Author inspires Congregation Shaar Shalom with story of parents’ survival

‘Meant to Be’ recounts John and Sonja Franken’s joint-destiny, while continents apart

Members of Chomedey’s Congregation Shaar Shalom were taken on a riveting journey back in time last week, as author Roslyn Franken recounted the unforgettable story in her book, ‘Meant to Be,’ about how her parents, as Jewish teenagers, survived captivity during World War II, continents apart, to find everlasting love while triumphing over tragedy.

Parents’ joint-destiny

Franken’s book was the subject of a Zoom webcast presentation on Aug. 25. (The title comes from the Yiddish word ‘bashert’ signifying, among other things, soulmates and their joint-destiny).

While her mother survived several concentration camps in Nazi Europe – she faced death in the gas chambers three times and survived – her father, who was a prisoner of war in Japan where he was used as a slave laborer – survived the atomic bombing in August 1945 of Nagasaki.

Luck or ‘bashert’?

How did they survive? How did they meet? How did they end up in Montreal where they married and made a beautiful life together despite the trauma of their past? Their daughter revealed the answers to these questions and more in a presentation that was at once uplifting, inspiring, breathtaking and emotionally charged.

“People say things to me like, ‘Were they ever lucky,’ ‘Talk about coincidence,’ and I’m saying ‘really?’ Was it really just luck and coincidence that both my parents would survive in the most extraordinary ways you’re about to discover?

“No, not according to my parents,” she continued. “They would tell you it was all ‘bashert,’ that wonderful little Yiddish word with many meanings, one of which is ‘meant to be’.”

Both suffered ordeals

While John, a young naval recruit in the Dutch East Indies, was captured at sea by the Japanese and had to fight for his life as a POW, Sonja was taken by the Nazis from her home in The Netherlands to endure the horrors of Auschwitz and other Holocaust concentration camps.

“Three times there was either a malfunction in the gas supply, or they had gassed so many people through that day they had run out of gas,” Roslyn said, describing part of her mother’s survival ordeal. “And before they could fix the problem, she was being put on a train and being shipped off to the next camp. She was in eleven different camps in total.”

‘Meant to Be’

If this had happened once, she added, “You could maybe say she was lucky. Two times very lucky. Three times, she would tell you it was bashert: meant to be.”

John spent three-and-a-half years as a war captive of the Japanese. During the last phase of this period, he was being worked as a slave labourer at a subterranean mine in Nagasaki. It was one of two cities over which U.S. forces detonated atomic bombs, to bring about Japan’s surrender at the conclusion of World War II.

“Where was my father when the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki?,” said Roslyn. “He was hundreds of metres underground. It saved his life. Again, he would tell you it was meant to be.”

Finally together

After enduring many tests of faith and personal strength at the hands of their captors on opposite sides of the world, the two were brought together at war’s end in the most extraordinary of circumstances to rebuild their lives, eventually arriving in post-war Montreal where they started a new life and raised a family.

Roslyn provided a powerful combination of masterful storytelling along with compelling audio-visual elements, including family photos, video clips from a Gemini award-nominated CBC television documentary about her parents, for a very memorable and meaningful evening.

Her book is the subject of a pending feature film currently in development. Roslyn is selling her book through her own website: It is also available through Amazon and ​Kindle.