Holocaust Survivor Lena Allen-Shore Dies at 97

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Lena Allen-Shore in 2016 (Andy Gotlieb)

Thérèse Lena Shore, known professionally as Dr. Lena Allen-Shore, died in Ottawa, Canada, on Dec. 3, with her two sons by her side.

Called “Canada’s Elie Wiesel” by the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem, the beloved Gratz College educator, author, musician and philosopher moved back to Canada from her home in Philadelphia last year, after her health declined.

She had moved to Philadelphia in 1979, and it was in her adopted hometown that she established the Lena Allen-Shore Center, where she taught and mentored thousands of Gratz students through the creation of 28 accredited interdisciplinary courses ranging in topics from Holocaust studies to combating prejudice.

The author of 17 books in English and French, and the composer of more than 100 songs, Shore’s cantata The Little Shoes was performed in Poland for the 50th anniversary celebration of the liberation of Auschwitz. She also had two hit songs in Canada, one of which, “Les Etoiles Sourient Pour Noel,” was a Christmas song.

A friend of Nobel Peace Prize winners like Father Dominique Pire and Albert Schweitzer, Shore wrote her most popular book, Building Bridges: Pope John Paul II and the Horizon of Life, based on her 25 years of friendship and conversation with the pontiff. She accompanied Pope John Paul II on his historic five-day visit to Jerusalem in 2000 and to Assisi in 2002 for A Day of Prayer and Peace. After reading Building Bridges, the pope wrote to Shore: “Thank you for seeing deep into my thoughts and understanding the intentions of my actions.”

Her lifelong commitment to bringing people together in mutual understanding emerged out of a painful history.

Thérèse Lena Herzig was born in Krakow, Poland, in 1921. An energetic child with a passion for the outdoors, Shore took courses at the Conservatory of Music in Lvov until 1941, when she and her family were forced to flee the city when the Nazis came. Her family attributes Shore’s survival and that of her parents and brother to Shore’s courage: She traveled alone one night to get false documents for the family, which enabled them to live out the remainder of the war as Christians.

Shore even served as a secretary for Nazi officials, frequently subverting their plans by warning other citizens of impending arrests, her family said.

After the war, Shore met and married Sigmond Shore and moved with him to Paris, where she worked as a journalist, and then to Montreal in 1951. There, she and her husband raised two sons, Michel and Jacques.

Jacques Shore, a senior partner in the international law firm Gowling WSG in Montreal, said he and his brother Michel Shore, now a Canadian federal judge, always knew their mother was special.

“It was really clear to me that my mother was not like other mothers,” Jacques Shore said. “She wouldn’t be baking cookies. That’s for sure. She was not like anyone else.”

She saw the world through unjaundiced eyes, he said, with an expansive, appreciative attitude about life that drew people to her.

“We were brought up with very strong values,” Jacques Shore said. “Work hard, enjoy life, never take any day for granted, give as much as you can to those around you, and if you sin, sin well.”

As for that last one, Jacques Shore explained, if you’re going to eat chocolate cake, enjoy it. Life, his mother thought, should be embraced for its beauty — a lesson she learned as a little girl when her father showed her a sunset from a train headed to the Baltic Sea.

“That sunset never disappeared from my life,” she wrote in her book Ten Steps in the Land of Life.

When her husband died suddenly in 1967, she took her endless energy and applied it to his import-export business, running it successfully for seven years. She got her master’s degree in education from McGill University, and then moved to Philadelphia to be with her second husband, John Edward Greenberg. (Greenberg died in 1989.) In Philadelphia, she got her Ph.D. in philosophy from Dropsie University, and worked as senior research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Work from 1980 to 1983.

Jacques Shore said his mother fell in love with Philadelphia, partly because it provided her the opportunity to do all the things she felt were so important to making the world a better place. She was glad that, by coincidence, her brother Adam Herzig also settled in Philadelphia.

Shore, who was extremely proud of her Jewish heritage, found Jewish community at Har Zion Temple. But she determinedly reached out to Christian clergy, creating close ties with Cardinal John Krol in Philadelphia and Cardinal William Keeler in Baltimore. It was Krol, in fact, who suggested that Shore meet the pope, whom she’d been corresponding with since 1978.

The two finally met for the first time in 1996 at the Vatican, and she found his friendly demeanor quite moving. She wrote in Building Bridges, “Here I sit, a Jewish woman from Poland who decided one day in her youth in Poland during the war that, if she survived the war, she would try to spread understanding among people of different religions, ethnic groups, races and cultures. That was in Poland in April or May 1943 on a sunny day. Now, here I am in Rome.”

Jacques Shore was also present at that meeting, which he found a bit nerve-wracking. His mother was being her typically frank, unvarnished self.

“I was blown away. She was so open and honest with him,” said Jacques. But the pope re-assured him.

“It’s OK, it’s OK,” he said, gesturing, and Jacques saw the foundation of a friendship that lasted until the pope’s death in 2005.

Shore’s ability to reach across religious divides inspired many. Father John B. Gabage, a reverend at the St. Benedict/St. Elizabeth Catholic Community in Maryland, penned some reflections when he heard about her death.

“Lena had the ability to see into you like no other,” he wrote. “Lena was able to ask the questions that often others could not or dare not ask. ”

Gabage also praised her teaching: “She was able to preside over classroom encounters of people/teachers of such diverse thinking, upbringing, socioeconomic backgrounds, cultural influences and faith traditions, and she was able to see the person for who he or she was — a human being who was capable of more than what society was presenting in the moment. Her classroom was a haven for dialogue and understanding; her heart was a sanctuary of uncountable blessings.”

Shore’s students not only learned from her, they connected to her and kept in touch for years.

“She was a beloved teacher,” Gratz College President Paul Finkelman said. “Students felt they not only learned from her and were mentored by her, but they were nurtured by her.”

Finkelman said the college had heard from former students who wanted to honor her, a number of whom have donated to the school in her memory. “That’s a huge statement about a loving, caring teacher.”

All of Shore’s books and papers are being left to Gratz, including a huge personal library with many volumes on the Holocaust and genocide, as well as a large collection of art books.

“Her collected papers will be valuable,” Finkelman said. “I hope a student will write a master’s thesis on her.”

As for her family, they, of course, have many books and poems and songs to remember her by. She even wrote a lullaby that is passed down from generation to generation, sung to new grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“Life is to be young and old, life is to learn and to struggle,” Shore wrote. “Life means to live.”

A funeral was held Dec. 4. A memorial service is being planned for the spring.

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