Jewish Journal


July 24, 2013

Sam Weiss, Holocaust survivor, 83


Sam and Margarita Weiss

Sam and Margarita Weiss

In the early morning following Father's Day, Sam Weiss died after a long illness, surrounded by his family. One more Holocaust survivor whose voice is forever lost to the world, he was 83. He is survived by Margarita (Malke), his beloved wife of almost 56 years, his daughter Vivian (Chavi) and his son Leonard.

All who knew him and loved him agreed that it was a miracle he survived this long.

Vivian, describing her parents’ relationship at the Levaya service, spoke directly to her mother: “Outside of the business you ran together, I can’t recall a single time when my father ever called you by your real name. It was always 'mommy,' in true European fashion, or 'sheifele'. A wife of 56 years in exactly one week from today, with whom he fell in love and proposed to after a mere three weeks of meeting in Mexico City. His mind knew who he met, but his heart knew who you were. The last few months have been the hardest of your life. As much as you were pushed, you pushed back harder and stronger with your love and tenderness for him. You have been a true tzedaikis as you have loved and cared for dad.”

Vivian continued, “He lead a life that few other men have lived, as a boy, as a son, as a brother, as a survivor who numbered among those unlike any other group in history; and, perhaps his most important roles while on this earth, an incomparably loving husband and father.”

Leonard recalled a line derived from a Beatles song that Sam repeated often: “Leonard, Vivian, and Mom, I love you a whole wide world full!” Leonard’s response was: “Daddy, with wide open arms and a smile, we love you a whole wide world full!” As others affirmed unanimously, Sam “was a mensch with a capital M!”

At the service, Vivian began her father’s story: “My father was born November 27, 1929, in Velky Sevlush, a small town in Czechoslovakia. He was the second born and the second son of Yitzchak Yehuda and Chava Weiss. He was named Mordechai Shimon after both grandfathers with the promise of his mother, z”l, that he would be known by both names. He wore both names with pride even though he was known by his friends and family after the war as either 'Shimi' or 'Samele.’ ”

“Before being taken by the Germans, my father was thrust into bearing some of the responsibilities of his family’s needs. He was the one who, while wearing the gold Jewish star armband announcing his Yidden status, ran clutching coupons to get food rations so his mother and siblings could eat, hoping to stay in the good graces of the store owners. He was the one who took the broken-down bicycle left by his Uncle Moshe Meyer and rode to the end of the city, where he tentatively approached the farm ladies hiding in the fields camouflaged under heavy clothes and shawls to sell their small amounts of butter, sunflower oil and kernels of corn, so his mother and younger siblings had something to eat. The cost of being caught: being beaten to a pulp at a minimum, if not immediate death or deportation to one of the camps.”

Vivian went on: “When a little older, on May 29, 1944, we knew that he, along with his Mother and six younger siblings, were transported to Auschwitz where, on Shavuot, the holiday during which we celebrate the giving of the Torah, he was separated from them and they were immediately gassed. His older brother, Arye, olev hashalom, hid during the war with false papers. Between 1944 and 1945, Sam was in five different camps (Birkenau, Funf Teichen, Kitrich Traiben, Guerlitz, Camp Zittau).

“On Liberation Day, May 9, 1945, Sam found out through the occupying Russians that he could walk away from the camp to freedom. Three weeks later, after recovering from malnutrition, he traveled by train to Liberec and later to Budapest where he found one of his uncles and his brother Arye. He learned that Arye and another uncle had found pictures of his parents home in Velky Sevlush. Searching for more family, Sam traveled to Germany to the offices of Jewish Affairs. Finally locating an aunt in New York, he sailed from the port of Bremenhaven to America, arriving on Dec. 25, 1947, in the middle of the worst three-day snow blizzard of the century.

“A free person again, he lived and worked in the Bronx until he joined his brother in Los Angeles in 1956. A year later, he traveled to Mexico City where he met his future bride, Margarita (Malke). They were married within three weeks. They would return to Los Angeles and work together as business partners from 1957 until their retirement in 2000. 

“While my father wasn't one to speak about his experiences in the 5 camps he was prisoner and victim to,” Vivian said, “he did meet with people from the Spielberg Foundation and, after a lot of prompting, he wrote approximately 10 chapters surveying his life from childhood through the few years after the war. It is those beginning chapters in which he speaks of the bastardly, inhumane murderous manacles and the nefarious and sadistic hands of the Nazis. It is in those chapters where he says 'it was a tsunami, dark and cloudy time for the Jewish people' and that 'there was no one we could to turn to ameliorate our painful daily miserable existence.'

“Despite the horrors of your youth,” Vivian was talking to her father now, “I have met few men so genteel, loving and dedicated to your wife and children. I grew up watching the kind of husband you were. You held mom’s hand and kissed it publicly well past your 50th year of marriage. Your 56th wedding anniversary would be next Tuesday and there is no doubt that you were as in love with her at the end, as much as you were on day one.”

Four years ago, a cousin, Uzi Fridman, took Sam and Margarita back to Germany to make a one-hour film about Sam’s experiences as a survivor. Vivian concluded: “I cried at the showing of that video: 'that as time kept moving forward and the years kept passing, those who could stand and say “I was there!” would be fewer and fewer, and that one day soon there would be no one to stand in response and say “Yes it did!”

“We are one day closer to that now. And while there is now one less voice to be heard, the lingering echo of that voice, my father’s voice, will fulfill our hearts and sustain our memories. Your parents have so, so much to be proud of, as do we. We love you.”

Leonard: “When all is said and done, God will say with a big smile and open arms, 'Faithful and humble servant, Welcome Home!' My Dad finished his earthly task and now he is welcomed home.”

Later, his family and close friends gathered at Sam and Margarita’s home for the shiva to mourn the loss of this remarkable man. Their shawls wrapped around their shoulders, yarmulkes adjusted, prayer books in hands, long gray beards combed and stroked, the men crowded in the living room to prepare to recite Kaddish. But before they began, some could be seen still talking among themselves. Sam, the one they would honor, had survived to come alive in the room once again. Always filled with stories he could recount with a merry smile at the drop of a hat, Sam had a surprise!

Just three months earlier, as life was waning from him, and the battery of illnesses that had been assaulting him over the past year were winning, Sam confessed to his sheifele that he was actually five years older than his known age!  He felt his long held secret would have prevented her from dating him, let alone marrying him, so many years ago.  This secret he preserved almost to his last day was folded as a surprise into the whispered conversation that opened the Kaddish.

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