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Remembrance Day: Chucky, Porky and Solly were part of a band of Jewish immigrant kids who grew up together in the city’s west end. Many of them eagerly enlisted for war, and most never returned home.

Leslie Scrivener Feature Writer Published On Wed Nov 11 2009 TORONTO STAR

Who’s left to remember Chucky and Porky, Solly and Harold? They are the boys of Major St. who went to war and didn’t come back – lost in the Atlantic, over the Bay of Bengal and in Holland.

Dr. Joe Greenberg is one of the few left who remembers them. He counts 10 who died in World War II who grew up with him on the west-end street that runs between College and Bloor Sts. Others were wounded or became prisoners of war.

They spent their youth in the city playgrounds, Jewish immigrant kids too poor to afford a bat and ball, never dreaming they’d own a baseball mitt. They used broom handles as sticks and frozen horse droppings for pucks to play street hockey.

These boys were among the earliest to enlist, some lying about their age, 17-year-olds going to war. One of them, Greenberg’s cousin, Harold Fromstein, known as Red, lived at 117 Major St. He used his older brother’s name to enlist in 1940. Wounded in France in 1944, and decorated for his service, he survived the war.

“When I look at photographs of these guys, I feel so sad; when I read their epitaphs, it tears my heart out,” says Greenberg, 87, known to his patients as Dr. Joe.

To generations of Torontonians he’s a legend, known as the doctor who made house calls, the one who left his patients feeling they had not only his care, but also his love. Greenberg lives above his practice four blocks west, on Bathurst St. at the corner of Ulster. Stooped and reliant on a cane, he still wears fine wool trousers and V-necked cashmere sweaters. He weeps talking about those lost friends.

Greenberg enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940. During home leave, he’d walk by the houses where the childhood friends he lost had lived. One of them was 82 Major St., residence of Flying Officer Irving “Porky” Lindzon, who was shot down over the Bay of Bengal in 1945.

“When I got home (on leave), I had such a yen for delicatessen sandwiches, I went to Becker’s on College St. That pastrami sandwich, it was incredible – I don’t know what else to tell you, but it would melt the heart of a cannonball. I passed Porky’s mother on my way home. She locked eyes on me. She saw this young healthy guy, and her son was buried somewhere in Singapore. It broke my heart. I could see the anguish in this woman’s eyes.

“After that, I’d cut over and walk up Brunswick, instead of Major. I couldn’t bear it.”

There are many Major Sts. – streets where immigrant sons volunteered – in cities across Canada, Greenberg says. His brother, Morton, known as Mutt, calls their particular Major St. “a street of collective goodness.” Morton still lives in the family home at 98 Major.

About 17,000 Canadian Jewish men and women served in World War II, Eric McGeer notes in his book Words of Valediction and Remembrance.

Jews made up 2 per cent of the population but represented 7.5 per cent of national enlistment. Why this enthusiasm to serve? It has to do with the values of their parents, who fled pogroms, Greenberg believes. They arrived here with little – in Greenberg’s case, his parents’ fortune was two silver spoons – but rich in hope for their children. They sold fruit and vegetables from wagons, keeping the horses in their backyards, and collected scrap metal and junk. “They recognized and appreciated what Canada had done for them,” says Greenberg, “that it was a free county where they could raise their children in peace.”

Flight Sgt. Harold Sobel lived at 5 Major St., and Flight Sgt. Solomon (Solly) Kay next door at 3. Their houses still stand, a few steps north of College St.

The two were friends and competitors, pitching against each other in rival baseball teams at Lansdowne playground. They formed a club and carried their membership cards as good luck charms. A third friend, Charles (Chucky) Males, joined them in the air force. A rear gunner, he was killed on his first mission in 1944, the only man in the aircraft to die.

“Solly was the milkman’s son, Harold, the furrier’s son, and Chucky was brought up by his grandfather,” says Greenberg. “They were inseparable. And who the hell knew his name was Charles?”

Sobel is buried in the Netherlands, Kay in France and Males in England. Acting Cpl. Arthur Gold, who lived at 144 Major, was killed in Italy in 1944 and buried there at Moro River Canadian War Cemetery.

Greenberg also remembers when the mother of Joe and Murray Sonshine got telegrams indicating both her sons were missing in action. (Murray died; Joe was taken prisoner and sent to Buchenwald, though he did survive.) “God almighty, that was something else.”

It’s bitter to remember all that loss, but Greenberg also recalls a youth filled with pals and pranks. He belonged to the Knot Hole Gang. A group of kids would walk to Maple Leaf Stadium on Fleet St. to watch baseball, but had only one ticket. The first boy would use the ticket, then go up to the top of the stadium, drop it down the bleachers to the next kid, and so on.

“I really treasure those days,” he says. “We were poor and we didn’t know it.”

Of course, the war added a note of tragedy. “It was like Charles Dickens wrote in A Tale of Two Cities. It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.”

One response to “THE BOYS OF MAJOR STREET”

  1. Vicki Leoanrd says:

    Chucky was my moms cousin she idolized him. I am trying to find any family history I can . I am in the California USA first generation American.
    My mother was Esther Cohen , she had a sister Rose Cohen. He parents were Benjamin and Shirley Cohen.
    grandparents – David and Esther Cohen, Samuel and Besse Cohen

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