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Finding the sister of missing Canadian pilot

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Sgt. Harry Black (Courtesy David Harris)

“Thank you for writing about my brother. He was my hero and I adored him.”

That is how Maxine Black Stromberg replied after an emotional telephone interview with me last week from Florida. I had reached her hours before my Canadian Jewish News cover story was published (Jan. 23). It describes a decades-long search for her brother, Sgt. Harry Black. We were too late to include it then, but now “Finding Blackie” has an epilogue.

Black Stromberg, now 89, was a child in Toronto when her brother was killed while serving as a pilot with the British Royal Air Force (RAF) overseas during the Second World War.

“That was a real trauma,” she said.

He was one of the nearly 450 Canadian Jews killed in that war.

Harry was a Harbord Collegiate graduate. He told friends his application to join the Royal Canadian Air Force was rejected because he was Jewish. His sister said Harry worked in the nickel mines in Sudbury, Ont., to make money, then went to New York City in the spring of 1939. As global tensions mounted, he found a cattle boat bound for England. Harry worked his way across the Atlantic, and joined up.

By July 1941, while ten-year-old Maxine spent her summer at Camp Naivelt, near Brampton, Ont., Harry was at the controls on his last mission to bomb Germany. He was declared “Missing in Action” on July 8. The plane and crew were never found.

“As far as I know, [he was] shot down,” Black Stromberg said.

A wartime friend of her brother’s from Toronto has some of the answers to Harry’s final days.

Decorated veteran Lorne Winer, now 102, spent a memorable leave with Black in Wales, although the date is fuzzy. Winer was with the Royal Canadian Artillery, and joined Black for a week at the home of a Jewish fur manufacturer in Cardiff.

After the trip, Winer sent some of their souvenir photos to Black’s base, but they were returned. Winer mailed the prints to Black’s family in Toronto. Winer wonders if they were lost to German submarine attacks on Allied shipping.

This week, after seeing a copy of Winer’s wartime photos, Black Stromberg is certain the man is her brother.

Her family didn’t immediately tell her the news of Harry’s death until the 1941 camp session was over, to “protect” her.

“I found out the day I was going home from camp,” she said. “I remember my poor father driving me home, hysterical.”

Harry Black was the oldest child of Barnett Black, who made and sold women’s hats at a store on Adelaide Street. Barnett had been a widower; after Harry’s mother had died, Black married again, and Maxine was Harry’s much younger half-sister.

Harry had been a star athlete at Harbord, and worked as sports director at Camp Naivelt. After his presumed death, camp friends built a wooden memorial in the form of an airplane wing. They dedicated the statue to “Blackie,” his nickname.

Black Stromberg has a photo of herself and her late father posing in front of it. After that, the death of her beloved Harry was not to be a topic for discussion.

“We are a family that didn’t talk,” Black Stromberg acknowledged. She did name a son after her brother. Harry Victor Sadoff, now 60, works as a screenwriter and producer in Los Angeles.

After their father’s death in 1984, Black Stromberg found a trove of papers from Harry’s military service, including her father’s correspondence with the families of Harry’s crew. Now, Black Stromberg has a mission when she returns home from Florida. Like many next-of-kin of Canada’s 17,000 Second World War Jewish veterans, she has “a box” at home.

“It might have some stuff,” she said, hopefully. She is also looking forward to connecting with her brother’s wartime friend, Lorne Winer.

“[Harry] was very personable. Everybody who knew him remembers him.”

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Last week’s cover story about Harry Black misidentified the designer of the memorial sculpture at Harbord Collegiate. It was designed by Morton Katz. The CJN regrets the error.

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