On February 13th, my good friend, Sam Solasz passed away. He was a devoted husband to our dear Rose Solasz and loving father of Mark, Scott and Diane and grandfather to so many adoring grandchildren. I am so deeply saddened and will miss him terribly. Sam and Rose have been members of our shul for over 50 years.
Not having been able to be at his funeral (I had to go to Florida to be with my family for my grandson’s ufruf which took place the weekend of February 15th, the same day as Sam’s funeral), I want to now share with you my inner most feelings & thoughts about Sam and the exceptional human being that he was.
I honestly don’t know where to begin. Sam was one of the strongest, most determined, colorful, & loyal individuals I have ever met and I am so honored to have been his friend, neighbor and Cantor. When Sam would walk into a room, he would catch everyone’s attention and captivate all with his stories. He would always speak up and give you his true thoughts and opinions. He was incredibly strong willed and sometimes a little stubborn but always very caring, honest & loving! Sam was given a second chance at life and was determined to live his life to its’ fullest and follow his individual instincts & directions no matter what.
Sam’s book, “Angel of the Ghetto” was recently released. He shared his incredible and extraordinary journey of courage and resourcefulness and his unwavering determination to survive. Sam’s story is a true inspiration! While witnessing unimaginable inhumanity, Sam found the strength and bravery to escape, survive and live on. It was in the Bialystok Ghetto that Sam Solasz became known as “The Angel of the Ghetto.” He would sneak in and out of the ghetto multiple times each day, risking his life to find food and anything else that would help others survive in the ghetto. When the ghetto was finally evacuated, everyone, including Sam and his entire family, was transported to a train going to Treblinka. At one point when the train slowed down, he yelled out in Polish from the cattle car to the people he could see outside on the ground watching the train go by, “what’s happening?” and the people just put their fingers under their necks as if to say; “you are dead”. He ultimately found a way to jump from the speeding cattle car and ran as fast as he could into the forest while being shot at.
This past summer, June and I went on a trip to Poland with several dear members of our congregation, organized by Sam. It was an extremely emotional experience and journey that he took us on. We went to Auschwitz, Treblinka, Bialystok, Warsaw and so may other places, where Jews were slaughtered by the hands of the Nazis. Sam took us to the Great Synagogue of Bialystok and told us how thousands of Jews were piled into the synagogue and burned to death. The only remaining part of the synagogue after this horrific fire was the HIGH CEILING DOME, which Sam made sure would be preserved by getting the Polish government not to build on that piece of land so it would remain a sacred remembrance. While we were there, the Polish government actually held a large ceremony honoring Sam for what he did to ensure the synagogue DOME remains a sacred place to pay tribute to those who perished. He also took us to the Jewish cemetery of Bialystok where the headstones had been vandalized, desecrated and trashed after the war. When Sam had seen this, he had a big wall built around the cemetery to prevent the vandals from coming in and further destroying the sacred headstones. He also took us to a site in the forest where the Nazis had thousands of Jews dig a mass grave and then shot them all to death. We went to many places and sites throughout Poland where our people were murdered, gassed, burned, shot & starved to death. He gave us his first-hand account of what he witnessed and the evil that took over Poland. After the war, Sam served as President of the Bialystoker Home for Aged on the Lower East Side, for many years.
I feel so blessed that I (and the others on our trip) had this special opportunity to join Sam and his family on this remarkable journey, although filled with sadness & horror, it made us really understand what Sam, his family and the millions of Jews went through and how they suffered and perished. In fact, he even arranged for us to go to the town of LAMAZ where my father & mother grew up and lived until they fled Poland in 1939 right before the breakout of the war. It was a very special opportunity for me to see the town my father always reminisced about.
We shall NEVER FORGET the days we spent with SAM SOLASZ in Poland, the summer of 2018.
Sam survived! When he found his way to America, he had nothing but $10 in his pocket, the money he earned cutting meat aboard the army ship that brought him to New York as a displaced person. He and Rose met while ice-skating at Madison Square Garden and with Rose, Sam found a new start, and eventually settled in Hollis Hills. They created a beautiful life together filled with family, love, community and Jewish Tradition. Sam built an extremely successful business, Master Purveyors, and gave so much of his time and his financial resources to help others, including our congregation, during his lifetime.
We at Hollis Hills are so fortunate to have had Sam as one of our very active Board Members together with Rose who has also been very active in our Hollis Hills Hadassah.
Over the years, I spent many hours sitting and talking with Sam and hearing his incredible journey. I was glued to his every word. What Sam went through is unthinkable. He was a true survivor, he was a good & kind man, a loving husband, wonderful father and grandfather and, he was my friend and our dear member.
Sam, we will miss you and we love you! May your memory be a blessing for all who knew you!
May you rest in peace!
Cantor Sol Zim