Holocaust survivor combats racism in schools
Women's Resources Centre program director is recognized for contributions to
by Daria Wojnarski staff writer
Ruth Sigal's bete noire is racism.
Her young sister was a victim of it. She nearly was.
Sigal, a registered psychologist and program director of the UBC Women's
Resources Centre, is a Holocaust survivor.
She almost didn't survive. While in a Jewish ghetto in Lithuania, the then
seven-year-old girl and her younger sister were put on a truck bound for
Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp in Poland. Sigal was saved, however,
through the efforts of a distant relative.
A German commandant, who owed the relative a favour, released her because she
was old enough to work. Her sister wasn't as fortunate.
Worried that they would also lose Ruth, her parents smuggled her out of the
ghetto to a Christian Lithuanian family. After the war, she was reunited with
her parents and moved to Canada.
Today, she fights racism through education in B.C.'s schools.
Volunteering her time, often on evenings and weekends when she could be doing
something else, Sigal describes the fearful events of her early life and alerts
young people to the price of discrimination and intolerance.
She, along with 54 other Holocaust survivors, was recently honoured in Ottawa
for her contributions to Canadian society by the government and Zachor, an
umbrella name which includes such organizations as B'nai Brith Canada and the
Canadian Jewish Congress.
Two other UBC professors were also recognized: Psychology Prof. Peter
Suedfeld, and Asian Studies Prof. Emeritus Rene Goldman. Psychiatry Prof.
Emeritus Robert Krell was honoured last year.
"I'm very honoured and proud that our government recognizes the contribution of
Holocaust survivors, especially since Canada's doors were closed to Jewish
refugees in 1939," says Sigal.
Sigal was nominated for her work at the Women's Resources Centre.
The centre is a downtown community-based service of UBC Continuing
Studies that offers personal and career planning and development for
women and men. Next September it will move from its current Robson Street
location to become part of UBC at Robson Square.
Programs at the centre are facilitated by professional counsellors and
instructors. Sixty volunteers, many of whom are UBC alumni, donate their
"We've saved thousands of dollars as a result of the time they've given. And
many have stayed with the centre for 15 to 20 years. There's no other centre in
Canada that uses faculty and students and is situated in the community," says
Sigal, who's been with the centre almost 25 years.
More than 25,000 people visit the centre each year.