Why an Edmonton airman’s family wants you to read his WWll diary

Poems of Harry Uretzky published after 77 years

When I spoke in Edmonton in November 2019 for Holocaust Education Week, I was touched to have the opportunity to meet the family of Harry Uretzky. He was a young Edmonton student who enlisted in the RCAF in 1941, went overseas in 1942, and, after training to be a bomb aimer/navigator, was killed in action in 1943.

At my talk that night, his niece Karen Hering revealed that her uncle’s war time diary was a treasure: it contained his personal musings as well as a series of poems that he wrote in November 1942, while he was training to fly heavy bombers over German-occupied Europe.

Navigator RCAF
Harry Uretzky, Courtesy Library and Archives Canada

She later emailed me photos of the diary pages, as well as photos and family memorabilia. I promised Hering I would write about Harry. She needed to get the approval of her siblings.

A year went by. COVID-19 happened. I got busy, and, to be honest, I let this project slide to the back-burner.

war diary
Harry Uretzky’s personal diary, Second World War. .

But the week before Remembrance Day, I took a closer look at her emails with Harry Uretzky’s story, and was moved by his personal diary entries, his close friendships with other Jewish and non-Jewish boys in England, all wearing the same Canadian air force uniform.

It was heartbreaking to read about crashes that killed his friends.

I wanted to write this story for my website, but knew it deserved a wider audience. When the Canadian Jewish Record editor asked me for a column for Remembrance Day 2020, I knew it had to be Harry’s story.

The story was published Nov. 11, 2020 in the Canadian Jewish Record.

It was humbling and gratifying to know the story came with Hering’s blessing, and with that of her brother Dr. Rick Uretsky, who at the time right, before Remembrance Day, was terminally ill.

Rick’s father was Harry’s brother Abe. Abe and his wife had actually named their baby son to honour the uncle he never knew. It is according to Jewish custom, when a newborn child is named in honour of a deceased relative.

Rick’s full name is Harvey Richard Uretsky, although the well-known Edmonton physician was known by his middle name.

My story about Harry was finished the very night that Rick died in hospital, on Nov. 10. He never got to read it. But I know the family is pleased that Harry’s youthful, patriotic poetry and his other wartime musings will receive the attention they deserve. And in this way, the story honours Rick, too.

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