With a suit, a pillow, a change of clothing and some bread and jam, he said goodbye to his family in 1912 and, with several other boys from the village, went by horse and buggy to the nearest railway station at Lyubashevka, 16 miles away.
From there his destination was Luba in Latvia. Boarding a cattle boat for Hull and then a Cunard ship, the S.S. Lake Erie, he sailed for Canada to join his brother Sam. With only 50 cents left to get him to Winnipeg, he received food for the journey from the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society.
Sitting on the handlebars of Sam’s bicycle, David rode to his first job in Winnipeg, wrapping and tying hams at Swift Canadian, earning 9 ½ cents per hour. After being asked to work on Yom Kippur, he quit and became Sam’s assistant. Sam, who had graduated in electrical engineering at a technical school in Odessa, taught Dave everything he could. Dave also enrolled at St. John’s Technical School to take further courses. He then worked for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway and later the C.P.R. as an electrician’s helper. Moving from Brandon, Manitoba, to Port Arthur, Ontario, Dave got a better job doing electrical work on mine-sweepers. He became very skilled at everything mechanical and electrical. Fascinated by the charismatic personality of Theodore Herzl, David became active in the Young Zionists of Winnipeg, later becoming a major figure in the Zionist movement of Canada.
In 1917, he organized Young Judaea in Winnipeg and attended the first Zionist convention in Canada. In 1921, in Regina, Dave met Chaim Weitzmann, who had a major impact on his life. While visiting his brothers Sam and Charlie, who had moved to Watrous, Saskatchewan, Dave joined them in the purchase of an abandoned generator to bring power to the small town.
However, Dave did not stay long as he agreed to return to Europe in 1922 to bring out the remaining members of the Nemetz family. Financed by his brothers and armed with $7,000, he went to Romania and then to Poland with a plan to bring everyone there. He soon found out $7,000 was not enough to pay the “professional smuggler” he had hired, who had insisted on a per capita fee. Dave did not know that his sister, Chava, was married and had a baby. Then there were cousins, and more cousins, who wanted to come. Borrowing money, Dave paid out over $10,000 – sometimes putting two on a passport, saying they were twins! The hired agent met the family in the village and led them on a very dangerous journey, moving them at night through the countryside, stopping to sleep in haystacks.
Dave brought out 30 people, including his parents Abraham and Toba, his brothers Bill and Leo, sister Chava, her husband Abrasha Wosk and their baby, and the youngest sister, Esther.
Returning to Watrous, David worked as a lineman on power poles. There he met his beloved, Rose Baru, a schoolteacher. He proposed shortly after, marrying in 1927. With $5,000, they moved to Vancouver and, in 1930, bought an old store called Standard Furniture, which Dave renamed Standard Electric. He operated this store for 25 years, selling and repairing appliances, radios and washing machines. For a short time, he also operated a 139-acre dairy and cattle farm in Pitt Meadows.
David continued his life-long passion as a Zionist, raising money for Palestine and motivating youth. In 1933 Dave became the National Advisor for the Young Zionists and founded Young Judaea in Vancouver. Seeing the need for a Zionist Youth Camp he worked to start Camp Hatikvah in 1944 at Crescent Beach, B.C., under the auspices of the Zionist Organization of Canada.
In 1955 Dave was also responsible for moving the camp to its present location in Oyama, B.C. Plans for the entire camp at Oyama were drawn on a piece of paper placed on the hood of his car. In 1947, Dave and Rose secretly helped a group of 22 youngsters, including his nephew, Sonny Wosk, train to fight in the War of Independence in Israel. This clandestine training was conducted at Camp Hatikvah, Crescent Beach.
In 1949, Dave and Rose made their first trip to Israel, going by ship to France, to Rome by train, and by army airplane to Israel. This was followed by a trip almost every year until his passing in 1981.
In the 1950s, Dave began to develop property in Vancouver. He founded the Greater Vancouver Apartment Owners Association, signing up 1,000 members. Dave became one of Canada’s best known supporters of the Jewish National Fund. For years, the very mention of Vancouver in Israel was synonymous with the name of David Nemetz.
In 1955 Dave was the Honoree at the first Negev Dinner held in Vancouver.
Dave and Rose enjoyed adventure and people. They travelled the world throughout their lives, going to Europe, South America and Asia by train, ship and plane.
Dave and Rose loved to find relatives all over the world and Dave entertained the family with stories about those he discovered. He had a sharp wit and the Nemetz family sarcasm. He said more than once, “When you travel, you will find that some relatives are good for dinner, some only for tea.”
David was buried in the Nemetz family plot at the Schara Tzedeck cemetery in New Westminster, B.C. Two years later, his beloved Rose was buried next to him. There were no children or grandchildren to remember Dave and Rose.
Their legacy was the enormous gratitude of the Jewish community in Vancouver and in Israel.