family would surely have been shot or transported to Belzec to die in a gas chamber.

The horrors of the Holocaust are, unfortunately, replayed again and again in trouble spots around the world as genocidal hysteria grips nations. The only thing we have keeping us in check is the ancestral memory of the consequences of intolerance when it is allowed to permeate through a society.

The story of the survival of the Riesenbachs is but one story among thousands of stories of the victims of the Holocaust. Most will never be told. I created this Website as a historical record and communication channel for the sake of my children, and the children of others who care about the survival of the Jewish people.

It is my obligation and my honour to record my family's story.

-- Ron Riesenbach

Why Do I Capture and Preserve My Family's History?

In 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of our friends (the "Davisville Chaverim") created a weekly tradition of getting together on Saturday evenings by videoconference to chat, share and ensure we stayed connected with one another. In the fall of that year, we started something called "Chaverim University" where one of our group would present to the others about their profession/passion/hobbies.

On October 10th, I prepared and delivered a presentation on my passion to record and preserve my family's history.  The 40-minute video (to the left) is the recording of my presentation.

You can also Download the PowerPoint presentation

The Story of the Survival of the Riesenbach Family

Joe Riesenbach’s recollection of his youth, his family, the war, liberation and his emigration to Canada.

Annotated with references and links.

Joe's Story of the Survival of the Riesenbach Family

Riesenbach family home in Markowa, Poland circa 1950

Interview: Jacob Riesenbach

Jacob (Yakel) Riesenbach responds to questions during a 1991 interview by holocaust researchers Leah and Shloime Yunger.

The interview was conducted at the summer cottage of his daughter Marion and was done in English but at times, the conversation diverts to Yiddish. 

Joe Riesenbach Shoah History Interviews

Joe became active in Holocaust education in his adult years, as he became more able to deal with the emotions and the memory of his survival. He presented at community forums, gave talks in schools and to youth groups, was a leader in the formation of the Holocaust museum at the Rady Centre and gave many interviews to Holocaust historians.  Three of the interviews are presented here.

The first interview below is a professionally produced program called "Silent Echos", created by Sunburst Productions, in collaboration with OMNI Television and the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg in 2006.  The producers interviewed 24 survivors, including Joe.

The second interview below took place in 1989 lead by a group called "Holocaust Committee" (the note on the VHS tape).  The interviewer was Harold Soskowich and was held at the CKND TV studio in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The third interview below was given to Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. The interview took place in March 1997 at Joe and Ruth’s condo in Hallendale, Florida. The Interviewer was Lenore Weinstein with Abraham Olman operating the camera.

Silent Echos: 2006 Documentary

Holocaust Committee: 1989 Interview

Part 1

Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation

Part 2

Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation

Part 3

Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation

Audio Interview with Jakob (Yakel) Riesenbach

Ron Riesenbach’s October 1986 interview with Jacob Riesenbach. Jacob recalls life prior to the Nazi occupation, life under the occupation, the harrowing months and years in hiding and the liberation and emigration from Poland.

Jacob Riesenbach
Janina Bar (Riesenbach family saviour) meeting Joe Riesenbach at their home in Markowa, Poland, September 2000

Mission to Poland, September 2000

A multi-media travelogue detailing a journey of remembrance back to the village of his birth in Poland in the fall of 2000. Accompanying Joe on this journey was his wife Ruth, his son Ron, and cousins from Argentina Natalio and Anna Anmuth and their son and daughter-in-law Gabi and Marisa Anmuth.

Mission to Poland, September 2000

Janina Letter English20181125.pdf

Letter of Recollection by Janina Bar

This letter from Janina Czarnota (nee Bar) was originally written in the year 2000. It was directed to a Polish government funded organization called the Jewish Historical Institute. It was translated from Polish to English in the spring of 2018 by a Toronto-area Polish-speaking woman ("Eva") that my cousin Sherry has befriended and who now acts as our communication agent.

Janina Czarnota (nee Bar) passed away on May 9th, 2005 after a long battle with cancer. Our family continues to be in contact with the descendants of the Bar family, primarily through Maria - Janina's daughter. Sherry has taken over as coordinator from Ruth and Joe and now organizes our annual collection where all the Riesenbach children, spouses and grand-children pool money and send it to Maria and her children at Christmas. 

