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Significant Lives

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Sam Bloch, Champion of Holocaust Survivors, Is Dead at 93

February 16th 2018

Holocaust cattle cars

Sam Bloch, who fled the Nazi occupation of his Polish hometown with his mother and brother, joined the Jewish resistance that fought Germans in Belarus, and later helped organize large public assemblages of Jewish Holocaust survivors, died on Feb. 4 at his home in the Rego Park section of Queens. He was 93.

His son-in-law Menachem Rosensaft said the cause was heart failure.

To Mr. Bloch, an executive at the World Zionist Organization in Manhattan for 50 years, the gatherings offered mass witness to the horrors of Nazism and evidence that survivors had reclaimed their lives out of what he called “the kingdom of death.” When nearly 6,000 survivors from two dozen countries met in Jerusalem in 1981 — the first major gathering Mr. Bloch was involved in — he told the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, that those who died in crematories, were buried in mass graves and fought in ghettos would not be forgotten.

“We see the sacred souls coming here from all sides and in great numbers,” he said. “Our hearts beat with every step six million times and more. They are not here as shadows. They are here with us in search of a relative, a friend, and they demand: ‘Do not forget us! You, the living, be the guardians of our memory, of our values, of our hopes!’ ”

Over the next few years, thousands of survivors gathered at similar events in Washington, New York and Philadelphia under the auspices of an organization called the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants. Mr. Bloch was the group’s senior vice president and succeeded Benjamin Meed, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, as its president after Mr. Meed’s death in 2006.

Sara J. Bloomfield, director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which opened in 1993, said in a telephone interview, “I’m not sure the museum would exist without the remembrance movement, and Sam was a leading part of a small group of survivors who turned it into a national and international movement.”

A dozen years before the museum opened, Mr. Bloch was appointed chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council’s board of advisers by the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, who was chairman of the council.

Photo
Mr. Bloch in 2005. He devoted he life to Holocaust remembrance. Credit Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

Shmayahu Eliahu Bloch was born in Ivie, Poland (it is now part of Belarus), on Sept. 23, 1924. His father, Joshua, was a Hebrew educator; his mother, the former Sonia Zlotnick, owned two textile shops. Young Schmaike, as he was then known, went away to high school in Vilna, Lithuania, and attended the equivalent of junior college in Baranovichi, in Belarus, where he learned Russian.

Ivie was a small town that was occupied during World War II by the Soviet Union and then by Germany. The elder Mr. Bloch’s prominence made him a target of the Nazis, and one day in August 1941, he was one of about 200 Jews — teachers, rabbis, doctors and others — who were abducted.

Locked in a small storage facility, the men were beaten and then taken by truck, 20 to 25 at a time, to a forest, where they were shot and buried in a mass grave, Mr. Bloch said in an interview for the book “Jewish Fathers: A Legacy of Love” (2004), by Paula Wolfson and Lloyd Wolf.

Not yet 17 when his father was killed, Mr. Bloch felt responsible for his mother and his much younger brother, Martin. They were forced by the Nazis into a ghetto, where Schmaike became part of an underground band of about 150 boys and girls who had armed themselves. In late 1942, the Blochs and about a dozen others escaped and were offered shelter by a poor farmer about nine kilometers outside Ivie.

After leaving the farm, they were on the run before finding more enduring protection with the Bielski partisans, a guerrilla brigade run by three brothers who had created a Jewish community in Belarus forests, where they cared for families and attacked German soldiers and facilities. Mr. Bloch became one of the fighters.

“Ninety percent of our efforts were in the direction of saving Jews,” Mr. Bloch said in the interview for “Jewish Fathers.” He recalled that he and several other partisans returned to Ivie to save some of the people before the ghetto was liquidated.

At the end of the war in 1945, Mr. Bloch and his mother and brother found their way to a displaced-persons camp at the former Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, where more than 50,000 people, including Anne Frank, had died.

He became the youngest member of the committee that ran the camp and developed a lasting friendship with its chairman, Josef Rosensaft. Menachem Rosensaft, Josef’s son, was born in the camp in 1948 and later married Jean Bloch, one of Mr. Bloch’s daughters.

Mr. Bloch also met Lilly Czaban, another displaced person, at the camp. She had hidden for two years with her mother, an aunt and, later, her father in the grain storage cellar of a Polish farm. She and Mr. Bloch were wed at the camp in June 1949.

“As a widow, Sam’s mother did not want to walk her son to the wedding canopy,” Menachem Rosensaft said in a telephone interview. “So my parents walked him to the canopy.”

Mr. Bloch is survived by his wife, his brother and his daughter Jean, as well as another daughter, Gloria Golan, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Although he wanted to immigrate to British-controlled Palestine after the war, his wife and her parents had arranged to go to the United States under a sponsor.

“Lilly told Sam, ‘Listen, I love you, but I’m not leaving my parents,’ ” Mr. Rosensaft said. “So he had to make a difficult decision and decided he was going to join Lilly in the U.S. And he reconciled that by devoting his entire professional life to the Zionist movement, to Jewish education and Israel-oriented publications. He combined his idealism with remaining with his wife.”

Mr. Bloch moved to Brooklyn in 1950 (and became known as Sam) several months after his wife and her family had arrived. He rose at the World Zionist Organization to become its director of publications and turned to a life of Holocaust remembrance, becoming president of the World Federation of Bergen-Belsen Survivors Associations, editing books like “Holocaust and Rebirth: Bergen-Belsen, 1945-1965” and organizing survivor gatherings.

“We remember the victims in their agony and helplessness,” he said in a speech in Manhattan in 2008. “We remember all those who perished fleeing from death and were denied safe havens. We remember all the brave heroes who kindled the flames of resistance in all its forms in the ghettos, death camps, forests and hiding places.

“Each act of resistance,” he added, “even without victory, was a noble exaltation of the human spirit.”


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