William Cooper, Kristallnacht, and a radical act of empathy.

By SARAH GORY, Meanjin, November 21, 2018.  Click for full report from Meanjin Quarterly.  

Look across the Maribynong River from the west as the sun sets and you’ll see the glass-panelled city skyline ablaze in reflected gold. It’s easy to remember, in that brief moment of fire, that this modern city is built on sacred ground, on stolen land.

I’m in my colleague’s office at Victoria University in Footscray. A comfortable armchair in the corner is hung with the red, yellow and black of the Aboriginal flag; plants in coloured pots sit on the windowsill. The walls and shelves are a riot of artwork, posters and photos. Among them is a sepia-tinted image of a distinguished Aboriginal man with a bushy white moustache.

The man, I learn, is Yorta Yorta activist William Cooper.


This year marks the eightieth anniversary of Kristallnacht. Literally translating to ‘Crystal Night’, Kristallnacht was the violent pogrom that marked the escalation of anti-Jewish violence in Nazi Germany, and the end for Eastern European Jewry as it once was. On the night of 9 November, 1938 civilians and Nazi authorities ransacked and destroyed Jewish homes, shops and synagogues across Germany and Austria.

In the morning the streets were littered with broken glass.

Almost one hundred Jews were killed that night and some 30,000 Jewish men were rounded up and sent to the now-infamous concentration camps of Eastern Europe. Their wives and daughters would soon follow them, on and on until the streets were emptied of Jews and the skies choked with the smoke of their collective funeral pyre.

These are the stories that make up my family lore; I am named after my grandfather’s red-haired sister who killed herself on the train to Auschwitz.

The events of Kristallnacht made front-page news around the globe. On the other side of the world, on Kulin Nation Country in the area we know as Melbourne, local newspaper The Argus was reporting on Nazi Germany regularly. Even in the earliest reports it was clear that the world knew Kristallnacht was only the beginning: ‘Crouching tearfully in corners, they [the Jews] are awaiting the next stroke of the terror, as promised by the threatened decrees of Dr Goebbels.’

By and large reports in The Argus—like those in other Australian newspapers—were carefully condemnatory, appropriately denouncing the atrocities of Nazi Germany. It was around the question of the Jews that the tone became decidedly more ambivalent: ‘What is to become of the wandering Jews?’ asked The Argus editorial on 17 November, 1938, ‘Nobody wants them’.

On 6 December 1938 William Cooper and a delegation of the Australian Aborigines League walked 10 kilometres across Melbourne, from Footscray to the city, to deliver a formal petition to the German Consulate condemning the ‘cruel persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazi government of Germany’. They were denied entry and the German consul refused to receive their protest.

Today historians agree that the Australian Aborigines League’s action was the only private protest worldwide denouncing Kristallnacht and the Nazi Government’s treatment of the Jewish people.


The kids are asleep and my partner and I huddle against the cold outside, the ember of our shared smoke bright against the ink-spilt sky. I’m telling him about my research into William Cooper, but I just can’t get past the why; why did William Cooper march against the mistreatment of a people halfway across the world when his own people were still being persecuted and dispossessed? Why was he drawn to the plight of Germany’s Jews? ‘That’s what solidarity is,’ Seth answers, bringing a decade of trade unionism to bear.


I bring this question of why with me to a table in the Melbourne Museum on a frosty morning a few days after my late-night chat with Seth. I’m with Kimberley Moulton, a curator at the museum whose great-great-grandmother was William Cooper’s sister. Although we’ve worked together on several occasions through our day jobs this is the first time that Kimberley and I have actually sat down together. She is direct and warm; despite the chaos of mid-week we talk for more than an hour.