Controversy over the Beatification of the Ulma Family in Markowa

In late 1942, farmers Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma and their six young children hid eight Jews in their farmhouse in the village of Markowa. They were betrayed by a Polish policeman and executed along with the Jewish people they were hiding. The family were beatified by the Catholic church in a ceremony on September 10, 2023 in the town of Markowa.  I have no problem with the Polish nation and the Catholic church celebrating the deeds of the Ulma family. However, the context for their act of heroism are being distorted for political and nationalistic reasons.

The hard fact is that the Ulma family's humanity and heroism was a tiny exception in the otherwise hostile state of Polish-Jewish relations before, during and after WWII.  Most Polish citizens did not save their Jewish neighbors; far from it. Clear historical documentation and first-hand testimony support the fact that many, poisoned by centuries of anti-semitism, stood by and watched the horror unfold. Others participated in the expulsions and murders.

In memory of my father, grandparents and aunts who cowered in fear for 2-years worried that their Polish neighbors would turn them in, I have to confront this distortion of facts. 

The current right-wing Polish government ("Law and Justice Party") is attempting to use the story of the Ulma's attempted rescue of Jews to bolster national pride by downplaying the sad truths about the behaviour of the vast majority of Polish citizens towards their Jewish neighbors.  The critical context is missing or diluted in the Ulma Family museum displays, the beatification ceremony and the official communications of the Polish authorities. The authorities are trying to use the exception of the Ulma family to obscure the tragic general case.

One cannot fully appreciate the redeeming glow of a candle unless one first understands the darkness that it dispels.

A news story about the Ulmas, with only a hint of the true state of Polish-Jewish relations during the war, can be watched below:

Letter of Invitation to the Ulma Family Beatification Ceremony

This is a letter Ron Riesenbach received from Polish cultural authorities regarding a religious ceremony they were planning in Joe Riesenbach birth village -- Markowa in September, 2023. The ceremony was to honor the Ulma Family, a family of gentiles who hid Jews during the war, but were betrayed and murdered, along with the Jews they were hiding. 

Ron Riesenbach's Letter of Response to the Invitation

This is the letter of response that I sent back declining to attend and providing my reasons. I am indebted to Professor Jan Grabowski of the University of Ottawa for helping me decide whether or not to attend by providing me with important historical context and a snap-shot of the revisionist historical narrative currently being promoted by the Polish Government.

20230620 Letter from Podkarpackie Region - English.pdf
Ron Riesenbach Response to Podkarpackie Region Invitation.pdf

Polish TV News Coverage at the Beatification Ceremony, September 10, 2023

Financial Times Article About the Beatification Quoting Ron Riesenbach

Polish family’s beatification for sheltering Jews stirs election controversy _ Financial Times.pdf

Riesenbach Family Torah

Among the few possessions the Riesenbach brought out of Poland to Canada was a Torah. The town of Markowa did not have enough Jews to warrant the building of a synagogue, so a room in the Riesenbach home was used to house the community Torah and for community prayer. After emigrating and living a few years in Canada, the Torah was given (loaned?) to a Toronto synagogue.

This is a recounting of the time in January of 1998 when we tried to locate this Torah.

Argentinian Newspaper Article Covering Mission to Poland

Argentinian newspaper story covering the mission to Poland from the perspective of Gabi and Marisa.

Spanish - <link coming soon >

Machine translated into English - <link coming soon>

The Ring

Written by Ruth Riesenbach in 1995

Ruth's recollection of her first encounter and growing relationship with Jack and Ida Augenbraun. Jack was a first cousin to Ita Riesenbach. Both survived the Holocaust and made their way to Winnipeg in the 1950s. When Jack died, Ruth took Ida under her wing and cared for her until she passed away.

The Ring - by Ruth Riesenbach 1995

1978: Jacob and Ita's 50th Anniversary Celebration

A digitized audio recording of the 1978 celebration of Ita and Jacob's 50th Wedding Anniversary, held in Toronto:

Canadian Jewish News Article Covering Joe’s Mission to Poland

December 2000 article in the Canadian Jewish News reporting on Joe’s meeting with Janina Bar and her family.

<link coming soon>

Descendants of Chaim Hersh Feldmouse (Feldmaus) and Chaiya Shayndle Riesenbach

Family Tree - Download PDF