THE SAM SCHEIB FAMILY REMEMBERS
Dr. Rochelle Gail Scheib, MD
Medical Oncologist specializing in breast cancer at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard University 1987 -present
Medical specialist in HIV for the Department of Public Health of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts 1987-2017 advocating for underserved populations with HIV and Aids
Sam Scheib was born in 1923 in Przemslany, Poland located in southeastern Poland. This is now the Ukraine formerly part of the Union of Soviet SocialistRepublics. Prior to World War II, Przemslany’s population was composed of 60 percent Jews which included my father, Sam Scheib, and his family. His family included his father Joseph, his mother Hinda, his older sister Ann and younger brother Meyer. My father’s family were primarily farmers.
In September,1939 Hitler’s Germany and its ally, Italy, attacked Poland which began World War II. Germany, Italy, and Japan were the Axis Powers. In 1939, the Allies were Great Britain and France joined by several smaller European countries. In 1941, Germany attacked Russia and invaded eastern Europe that had been under Russian control. Russia then declared war on Germany, Italy and Japan. Russia joined the Allies. Only after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 did the United States enter World War II. The United States joined the Allied Powers.
Sam’s father had served in the Polish army during World War I. He and his family had the opportunity to immigrate to Argentina in 1936. Because there were not enough visas for all the family, they made the decision to stay in Poland.
My father’s family suffered the same fate as all the Jews of eastern Europe. My father suffered both physical and emotional injuries from the Holocaust which would haunt him his entire life. In 1939, Jewish life in Poland under Nazi rule ceased to exist in any safe manner. Jews were forced to wear Jewish stars and formerly safe lives were now under constant fear. The indignities of the occupation resulted in the eventual forced move from their home to the restricted ghetto. In1941, when the Nazis invaded Russia, the Scheib family found the Nazi oppressors far different than the Russians as the goal of Nazi occupation was the annihilation of the 400- year old Polish Jewish community. In the ghetto, the Nazis, upon arrival in the summer of 1941, burned the Jewish synagogue, locking the doors, where they had herded many of the able -bodied men of the Jewish community. Only because a Polish neighbor tipped Sam and his father of the Nazi plans were they able to hide from the round-up.
My father’s sister, Ann, had fortuitously immigrated to the United States in 1939, having been sponsored by family members who arrived in the early 1900’s. The immigration quotas were very strict. My great-grandmother was unable to get a visa even though she had sons who were American citizens and were petitioning to sponsor her. My grandmother, Hinda, would not leave her elderly parents to immigrate to the States until all family members had a visa.
My father was a teenager in the ghetto where he was condemned to have a public execution along with 20 young people including a pregnant woman. By bribing the authorities, he was able to have his sentence changed and was sent to a slave labor camp where he had forced slave labor in a stone quarry from 1942-1943. This slave labor camp was known for severe starvation and regularly scheduled public executions. All exhausted prisoners were eventually executed. Once, in 1943, Sam was paraded naked in front of Heinrich Himmler, the Nazi head of the SS/Gestapo. He stood watching as fellow prisoners were executed for Himmler’s personal entertainment.
Meyer and their parents remained in the ghetto until 1943 when the liquidation of the ghetto began. In the ghetto my great-grandparents starved and were eventually killed by the Nazis. In late 1943, the remnants of the Jewish town were sent to another concentration camp, Belzac. Upon arrival, they were gassed to death. More than 20 immediate family members including my great aunt and her 2 young children met this fate as well as scores of friends and neighbors. Meyer and his mother somehow escaped during the chaos of the last deportation with my grandmother disguised as a Ukrainian peasant. My grandfather, Joseph, after escaping the ghetto and while in hiding, was captured and killed by the local Nazis.
Meyer and his mother, Hinda, remained with a band of Jews hiding deep in the Ukrainian forest. Just prior to his planned execution, Sam escaped from the concentration-labor camp located outside of Lvov in the Polish Russian Ukraine. He found his way to the Ukrainian forest where he miraculously managed to join Meyer and their mother. Surviving both starvation and the brutal winter, this band of Jews lived in constant fear of discovery. A few weeks before the Russian liberation in the summer of 1944, Sam’s fiancé and uncle were murdered by the local Nazi sympathizers. In the fall of 1944 after his liberation, Sam fought with the Russian army until he was gravely injured in January, 1945. The European theater of the war end in May of 1945.
Around 10 years ago, a young college student from Babson College with his grandfather tracked me down to say “thank you”. My father, Sam Scheib, had helped save his grandfather who was then just a young boy in hiding with my family in the Ukrainian forest. Sam had regularly brought food to them to help save him as his father had been murdered. My Dad’s act of kindness had brought hope to that child in the depth of the war and now all these year later it was surely wonderous that we would all meet again. You see, Babson College is in my back yard.