Kimberley tells me about visiting Berlin recently and seeing the golden plaques on every building memorialising the Jewish lives that were lost during the Holocaust. She tells me about visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC and looking at an old Nazi eugenics poster and seeing the Aboriginal figure at the bottom of the pyramid alongside the Jew. She tells me about seeing evidence of Jewish persecution and knowing it instinctually, an embedded sense memory that all marginalised peoples know; an embodied awareness not of discrimination-as-theory but of what it feels like to be discriminated against, to be systematically othered. I nod. I know what Kimberley means.

Is that what William Cooper felt, too?

Both Aboriginal and Jewish cultures are rich in storytelling. We share our histories with our children through song and speech so even when our homes are taken we can carry our culture with us. This is what we know. But what else is carried through generations? Recent studies have shown that trauma affects us on a molecular level, that it is passed down through our DNA. I wonder how that has impacted me, the descendant of survivors of genocide. And if we inherit our ancestor’s trauma, do we inherit their strength and empathy, too? I think of Kimberley and of my Aboriginal colleagues and friends who make art and families and live their cultures every day in the face of continued marginalisation. A legacy of community as an act of solidarity.

While accounts of the Kristallnacht protest focus on William Cooper’s role, Kimberley insists that it was a collective effort from the Australian Aborigines League. Activist and academic Gary Foley asserts the same, praising the actions of what he calls that ‘intrepid band of Koori resistance activists’. Indeed, at the time The Argus reported that the Australian Aborigines League’s resolution condemning Nazi Germany was passed ‘on behalf of [all] the Aborigines of Australia’’

There it is again, I think. Solidarity.


I call Alf Turner, Williams Cooper’s grandson, on a rainy Saturday. He answers the phone immediately. I’m a little nervous to be interrupting the afternoon of an almost-90-year-old man; I stumble over my introduction in haste. He asks for a moment to turn down the television. ‘That’s better,’ he says, ‘now I can hear you.’

The question that I ask him is the same one that I asked Kimberley. Why? ‘That’s always the first thing they ask me,’ Alf Turner chuckles, himself having given countless interviews about this very subject since choosing to honour his grandfather’s legacy and follow in his footsteps as an advocate for Aboriginal rights.

‘He saw his people dying and took up their fight,’ Alf Turner tells me. ‘And when he saw someone else in trouble, he took up that fight too.’ The casual logic of his statement belies the significance of the protest, taking action while the rest of the world watched and waited.


William Cooper’s mother was born pre-contact, before colonisation had made its way down to Yorta Yorta Country around the area we know as Shepparton. By the time she was having her children, the settlers had arrived.

‘When he grew up,’ says Alf Turner, ‘it wasn’t good to be Aboriginal.’

William Cooper was born in 1861. Just over a decade later Daniel Matthews, a local white farmer, started the Maloga Mission on the banks of the Murray River, in part to protect Aboriginal women and children from encroaching settler violence. He kept bringing William Cooper’s mother in and she kept going out bush, back home. Eventually she and her young children did settle there, and it was at the Maloga Mission that William Cooper showed an aptitude for learning, quickly adopting what Kimberley and her family call ‘the spear of the pen’. Later in life he would become known for his prolific letter writing.

It was also at the Maloga Mission that William Cooper began his lifelong campaign for Aboriginal rights. In 1881 he was one of eleven signatories to the Maloga Petition, requesting that the community be granted land that ‘would enable them to earn their own livelihood’. The land was granted and in 1887 the Cummeragunja Reserve was formed. This would ultimately lead to one of the most significant events in contemporary Aboriginal history; the Cummeragunja walk-off. In 1939, after years of mismanagement and restrictions, some two hundred residents of the reserve walked away, igniting the first mass Aboriginal protest and paving the way for Aboriginal resistance to come. Although William Cooper had left the reserve by then, his role as a community and political leader was invaluable to the formation of the broader Aboriginal rights movement.

