Jack Buchman

Never Too Late

Felicia’s Carmelly’s educational journey has included her earning a PhD in counselling psychology followed by graduating with an elementary school diploma. That is just one of the facts that make up the remarkable life of Felicia Carmelly.

Felicia Carmelly was born in the fall of 1931 to Isaac and Laura Steigman in the town of Vatra Dornei, a beautiful tourist resort in Romania.

Felicia’s childhood was pleasant and peaceful until 1939, when WWII broke out. In October 1941, Felicia, her parents, and the other Jews of Dornei were loaded into cattle cars that were covered with fresh manure, standing room only. They had no idea where they were being taken. After three miserable days, they reached a little town on the shores of the river Dniester.

Felicia and the others were herded onto a big barge to be transported across the river, but many never made it across; they were either pushed into the deep tumultuous river and drowned or shot to death. Felicia, 10 years old, and the other survivors were marched through the interior of Transnistria, in South-Western Ukraine.

The family carried bags of clothing on their backs as they slogged through the clay mud, one plodding foot at a time.

The roads were full of cadavers from previous convoys. They walked through various towns and villages. After three days, the survivors, by now emaciated and exhausted, reached a shanty town where the inhabitants lived in absolute squalor. A de-facto ghetto, the town, under the local command of Ukrainian and Romanian collaborators, was where many Jews died of starvation, freezing, diseases, slave labour, and shootings.

Felicia’s family found shelter with a local Ukrainian Jewish family. They survived by exchanging their clothing for food. A pair of pants got them a dozen eggs, while a nightgown garnered a bag of beans. Gasoline was an item of great value, as Felicia’s mother needed it to delouse Felicia’s hair.

Of the Jews of Dornei who were deported in October ‘41, two-thirds perished by May of ‘42. In all, Felicia Carmelly lost thirty-six family members.

In 1957, Felicia’s family applied to immigrate to Israel. The two years that Felicia spent in Israel were the best of her life; she felt welcomed and learned to live without fear.

Because Felicia’s parents could not adapt to the climate and the language, the Carmelly family decided to move to Canada in the summer of 1961. Felicia quickly learned English from TV and graduated from McGill University. She worked as a social worker at Jewish Family and Child Services in Montreal, a program director at Holy Blossom Temple, and at the Federal Department of Employment and Immigration.

At the age of fifty, Felicia earned her Ph.D.in counselling psychology, and, at the age of eighty, she graduated from Bialik Hebrew Day School with an Elementary School diploma, after failing to acquire one during the chaotic years of the Holocaust.

Felicia has authored an award-winning book titled 50 Years of Silence, History and Voices of the Tragedy in Romania and Transnistria and another titled Across the Rivers of Memory. As an educator who speaks several languages, Felicia has frequently lectured in different countries to students and adults about the Holocaust and psychological issues.