By Valerie Sobel
(AJNews) – “Don’t think that standing here before you is a 95-year-old woman. In front of you is a 14-year-old girl whose life was taken away, who was left with no parents, no grandparents, no relatives, no one. Yet I had to go out into the world. And let me tell you…it’s a wonderful world!”
These were the opening words of an address by Holocaust survivor, Fania (Fanny) Wedro, to the University of Calgary graduating class of 2023. The lucky 1200-strong audience comprised of university leadership, honorees, students, their parents and friends, listened in pin-drop silence to the beautiful and wise woman at the microphone. Fania delivered an 8-minute speech to inspire the graduating students to not only “spread light into the world” but to “cherish and respect their country.” A long standing ovation followed. Ten minutes prior, the jam-packed Jack Simpson Gymnasium watched as the University of Calgary Chancellor, John Cornish, awarded Fania Wedro an Honorary Doctorate Degree of Laws.
She was only 14 years old in Koretz, Ukraine/Poland, when the Nazis and their collaborators shot her mother along with most of the 5000-strong Jewish population of that town, quickly burying them in mass graves. “She’s 16!” her mother fibbed just before her imminent death when a Nazi officer inquired about Fania’s age. This was Chaya Elman’s last attempt to save her daughter and it worked; Fania was selected for manual labour to shovel dirt over the mass graves where her own mother’s body lay lifeless.
In months and years to come, Fania managed to escape a fire-engulfed ghetto, took refuge in empty graves, and hid in a forest, cold and sick with no food or water.
Immigrating to Edmonton in 1948 as a domestic servant, Fania worked as a maid for a number of years. She married and raised two children. With her husband, fellow Holocaust survivor, Leo Wedro z”l, Fania went on to own drug stores and, eventually, the Cascade Inn in the city of Banff. Together with her beloved Leo, Fania became a notable builder of Alberta, taking immense pride in contributing to and driving various Canadian projects and causes. The couple became one of western Canada’s leading entrepreneurs and established the Wedro Holocaust Foundation in Calgary.
Today, Fania Wedro funds the efforts of Father Patrick Desbois (France) in uncovering mass graves, where roughly 1.8M Ukranian/Polish Jews anonymously fell to their death in the Holocaust by nazi bullets. Fania has been a key-note speaker at the annual Holocaust Symposiums at Mount Royal University for the last 41 years. She is also a founding member and philanthropist behind Magen David Adom Canada (Calgary Chapter), raising funds for Israel’s only blood bank and emergency services.
As a natural leader and a tireless Holocaust educator, Fania led multiple groups of high school students and adults on “March of The Living” missions through Europe’s death camps. She last led the mission when she was 86 years young.
In awarding Fania Wedro the Honorary Doctorate Degree in Laws, the President of the University of Calgary, Dr. Ed McCauley, thanked Fania for her dedication in promoting Holocaust education. “A leading philanthropist and speaker, Fania has given back to the community with a lifetime of volunteerism, speaking to schools, community groups and government officials about her horrific Holocaust experience,” he remarked. (Fania’s entire June 2nd, 2023 convocation address and the awarding ceremony can be viewed at 1:30:30 mark here: https://www.ucalgary.ca/graduation/convocation/ceremony-day/convocation-livestream-and-videos)
Fania Wedro, who speaks seven languages fluently, quotes Pushkin poetry perfectly, and offers encyclopedic insights into Judaism, history and current events, often laments about her lack of formal education. Busy dodging bullets and camp deportations to survive the greatest tragedy in human history, at 95, she finally received the honour long overdue. Dr. Fania Wedro was nominated to receive the honorary doctorate by two independent entries – the first in the history of University of Calgary. With her usual humbleness, Fania comments, “I don’t know what I did to deserve this.”
We congratulate Dr. Fanny Wedro on a life of resilience, purpose, contribution and devotion to Holocaust education. We share her joy and commend her for her unwavering commitment to Israel and Jewish causes as she gets ready to celebrate her 96th birthday.