By 1933 William Cooper had moved to Footscray, where he would cement his influential legacy of activism and advocacy. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Australian Aborigines League and, later, of National Aborigines Day, which is still celebrated in its current incarnation as NAIDOC Week. He penned countless letters of protest, including the petition to King George VI in 1937 calling for the King to ‘prevent the extinction of the Aboriginal race and give better conditions for all, granting us the power to propose a member of Parliament, of our own blood’.

It was during those final years fighting for the rights of his people that William Cooper led the march to deliver the signed petition condemning Kristallnacht. ‘It was in the paper every day, what was happening to the Jews,’ says Alf Turner. Ten years old at the time, he was living with William Cooper and his wife at their home in Footscray. ‘And when my grandfather saw nothing being done he decided to do something. So, he called a meeting of the Australian Aborigines League and they decided to write a letter of protest.’



In retrospect, it’s easy to imagine the Australian Aborigines League seeing parallels with their own situation in the reports on the escalation of violence against Germany’s Jews. They too were being deprived of their homes, denied citizenship, systematically killed in the name of racial theories of social Darwinism. Beyond the paralleled deprivation of home and life and liberty perhaps it was, as Alf Turner suggests, the widespread ambivalence towards the ‘Jewish problem’ that prompted William Cooper and the Australian Aborigines League to act.


Although my knowledge of Jewish traditions is rusty, I always remember the story of Passover. It is the story of how we escaped slavery in Egypt, walking through the desert for 40 years to find our homeland. It could have been done in 40 days, but we wandered so that a new generation could be born, a generation that had never known slavery. Every year on Passover we gather together and retell the story of our flight from Egypt. We sing and pray and question; we drink salt water and eat bitter herbs and unleavened bread. We don’t just recount the story, we imagine ourselves as characters within it, liberated from slavery and marching to freedom across the desert. This imagining, writes author Jonathan Safran Foer, demands ‘a radical act of empathy’.

Empathy, though, is a slippery concept. Broadly, it is understood as the ability to feel what someone else is feeling from within their frame of reference. Whatever your definition, studies have shown that reading fiction increases empathic response. Sunyil Yapa’s remarkable novel Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist understands empathy as intrinsically linked to activism; to change the world you have to love it first.

Professor of Psychology Michael Inzlicht suggests that empathy is a choice. The results of an experiment he conducted with several other researchers in 2014 suggests that those in positions of power—even if temporarily—display less empathy for others. Within this framework, empathy is inherently antithetical to power; conversely, it is the language of the marginalised. ‘When oppression is a lived reality, there is no room for complacency,’ Kimberley tells me.

Historically, Jews have understood the significance of empathy as a counteract to the structures of violence. Walk through the Avenue of the Righteous Among Nations in Yad Vashem and see the prominently-displayed row of trees with their dedications below. Each one recognises non-Jewish individuals whose acts of empathy during the Holocaust saved Jewish lives. Taken together, these acts of empathy imply a collective narrative of resistance wherein empathy and resistance become mutually referential, reciprocal acts.

It’s amazing to think that William Cooper and his fellow activists had the capacity and the tenacity to fight for the rights of other marginalised people when they were denied even the most basic of rights on their own land. Perhaps their petition was, as Gary Foley suggests, a politically strategic way to ‘draw attention to the similarities between what was happening in Germany and how Aborigines were being dealt with in Australia’. William Cooper himself suggested as much: ‘We feel that while we are all indignant over Hitler’s treatment of the Jews, we are getting the same treatment here and we would like that fact duly considered.’

And yet if we understand empathy and resistance as mutually referential, any political strategising in the fact of their protest doesn’t mitigate it as, in the words of writer Neika Lehman, ‘utterly an act of love’. The Australian Aborigines League’s protest was simultaneously an act of resistance as an expression of empathy and an act of empathy as an expression of resistance. And who else would have had that empathy—who else could have—but a people also marginalised and dispossessed by history?

