Sigmund Sobolewski, a Polish-born Holocaust survivor who lived in Alberta and Ontario, died in Bayamo, Cuba at the age of 94, his wife confirmed on Monday evening.
Family said he died on 1 a.m. Eastern Time on Aug. 7, 2017 (11 p.m. on Aug. 6, 2017 Mountain Time).
Ramona Sobolewski told Global News her husband had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Global News reached Ramona in Cuba where she said they had moved almost four years ago.
When he was 17, Sobolewski was the 88th prisoner to be sent to the Nazi concentration camp where he was tortured and spent over four years as a prisoner in the Second World War.
According to journalist Byron Christopher, who has written about Sobolewski’s life, Sigmund was Catholic but was targeted by the Nazis because he was a member of the Polish Navy cadets and his father was a captain in the Polish Army.
“Sigmund Sobolewski was a kid,” Christopher told Global News on Tuesday. “He was thrown into Auschwitz and he was 17 years old. It tore his world apart. You can just imagine what he saw there. The mother of all death camps in the world.
“He just was possessed with Auschwitz. It’s all he would talk about.”
Christopher first met Sobolewski in the 1980s and covered the man’s return to Auschwitz in 1990.
“Even though he was freed from Auschwtiz, he remains a prisoner in a sense – and he will die a prisoner. I believe he did,” Christopher said.
“If you go through something as traumatic as that in life, you never forget it. The human mind can only absorb so much.”
Sobolewski was later often referred to as “Prisoner 88” and earned a reputation as a vocal opponent of neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers.
Sobolewski came to Canada, specifically Ontario, after the war and later moved to Cuba where he met his wife Ramona. Three years later, the couple returned to Ontario and ended up in Toronto but eventually moved to Alberta because the province’s economy was booming.
“I think he’d want people to remember that he was a good worker,” adding he was well-rounded in terms of his skills which helped him always be able to provide for his family. He had spent time as a welder and Ramona said he had even taken some courses while in Cuba in hopes of becoming a teacher or doctor.
Ramona told Global News they would stay in Alberta for 25 to 30 years and at one point operated three “small town hotels.” She said they sold their last hotel, located in Fort Macleod, Alta., about 10 years ago.
She said while a location for her husband’s burial has yet to be decided upon, her husband had said he wanted to be buried in Canada. She said she will consult with their three sons on where he will be buried.
Christopher told Global News Sobolewski died from pneumonia.
-With files from Sarah Kraus and Brett Barrett