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Jack Ormut's long journey in search of home Print

Jack Ormut lives in Hong Kong but calls Israel home. Behind beautifully kind blue eyes there is a story of survival, of loss, of love, of pride, of strength and the story of a journey in search of home.

Jack was born in Tuszyn, Poland in November of 1926.  He remembers much of his childhood and describes his home that once was.  His small shtetl had a population of about 8,500, one third of who were Jewish. The Jewish community, of Tuszyn, came together to celebrate weddings and bar mitzvahs. They were simple but warm and joyous occasions.  On Saturday evenings several families would join each other for Havdalah.  They shared a meal of potatoes, beer from a cog and herring.

The children went to cheder and then onto the local public school.  Jack was the eldest of three children and also shared his home with his grandmother.  He recounts his family’s tradition on Shabbat of walking through the town to bring back cholent with his father.

Jack Ormut

The overall economic situation was bad in Poland for Jews and non-Jews alike. In order to earn more money his mother worked on a friend’s farm.  Jack went with her at 4 am to help  to   provide for his family during the food shortages.  His afternoons were spent in school.

In 1940, the family was forced to leave Jack’s childhood home behind.  In fact, his childhood ended that day.  The imperfect school that he had attended would become like a dream to him.  

The Third Reich had moved into Poland and created a divide between the Protectorate and the Third Reich. Tough times fell on everyone. The family relocated in the city of Piotrkow. They found a small, one bedroom flat in the ghetto.  In order to provide food for his family, Jack’s father smuggled food between the divide. He was caught by the Germans and shot.

At thirteen, Jack’s mother sent him back to their gentile friend’s farm where he worked, lived and hoped to remain safely hidden from the Jewish transports to the camps. The family feared for their safety and forced Jack to leave. He had no home, no where to go.  He was told only to head in the direction of the city.

Following a long and lonely journey that he barely survived, he returned to Piotrkow, where he had left his mother and two younger siblings in the small flat that they called ‘home’. He returned just in time for the last of a series of transports to the camps.  

The topic of his mother and siblings brings about an eerie silence, the silence that he would have found in that flat.

Jack realized that the people being herded along the main street were fellow Jews and he ran into a group being transported to a labor camp. He was hidden by a man who helped clean him up so that he would be able to work. This was his only chance for survival.

Jack slept in the crowded, infested barracks and worked long hours doing hard labor in a glass factory.  Days and nights were endless. Time lost all meaning for those who no longer had ownership of even a single second.

He remained in that camp for about one year and was then transported to Pionki where prisoners were forced to help in the manufacturing of bullets. There he lived for another year, struggling to survive. Old and young were separated early one morning.

He jumped into a hole outside the factory between some pipes.

Along with another young man they waited in hiding. When the final railcars rolled past, the eerie silence crept in again.  The sound when no one else is left.

Shortly after they were caught by German soldiers and loaded onto trucks, unaware that they were being transported to a camp outside Berlin. There they lived caged like animals, not given enough food to survive and purposely stripped of all human dignity.

For those that managed to survive, liberation finally came. A Russian, Jewish colonel gathered the Jews together and spoke Yiddish to them, the language of their buried childhoods.  

The colonel took them to a German house where they were fed, clothed and helped to rehabilitate. When they had regained enough strength to travel, they were all given clothing, suitcases, food, rubbles and “tickets home”.

Jack then made the long journey through Germany and back to Poland, back to the shtetl of his childhood. The voices had been silenced.  The cheder, the butcher shop, the grocer, the bakery, the shul were gone. The people were gone.

A stranger answered the door of the house he had lived in with his family and slammed the door in his face.  This was home no more- only a house stolen away.

He journeyed back towards the city and with nowhere else to go, he set off for Palestine on a program funded by international Jewish agencies. It was a long and secret transport through Europe followed by a difficult voyage at sea.

Upon arrival in Palestine, the weary survivors were taken by the British and placed in yet another camp. Unable to live another day as prisoners locked behind gates, along with a large group of young people, Jack participated in an organised escape. They were met up with prearranged transport  and were sent to live on several kibbutzim. It was here, on the kibbutz, that Jack met his future wife, Alice.

Like many brave young Jews, Jack left the kibbutz to fight with the Israeli army for independence.

Following his service in the army, fate led him to connect with his uncle, his father’s brother who had been living in the United States. As immigrating to America was difficult, Jack left Israel for Canada.  As he had promised, he sent for Alice and together they settled in Toronto. There they made a life for themselves and started a family. Jack worked long hours to support his young family and studied English and fashion design at night.

Jack, although himself was deprived of a proper, formal education, he knew that this was the means to raise himself up. He then pledged to instill this value in his children and their children to come.

Recognising the possibility of economic growth and expansion in the Far East, he repaid his debts and moved the family to Japan. They lived in Japan for four years and eventually made their way to Hong Kong.   

He is a true “citizen of the world”. He was forced to spend long days and nights in Poland and Germany, leaving with nothing but haunting nightmares. Jack arrived in Palestine and fought for the Jewish homeland. There he met Alice, the love of his life and wife of over fifty years.  

For Jack Ormut, home is the first place he has ever felt was worth fighting with his life for. It is the colour and geography of  his dreams. Home is where he met his love among his people and knew that he would return because a piece of his heart remains there.