Judah Samet was born in Debrecen, Hungary on February 5, 1938. He attributes his wartime survival to his mother, whose brave actions brought Judah and his siblings through the war. Hungary’s Jews had been insulated from the worst horrors of the Shoah for most of the war, but all that ended with the German invasion in early 1944. Judah’s family faced the brutality of the Arrow Cross, and soon after deportation to the camps. They were forced onto cattle cars at the Debrecen brickyard. Most were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where the vast majority were murdered, while others were used as slave labour. The train that Judah was on experienced a different fate: Slovak partisans had detonated the rail tracks and they were forced to an alternate destination, which turned out to be Strasshof, Austria. After a period of time there, the family was again forced onto a death train, this time to Bergen Belsen, where the conditions were deplorable. Judah’s mother was able to get the family on a train out of the camp, and they ended up along the Rhine River, where they were liberated by American forces. Judah’s father, a Hasidic scholar and businessman, died during this time; he was suffering from typhoid fever contracted at the camps. With the help of a Jewish relief agency, the family was next sent to Paris, where they were able to reunite with extended family. From there they made their way to Marseille, and then to Palestine. Judah and his siblings continued their education, ready to play their part in the new state of Israel. Judah was a paratrooper in the 1950s, and a radioman; he lost his brother in the 1956 war. Judah eventually emigrated to the United States and settled in Pittsburgh, where he survived the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in 2018. He continues to speak about his experiences, sharing his message of peace, strength and tolerance with thousands of students and adults. Crestwood students were able to speak with Judah over zoom in February 2021.
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