I wonder, as I’m writing this, why I thought there had to be an ulterior motive to the Kristallnacht protest. Perhaps I’m too caught up in current news cycles, where everyone seems to be guarding their scrap of (most likely stolen) land from everyone else. And this, of course, is the reason we need to learn and to share stories like William Cooper’s. Stories that counter the colonial narratives we’ve been told our whole lives, narratives that teach us that acquisition and exclusion and individualism make us powerful. While talking to Kimberley I realise something I’ve always known because it is in my DNA; it is empathy that gives us strength.

I had it wrong all along. There was no hidden motive to William Cooper’s protest. It was one of solidarity; it was a radical act of empathy.


It’s fitting that I first learn about William Cooper’s connection to my people in that office overlooking the Maribynong River. I go back to Footscray, stopping at the market for a sesame-studded bánh tiêu. I find Hampstead Street, near the footy oval, where in 2012 Alf Turner started his own march retracing his grandfather’s footsteps. When I get there, I hear Waa and look up to see him on a bare branch above me, a silhouette against a bruised sky. It seems an omen, although I’m not sure of what.

As I ride slowly back to the city I attempt to follow the route that William Cooper and the ‘intrepid band of Koori resistance activists’ might have marched that warm summer day 80 years earlier. I imagine how much Footscray and the surrounding suburbs have changed in the intervening years, the river a consistent heartbeat as factories and houses and families have come and gone. The migrants from Italy, Vietnam, Sudan whose food and culture have become embedded, decade by decade, in this suburb and this city that I call home.

And I think about what hasn’t changed. I think about those memorials to my people’s genocide that Kimberley saw in Berlin and how here the genocide of Aboriginal people is all but invisible. The seat of Batman has been renamed in William Cooper’s honour, a significant detail in a narrative of denial, but what has really changed? Our government is still unwilling to engage with Aboriginal sovereignty. There is no formal recognition of genocide, no treaty. This city is still on stolen land.

And I think, where is my radical act of empathy?

Sarah Gory is a writer and editor. Currently the General Manager + Reviews Editor of arts publishing collective un Projects, Sarah’s non-fiction writing has appeared in newspapers, magazines and journals in Australia and overseas.

First he was reassigned. Now a Florida principal who couldn’t call the Holocaust a ‘factual, historical event’ will lose his job.

Portraits of Holocaust survivors are displayed at the Museum of Jewish Heritage as a vintage German train car, like those used to transport people to Auschwitz and other death camps, is uncovered on tracks outside the New York museum on March 31. (Richard Drew/AP)
By VALERIE STRAUSS, Washington Post, July 10, 2019.  Click for full report.

A Florida high school principal who told a parent that he couldn’t “say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event” will not have his contract renewed, district officials said Wednesday.

In a video to the community, Palm Beach County Superintendent Donald Fennoy said he was recommending to the county school board that the contract of Principal William Latson of Spanish River Community High School not be renewed. Frank A. Barbieri Jr., chair of the School Board of Palm Beach County, said his panel would support such a recommendation from the superintendent.

“There has been enormous concern over the principal’s statement, and while he has apologized for what he said, it is not tenable for him to lead the school,” Fennoy said in a brief video. “I have lost confidence in his leadership.”

Artur Brauner, lauded film producer and Holocaust survivor, has died at age 100.

CBS News, July 7, 2019.  Click for full report.

Artur Brauner, a Polish-born Holocaust survivor who became one of post-World War II Germany’s most prominent film producers, died Sunday at age 100. Brauner’s family said he died in Berlin, the German news agency dpa reported. Brauner produced hundreds of films. They included several 1960s revivals of the “Dr. Mabuse” crime movies and other hits such as “Girls in Uniform,” starring Romy Schneider.


Several of the films he produced had Holocaust theme, including Agnieszka Holland’s Golden Globe-winning “Europa Europa” about a boy in Nazi Germany joining the Hitler Youth to try to conceal the fact he is Jewish.

