Olga Ornstein, the mother of Frank Ornstein. Frank gave his friend, George Szasz, his mother’s ring, which George is hoping to sell to fund a scholarship in the Ornstein family’s name. (photo from Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver)
Last summer, community member George Szasz approached the Jewish Community Foundation, hoping to establish a scholarship endowment fund to honour a dear friend’s memory. The friend, Frank Ornstein, z”l, survived the Holocaust and eventually immigrated to Vancouver. With no children or living family members to speak of, Frank bequeathed a family ring saved from the Holocaust to George, which George is hoping to sell to fund a scholarship in the Ornstein family’s name.
Lipot and Olga Ornstein, both of blessed memory, were an affluent couple in the Hungarian city of Szeged and doted on their only son, Frank. Born in 1924, Frank grew from a skilled boy scout to a star athlete with a wide range of friends. They lived peacefully with their non-Jewish neighbours, and Frank began dating a non-Jewish girl.
Even as anti-Jewish sentiment grew around them, the city’s residents lived amiably together. It was a shock when laws mandated division by 1943. Jews, including the Ornsteins, were evicted from their homes, stripped of their property and segregated in ghettos. As a fit 19-year-old, Frank was sent away to a labour camp. Lipot and Olga were forced onto an overcrowded cattle car without food or water for a three-day journey to a concentration camp in Austria.
Life in the camp was grim. Lipot and Olga wrote Frank postcards, holding onto hope that, after the war, the family would be reunited and return to their life in Szeged. In March 1945, the camp buzzed with news that Russian soldiers were near and the captives desperately hoped for liberation. The day before the soldiers arrived, however, German guards marched the camp’s prisoners, including Lipot and Olga, to a local gym and blew them up.
Frank was liberated from the labour camp and, in late 1945, returned to Szeged, sick but alive. There, he found out that his parents, and most of the city’s Jewish residents, would never return. Frank’s girlfriend’s family had secretly stored some of his parents’ valuables, including his mother’s diamond ring, and returned them to him: memories of a life that had vanished.
Realizing life in Szeged would never be the same, Frank took his few possessions and family mementoes and immigrated to Israel. In Israel, he trained as an airplane mechanic and found both a love and an affinity for the trade. He worked for Israel’s El Al Airlines and immigrated to Vancouver in the late 1950s, as a chief mechanic for Canadian Pacific Airlines and, later, Air Canada.
After Frank’s death in 2006, George was bequeathed the Ornstein family’s mementoes. Frank’s life was marked by trials and resilience, and George is determined to honour the Ornstein family’s history and heritage. Of the Ornstein family keepsakes, Frank’s mother’s ring is of particular value, appraised at between $30,000 and $50,000, and George is determined to sell the ring to establish a yearly scholarship for deserving Israeli students studying Frank’s life passion: airplane mechanics.
If you are interested in assisting George to create the Ornstein family legacy, contact Marcie Flom, director of the Jewish Community Foundation, at [email protected].
This article was originally published by Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver in e-Yachad and is reprinted with permission.