TORONTO — Gerald Ziedenberg, 72, gets his inspiration from the English prime minister Winston Churchill.
“I never give up,” said Ziedenberg, a retired pharmacist, and author of a memoir, Inspiration Through Adversity.
Born with an arm defect known as Erb’s palsy, Ziedenberg, is a husband, father and grandfather, who had a long career with Shoppers Drug Mart, and kept active running marathons and often bicycling more than 100 miles a day.
“Just as I was approaching retirement, though, I [was struck with] osteoarthritis,” he said. After six major surgeries on his hip and back, “compounded by my arm defect, [I] had to curtail all physical activities.
“I had to give everything up and transform my life,” he added. “It was a sea change. At first I would start to cry when I saw people running.”
Always passionate about history, Zidenberg said he went into pharmacy to make a living. “Like most children of immigrant parents, that was the priority.”
Needing to find a new outlet, he enrolled at the University of Toronto and eventually earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history. “I had lived through a lot of the things we discussed in class.”
Although his parents were not Holocaust survivors, he said, they both lost their families in the war.
He loved studying, he said. “I went to class with a walker, in a wheelchair and with canes – whatever it took. I was determined not to give up.”
He received his bachelor’s degree in 2003, he said, and then had surgery. “It took my three sons to get me to my graduation, but I got there. The university provided a lift for me to get onto the stage.
“My oldest son teaches at U of T part time, so he was able to ‘hood’ me. Parents often hood their children at a graduation, but not usually the opposite. It was certainly a special moment I’ll always cherish.”
It took him about 1-1/2 years to write his memoir by longhand, he said. The last chapter is a reprint of his master’s thesis, titled The Successful Integration of Holocaust Survivors into Postwar Canada, 1945-1955.
“I’ve written another book, Blockade: The Story of Jewish Immigration to Palestine: 1933-1948, and am now working on a third book about epic trials in Jewish history.”
In Florida for the winter, Ziedenberg teaches a class in modern history at Florida Gulf Coast University. “I give 30 lectures over the winter. I used to spend my time in Florida bicycling. Now I do this
“So many people face problems. They need to occupy themselves and not give up. Just keep going.”