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KETTY AMATO

BELGIAN CONGO
Photography by David Amoils
 

Ketty was born in Elizabethville (Lubumbashi), Belgian Congo in 1937. Growing up in the Congo, she spoke only French, as did most people in the Congo, although Flemish was the second official language. Her family originally came from Rhodes, Greece. The Jews of Rhodes were deported by the Nazis to the death camp of Buchenwald during World War II. Her maternal grandfather was one of them and died in transit from starvation and dehydration. Her grandmother survived the long journey but later died in the gas chambers.

Before the war, most Jewish people left Rhodes and went to the U.S., as well as other places in Africa.

Ketty had three brothers and three sisters. She went to school at the local convent, where the Chief Rabbi and his wife visited regularly to teach the Jewish children. They were taught Hebrew and had Bar and Bat Mitzvah classes; the rabbi’s wife taught the younger children, and the rabbi taught the older children. Her family were traditional Jews who observed Shabbat and all other holidays. There are only a handful of Jews left in Lubumbashi, but there is still a synagogue there, which is only used on special occasions.

When she was 17, an older sister who was living in Cape Town came to get Ketty and the other sisters and took them with her to South Africa due to a lack of opportunities.

There she met a friend who was to be married in Rhodesia. Ketty was invited and when she was there, she met Norman Amato, the best man. They later married and eventually moved to Toronto to be with Norman’s brother. Having come from a family with seven children, she was lonely here at first. She came to know more people after working for her husband’s business. She and Norman have three daughters, Sandra, Linda and Ricia, and one son, Albert. They also have 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Now retired, Ketty and her husband do volunteer work for a number of charities, including many years with the Meals on Wheels program located at Baycrest.