Although Zahava Baum's earliest memory was of huddling in her mother's arms in a cold cellar while Cossacks pillaged their family home, she did not let that experience, or the loss and displacement she experienced during the Holocaust, to colour her view of humanity. Throughout her life, Zahava, who was born August 15, 1918, was consistently kind, generous, proper and positive and had a strong sense of right and wrong.
Zahava's father, Ben Zion Slutzky, as well as her paternal grandfather and great grandfather, were estate managers for a noble family in the town of Dombrovitza, in what was then Poland and is now Ukraine. Her family was close-knit, sophisticated and, initially, well off. They had an orchard and a telephone, and her four much older siblings received a secular education and were left-wing modern Zionists.
Life changed for Zahava when her father died when she was just five. She was able to attend the Tarbut School, where she learned impeccable Hebrew, but by the time she was a teenager, the family money was gone and she was forced to abandon her gymnasium studies. The fact that she could not complete high school, bothered Zahava her entire life.
When Zahava was in her late teens, she was set to move to Israel with her Shomer Hatzair group, but was turned away at the border because of an eye infection. It was the one and only time in her life that she had an eye infection.
In 1939, Dombrovitza fell under Russian control, and in 1941 it was overtaken by the Nazis. Zahava's mother urged her daughter to flee and packed the family photo albums in Zahava's knapsack. The knapsack was stolen at the train station, but fortunately, after the war, Zahava was able to gather photos of her early life from her friends in Israel.
Zahava spent the remaining war years in Tajikistan in the far eastern regions of Russia. She was assigned to manage a pig farm, worrying constantly that she would be killed by the Soviets for not delivering enough meat to the army.
She immediately lost track of her family, later discovering that in 1942, her mother and three of her siblings had been among the 16,000 Jews who were forced to dig their own graves and were shot by Ukrainians outside the town of Sarny. Only her brother Joseph survived in hiding, eventually resettling in Winnipeg. He was a kind man who helped Zahava and her young family when they later moved to Canada too.
Zahava seldom spoke about her experiences in Russia, except to say she became extremely thin and that the Russian regime was terrible, but the people were kind and generous. After learning the fate of her family, Zahava made her way to a Displaced Persons camp in Bratislava, where the woman she shared a bunk with died of typhus in the middle of the night.
Zahava met Avraham Baum at the camp, married him and eventually, after being interned in Cyprus, moved to Israel with him. In Israel, she reconnected with her Shomer Hatzair friends, and settled at Kibbutz Yagur. Her daughter Amalia (Emily Shane), named for her mother, was born in neighbouring Haifa in 1948.
Zahava did not like being separated from her baby on kibbutz, and, in general, found living in Israel more difficult than she had anticipated. She and Avraham left the kibbutz when Emily was a few months old, and lived in Holon for a short time. In 1952 she convinced Avraham to check out life in Winnipeg, where her brother was living. Avraham reluctantly agreed, and they ended up remaining in Canada for the rest of their lives.
In Winnipeg, Zahava diligently studied English and became a private Hebrew tutor for Jewish students. She tried to get a job in a school, but the fact that she had not finished gymnasium made her ineligible. Her second daughter, Carol (Baum), was born in 1954.
Zahava began working full time with Avraham when he purchased a grocery store in St. Boniface. Sunday was her only day off, but she spent the day cooking and doing household chores. She valued cleanliness and orderliness, likely because so much of her life had been out of her control. She had not done any chores as a child, as her family always had a farm girl to do the housework.
In spite of struggling with health issues much of her life, Zahava sewed her daughters' clothes for years, embroidered, pressed flowers, read the Jewish Forward every day and remained fluent in several languages. She was an active member of Pioneer Women, the Peretz School muter farein and the Sherut Haplita, which raised funds for youth villages in Israel. She was proud of being Jewish and maintained a traditional Jewish home, celebrating Shabbat and the Yom Tovim and passing those traditions on to her children and grandchildren.
After selling the store, Zahava and Avraham moved to Edmonton, where he purchased a hotel, and they lived there for 30 years. They had an active social life, were comfortable, and travelled often, especially to Israel, Hawaii, and Toronto and Winnipeg where their daughters and grandchildren lived. They moved back to Winnipeg when Zahava became ill and she passed away in 2004. Her headstone bears the names of her mother and siblings murdered in the Holocaust.