‘Hero for me’: family pays tribute to 100-year-old World War II veterinarian who died from COVID-19 in Toronto

'Hero for me': family pays tribute to 100-year-old World War II veterinarian who died from COVID-19 in Toronto

When World War II veteran Zaima Rozenberg first immigrated to Toronto almost 30 years ago, his first job was to care for an elderly man.

It was an appropriate role for Rozenberg with his thoughtful and caring personality, but also ironic.

He was 70 years old himself.

However, Rozenberg walked an hour to and from work and was paid $ 5 an hour.

“He was so proud to be able to support his family,” said his eldest daughter Galina Svechinsky to CBC Toronto.

Family was extremely important to Rozenberg, as it was to them. That’s why not being at his bedside when he died of COVID-19 on Tuesday was one of the most difficult aspects of his death, his family said. Many hospitals have adopted a policy prohibiting visitors from protecting patients, staff and others during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Zaima Rozenberg with her two daughters Inessa Olshansky, on the left, and Galina Svechinsky, on the right. (Submitted / Gregory Olshansky)

“It was heartbreaking,” said her youngest daughter, Inessa Olshansky. “No one could at least hold her hand and say, ‘We are around you, we love you so much, keep fighting.'”

Olshansky’s son and Rozenberg’s grandson, Gregory Olshansky, said that Rozenberg was feeling well before developing shortness of breath on Friday. His family took him to North York General Hospital, where he tested positive for COVID-19.

Four days later, he died of the virus.

“It’s so difficult,” said Svechinsky. “We can no longer accept that he is no longer with us.”

Rozenberg’s family believes he caught the virus through community transmission; he did not go out much and was not with someone who had recently traveled, but he did come into contact with caregivers who visited him at his seniors’ complex near Bathurst Street and Sheppard Avenue

“Weird” but “comforting”: funeral organized on video chat

Practicing the rules of social distancing, his family held his funeral Thursday through an online video chat. A rabbi performed a traditional video service and Rozenberg was buried next to his wife who died 14 years ago.

If social distancing rules had not been applied, the family said the service would have been much more important than the dozen family members online.

Gregory Olshansky and his grandfather Zaima Rozenberg, who, according to Olshansky, taught him to be humble and honorable. (Submitted / Gregory Olshansky)

“It was really strange, but it was also a little comforting to see that the whole family was on the call and we were able to talk and share stories,” said Gregory.

Serving during World War II

Rozenberg was born in May 1919 in a small Ukrainian village. His exact date of birth is an estimate, but his daughters believe he would have turned 101 on May 20.

Zaima Rozenberg joined the Soviet Red Army as a young adult and fought against Nazi Germany serving in the anti-aircraft unit in Azerbaijan, according to his family. (Submitted / Gregory Olshansky)

According to his family, he enlisted in the Soviet Red Army as a young adult and fought Nazi Germany in the anti-aircraft unit in Azerbaijan.

After the war ended, he moved across the Soviet Union in search of employment as a general laborer. He finally settled in Latvia, married his love Fania and had two daughters.

A few months before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the family immigrated to Canada and settled in Toronto and grew up to include four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Svechinsky said his father had very little education and would study his math lessons from the first year so that he could learn with her.

“Life was so difficult for him. But he raised two daughters with all his love.”

Positive, humble, honorable

Even at 100 years of age, Rozenberg’s mind remained alive, his family said. He remained curious and enjoyed discussing politics and world events. They say he could talk to anyone on any subject, but always reminded his family to be diplomatic and respectful.

“He was always a hero to me and he showed me how to be a real honorable man and champion of life, and also to be humble,” said Gregory. “[He would say] “You must have a strong opinion but always respect the opinion of others and listen with your ears open.” “

His family said they will remember Rozenberg as positive, always smiling, humble and honorable.

He was popular in his retirement home and in the larger community. He carried sweets and treats in his pocket in case he encountered children and dogs in the neighborhood.

“The little things that make our world very special,” said Olshansky.

Zaima Rozenberg and his wife Fania immigrated to Toronto with their two daughters in 1991. (Submitted / Gregory Olshansky)

Olshansky said that Rozenberg had always thought of others and wanted to help. Although he uses a wheelchair, he liked to stay busy and see his family every week. In the final weeks of his life, he mentioned wanting to see his grandson again, needing to congratulate his granddaughter on his new home, and talked about having his apartment repainted.

“[He had] this will to fight for life, to be well and to be with the dearest people in her life, “she said.

“This is a great example for all of us.”

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