WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- For many people, April 30, 2018, was just another day.
For Samuel Heider, it marked the 73rd anniversary of his liberation by American forces from years of starvation, abuse, denial of his human rights and the murder of his family during the Holocaust in World War II.
Heider served as the guest speaker at an event organized by personnel of the Business and Enterprise Systems Directorate, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
He was welcomed by Scott Olgeaty, Services Management Division chief.
“We are very honored to have you here today, sir,” Olgeaty told Heider, “as you share your story of determination, courage and resilience on behalf of the 6 million victims of Hitler’s ‘Final Solution.’
“Mr. Heider’s message is straightforward and spot-on: ‘never forget; never again,’” Olgeaty told an audience of more than 75 military members, civilians and guests.
Heider spoke for more than an hour about his happy, traditional Jewish, early family life in Poland and the traumatic transition to the horrors that befell the Hajder (Heider) family as the Germans began their destruction of the Jewish people. Only he, Szmul (Samuel), survived, while his mother, father, three brothers, three sisters and an infant nephew were sent to the gas chambers at Treblinka.
Heider endured five years living in a ghetto and three concentration camps – Radom, Auschwitz and Dachau – and bears the scars of 75 lashes and the memories of beatings, starvation, typhus, betrayal, death marches and prisoner trains. At one point his fate was decided by the infamous Josef Mengele, an SS officer responsible for selection of gas chamber victims, who arbitrarily waved him to the right to remain with the living.
His sole possession was a photo of one of his sisters, and he saved it by holding it in his armpit when necessary. He continues to display the precious keepsake at his home in Butler Twp.
He noted the 1.5 million Jewish children who were exterminated.
“Six million Jewish people vanished because the world kept silent,” Heider said. “Of the many nationalities that suffered tremendously, no one suffered more than the Jews.
“It should be a tragic lesson learned, never to be forgotten. In their names I am asking you to observe Yom HaShoah, the Day of Remembrance, from generation to generation, that their names shall never be forgotten,” he said.
On April 30, 1945, Heider and others saw tanks, then someone exclaimed: “Americans! Americans! Americans!” – the most beautiful sound he said he has ever heard.
A Soldier came from behind a tank and said in broken German, “Don’t be afraid. You are free.”
“Those words will remain with me for the rest of my life,” Heider said. “It was a miracle of miracles I survived those five years.”
He weighed 75 pounds on the day of liberation.
After the war, he spent five years in a displaced persons’ camp, then emigrated to Dayton with his wife, Phyllis, eventually ending up in the scrap business. They were married for 68 years until her death and have three children and five grandchildren.
He ended the formal part of his talk by thanking the American, Russian and British armies for ending the war in Europe and expressed gratitude to the Air Force and Wright-Patterson AFB.
“It is because of you that I am here today – I owe my life to you,” he told the audience.
He also thanked his neighbor Robert Kasprzak, an AFLCMC employee, for being present.
Olgeaty presented several tokens of appreciation to Heider, who then donned his yarmulke and a prayer shawl from Israel to close with the same prayer he first conducted after his liberation.
The talk, coordinated by a group headed by 2nd Lt. Timothy Parker, was part of an AFLCMC program that reminds employees of the purpose of the work they do, Olgeaty said.
“We periodically conduct what we refer to as ‘Military Awareness Days,’” he said. “They really remind us why we are here. It reinforces our sense of purpose and perspective.”