- Associated Press - Monday, August 15, 2016

PEABODY, Mass. (AP) - A man who escaped the horrors of the Holocaust - who once stole a shoe to stay alive - celebrated a century of survival this week at the Aviv Centers for Living in Peabody.

Shlomo Masis, a former Lynn resident and native of Moldova turned 100 on Wednesday. The family plans to celebrate his birthday with a party on Saturday, said granddaughter Julie Masis, of Newburyport.

“He survived World War II in the Obodovka ghetto in Ukraine, where his father and his two brothers died. After he was liberated from the ghetto, Shlomo got drafted into the Red Army and fought his way to Prague, before walking home to his village in Moldova,” wrote Julie Masis via email.

A 35-year-old freelance journalist, she has put together a collection of her grandfather’s tales of survival, culled from his stories, stories from her relatives, research in archives, and travel to Ukraine.

Last fall, she traveled to Obodovka, where she found windowless cow sheds of the type she imagined Jews may have lived in during the war. She also found a monument at a mass grave to innocent men, women and children who were killed simply because they were Jewish.

Her book, “How My Grandfather Stole a Shoe,” which is available on Amazon, recounts “how he stole a shoe, how a Ukrainian family waited for him with breakfast every morning, and his secret about living to be 100.”

In the book’s introduction, Julie says 9,000 to 10,000 Jews, many of them deported from Moldova, were imprisoned in Obodovka from the fall of 1941 to the spring of 1944.

Romania, an ally of Nazi Germany, controlled the land where the ghetto was located.

In the first year, approximately 5,000 people died, Julie writes, citing a book by Alexander Kruglov, “The Catastrophe of Ukrainian Jews 1941-1944.” The next year, nearly 2,000 were sent from Obodovka to work elsewhere.

By September 1943, only 1,373 Jews were left. They survived amid a softening of policy against the Jews by Romanian leaders.

Shlomo, who speaks Russian, Yiddish, Ukrainian and Romanian, but little English, was born in the village of Zguritsa, Moldova. The small country is landlocked between Romania and Ukraine in Eastern Europe.

He was one of six siblings - five brothers and a sister - three of whom survived the war.

One brother, Moishe, served in the Romanian army, but he perished when he was thrown from a moving train. Julie discovered this had happened to others out of anger at the Jews over the annexation of a portion of Romania by the Soviet Union, which is now part of Moldova.

In June 1941, Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union.

Julie said her grandfather recalls how that summer, Romanian troops entered the village, rounded up all the horses, then forced the Jews out of their homes at gunpoint, where they were stripped of everything, including their clothing and shoes, and left in their undergarments.

The Jews were forced to walk out in the open with no food or shelter. Along the way, Shlomo’s youngest brother, Isaac, was taken away, and he later earned he was executed by the Nazis during a roundup of Jews.

Shlomo managed to hide from this roundup, escaping death.

One story her grandfather is not quite proud of is how he found a rubber shoe in an abandoned building during the march east to the ghetto. The shoe fit perfectly, he recalled.

Outside, he found another man wearing the matching shoe, but the man refused to give it to him. So, Shlomo told a Romanian policeman the other man had stolen his shoe, and the police officer forced the man to turn it over.

But Shlomo did not keep the pair of shoes. Instead, he exchanged them for a 15 kilogram bag of corn flour (more than 30 pounds), which his family used to make polenta. It fed them for a month.

Shlomo survived in Obodovka, along with his sister, in part because he was a young man, and befriended an elderly Ukrainian couple, and did chores for them.

The couple fed him breakfast every morning. Shlomo did this by sneaking out of the ghetto, even though the Jews were forbidden to leave.

Outside of the ghetto, he would ask people for stale bread, which he would bring back to feed others. One of his brothers escaped, but later came back and died. Shlomo’s father became sick, walking barefoot to a cafeteria to get food, and he also died at the ghetto.

In another tale of survival, Shlomo somehow managed to pay a Ukrainian to have one of his brothers smuggled from another ghetto to Obodovka.

Why did her grandfather survive the war?

“He said he wanted to keep living to see who won the war,” Julie said.

In 1944, the Red Army liberated the ghetto, and the Jews walked back to their old village in Moldova. Toward the end of the war, Shlomo met his future wife and they were soon married. He then went on to fight for the Red Army all the way to Czechoslovakia. A telephone operator, he would go behind enemy lines to fix breaks in the line.

In the 1990s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and a rise in ethnic violence against Jews in Moldova, Julie’s father, Alexander Masis, relocated his family to the United States. Shlomo came over in 1992 and lived in Lynn.

He used to walk to a synagogue in Lynn, and made friends there. He later moved to the Aviv assisted living facility at 240 Lynnfield St. in Peabody a few years ago due to his failing health.

A positive attitude has kept the father of two, grandfather of four, and great-grandfather of six, going, according to Julie.

“He thinks God is keeping him here because he has done a lot of good things in his life,” she said.


Information from: The Salem (Mass.) News, https://www.salemnews.com

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