That’s ‘Dr.’ Goldstein: Survivor Earns PhD at age 87

July 1, 2020: By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN 

In 1954, Paul Goldstein, a 22-year old Holocaust survivor from Belgium, immigrated to Canada and settled in Montreal. A year later he applied to a special baccalaureate program with a flexible schedule geared to working people.

The program was offered by Sir George Williams University, later renamed Concordia University.

After taking the admissions test Goldstein was told that his high score indicated that he would be a good candidate for a PhD program. 

 “Well, 65 years later I proved it,” he said in a recent telephone interview from his home in Toronto.

Paul Goldstein
Paul Goldstein. Photo Credit: Doug Curapov

Indeed, at age 87, Goldstein has just completed his doctorate in political science at Ariel University, located in the Israeli settlement of Ariel in the West Bank.

Ironically, he did not have the opportunity to finish elementary school with the onset of the war. Goldstein had been a hidden child during the Nazi occupation. His parents were deported, but they survived.

In the early, post-war years Goldstein completed high school, but he could not afford to attend university. He said he had few career options in Belgium and decided to immigrate to Canada. He moved to Toronto in 1970 his focus was on his insurance and financial-planning business.

Some 40-plus years passed before Goldstein was able to study political science at the graduate level.

His dissertation examines the complex geopolitical processes that led to the Balfour Declaration of 1917, Britain’s historic pronouncement that it viewed “with favour” the creation of a “national home” for the Jewish people in Palestine.

In his review of Goldstein’s dissertation, Prof. Elad Ben-Dror of Bar-Ilan University wrote: “This is a fascinating work that is well-written and addresses a critical and fundamental issue in the history of Zionism.”

Goldstein said his thesis entailed four-and-a-half years of research, working from original sources, including all the British cabinet meetings held in 1917 and “a lifetime of reading.”

He also examined Theodor Herzl’s diaries from 1896 to 1904, the period when Herzl was laying the political and diplomatic foundation of the Zionist movement.

“There were five volumes – 2,000 pages,” Goldstein said. “I read every single word. It took six months.”

Herzl was deeply moved by the suffering of the 6 million Jews governed by Russia. Goldstein details the brutality of the many pogroms instigated by the Czarist regimes of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

He also shows the intricate negotiations and manoeuvrings that preceded the Balfour Declaration.

On May 27, Ariel University notified Goldstein that his dissertation had been accepted. He said he expects to participate in a virtual graduation, which will lack the pomp and ceremony of his Master’s convocation, held at the University of Toronto in 2015.

His wife, Naomi, who died two years ago, was able to attend that event five years ago. “It was beautiful,” Goldstein recalled. “She was very proud. We had 50 wonderful years.” She supported his return to university.

Today, his three children, 15 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren all live in Israel.

A self-described “health fanatic,” he was a bodybuilder and martial arts expert for many years. In fact, he said he made the 1956 Canadian Olympic weightlifting team, but he could not afford to stay on the team.

He still follows an intense exercise regimen, which includes an hour-and-a-half of daily walking.

Despite his business and fitness accomplishments, Goldstein said his dream was to pursue an academic life.

“Most people go to university to get a higher education, to make a living,” he said. “I had to make a living before I could afford to go university.”

When Goldstein first applied to the University of Toronto in 2012, it rejected his application for an MA because of the 55-year gap in his education and his age. He was 80 at the time.

The university then had him enroll in three courses to see if he could qualify for graduate work. After acing those, he was admitted to the master’s program.

“I was the top student,” he said. “My thesis was the first A-plus given in six years in the master’s program.”

Prof. Eyal Lewin of Ariel University, Goldstein’s thesis advisor, is now trying to get it published. “If that happens this year, I will be an authority and it will enable me to do the sequel.”

Goldstein said he is interested in writing a book about Britain’s broken promise to the Jews because ultimately, the Balfour Declaration was not honoured. He pointed out that The British sabotaged Jewish settlement in Palestine, especially during the Second World War when Jews needed a haven to escape the Nazis.

“As a survivor I have an obligation to make the Jewish people aware of their history,” Goldstein said. “I don’t want the present generation of Jews to have the experience of my generation.”

*A previous version of this article said Ariel University is a regional branch of Bar-Ilan University in Israel. In fact, Ariel University has been a separate entity from Bar-Ilan University since the late 1990s. The CJR regrets the error.*