In a time of darkness and despair, a new life began; with it came renewed hope for two parents who had lost family and were struggling to live one day at a time.
“I was born on March 18, 1945, in a work camp in Cherson, Ukraine, Russia,” says Jack Schniper. “My mother told me that I weighed five pounds and was delivered by a German doctor. Due to lack of milk and nutrition, I was undernourished for the first year of my life.”
Jack’s parents met at the work camp. Both had fled their homeland of Poland to escape Nazi persecution and were able to keep their Jewish identities a secret in order to survive. As the war was ending, his parents escaped with Jack from the camp. They fled at night, praying that the tiny baby wouldn’t cry and reveal their attempt to flee.
“My mother told me she was so afraid that night, but that I didn’t make a sound.”
Jack’s parents never shared with him the entire story of their survival of the Holocaust. However, brief stories were told over time.
“Considering what my parents endured during the war years, it brought out too many painful memories for them,” he says.
History tells us that under the Nazi regime, Jews were only allowed to live if they were physically able to work as slave laborers. The destiny of pregnant women was especially grim. In camps that had gas chambers, visibly pregnant women were automatically gassed upon their arrival. A woman who became pregnant in a camp might be allowed to bear her child, only to have it taken away after delivery and killed. Since the Nazis viewed babies as having no purpose, most newborns were destroyed by fire, drowning, or shooting. Some babies were spared briefly for medical experimentation. Those who were hidden at birth faced a very short life expectancy due to harsh living conditions. It is estimated that 1.5 million infants and children died during the Holocaust.
Jack’s family came to America in 1950. As a young man in the Air National Guard, he was given the choice of plumbing or cooking. Thankfully, he chose cooking and for over 20 years has served his delicious latkes (potato pancakes) at Temple Emanu-El’s annual Chanukah lunch.
Jack Schniper, born in a Nazi work camp … a miracle baby … a survivor.