His “Babi Yar” in 2003 centered on the 1941 Nazi massacre of Jews in Ukraine, in which several of Brauner’s relatives were killed. Brauner was disappointed by the lack of box-office success for the film in Germany, saying the test of “whether the German cinema public has become politically more mature” had “clearly negative” results.

He also had a share in producing “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,” set in Benito Mussolini’s Italy, which won the Oscar for best foreign-language movie in 1972.

Brauner described “Morituri,” a 1948 movie about a group of concentration camp inmates helped to escape by a Polish doctor near the end of the war, as his most important film. It received a negative reception at the time but Brauner called it “practically the first film that dealt with the issue of Nazi victims.”

Germany Obit Brauner
In this Monday, July 28, 2008, file photo, Artur Brauner, a Polish-born Holocaust survivor who became one of Germany’s most prominent post-World War II film producers, poses for a portrait in Berlin.AP

Brauner believed his lighter post-war films matched the public’s taste.

“People wanted to be entertained after the terrible war, and I had a feeling for the needs of the audience,” he told the Funke newspaper group in 2018.

His persistence helped. He recalled driving 36 times through communist East Germany from Berlin to Munich in his rickety Volkswagen to persuade the actress Maria Schell to play the part of a penniless pregnant woman in the 1955 drama “The Rats,” one of his favorite films.

Culture Minister Monika Gruetters praised Brauner’s efforts over the decades to ensure that the victims of the Holocaust were not forgotten and said it was “a great gift for our country” that Brauner chose to make movies in Germany and support its democratic rebuilding.

In recent years, Brauner was worried by the rise of right-wing populism in Europe.

“I can only recommend to young people that they don’t fall into the clutches of populists around the world and stand up with all their might to nationalism, racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia — now and not when it is already too late,” he the dpa news agency in 2018.

The son of a Jewish wood merchant, he was born as Abraham Brauner on Aug. 1, 1918, in the Polish city of Lodz. Brauner discovered his love for the cinema at an early age and often went straight from school to a screening. After finishing school in 1936, he joined an expedition of young documentary filmmakers to the Middle East, then studied in Lodz until Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939.

Brauner, his parents and four siblings fled east and survived the war. His parents later emigrated to Israel. Brauner himself considered emigrating to the United States, but her briefly returned to Lodz, then moved to Berlin with his brother, Wolf.

In West Berlin, Brauner co-founded the Central Cinema Co., which went on to become one of Europe’s most important production firms, increasingly expanding into television in the 1960s.

Even as he turned 100, he was discussing scripts almost daily with his daughter Alice. “As soon as I am no longer around, I can give up working,” he said.

Brauner’s wife, Maria, whom he married in 1947, died in 2017. He is survived by their four children: Fela, Alice, Sammy and Henry.

Eva Kor, advocate for forgiveness, dies at 85.

Click for interview and audio from NPR/All Things Considered.

Eva Kor: Survivor of Auschwitz Nazi experiments preaches forgiveness

By Harmeet Kaur, CNN, July 4, 2019,  Click for full report.

(CNN) Eva Mozes Kor, a Holocaust survivor who advocated forgiveness for those who committed atrocities during that era, has died, according to the museum she founded. She was 85.


