A Piece of St. John’s Jewish History Has Been Hiding Beneath a Subway

An amazing piece of Polish-Newfoundland history has been uncovered beneath the plexiglas lightbox signage of a Subway restaurant in downtown St. John’s.

The notorious location of the Subway chain on the corner of Water Street and Adelaide Street — a 24/7 branch that has seen its fair share of drunk and hungry afterparties from the neighbouring bar district of George Street — is currently closed for renovations. While workers were removing the face of the building, photos began to pop up on social media of an old “Lewis Ferman and Company” sign that was hidden underneath.

“Anyone know who Lewis Ferman & Co. were?” Brad Collins tweeted. (@BAreEhD)

Folklorist, Dale Jarvis was quick to jump in with a very intriguing slice of history.

“I think this is probably Lewis Ferman and his wife Grunia, who ran a woman’s clothing shop on Water Street” Jarvis tweeted in response. “They were Polish resistance fighters during WWII.”

According to a 2011 article by The Telegram covering the Newfoundland connection to the Jewish Resistance during the Holocaust, Lewis and Grunia Ferman “met in Bielski’s brigade — he as an explosives expert, active in combat, and she as a nurse.”

Jarvis told the CBC Lewis Ferman helped sabotage German supply lines, and aided in rescue missions during the war as apart of the Freedom Fighters.

Following the war, the Ferman’s relocated to Newfoundland and eventually operated the Lewis Ferman & Co women’s clothing store on Water Street.

Lewis Ferman also acted as a translator when Russian and Polish ships came to port in St. John’s. In 1972, Ferman was gifted an old Torah by by some Polish sailors. Ferman passed along the undated Torah — handwritten on sewn parchment paper with two wooden handles — to Newfoundland’s Beth El congregation when he and his wife moved to Ontario in the 1980s.

When Dale Jarvis arrived at the Subway construction site on Monday, the sign had already been cut into small pieces and was bound for the garbage.

Thankfully, an onsite worker helped Jarvis salvage the pieces, and an important piece of St. John’s history will live another lifetime.

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