Joseph Garbus, a former Milford alderman, will sign copies of his memoir, called “Kid from Pinsk,” Sunday, Sept. 16, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Firehouse Gallery in Walnut Beach.
Garbus, 78, was born in Pinsk, Russia, on Aug. 21, 1940, during World War II. His name at birth was Chaim Josel Garbuz.
He had hoped to write a longer book about his life and early struggles. But he has only a few scattered memories of those early years. The things that happened during his youth have mostly been told to him by his older siblings. Therefore his memoir is more of what he calls a short story, which David Duffner of Milford helped him write.
“Hitler’s and Stalin’s persecution of Jews had been going on since the 1930s and, shortly after my birth, the persecution caught up with my family,” Garbus writes in Kid from Pinsk. “I have no early recollections of my father Beryle (hereafter Barney) because, when I was an infant, as a businessman in the hair salon industry and a member of the bourgeoisie, he was arrested for ‘anti-communist activities/a war-resistant fighter’, and sent to the slave labor [camp] Gulag in Siberia.”
At the same time the rest of Garbus’ family was arrested and sent to a different part of Siberia.
“As we left on the train, my mother, Guta, my brother Abraham (hereafter Al), my sister Ejda (hereafter Esther) and I, Chaim Josel Garbuz (hereafter Joseph Garbus), waved goodbye to the grandparents, who were later swallowed up by the War.”
The family then began a 10-year forced journey of hardship and uncertainty.
“Anti-Semitism followed us to Siberia, where a woman pushed eight-year-old Al into the fire,” Garbus writes. “My five-foot-four-inch mother then carried Al 25 miles to the nearest hospital. His recovery took six months.”
After many trials and tribulations, the family came to the United States in May of 1951, sailing from Bremerhaven in Germany and arriving at the port of New York.
“My second life started when I came to this country on May 2, 1951,” he writes. “I was overwhelmed as I got closer to the Statue of Liberty. The thought of coming to America and freedom at last.”
But life was still a challenge. Garbus’ mother was ill and died the next year. His memoir starts with a message to her. “Even as an adult,” he writes, “I feel your loss.”
Garbus recalls in his memoir the struggles in school as he worked to learn the English language. But he notes that he worked very hard, and by the end of eighth grade received an honorable mention in English.
The years passed, and Garbus later taught hairstyling at the Robert Fiance School of design in Manhattan, before opening his own salon in midtown, and then the House of Geisha Salon in Fairfield. Now he owns the Hair-Inn in Stratford.
A former Milford alderman, Garbus was instrumental in the revitalization of the Walnut Beach area, and many other Milford efforts, adhering to what he describes as a mission of “spirituality.”