VICTORIA – If you ask Ernest Marza to describe his home, he’ll uses words like “exciting” and “decorative.”

Then the 95-year-old will take a deep breath and say “I feel like in heaven!”

It’s a heaven he created after enduring the hell of war.

Ernest shows us a photograph from when he was a teenager in Transylvania. “So much hair!” he laughs while stroke stroking balding head. He says the picture was taken around the start of Second World War, when he was told to fight in support of the Nazis. “We refused,” he remembers. “So we became prisoners.”

Ernest says he spend years in a German labour camp, but declines to recall the ugly details. “I remember only good things,” he says.

He does tell the story of how he escaped the camp, hiding during the day and fleeing in the dark. “We walked about three or four nights, eighty miles” he recalls. “The bullets were just flying over.”

Ernest and his fellow escapees were eventually caught, and returned to another camp. But a couple days after that, the Americans arrived. “We saw the big tanks coming in, the hatch opening and chocolate bars flying out!”. Ernest knew the sweet gifts for the prisoners meant the war was over. “This is it!” he says as he recalls the feeling. “Freedom comes!”

Ernest says he didn’t return to his war ravaged home. “My memories are beautiful when I was young,” he explains. “I want to keep them that way.”

So Ernest moved to Canada, and started repairing calculators to support his family. But his passion was the style that surrounded him as a child before the war, Art Nouveau. “Art was a constant in my life,” he smiles. 

He saved his money, and when he retired travelled to European countries with an Art Nouveau history. “I never went to Hawaii,” he laughs. “There’s no antique shops!”

Ernest started the collecting dynamic furniture and sculptures. He also created exuberant paintings of people dancing the Tango, and designed intricate, Art Nouveau-style picture frames. He focused on surrounding himself, and others, with happy things. “If you think only of miserable times, you act miserable,” he says. “If you act happy, you must be happy.”

After refusing to surrender to some of the ugliest elements in human history, Ernest is choosing to fortify the most beautiful. He says if you open your eyes to it, “there’s beauty in everything.”