Kor — who spent decades educating people around the world on the Holocaust and speaking about her experiences — and was known for her message of equality and peace. She was on an annual educational trip to Poland when she died in Krakow.
“We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of Eva Kor, Holocaust survivor, forgiveness advocate, and founder of CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center,” the museum said in a statement.
“Eva Kor has touched hundreds of thousands of people over her 85 years through her message of overcoming tragedy, finding forgiveness, and healing,” the museum added.
Kor was a child when she and her twin sister Miriam Mozes Zeiger were separated from their parents and their two others sisters on the selection platform at Auschwitz. It was the last time the two girls would ever see their family again.
Kor and her sister spent nine months at the concentration camp where they were victims of inhumane medical experiments at the hands of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. After receiving a series of mysterious injections, Kor fell ill and was told that she had weeks to live.
After the Soviet army liberated the camp in 1945, the sisters relocated to Romania to live with their aunt. At age 16, they emigrated to Israel where they both served in the army. Eventually, Eva met her husband Michael Kor, a fellow Holocaust survivor and American citizen, and joined him in the United States. The couple lived in Terre Haute, Indiana, and raised two children.
Eva Kor and Zeiger eventually embarked on an effort to relocate other twins who were victims of the medical experimentation at Auschwitz. In 1984, the sisters founded the non-profit organization CANDLES (Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors) and identified more than 100 survivors, the CANDLES museum website says.
But that wasn’t enough for Kor. About 10 years later, Kor said in a 2016 CNN interview that she initiated a meeting with a Nazi doctor in an effort to learn more about what happened in Auschwitz. She said he told her of his involvement in the horrors of the concentration camp, and she asked him to join her on a trip to Auschwitz to sign a document reaffirming the existence of the gas chambers.
Kor also spoke of writing a letter of forgiveness to that doctor.
“I ultimately came up with a gift of forgiving him. That was my gift to him,” she told CNN’s Max Foster. “But it became a gift to me too.”
“I was finally free of what happened in Auschwitz emotionally,” she added. “I was in charge of my own feelings.”
Kor opened the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute in 1995 to “prevent prejudice and hatred through education about the Holocaust.” The original museum was set on fire and destroyed in 2003. It was rebuilt and reopened 2005.
“The themes of Eva’s life are apparent. We can overcome hardship and tragedy. Forgiveness can help us to heal. And everyone has the power and responsibility to make this world a better place,” the museum’s statement read. “We hope Eva’s story continues to change the lives of those who hear it for many years to come.”
The museum will be closed in honor of Kor until Tuesday, July 9.

Sam Schulman, last surviving US crew member on legendary “Exodus” dies at 91

By MARC SCHULMAN, Times of Israel, July 5, 2019.  Click for full report.


Sam Schulman in front a photo of himself at an exhibition of the ‘Exodus’ at the Virginia Holocaust Museum in 2003 in Richmond, Virginia (Courtesy Schulman family)

Sam Schulman in front of a photo of himself at an exhibition of the “Exodus” at the Virginia Holocaust Museum, in Richmond, 2003.  (Courtesy Schulman family).


From the end of World War II until the establishment of the State of Israel, “illegal” immigration — known by its code name the Aliya Bet — was the main way of getting around the United Kingdom’s strictly enforced policy at the time of allowing only several hundred Jewish refugees a month into British-controlled Palestine.

From 1946-1948 more than 60 Aliya Bet ships were organized, but only a few managed to penetrate the British blockade and bring their passengers ashore. Most were stopped and sent to detention camps in Cyprus. The more than 4,500 Holocaust survivors on the Exodus were forced onto prison ships in Haifa and sent back to Europe.

American journalist Ruth Gruber, author of Exodus 1947: The Ship That Launched a Nation, sent dispatches as the drama unfolded, helping to bring worldwide attention to the immigrants’ plight and influencing events leading up to the establishment of Israel in 1948.

The “Exodus 1947” after being seized by the British Navy off the coast of Haifa on July 18 1947.  (Courtesy:  Government Press Office).

Although the Exodus was the most famous of the Aliya Bet ships, Schulman also sailed on other lesser known but equally important ones like the “Pan Crescent” and the “Pan York,” which together brought over 15,000 immigrants from Burgas, Bulgaria, in December 1947. Both were stopped by British warships and forced to anchor at the Cypriot port of Famagusta (today in Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus).

Schulman was detained by the British in Cyprus for several months before being smuggled on a boat to Haifa. Once there he made his way south where he helped establish an agriculture collective, Kibbutz Mishmar Ha’Negev. He then went on to train seamen in navigation at a naval base in Haifa during Israel’s War of Independence. He remained in Israel for a year before moving to New York.

