On Columbus Day weekend of 2015, a team of 14 people from Floris United Methodist Church headed to Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn, N.Y. to help those affected by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The following post was submitted by one of the members of the Hurricane Sandy Relief Team.
Most of our team is engaged in various small projects renovating a basement previously used as a place of business. The owner is an elderly man of the Jewish faith named Isaac. He and his wife live in the residence above the basement. He’s interesting to talk with and has a great wit and a twinkle in his eye.
Today Isaac came down to unlock a gate in the backyard where we needed to put debris and to assess the condition of his garden where we were carefully trying to remove some old large window casements. It’s usually healing for victims of natural disasters to share their experiences, and for missioners, hearing these stories provides a backstory for the suffering, tragedy and fearful circumstances that everyday people encounter when faced with nature’s wrath.
However, Isaac’s story took a different turn when our team leader, Tim Wells, asked Isaac if he was originally from America. Isaac said, “Umm no, I’m not originally from America.” When Tim asked where Isaac was from, Isaac looked away for a moment as though looking over many years and miles and sighed. Immediately you knew this was not a simple question for Isaac to answer. Isaac proceeded to tell a very condensed tale of an epic life’s journey of survival.
Isaac was born in 1922 in Argentina. His parents were Polish and decided to return to the home country in 1929. In 1939, when Isaac was 17, the Germans invaded Poland. Isaac said that very quickly, in a matter of weeks, everything was taken away from the Jewish people. After surviving the ghettos of Poland, Isaac said that his family, along with 45,000 other Jews, were sent to Treblinka for extermination. At some point Isaac, a young healthy man, was pulled out of the crowd to work. He was sent to work in a Nazi munitions factory.
Later that day I asked Isaac if he did a very poor job of making munitions for the Germans. Isaac said he was lucky because the factory was immense, with tens of thousands of people working there, and thus there was a demand for continual maintenance tasks so he was assigned to the maintenance crew that repaired and serviced buildings. He said the assembly line workers were driven like horses to work as hard and long as possible.
Isaac met and married his wife during this time of enslavement. In 1945 they were liberated. We asked, “What happened then? Where did you go?” Isaac had a wry smile and said, “We were ‘DPs,’ (which he explained meant ‘displaced persons’) and were sent to another camp.” This seemed tragic, but he explained that it was a preferable to remaining in Poland under Russian rule. Eventually they were repatriated to Argentina where they still had family and remained there until 1963 when they moved to Brooklyn. It was amazing to hear everything this man and his wife endured and survived, all of it occurring before I was born a year later in 1964. It is such an honor to provide a small blessing to a couple that has endured more than many of us can imagine. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be fortunate enough to hear about Isaac’s battle with Hurricane Sandy.
Submitted by Steve Bracewell.