The first time Joseph told me stories from the Holocaust, tears ran down his cheeks. But he had the momentum going, and he kept on it for some time. He told me he rarely shared these things.
This time there were no tears. He was addressing a crowd at his nursing facility, Daughters of Sarah, founded on Jewish values and traditions. Rabbi Beverly W. Magidson had encouraged him to share. And so he did. And he had a well-prepared presentation, emphasizing the moments of hope and humanity amidst the torment and devastation.
Joseph is 93 years old.
He spoke first of the commandante who pointed a gun at his face and called him names when he bent to pick up a cigarette butt. This man, who scared Joseph so, took Joseph on as a personal servant. Every day Joseph would shave him, and clean his small barrack. He would leave a few drops of soup in his bowl for Joseph. This mass murderer eventually found Joseph’s wife, Myra, and brought her to him.
Then there was the attempted escape of the married couple, orchestrated by Joseph’s brother Paul. People were paid off, distractions created, but when they arrived in the woods, Paul was nowhere to be found. He had been murdered. Three “angels” appeared, gesturing to them to go back to the camp, so as not to be killed. They did, heartsick, and soon afterwards husband and wife were separated again.
Then there was the SS officer, who served Joseph a sandwich, and attempted to seduce him. Instead, she agreed to deliver a message from Joseph to his wife, and assured him that Myra was okay.
Then, near the end of the war, they were forced to walk for miles to the seashore, where Joseph drank ocean water because there was nothing else. He got very sick. Those who survived the years of starvation and the difficult trip were rounded up and put on a large black barge. When they left the dock, no officers were with them. They were being sent to sea to die. Joseph, who had no strength left, was helped by friends, to jump overboard and swim his way to the beach. There, SS officers were shooting survivors washing up on the shore. Behind him, the boat exploded, 7,000 instantly dead.
Miraculously Joseph survived, to see the flags change from German to British. The British announced “You are free now,” and he landed in a hospital, comatose, with a high fever and Typhus, for 6 weeks. His wife, eager to find her parents back home in Russia, found that they were sent to Siberia to die.
Myra brought Joseph back to life, and together they decided to leave for the United States. Myra delivered their first child in a displaced persons camp, during the four years they waited for permission to come to the U.S.
As Myra listened to Joseph tell these stories, she held her head, and, at times, interjected. But when it was over, and Joseph declared that 69 years later, he loved his wife just as much as before, they held hands and smiled. “Did you like my speech?” he asked.