Sam Weinreich outlived the Nazis by decades and, at the age of 101, continues to share his story of survival with meticulous details. “Lodz had the most Jews in Poland after Warsaw. I was one of nine children, five brothers, four sisters. I was the only one who survived,” he said.
This past Sunday, Weinreich spoke at a virtual Yom HaShoah presentation organized by the Young Israel of West Hempstead. “Neil Cohen is a member of our shul. He is related by family to the speaker,” said event committee member Owen Rumelt. “Neil told me about him last year. We should all have such a recall at age 101, let alone at age 80.” More than 300 people attended the Zoom meeting with Weinreich.
At the outbreak of the war, Weinreich worked in his father’s furniture finishing business, was active in Zionist circles, and sang at his shul. On September 1, 1939, he heard of the invasion and warned his family. “My father said, ‘Where will I go? We don’t have any place to go.’” Sam and his brother Hershel joined many other young Lodz residents in a march to Warsaw to “put up a stand against the Germans.” On their way to the capital, they experienced the destructive power of blitzkrieg.
Upon arriving in Warsaw, their grandfather was happy to see them alive, but the city was under siege and surrendered after 20 days. Food supplies were low and, hearing that things were better in Lodz, they returned home. Initially, German soldiers shopped in all stores in Lodz, deceptively polite in their interactions. Within weeks, anti-Semitic regulations followed, and the same soldiers helped themselves to the goods. “My father had his beard shaved so that he wouldn’t be bothered.”
Lodz was then annexed to Germany, Jews were required to wear yellow stars, obey the curfew, and then locked inside a ghetto, where their survival depended on their ability to work. The meager food rations were designed to result in a gradual reduction of the population through starvation. “Some people kept the dead in their homes so that they could have extra rations,” Weinreich said. Among the first deaths in his family were his mother and a sister.
But the Lodz ghetto also had the distinction of being the last to be liquidated, on the account of Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski, the ruthless Judenrat leader who believed that the slave workforce would be useful to the Germans. By the summer of 1944, the ghetto was no longer needed and the front line was getting closer to Lodz. To exterminate its inmates without resistance, the Nazis offered food to those who would board the deportation trains. Once aboard, they were packed in an unsanitary crowd bound for Auschwitz. After a week, he was evacuated to Dachau, where he carried cement to construct underground hangars for the Nazis.
On one occasion, seven of his teeth were punched out by a guard after he discovered a potato in Weinreich’s pants. As allied planes flew above them, they were evacuated again by train. During one bombing, they jumped out and hid in a forest for two days. In broken Yiddish, a Jewish chaplain ordered Weinreich not to eat regular food as it would kill him. He would first need to transition back to a normal diet. “We were taken to a farm with other survivors. We were fed farina, cereal, and milk three times a day.”
A year later, at the Feldafing Displaced Persons Camp, he married his wife Frieda. They are celebrating their 76th year together. Based on Weinreich’s work experience in making furniture, immigration officials found work for him in Memphis, where he has been living since 1949. His Yom HaShoah presentation was recorded a week earlier, but he also attended the virtual event, where he sang a song that helped him survive and spoke of his longevity as having a purpose – to share his ordeals with younger generations.
“How much time do we have left to have survivors speak?” Rumelt said. “It is important to do so.”
By Sergey Kadinsky