My father came to America in 1951 having been preceded by his younger brother, Meyer, and their mother, Hinda, who had immigrated in 1946- 1947. Sam had to wait for his visa because of quotas placed on immigrants. He waited in a “Displaced Persons” camp in Stuttgart, Germany until his visa was given. Every member of the family who came to America were sponsored by Sam and Meyer’s sister, Ann Levine, and her husband, David, who was born and
raised in North Carolina. Their Uncle Moses Leinwand and his four brothers had come to America at the turn of the century. They, too, came from eastern Poland. Once in America,
they began small businesses in North Carolina and South Carolina. One of these stores remains
in the family and is in Elizabethtown, North Carolina. In the mid- forties, my Aunt Ann and Uncle David started Levine’s Department Store in Windsor. In our family, it is affectionally known as The Store.
Ironically, Sam almost immigrated to Israel and was recruited in the Displaced Person camp by none other than David Ben- Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel. Israel became a new nation in 1948 following the end of World War II in 1945.The young nation was looking for able bodied men to help the country flourish. My Dad was still suffering from injuries incurred during the war and missed his family. Thus, in the end, Windsor, North Carolina became his destination.
Upon arrival in Windsor, my dad immediately worked in The Store named Levine’s located on King Street, Windsor. He learned to speak English “on-the-job” selling pants. He spoke 5 languages in Europe, but always said that English was the most difficult to learn. He attributed his survival during the war to his ability to communicate with the various factions. As he struggled with English, he was heart-broken to find how many names there were for “pants” which included Levi’s, dungarees, jeans, chinos, overalls, denims and slacks. He always spoke that it was luck or the Yiddish word “mazel” that kept him alive. But, for those people including his customers, I would say, his resilience and sense of humor kept him going. He and my uncle, Meyer, bought the store from their sister, Ann, in 1953. Ann and David Levine then relocated to Reidsville, North Carolina.
My mother, Helen, was born and bred in Brooklyn, New York. She met my dad on a blind date in New York City around 1953 at which time they soon visited Windsor. While visiting Windsor, she was approached by a Windsor citizen who felt it his/her duty to let her know Sam was Jewish. She replied that she too was Jewish. The person was startled and said she did not look a bit Jewish. After a whirlwind romance, they married in January, 1954. My dad promised her they would only live in rural North Carolina for “one year”. That one year, became almost 50. I was born in October, 1954. When I was born, the local church came to beg my mother to baptize me, as I would be condemned to a life of hell as a Jew!! (Just an example of life and opinions in the 1950’s.) My brother, Joseph, was born in 1956. My Uncle Meyer married another Brooklyn girl named Estelle about the same time. Both families attended a synagogue in Weldon, North Carolina for all the important Jewish holidays. Our holiday foods for Passover were bought in Norfolk, Virginia or sent from New York City. The Scheib families were the only Jews in Windsor who actively practiced their faith and continue to do so today. I have the fondest memories of my mother and grandmother, Hinda, lighting the Sabbath candles on Friday night. My grandmother, mother and aunt made delicious Jewish bread called challah . We celebrated the holiday of Hanukah with lighting the menorah and exchanging presents. We had bagels sent from New York- not as good as fresh as if purchased daily. Every Sunday morning my Dad would teach us to read and write in Hebrew so we would not be lost in the
synagogue prayers. My family was expected to read and learn Jewish culture despite our isolation living in Windsor. My brother became Bar Mizvah -at age 13 -as boys were expected to assume their Jewish responsibility at that age.
My dad had records – then they were vinyls – sent from Hebrew and Yiddish music stores in NYC. While I was playing the Beatles and the Stones, he was listening to Jewish music. it was the Sixties, so like every American home there was the clash of culture. My parents and grandmother spoke Yiddish to each other. Yiddish is the language of the eastern European Jews – a dying language. Now, it was not uncommon for them to sprinkle it with a bit of Southern phrases and a “ y’all “here and there.
We were Southern to our Northern cousins and in our home, were proud to be part of the South. We laughed at Andy Griffith and Green Acres and I loved Dolly Parton. We also loved basketball. I still pay attention to Duke and Chapel Hill during March Madness. All these years later, I can say I am proud of the difference in our culture, but happy to know we could celebrate those differences with respect in Windsor.
One of the saddest days in Windsor was the closing of the Palace Theater. My parents told me the main reason for the closure were issues relating to integration. The closing was particularly hard on my mother who lived for that connection to Hollywood. My mother went with my brother and me to New York City each summer to visit out Northern family. She would take us to Broadway plays, the ballet and endless movies. My mom found it very hard to return to Windsor. When the Trailway’s bus deposited us in Windsor at the end of the summer and the old movie marquee was empty, it made us all so sad. My mom always joked that her suitcase could be packed in one minute to return to New York City to live. It was hard on her to live in Windsor with the limitations of small town life.
