Painful Memories Yield to A Blissful Celebration

A survivor of Auschwitz and Dachau, Jack Zaifman will be honored along with other local Holocaust survivors at the Jewish Family & Children's Service of Greater Mercer County's Historic Illumination Ball on February 28.

Holocaust survivor Jack Zaifman.
Shining On: Holocaust survivor Jack Zaifman, 92, enjoying a recent Chanukah celebration.
Photo by Gemma Amiott

When Jack Zaifman arrived at Auschwitz in 1943, he told the German guards he was a tailor. They spared him from the gas chambers and gave him an appropriate, if gruesome, job.

“They made me go through the clothing of the prisoners, the majority of whom went directly to the crematorium,” says Zaifman, now 92 and retired in Pennington. “The prisoners had hidden whatever they had—gold, jewels—in the linings, so the guards had me open them up and take it out.”

Zaifman and about two dozen other local Holocaust survivors will be honored February 28 at the Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County’s Historic Illumination Ball, a fundraiser at the Westin Princeton. The event commemorates the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, on January 27, 1945.

Auschwitz was Zaifman’s third concentration camp. In each, he managed to get just enough food, medicine and work to stay alive. After a year at Auschwitz he was transferred to Dachau, another notorious camp.

“They were really just exchanging people, working them to death in Dachau and bringing them to be gassed at Auschwitz,” says Zaifman. At Dachau, the meager ration of bread he received daily was even more mildewed than the slices at Auschwitz. “The only thing we could do was put them in hot water, so we essentially drank the bread.”

On April 26, 1945, he was among the prisoners taken on what was presumed to be a death march, toting bullets and armaments for a desperate Nazi stand in Germany. One day, there was a solar eclipse. “We figured this was the end of the Earth,” he says. “We hugged each other and said we would meet in heaven. When the sun came back out, the Americans had come and surrounded us.”

In 1949, Zaifman emigrated to New Jersey. From 1949 to 1996, he owned Jack’s Custom Shop, a ready-to-wear clothier in Ewing.

Today, he is one of 5,500 Jewish Holocaust survivors living in New Jersey, according to the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. It is unclear if any, other than Zaifman, survived both Auschwitz and Dachau.

Visit the Jewish Family & Children’s Service website for information on tickets to the Illumination Ball.

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