Son’s memoir recounts dad’s wartime heroism

Many Holocaust survivors are reluctant to talk about what they went through during the war, but not Mark Scharf’s father.

Bernard Scharf was a survivor who saved 55 people during the war. Mark Scharf recently published an account of his father’s wartime experiences in a book titled Courage.

“Rightly or wrongly, I was exposed to my father’s telling of his experiences to me from my earliest memory as a child,” said Scharf, who is a lawyer in Barrie, Ont.,

“I realized much later that this was because he was proud of what he did to save himself and a total of 55 people, including some of the members of his family,” he said.

“I was too young and too naive to really understand the significance of what my father was telling me. I didn’t appreciate, at the time, the heroic nature of what he did and what he went through.”

In the late 1970s, Scharf began recording his father’s experiences. “He said that he wanted his children and grandchildren to have his written history of his experiences in the war,” Scharf said.

Bernard Scharf was born in 1914 in the village of Maidan Pynanski, in part of what was then Poland, formerly known as Galicia.

Courage begins with Bernard’s childhood and his experiences as a soldier during the war. He was in an anti-tank unit in the Polish army. He was on manoeuvres around Zlochev, Poland, in August 1939 when his regiment was ordered back to barracks in Zlochev on Aug. 28.

He returned to his family’s farm, and eventually he and his family went into hiding from the Nazis in the forest with other Jews. The 55 people consisted of family he convinced to flee with him into the forest and stragglers who stumbled into the encampments from time to time.

In the book, Mark Scharf notes that aside from the possibility of being killed at any time and living in fear of that happening, “the physical effort to protect and feed many people on a daily basis was enormous.”

As an example, while his father and the others were in hiding, his father would walk some 10 miles or more nightly in the snow, he said, without snowshoes, carrying heavy loads of food, together with a rifle and ammunition, through hostile conditions to bring supplies to the people he was caring for in the forest.

Bernard Scharf died in 1986 after suffering from dementia. Only recently, after Mark Scharf’s mother died, did his sister, Esther Mandelbaum, find her father’s notes. That is when Scharf decided to turn the notes into a book.

“For whatever reason, the true significance of my father’s survival and heroic rescue of his extended family and others from the Nazi killing machine did not sink in until sometime after his death,” he said.

Scharf told The CJN that his father believed it was important for his family, particularly his grandchildren, to understand his father’s history, so that they could appreciate what he went through to come to a place like Canada, where they were safe and could prosper.

“I now more than ever appreciate his struggles and the self-sacrificing dimension of his personality. I believe others in the Jewish community might appreciate and be heartened by his story as well,” Scharf said.

Copies of Courage, which includes pictures, are available by emailing [email protected] or calling 1-705-487-1990.