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Louis Lenkinski

LENKINSKI, LOUIS (1921–1995), resistance fighter, trade union activist, and human rights advocate. Lenkinski was born in Lodz, Poland, into a working-class, Yiddishist family. In his youth he was drawn to socialism and joined the *Bund, which was dedicated to the creation of a classless society in which Jews would be accepted as full and equal citizens. With the establishment of the Lodz ghetto in 1940, Lenkinski became an underground courier and Bund organizer. While his family was deported to the death camps, he managed to survive until the liquidation of the ghetto in 1944. He was deported to a labor camp in Czestochowa, where he was liberated by the Soviet forces. After the war he met and married a fellow Lodzer, Helen Offman, and in 1950, under the auspices of the Jewish Labor Committee, they left Europe for Canada with their baby son. They settled in Toronto, where their second son was born.

Lenkinski became an upholsterer. Although his formal education was halted by the war, Lenkinski was an autodidact, immersing himself in history and politics, and becoming a prolific writer and lecturer in Yiddish, Polish, and English. True to his roots, he became a trade union organizer and active in the Ontario Labour Congress where he eventually became executive assistant to the OLC secretary. Lenkisnski was an active supporter of the New Democratic Party and a mentor to a generation of its leaders at the provincial and federal level. Also active in the Canadian Polish Congress, in 1970 Lenkinski became the Solidarity movement's representative in Canada. His belief in building bridges between Poles and Jews of Polish origin in Canada led to the establishment of the Polish Jewish Heritage Foundation of Canada. In his last years, Lenkinski was associate chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and chair of the Community Relations Committee of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Ontario Region.

Lenkinski died after a lifetime of devotion to justice and human rights and is remembered as an inspiration to three generations of political and social activists. His tireless insistence on historical accuracy and his refusal to assign collective responsibility, blame and guilt for the heinous crimes of the Holocaust, have challenged historians to examine the roots and complexities of Polish-Jewish relations.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.