November 14, 2012, - 6:30 pm
Today, I went to the funeral of Sam Offen, a Holocaust survivor and friend of my late grandfather, Isaac Engel, also a Holocaust survivor. They were landsmen (Yiddish for Jews from the same part of the world, primarily Europe). Like my grandfather, Sam Offen was born in Poland and lost almost everyone in his family while he survived the Nazi concentration and death camps. He and my grandparents knew each other as they were all Holocaust survivors from Poland who settled in Detroit. I used to see Sam all the time at the cemetery when I went to visit my father’s grave and he was there to visit that of his wife.
I’m telling you about this because I was proud to know Sam Offen and his funeral today was very uplifting because it was not about a man who lost his life. It was about a man who triumphed over tragedy and lived the American dream. Sam Offen, after coming to America with his two brothers who survived, lost a leg when he was hit by a drunk driver in 1959. But he didn’t let that get in the way just as he didn’t let the Holocaust steal his life or his will. As his relatives pointed out at today’s funeral, it’s a big deal when a man dies at age 91, and his funeral is packed, and packed with people of all ages.
I’m one of the many people whose lives he touched with his story of survival and success as a great American entrepreneur. I heard him speak and also talked to him at length for my Detroit-based CBS Radio show. He’s the author of the very moving book, “When Hope Prevails: The Personal Triumph of a Holocaust Survivor,” and traveled across Michigan, America, and the world to tell his story. This happened at the encouragement of my cousin, the late Rabbi Charles Rosenzveig, also a survivor and the founder of the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan.
When Nazi war criminal and Mathausen guard Johann Leprich (of the SS Waffen) was caught sneaking in and out of the Detroit-Windsor, Canada border, Sam Offen spoke out. He was also rightfully disappointed that neighbors, who I interviewed on my radio show, felt bad and expressed sympathy for the Nazi who murdered many Jewish prisoners, while Sam Offenwas a prisoner at Mathausen. Leprich helped murder more than 150,000 people at the death camp.
Sam was a well known furrier in the Detroit area, and his “Ceresnie & Offen” fur store remains the place where wealthy Detroiters go to get the most striking, beautiful fur coats. I always used to see him at pro-Israel events, and he always told me how proud he was of my work in getting out the truth. He was proud to be Jewish and unabashedly pro-Israel, in addition to being a proud American. He was proud to be a right-winger on Israel and a proud Jew.
At his funeral today, it was heartbreaking to hear Sam’s brother Natan (who is probably 90) sing to him the song, “We’ll Meet Again,” in his Yiddish accent. But it was inspiring to hear Sam’s daughter talk about how, after her family visited Poland to see where family members were murdered by the Nazis, they ate at a fancy restaurant. It was the same fancy restaurant that Sam used to walk by as a poor kid in pre-Nazi Poland and never dreamed he would eat there, as it was only for the rich. But, now, he was one of those rich people and had not only survived the Holocaust but eaten at this restaurant–a great triumph for him and a finger in the eye to the Nazis.
Another story Sam’s daughter told was of one of Sam’s many trips to the U.S. Holocaust Museum (which has, unfortunately, been hijacked by leftists and left-wing politics). He saw a 12-year-old girl crying after viewing some of the pictures and exhibits. “Why are you crying?” he asked. “I’m here! I’m alive. I survived!” he proudly proclaimed.
Indeed, he did. And he’ll be missed. The man was a mensch–the nicest man and he gave a lot of money to charity. He’s yet another of the many Holocaust survivors who are no longer with us, but who did triumph and live and have families–the ultimate revenge against the Nazis who tried to snuff them out.
Sam Offen, Zichrono LiVrachah [Blessed Be His Memory].
Tags: Ceresnie & Offen, furriers, Holocaust, Holocaust survivors, Johann Leprich Should Die, landsman, Poland, Polish Jews, Radomer Society, Sam Offen