Rabbi Sidney Zimelman’s Story

Nine Lives: Amazing Stories of Survival

Aug. 18, 1942, was a strange and quiet night in Lomazy, Poland. Days before rumor floated in the warm summer breeze that German soldiers may march in and carry out Hitler’s threats of wiping out the Jewish population. Nobody believed such horror stories, so the Jewish community of 1,600 people stayed. After all, who would do such a thing? How was that legal?

A reporter (name unknown) from the local Polish paper in Lomazy gave all of his belongings to a local farmer so he could dig an 8 by 10-foot rectangular hole in the ground to hide from the Nazis.

“Money is not worth anything to someone being hunted by the Germans,” Rabbi Sid Zimelman, Lomazy-native and Fort Worth resident, said.

Nobody believed what would happen next. The reporter stayed in his hole and wrote a first-hand account in Yiddish, which Sid translated to me from a first-edition publication.

The entire town was slumbering. Suddenly, a whole convoy of trucks carrying fully armed soldiers and police barreled down the road from the larger town nearby. Drunken Germans piled into Lomazy from taverns in the nearest town. Then the little town was surrounded by these cars full of Nazis. They drove everyone out of their homes in the middle of the night. They gathered all of the Jewish people and lead them to one of the four pits they dug outside of town. Every single person was massacred that night while the drunken police yelled horrifying threats.

The reporter lost his wife and child that night.

Rabbi Zimelman was living there as a 5-year-old boy just months before. The United States was not allowing any European Jews to immigrate, but British-ruled Canada would allow a certain number in for the price of $5,000 each. Zimelman’s uncles raised the money for him, his parents and two brothers to escape.

The Zimelman family was on the last ship (U.S.S. Sotory) to leave Poland before the Nazi’s wiped out his entire village. All of his aunts and cousins who stayed behind were killed. He remembers having to sleep on deck until huge storms made them seek shelter below. He was so seasick. He remembers waves from the North Sea crashing on board, and he would slip in the cold water. He now blocks bad things out in life. He has a delayed response to danger. His goal has always been to focus on the good and stay on track.

Zimelman became a rabbi and now heads the Congregation Ahavath Sholom in Fort Worth because of the loss of his family in Poland and the 6 million other Jews who lost their lives. He later joined the U.S. Air Force to thank the country he now calls home for giving his family refuge.

“I wanted to put my name in and repay the debt for my family,” Zimelman said.

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