“I’m proud of the role I played,” Schulman once said about his contribution to help Jewish immigrants get to Israel. “Those were important days of my life.”

The Exodus was celebrated in the 1958 bestseller of the same name by Leon Uris, later made into a Hollywood film based on the book starring Paul Newman.


Sam Schulman, on left, aboard the “Exodus” in Baltimore Harbor, 1947.  (Courtesy).

Schulman was born to Polish Jews in Terra Haute, Indiana, on July 8, 1928. Following the untimely death of his father, he moved with his mother to Warsaw, Poland in the early 1930s — prior to the start of World War II — to be with her family. After his mother remarried, he spent a short time there before moving to Paris, France. When war broke out in September 1939 with the German invasion of Poland, Schulman was an 11-year-old French schoolboy. The following year Germany occupied France, taking Paris in June 1940.

Despite the food rations, curfews and anti-Jewish laws, Schulman and his mother Sarah (his step-father was on a business trip in the US when the war broke out and couldn’t return to Europe) managed to keep a low profile until a major round-up of Jews in July 1942 — known as the Vel D’Hiv raid — in which over 13,000 Jews were arrested, including more than 4,000 children.

Narrowly escaping capture, it became clear to the two that Paris was no longer safe. With the help of a local Jewish agency, they were smuggled by train to the rural village of Pionnat in the heart of the Vichy-controlled “free zone,” in essence, an area controlled by a French puppet government led by Marshal Philippe Pétain but under the watchful eyes of the Nazis.

About 75,000 Jews, including 12,000 children, were deported from France between 1941 and 1944; only around 2,500 survived. Drancy, outside of Paris, was the primary camp for Jews being deported to Auschwitz and the other Nazi death camps in Poland and Eastern Europe.

Sam Schulman aboard the “Exodus” in the spring of 1947 (Courtesy)

Schulman and his mother survived the war in hiding for three years in Pionnat – located 250 miles (400km) south of Paris in the central Creuse region. Despite the village’s remoteness, there was the occasional brush with German soldiers and French gendarmes, but they were warned ahead of time by the local resistance movement and had time to hide in the fields for a day or so until it was safe to come out again. The local priest knew they were Jewish but didn’t report them.

Aside from the fear of being caught and not knowing where the rest of the family was, Schulman and his mother had it relatively easy. When recalling that period of his life, he would often think about how lucky he was. “Despite the danger, I think the hardest part of my time in hiding was probably the isolation and the loneliness,” he said.

Unfortunately, most of his relatives who remained in Poland – his grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins – as well as family members in France were not as fortunate and perished in either the Warsaw Ghetto or the Auschwitz extermination camp. “I was at the wrong place at the wrong time [Europe during World War II] but somehow I survived,” he once remarked about his lost childhood.

After the war, Schulman returned briefly to Paris before immigrating to New York with his mother. He remained there for a short time before being recruited to join the Aliya Bet on the Exodus, which left from Baltimore, Maryland, on February 25, 1947.

He once recalled his mother’s response when he told her that he wanted to go back to Europe to help other Jewish refugees. “You’re an only son, why do you want to go to Palestine? Let somebody else go,” she pleaded. His response: “I want to go, I have to go.”


Upon his return from Israel, Schulman — who was born in America and had US citizenship but left when he was 4 years old — was drafted to the Korean War. Because of his experience in Israel’s War of Independence, he spent two years training soldiers at Camp Edwards on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, rising to the rank of Sergeant First Class.

After the war he studied at Brooklyn College and then at the Joseph Bulova School of Watchmaking in Queens, NY, on the GI Bill. Schulman went on to set up a jewelry-watchmaking business in the old diamond exchange district on Canal Street and the Bowery in lower Manhattan where he worked for 40 years.

A long-time resident of Larchmont, NY, Sam Schulman is survived by his wife, two sons (including this writer) and five grandchildren.

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