Chance encounter at D-Day cemetery reveals soldier’s story

Isabella Meltz holds up a piece of cloth embossed with a message from her uncle, George Meltz, sent home during the Second World War as she poses with Ellin Bessner during Centennial College’s Remembrance Day ceremony on Friday. (MELTZ_BESSNER_E)

Isabella Meltz recently started lighting a yarhzeit candle every year for her uncle. In the Jewish tradition, the candle signifies remembrance on the anniversary of someone’s death.

An unexpected encounter with a curious journalist provided Meltz the opportunity to revisit her uncle’s memory and preserve the few details of his death as a Canadian soldier during the Second World War.

Meltz attended Remembrance Day observances at Centennial College’s East York campus, today, at the invitation of Ellin Bessner. Bessner, a journalist and professor at the school, met Meltz over the summer as a result of some remarkable coincidences. Meeting in person for the first time, Meltz and Bessner shared their story with students, teachers and veterans attending the ceremony.

Bessner wrote an article about Meltz’s uncle, George Meltz, and his living relatives she found scattered in and around Toronto.

“He never really had his whole story told and I hope that my story serves as his permanent obituary,” Bessner said.

Visiting the Canadian cemetery Beny-sur-Mer near Juno Beach in France last summer, Bessner stumbled upon the tombstone of George Meltz, who died at the age of 25 on July 8, 1944. He had come ashore in Normandy during the D-Day landings as a artillery bombardier among 14,000 other Canadian troops.

Touched by the poignant epitaph on his tombstone which read, “He died so Jewry shall suffer no more,” Bessner set out to learn more.

Bessner’s quest led her to George Meltz’s nephew, a real estate agent named after his uncle, living three blocks away from her home in Richmond Hill, Ont. Amazed at the coincidence, Bessner was then struck by another one. Bessner’s cousin introduced her to Isabella Meltz, living nearby in Toronto.

After swapping information about her uncle with Bessner and reading her article, Isabella Meltz has discovered a renewed interest in her family’s history and her uncle’s memory in particular.

“You start thinking, ‘Who remembers him? Who remembers this person?” Isabella Meltz said.