THE WEEKLY BLAB
Volume 9, Issue 37– June 10, 2015
I’ll Be Off to Las Vegas…
I’m leaving later today to go to Las Vegas. The sad news is that my Uncle Nathan passed away at 90 years old, and I’m going to his funeral. He led a full life, and a eulogy (in part written by my sister, Drorit) is below. Warning: there are some details regarding the Holocaust that are frightening.
My uncle, Nathan Szafran, died in the early hours of Friday June 5, 2015, in Las Vegas, NV at the age of 90. He had gone into the hospital a few days earlier seriously ill but had rallied back, and we hoped all would be back to normal. It was not to be, and while sitting up, seemingly better, a heart attack did him in. He is survived by his loving wife, my Aunt Shirley; his brother Daniel (my father); his daughter Karyne and son Barry; grandchildren Nicole, Jacob, Katie, Joshua, and Kristen; and great grandchildren Damian and Isaiah.
Nathan was born in Strykow, Poland (a small city northeast of Lodz) in 1925. The family was large, consisting of father Hersh Icek Szafran (for whom I am named—Hersh is German for “deer”, and Zvi is Hebrew for “deer”); mother Fayga Riwka Hecht (for whom my sister Drorit is named); and seven children: older brother Barish (for whom my cousin Barry is named); younger sisters Kajla Frymet and Sura Pesa (both of whom my cousin Karyne is named for); and younger brothers Daniel, Shimshon, and Moshe (for whom my son Mark is named).
Hersh Icek was a metal worker who made milk cans, stoves, pipes, and farming equipment for the local farming population. He was also a roofer. Fayga Rivka helped with the business by going into the large nearby city of Lodz to get metal, had a vegetable garden, and cared for the children. Nathan attended primary school until the fourth grade when he had to leave school to work with his father. A few years later, in 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland, starting World War II.
The Nazis established a small ghetto in Strykow, but people could leave it during the day to work. Eldest brother Barish returned in 1941, having been a prisoner of war. Hersh and the older boys laid roofs for the German barracks and built stoves to heat them. The family was ordered to move to another small ghetto in Bzeziny. Men from 18 to 20 were told they could to go to a camp to work. Barish signed up to go and was never seen again. The Nazis took the younger children Moshe (10) and Shimshon (12), saying that they were going to be sent to a special school to learn a trade. After the war, the truth was discovered—the boys were murdered in mobile vans. The remaining family was transferred to the Lodz ghetto, where they were forced to live in a single room. Hersz, Nathan, and Daniel were forced on a truck, supposedly headed to another work camp. While in motion, Hersh made a commotion to divert attention, and Daniel and Nathan jumped off the truck, probably saving their lives. That was the last time they saw their father.
When the Lodz ghetto was liquidated in 1944, the remaining family was packed into cattle cars and taken to Auschwicz. All were murdered on arrival, except for Nathan and Daniel, who were tattooed (with consecutive numbers) and forced to do slave labor. In the spring of 1945, they were transferred to Sachenhausen. As the Russian Army approached the prisoners were forced to go on a death march to Germany. During the march, they came across some Red Cross volunteers who gave them food and clothing. The Nazi guards ran off and Nathan and Daniel escaped. They made their way to a displaced persons camp behind the American lines. In 2001, Nathan gave testimony at the Shoah Foundation about his experiences during the Holocaust.
Nathan immigrated to the United States in May 1950 and settled in Syracuse, NY. He was drafted into the United States Army and served in Germany during the Korean War period.
After discharge, Nathan returned to Syracuse where he met his wife, Shirley. They were married on August 24, 1958 and ultimately celebrated 56 years of marriage together.
Nathan worked multiple jobs to support his family, and then started his own successful business as a home contractor, performing painting services in the Syracuse area. My parents, sister and I moved from Israel to Syracuse in 1959, reuniting the family. Since Nathan was older than my father, he was, in effect, the family patriarch. I always had an especially close relationship with him, from the minute we came to the US and I first met him when I was four.
Nathan and Shirley’s children Karyne and Barry were born in 1959 and 1961, respectively. For many years, we lived two houses apart, getting together several times every day for one thing or another, as one big family. When I was a teenager, I’d work on one of Nathan’s painting crews in the summer to earn money for college. Throughout the years, we’d always get together in the summer, for Thanksgiving, and for the winter holidays. I’d have to be careful about what I’d say when we got together—I remember one time my Aunt Shirley made a Boston cream pie for dessert. When I said that I liked it, for years afterwards, there would be a Boston cream pie waiting for me every time I visited. Uncle Nate arguing about politics, so he, my father, and I would often have three-way debates.
Upon his retirement in 1995, he and Shirley moved to Las Vegas, where my parents joined them a few years later. In later years, Nathan enjoyed traveling to Poland each summer to visit Strykow for several weeks, where he had many wonderful and loving friends. Nathan was always passionate about family, taking his grandchildren on trips and having the family gather for holidays.
Nathan was loved by all who knew him. He loved life, and lived his own to the fullest. He will be buried at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery, on Friday, June 12, 2015. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to honor Nathan’s life and spirit, to the Holocaust Survivors Group of Southern Nevada, P.O Box 371434, Las Vegas, NV 89137.
Rest in peace, Uncle Nate. You will be missed.
Last Week’s Trivia Contest
Last week’s trivia contest dealt with June, but not necessarily the month. Our winner was Bill Prigge, Assistant Dean for Administration at University of Tennessee’s College of Pharmacy. Others getting all five right included Drorit Szafran, Virginia Bennett, Paul Howley, Jamie Sovie, and Julie Cruickshank. Here are the correct answers:
- Someone who gets married during the most popular month for weddings. June bride.
- Johnny Cash’s second wife. June Carter Cash.
- A type of beetle, also a song by the B-52’s. June Bug.
- The mother’s name on “Leave it to Beaver”. June Cleaver.
- Actress who played Timmy’s mom on “Lassie”, she was also the mom on Lost in Space. June Lockhart.
This Week’s Trivia Challenge
No contest this week. The challenge will return next time.