Nonagenarian executive has no plans to slow down
While many Canadians prepare for and dream of their so-called “golden years”—TV ads show smiling seniors sailing into the sunset on fancy ships—others thrive on continuing in their careers.
Jhoshua (Alex) Krancberg, who turns 90 this month, likes nothing better than to get up early and, after a hearty breakfast, drive downtown to put in a full day’s work, five days a week, as vice-president and chief financial officer of the Monit group of companies, a major Montreal-based real-estate firm.
Krancberg is involved in all aspects of Monit, which owns, manages and develops more than 200 million square feet of land and millions of square feet of office, industrial and commercial space in Canada and the U.S.
And guess what: As he prepared to celebrate that special birthday, Krancberg has no plans to retire or even slow down.
At his comfortable, book-filled Town of Montreal Royal bungalow, Krancberg recently reflected on his remarkable life, how a resilient Jewish teenager from eastern Poland, with strong survival instincts confounded the odds to construct a secure and prosperous life after the ravages of the Second World War.
Born in Korec, then part of Poland, Krancberg grew up in nearby Rovno, where his father taught high-school English. After fleeing German bombardments in the September 1939 invasion, the family returned to Rovno, then under Russian occupation, and Krancberg began studying college physics, math and cartography.
After the German bombardments of June 1941, Krancberg, then 19, proposed to his family that they flee to the Soviet side, but his father refused and would not allow him to take his younger sister Sally with him.
“My father said, ‘What will happen to all the Jews will happen to us’.”
Both parents were shot in the town square, but his brother and sister survived. Sally joined the partisans and Zygmund joined the Red Army, rising to lieutenant. Krancberg’s story is a harrowing voyage of friendships, hunger and arrest by Soviet authorities on suspicion of being a German spy.
It took about two months to get to Tajikistan, “with no food, at the mercy of people we told we were refugees, almost no chance for a bath.”
He and a travelling companion finally made it to Dushanbe (formerly Stalinabad) and again faced a spying scare by Russian security services.
Krancberg volunteered to join the free Polish Army but contracted typhus, ending up in a Russian military hospital. He was disconnected from the main Polish group and after his release had to survive on 200 grams of bread a day.
Because he had volunteered to join a “capitalist” Polish army, which by then had left for Iran, he was cut off from any role in Russian institutions.
“I was without papers, without a home, turning around, no one would have anything to do with me. I slept on a park bench.”
Thanks to helpful new friends, Krancberg survived. His work included crunching dried grapes to make soft drinks and herding hundreds of goats on foot around the Pamir mountains to the abattoir. He learned enough Tajik to become a tax collector, visiting collective farms on a horse.
As the Red Army pushed west through Romania and into Hungary, he learned his sister and brother had survived.
When the Germans surrendered in May 1945, “It was the happiest day of my life.”
In 1946, he returned by train to Warsaw, and “each Jew kissed each other, like we had come out of a catastrophe, even though we didn’t know yet what a catastrophe it had been.”
Krancberg learned bookkeeping in Poland, married and had a son and then started a new life in Israel. He started out digging ditches for electrical cables at an amusement park in Jaffa.
As a construction worker, he saved enough money for a house in K’far Sabah; he became a bank bookkeeper responsible for loans to kibbutzim, and a daughter was born to his family.
In 1960, he came to Montreal, first working as a comptroller in a leather company, then in 1977 joined Monit, to work with chairman Elias (Alex) Kotler.
“Since then, and right up to today, I’m at work every day, at 7:45 or 8 am.”
And why doesn’t Krancberg retire? “I am stamp collector, I travel, I read extensively, but it’s not enough.
“I fulfill myself by having a day of work. I get a kind of satisfaction from it. I cannot see myself just going somewhere to kill time.”
He keeps in shape by exercising 20 minutes a day on the stationary bike.
Though as a teenager he was sympathetic to the ideals of communism, he says as a result of his experience under the Soviet regime and his extensive reading,
“I no longer believe in utopias.
“When the Soviet union collapsed, there were big hopes they would change completely. It didn’t happen that way, and Russia is moving again toward dictatorship. As for Israel, it can defend itself. They are capable.”
And reflecting on his life here: “When I was in the Pamir mountains, I didn’t dream of coming to Canada. I prefer Canada to the U.S., we are a more democratic and liberal country, with our own riches.”