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  • Writer's pictureKristin Guglietti

Special Holocaust presentation at HMS

Kristin Guglietti/THG Jeff Zeiger, a son of a Holocaust survivor, told his family’s story to a group of Hammonton Middle School students on April 12. Here, he holds a poster with a photo of his dad Shelley Zeiger (right) and Anton Suchinski (left).

Jeff Zeiger, a son of a Holocaust survivor, shared his family’s story to Hammonton Middle School students on April 12.

His father, Shelley Zeiger, died about 11 years ago.

Currently, a lot of the original Holocaust survivors are dying, so it is up to the second generation, the children of the survivors to tell their story.

Shelley Zeiger was born in 1935 in a little village in Poland.

Shelley Zeiger had an older brother, Michael, Jeff Zeiger’s uncle, who is still alive at the age of 93.

The village had about 10,000 people with half the population being Jewish.

Jeff Zeiger’s grandfather was an entrepreneur who spoke six languages with one of them being German.

Next door to his family lived Anton Suchinski.

“Anton was the town fool. Everybody in town, everyone made fun of him. Except for one person: my grandma,” Jeff Zeiger said.

People made fun of Anton who was Catholic because he was a vegan, unmarried and illiterate.

“In 1935-1940 in a little village with chickens, goats, sheep and cows running around, nobody was a vegan. Everybody ate meat. Not Anton. He respected life too much to eat something that is alive,” Jeff Zeiger said.

His family had a normal life until 1941 when Adolf Hitler’s Nazis invaded the village.

The Nazis forced Jewish men including Jeff Zeiger’s grandfather to wash the trucks and tanks.

Because his grandfather understood German, he heard the Nazis plan to have the Jewish men dig a hole and shoot them after they were done washing the trucks and tanks.

After hearing this, Jeff Zeiger’s grandfather hid under one of the trucks.

“He watched as 600 of his friends, neighbors, townspeople finish washing the trucks, dug a hole and were shot. For no other reason than being Jewish,” Jeff Zeiger said.

After the Nazis left, Jeff Zeiger’s grandfather ran home to his family.

Next morning, the Nazis came back. They took the remaining Jewish people to the one synagogue in the village and made them watch as the Nazis burned it down.

Next, the Nazis took the Jewish people to a spot called a ghetto.

Jeff Zeiger’s family spent a year at the ghetto until one day his grandfather made a deal with the guards.

At this time, Jeff Zeiger’s father was almost 8 years old and his uncle Michael was almost 11 years old. Both of them had to dress up as girls to escape the ghetto.

The family escaped to the woods in the middle of the night.

After Jeff Zeiger’s grandmother dreamt her mother telling her to go to Anton, she woke everyone up and the family went to Anton.

At first, the family hid inside Anton’s barn on the second floor called a loft.

Everyday the Nazis would come and beat Anton.

After about two to three weeks, Jeff Zeiger’s grandfather got nervous they were going to get caught, so he came up with a plan to dig a hole and hide in the floor of the root cellar.

It took about two to three weeks to dig the hole using spoons. The dimensions of the hole were 6 feet x 8 feet x 4 feet.

Anton got rid of the dirt by filling his pockets with the dirt and emptying them on the dirt road.

Eventually, two girls ages 12 and 14 who lost their families joined the family in hiding.

“So these six people got into a hole… and that’s where they would spend the next 18 months,” Jeff Zeiger said.

They had to lay like a deck of cards.

One day while six people were in the hole, one of the Nazis told Anton to leave.

For nine days, Anton couldn’t get to the family.

Zeiger said his father described living in the hole with no food and no water for nine days like living in a grave.

During the nine days, two Nazis come to the root cellar cleaning their guns and eating chocolate.

One of the soldiers dropped a bullet and the bullet fell through the hay into the hole next to Michael.

The Nazis soldiers left the bullet where it was to shoot a Jewish person.

Zeiger said the people weren’t doing well in the hole. The only one with strength was Michael, so one day his grandmother asked Michael to go up into the cellar, stick out his head and look outside because they can’t do this no more.

When Michael took a look, he saw the Soviet army marching. Michael got the soldiers attention and the soldiers took the six people out of the hole.

“My family and two girls were the only Jews out of 5,000 that survived,” Jeff Zeiger said.

For next five years, his family wandered through Europe with nothing.

On December 22, 1949, his family arrived to Ellis Island. Zeiger’s father was 14 and his uncle Michael was 17.

Zeiger’s grandmother would communicate with Anton via letters. She asked Anton to draw a flower and send the letter back after someone recited it to him.

In 1962, there was no letter with a flower.

For about 26 years, Shelley Zeiger thought Anton was dead because they haven’t heard from him.

In the late 1980s, a Soviet general told Shelley Zeiger that Anton was alive living in the same house.

About six months later, Jeff Zeiger’s father, mother, uncle, aunt and grandmother got on a plane and had a reunion with the man they haven’t seen since 1944.

The whole village came out and celebrated.

In 1991, Jeff Zeiger’s father took Jeff and Michael’s oldest son to meet Anton where Jeff Zeiger got to thank Anton.

In 2002, Anton died at the age of 98 years old.

Before ending the presentation, Jeff Zeiger gave three things for students to think about:

don’t make fun of somebody because they’re different, if you do something good, good will come back to you and one person can have a big impact.

“The next time somebody says to you, ‘What can one person do?’ Remember what Anton did,” Jeff Zeiger said.


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