By BERNIE FARBER
November is Holocaust Education Month, a time we tell stories of survival. My father, the sole Jewish survivor of his small Polish village, used to say that it took 1,000 miracles to survive the Shoah because 999 were simply not enough.
The following is not only the story of 1,000 miracles, but at its conclusion we will understand what the circle of life is really all about.
In 1939, when Samuel Pisar was 10 years old, both the Nazi and Soviet armies invaded his native Poland. Interestingly, Samuel came from Bialystok, 50 kilometers from my father’s village of Bothki. When Adolf Hitler broke the Nazi/Soviet pact in 1941, Samuel was captured along with thousands of other Jews. He was young and strong and survived incarcerations at Majdanek, Auschwitz and other camps whose only purpose was to murder Jews.
His final camp, Dachau, became the concluding volume in this first chapter of his life. It was the spring of 1945. Young Samuel was out on a Nazi slave labour detail as Allied forces approached. Nazi SS guards gathered the work detail and marched them away from the advancing Americans. They marched for three days with little water or food. Many succumbed. Still young, Samuel stayed alive.
It was on the third day when a number of Allied fighter planes spotted both the Nazis and their slave labour detail. Thinking it was a column of Nazi soldiers, the planes’ pilots descended sharply and strafed the area. Taking advantage of the ensuing confusion, a number of prisoners made a break for the forest. The bombing and Nazi bullets mowed most of them down but young Samuel used up one of his thousand miracles and made it to the safety of the embracing forest.
Starving, emaciated, Samuel hid in an abandoned hayloft. A few mornings later, he was awakened by the sound of a rumbling motor. Cautiously looking out from his hiding place, sure that he would see the dreaded swastika, he saw instead an American insignia.
Washed over with relief, he stumbled from the hayloft in tears of joy. The hatch of the tank popped open and emerging was Corporal Bill Ellington, the son of a former slave and member of the storied 761st Tank Battalion, known for being comprised primarily of African-Americans. They were the original “Black Panthers.”
The son of a former slave and the young survivor of the Nazi death camps held each other while Samuel cried the only words he knew in English, “God Bless America.”
He was just 16, the sole Jewish survivor of his family in Poland when he emerged into what would become the second volume of his life.
Miracles followed Samuel. He was raised by the remnants of his French and Australian family, graduated from the University of Melbourne, and later earned doctorates of law from Harvard and the Sorbonne.
His rise was rapid. He worked for the United Nations and UNESCO and was appointed a special advisor to President John F. Kennedy. He counseled the State Department and worked as legal adviser to both the House of Representatives and Senate. He was one of the youngest, most respected government advisers – so much so that in 1961, through a special act of Congress, Pisar was awarded U.S. citizenship.
His legacy continued. He counselled governments and world- renowned personalities from pianist Arthur Rubenstein to tech whiz Steve Jobs. His passion became human rights and he took up the causes of the novelist Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.
He became a trustee of the Brookings Institute, was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and has addressed international conferences and world leaders at Davos, the International Monetary Fund and the European Parliament.
Samuel was twice married upon his death in July 2015 and left two daughters, one from his first marriage, Leah and Norma, from his second wife, Judith.
Here’s the promised kicker: Samuel also left a step-son from his marriage to Judith: Antony Blinken who, on Nov. 23, was nominated to become U.S. Secretary of State in the administration of President-in-Waiting Joe Biden.
Samuel Pisar was a man of many miracles, maybe even 1,000. May his memory continue to be a blessing.
Bernie Farber is publisher and co-founder of the Canadian Jewish Record, Chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a writer and human rights advocate.