Magazine, website & books written by teens since 1989

Holocaust Survivor: Michael Zeiger This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

Unknown


Would you tell me about your family
and occupation?


I live with my wife in Randolph Township, New Jersey,
and have three children and several grandchildren. I am 63 years old, president of a wine importing
company and president of the Mount Freedom Jewish Center, where you found my name as a Holocaust
survivor. Recently I was appointed to the Holocaust Educational Commission by Governor
Whitman.


Where did you live before World War
II?


I belonged to a family of four who lived in a small village called
Ternopol, in Poland. My father, Irving, was a wealthy scrap metal dealer, so I had a pretty secure
childhood. When the war started, though, we knew we were in danger from the Nazis. My father took my
mother, Sonya, me and my brother, Shelley, to the village of Zborov where we had a
summer home.


When did you realize you had to go into
hiding?


In1941, two years after the Nazis invaded Poland, we realized
we were in danger, even in Zborov. My family has only one man to thank for saving our lives
and warning us to go into hiding.

His name is Antosh Suchinsky. He was a
poor farmer living in a shack in Zborov. Suchinsky was always thinking of others - he even used to
put out a bowl of sugar water for the flies. He always said, 'Do to others what you would like them
to do to you. We have the choice to be good or bad. ' He was a vegetarian and an outcast because of
his beliefs. He always talked to plants and animals, and meditated by staring at a black circle on
the wall. But he was our neighbor and my family was always kind to him; we would always give him food
and clothing.


How did Mr. Suchinsky
help you?


He had been sent to a German labor camp, but escaped and came
to warn us. He knocked on our door offering help. My family was hesitant at first. My mother told us
to trust him, though. In fact, just before he came, she had a dream where her deceased mother told
her to put her faith in Suchinsky. So we accepted his
offer.


Was it Mr. Suchinsky who took you
into hiding?


Yes. He made plans to temporarily hide us in his barn. He
and my father dug a hole in the middle of the night using cups, spoons and their bare hands because
they had no shovels. Every night, they spread the dirt from the hole in different areas far from the
barn so no one would get suspicious. After six weeks, they were done; the hole was four feet
deep.


What was it like living in the
hole?


I can't tell you how horrible the conditions were. There was no
air, no food, no light. We were just like animals. All we had were the will to survive and a
positive attitude that we would eventually get out. We were always sick, but there was nothing we
could do. There were no doctors, no medicine. The will to survive was more critical than
anything else. Our top priority was to stay alive.


How long
were you in the hole?

Two
years.


Could you ever come out, even
at night?

Never. We didn't want to be
caught.


What did you do to pass the
time?


All we had were the stories my parents told. We couldn't even
light a candle, so we just listened. My father told us story after story of what our lives would be
like after the war. He described a world in which Jews were no longer the object of
persecution.


What did
you eat?


There was very little food. We would sometimes go for days
without eating or drinking. Suchinsky lowered food in a pail every few days, sometimes just once a
week. We ate raw potatoes, raw beets and, once in a while, had a little water. Water was a
luxury.

Suchinsky didn't want to look suspicious because everyone was watching
him. They knew something was going on, but couldn't find out what. He knew they were watching him so
he tried to be very careful. In the middle of the night he would say, "I'm here"
and lower a pail of whatever he could find. He was poor himself, and didn't have
much food.


Did the Nazis ever come close to finding
you?


Yes. The Nazis were looking for us. There was one incident when we
saw the light from their flashlights. Can you imagine that? They were poking with bayonets in
the straw, but couldn't find the hole. Another time we couldn't speak or even move for two days
because the German soldiers were keeping vigil in the barn
above us.


What about Mr. Suchinsky? Did they ever
capture him?


No, they did could not figure out who he was or what he
was doing. He did everything he could to prevent the Nazis from discovering us. He burned his mouth
with sulfuric acid once so the soldiers could not question him. He used the acid, herbs and human
excrement to cover our scent so the dogs could not smell us. He made false hiding places, too. He
scattered papers and other things in them to make it seem like we had lived there but just left.
Right before we were saved, Suchinsky was forced to leave the village and we could not get news of
the war.


How were you saved?

In
1943, after two years in the hole, the Russians liberated Poland. We heard the shooting, a
tremendous amount of shooting. We heard the Germans talking and then, for about a day, it
was completely quiet. We did not hear any talking, just a lot of artillery and bombing. Then we heard
Russian. The soldiers were searching for prisoners. Somehow my father made contact, and they pulled
us out.

We were completely incapacitated; we couldn't move. We were crippled. We
were crawling on our knees. Being in a hole for two years and not moving - the dampness of the earth
got into our bones. And even more frightening was that two days after we were rescued the hole we
had lived in for two years collapsed.


What did you do then?
Where do you go in a world that does not know you anymore?


Well, it
took us eight months to recover physically; emotionally ... well, that is another story. Our house
had been demolished during the war, so we left Poland for Austria, then Hungary, Czechoslovakia and
Bavaria. We wanted to move to Israel where we would not be persecuted but were denied entrance. That
was when my family decided to move to America, where my aunt was
living.


What happened to
Mr. Suchinsky?


We lost contact with Suchinsky, and after years of not
hearing anything from him assumed he was dead. But years later, we learned he was still alive.


We planned a reunion, and my father offered to buy him an apartment in Israel or
America, but he declined, preferring to remain where he was. He told me, 'Every dog has his own
home. ' Since then I have visited him as often as I can, and send him clothes, food and a little
money. If we sent him a lot of money all at once, he would just give it away. At 94 he still cares
about others more than himself.


What have you learned that you
want teenagers to know?


I want them to know that a terrible thing
happened, and is still happening in parts of the world. It's up to you young people to make sure it
doesn't continue. There are a lot of books out there that say the Holocaust never happened, but it's
not true. I am a living example.

So, we have to educate people. We have to make
sure we erase bigotry, and we have to try to live together. Race and religion don't matter; we are
all human beings. I wish you could interview Suchinsky - he would tell you. He would tell you how
to live and how everyone is created equal.

You are the future. You have to learn.
Talk to your friends and enlighten them so they know. Spread the word so everybody knows it did
happen. We must stop hate.


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





Join the Discussion


This article has 2 comments. Post your own!

thebookthief13 said...
Mar. 5, 2012 at 1:38 pm:
Wow this is a really incredible interview, great job! Oh gosh, how terrible it must have been.
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
birdcage2This teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
Jul. 29, 2011 at 12:24 pm:
this is really good the holocost is a terrifying thing. you are amanzing ( the person who servived not the interviewer
 
Reply to this comment Post a new comment
 
Site Feedback