Levine’s Department Store catered to both African-American and white customers. None of my family had been in the presence of African-Americans during their lives in Poland. The Store as we called it was unique because we had African-American sales personnel. My parents had a completely integrated store and bathroom. When my three children saw the movie, THE HELP, they had never realized how we had lived during those turbulent times. The local NAACP used The Store for some of its early meetings. My dad was well respected by the community, both white and African-Americans. He was a bit of a one- man show. At the Trailway’s station when the African American had to sit behind the “for colored only “sign, Dad would sit with them. After his experience of religious discrimination by the Nazis, he was not sticking to the rules. Those as he said were his friends and customers. He and Uncle Meyer gave “lay-away” credit to the poorest people so they could have their Christmas and Easter “finery”. I recall his giving suits on “lay-away” credit for funerals of poor African-Americans. I would go with him to the country to deliver clothing from the store for funerals and weddings. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s financially affected my parents and The Store. My parents had embraced integration, but during the boycotts of white Windsor businesses, they economically
suffered. It came with a heavy price and I recall them talking about losing The Store. African-American leaders spoke to my dad and Uncle Meyer and though they knew of my family’s
support of their civil rights, they could not make an exception to the boycott. The store almost went out of business. In the seventies, the recovery of Windsor seemed possible. I think both of my parent’s aging, declining health and Wal Mart put an end to The Store in 1993. I left in
1968 to live with my NYC family, but always came home for holidays to visit and work in The Store. My family has memories of Windsor and still cannot believe that I grew up in a small town in the rural South.
I recall when my dad was ill, the black ministers came to our home to pray for him. He really was loved by many of the African-American community. Remember, my dad had no exposure to blacks until he moved to America. The segregated South was foreign to him and my mother who was from New York City. For my dad, after the war in Europe and his experiences, he never quite understood segregation. During the Nazi period, Dad saw what the end result was of misguided hate. It was a difficult time. But I am proud that my family treated everyone with respect. The transition to the New South was hard on many people and we should not forget it was a struggle for everyone.
Dad became friends with several business and community leaders in town. But, his best friend was his brother, Uncle Meyer. My dad was like a big brother/father to him as he had helped Meyer survive the war. My dad had a talent for picking diamonds for engagement rings. He helped pick out rings for many women in Windsor by dealing with his New York City jewelry friends. My mother was a Boy Scout Den Mother for many years. I do believe moving from New York City to Windsor was hardest on the Scheib wives. They also worked in The Store and participated in school events. They plotted their one day return to NYC, but my cousin, Eva, and I laughed at that pipe dream. I have fond memories of Windsor. I attended Windsor Elementary School ,1960 -1968. I am grateful for the great education I received. The teachers never completely understood the Jewish holidays when I missed school. I was always embarrassed to explain and also embarrassed when eating matzah on Passover for my school lunch when everyone else had bread. When you are young, you just want to be like everyone else. I have a wonderful picture of me in the first- grade Easter assembly with a large crucifix in the background. I recall one line in our eighth- grade history book which said “Six million Jews died in Europe during World War II.” No one ever connected me to that, but I attribute that to ignorance. My brother was bullied and hit a few times and called “dirty Jew”, but in the big picture being Jewish in Windsor is held with fondness. I remain good friends with some of my Windsor “girls”.
I was in the sixth grade when Windsor Elementary was first integrated. I knew all the new students by their family names since I had often worked in The Store and their families all knew my Dad. I try to imagine just how these children must have felt since it was not initially a welcoming time. These were difficult and turbulent times across the United States.
My friends all included me in their homes and lives. Since we were the only ones without a Christmas tree, I was always asked why and how sad I must be without one. I always looked at
Christmas with wonder, equating it to someone else’s birthday party. You could eat the cake, but it’s not your birthday cake. My parents let us hang up Xmas stockings. As Hanukah was
usually the same time of year, I had the fun of both holidays. I remember working in The Store, wrapping presents for customers until The Store closed late Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, our family had turkey and celebrated a well-deserved day off. Dad, though, was available all day as many a husband seemed to forget a present for a wife or girlfriend or sometimes both!
In 1968 when many children in Windsor went to private schools, I was sent to New York City for high school. In my early years in New York, friends teased me about my Southern accent which has now completely disappeared. I visited Windsor with my family many times until my parents left in 1993 for retirement in Florida. I am most grateful to my parents, my aunt and uncle and my grandmother who gave me the strength to retain my Jewish roots and my pride in being from Windsor, the small rural town that my father told my mother they would stay only one year! The Windsor I knew is long gone. Levine’s and The Store and the Scheib Shoe Store do not exist on Main Street. My mother’s apple trees and azaleas long ago were chopped down and replaced.
For nearly 50 years, our family contributed to a way of life in Windsor through a small “Mom and Pop” store where everyone knew your name. I do hope in those 50 years, our family left a mark because Windsor surely helped to shape us. All the Scheibs are most grateful for that experience.
My father died January 5, 1995 ironically, the day he was to be interviewed for the oral history Shoah Project sponsored by Steven Speilberg to document the testimonies of first hand survivors of the Holocaust. He would say -that was his mazel -luck! I know his story would have not ended in war torn Europe, but included his life in Windsor North Carolina. I believe the life my dad had before 1939 in Przemslany was part of his everyday thoughts, but his journey to America and achieving the American dream of success and happiness was shaped by Windsor. His family’s success through his children and grandchildren remains his greatest legacy.
May 1, 2018