Jewish Telegraph, June 2012
GARY Lee Weinrib was an angry youngster. Angry at the people who had put his parents through unbelievable horrors in the Holocaust.
Gary, who later became rock legend Geddy Lee, grew up hearing horrific tales of his parents’ time in concentration camps.
The Rush frontman told me: “My parents — especially my mum — were never shy to talk about what happened to them during the war. My dad not so much.
“It gave me plenty of nightmares, that’s for sure. I had a lot of anger as a child towards the people who had done that to them. It’s hard to listen to a tough life that your parents had.
“You want to make life easier for them, but then you go through teenage hell and become a pain in the ass to them anyway.
“It’s a teenager’s job to rebel against their parents. After I had moved out of home and gone my own way, I appreciated more what they had gone through and I was able to see them more clearly as people.”
Geddy’s mother, Manya (Mary) Rubenstein, was liberated from Bergen-Belsen in April, 1945, while his father, Morris Weinrib, was rescued from Dachau.
The pair didn’t know each other when they were intially interned in a labour camp in their hometown of Staracohwice, Poland, in 1941.
They were sent to Auschwitz, before being shipped off to Bergen-Belsen and Dachau, respectively.
The couple were reunited after the war and lived in the officers’ quarters of Bergen-Belsen after it was turned into a displaced-persons camp. They were also among 2,000 couples who married in the camp after liberation.
In 1947, Manya and Morris emigrated to Toronto, where Geddy was born six years later.
They had headed to Toronto as Morris had a sister who had escaped there before the war.
“My dad’s side lost almost everybody,” Geddy said. “He had eight brothers and sisters. He lost his parents and I think only one brother and one sister survived.
“My mother was luckier in a sense because she lost her father, but her brother, sister and mother were all survivors.”
In 1995, Geddy, his older sister and younger brother accompanied their mother back to Germany for a ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen.
The family visited Manya’s hometown and saw the house in which she was raised.
“I wanted to go to Germany for the anniversary,” Geddy said. “And my mother wanted to go back. She felt it was important. It was an opportunity for my brother, sister and myself to be there with her, to support her and learn about that time of her life — and hopefully give her some sense of closure, which I think it did.
“It didn’t make me feel more or less Jewish than I felt before. I was certainly proud to stand there with my mother and I was very proud of her for surviving that.
“I felt sad at the loss of so many family members, but it is just a lesson of life that you take with you and count your blessings. It makes you aware of how lucky you are.”
He added: “Many times my parents were close to death in the camps. It was a terrible existence for five years. I don’t think I would have survived as well as she did.
“She’s a strong woman and I have total respect for her strength and respect for my grandmother who was an essential reason that they all survived.”
Geddy, married to Nancy, has told his own children, Julian and Kyla, about the Holocaust, but “I haven’t taken them over there yet to see it for themselves. I want to”.
Rush’s 1984 album Grace Under Pressure includes the song Red Sector A, written by drummer Neil Peart after Geddy had explained his mother’s story to him.
Peart made the lyrics apply to the experiences of atrocities in any prison camp scenario.
Red Sector A — which has a “sinister vibe” — was “not directly about” his mother’s experiences, Geddy said
“It was an idea that Neil had, born out of a few things including a conversation we had had about the moment my mother was liberated.
“One of the questions she asked herself was ‘how could people have allowed this to happen?’ She thought that the rest of the world was like that, but she was shocked that when she came out of the camp, the rest of the world was intact.
“She couldn’t believe how other parts of the world would allow them to go through what they went through.”
When Manya saw the Nazis surrendering on April 15, 1945, she actually thought they were being arrogant by making a double salute.
To reflect the confusion during liberation, Red Sector A includes the lines: “I hear the sound of gunfire at the prison gate. Are the liberators here — do I hope or do I fear?”
Rush, who have sold tens of millions of albums, provide a very visual experience in concert, but Geddy said that when they perform Red Sector A, they don’t want to be too obvious with the images.
He told me: “Imagery would have a tendency to influence the meaning of that song in one direction. The song is about an imaginary location in an imaginary place. We leave the interpretation of it broad to allow the listener to use their imagination.
“What we try to do with it visually is not to make it so specific as to limit the audiences’ enjoyment of what they imagine the song to be about.”
Geddy’s father died a year before the youngster’s barmitzvah. And it was after his death that Geddy made a surprise discovery — his father had been a musician
He had played the balalaika at barmitzvahs and weddings, but he didn’t tell his children as he didn’t want them going into music.
“He was not around to stop me from being a musician,” Geddy said. “My mother was convinced that he would have tried to stop me. She was an old world immigrant, survivor of the war, she wanted me to be a professional.
“She thought all nice Jewish boys should grow up to be doctors or lawyers.”
Red Sector A isn’t the only time Geddy has touched upon his parents’ experiences in the Holocaust.
In 2000, Geddy’s solo album My Favorite Headache included the song Grace to Grace, co-written with Ben Mink, who was also a second generation survivor.
Geddy said the song is partially about his mother’s courage and survival instincts during the Holocaust.
It’s because of his mother that Geddy has his unusual moniker. Whenever she pronounced his name, it sounded like ‘Geddy’ in her strong Polish accent.
In interviews, Geddy has joked that the two most Jewish things about him are his nose and his sense of humour.
He told me: “Jewish humour comes to me naturally. Growing up in north America, I was exposed to Jewish comedians. They had Jewish backgrounds that I can relate to.
“If you are a young nerdy Jewish kid growing up in Canada it’s one of the things that gives you a reason to hope that you can escape your environment, as these comedians did.
“Woody Allen was one of my heroes. He was one of the first guys who made it seem okay to be a nerdy Jewish kid.”
Geddy has been to Israel once, taking his son when he was 13.
“That was the closest he was going to come to be being barmitzvah. Rather than a barmitzvah, I said ‘let’s go and see how a country is run by Jews’.”
Rush have never performed in Israel, but Geddy said they will get there eventually.