Holocaust Survivor Shares Story With Students
Rabbi Philip Lazowski, Holocaust survivor and longtime leader in the Greater Hartford Jewish community, was just eleven years old when the Nazis invaded his hometown. On Sunday, November 3, the Rabbi visited Avon Old Farms to share his story.
"There are very few Holocaust survivors left in our world to tell their story to today's youth," shared Dean Trevor Stern. "We at Avon were honored to be in his company."
Below, in part, is a bio of Rabbi Lazowski provided by the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation:
Philip Lazowski was born in Bielica, Poland to his father, a successful fisherman, and his mother, owner of a a fabric store. He was the oldest child, with three younger brothers and a sister.
In June, 1941, the Germans invaded Bielica, destroying the Lazowski family home and its contents. The family remained in the town, crowding into Philip’s grandfather’s house, along with two other families. Five months later, the Jews in town were told to leave immediately. The family packed what they could and fled to the Zhetel ghetto.
In April of 1942, the Germans began massacring the Jewish population. On one of these nights, Philip was separated from his family and taken to the marketplace where the Nazis were dividing people into two groups: those who could work, and those who could not. Still a young boy, and realizing he would be put in the group facing certain death, he searched for a family to join that might get him placed into the surviving group. One woman took Philip in as her own, leading him through the line and saving his life.
On August 6, 1942, the Zhetel ghetto was liquidated. Philip and his siblings hid in a cave with their mother, while their father hid elsewhere. When they came out of hiding days later, they could not find their father. Soon, they were captured by the Nazis and taken to a theater where they were scheduled for execution. There, Philip’s mother threw him from a second floor window in a desperate attempt to save him from certain death, while she remained behind with the younger children. Philip managed to escape into the woods. He headed to Dworetz, where he hoped he would find his father.
When he reached Dworetz, Philip was reunited with his brother Rachmil. Within a few weeks, an uncle came to the camp looking for the rest of their family, and told Philip that his father was still alive and living in the woods about 15 kilometers from Bielica. That night the brothers escaped from the ghetto and entered the woods to reunite with their father. They lived in those woods for two and a half years with a group of other Jews. They survived on information from the partisans, who had a camp about 40 miles away, and would stop by their hiding place periodically to inform them where the dangerous areas were and when they had to move. Sometimes, they even brought the group food and supplies when they could. Philip’s father Josef often went on supply runs with the partisans. His uncle Mandel became a partisan himself but was killed in battle. His cousin, Avremel, fought as a partisan and survived the war.
In the summer of 1944, the Germans began to retreat. Philip and his family group left the woods, fearing it would now become a hiding place for the retreating Nazis. They returned to his hometown of Bielica, but found it mostly burned to the ground, and decided to move to Lida, where many other displaced Jews were gathering at the time.
After traveling around Europe searching for a place to live, Philip, his father, and brother left for America. They settled in Brooklyn in 1947, where they were reunited with cousins who were already living in the United States. Philip attended Brooklyn College and the Yeshiva University Rabbinical School. He became a rabbi.
In 1953, a chance conversation at a wedding led Phillip to be reunited with the family who had saved his life by claiming he was part of their family. He went to visit them in Hartford, Connecticut, where he was reintroduced to Ruth Rabinowitz, the daughter of the woman (Miriam) who had saved his life. Soon after, Philip and Ruth fell in love and are happily married. They have three sons, Barry, Alan, and David, and seven grandchildren.
Rabbi Philip Lazowski has been a rabbi and spiritual leader in the Hartford area since 1962, starting at Beth Shalom Synagogue, and then serving Beth Hillel from 1969-2000. He has been the Rabbi Emeritus of the Emanuel Synagogue in West Hartford since 2001. He is a member of the Rabbinical Assembly of the United States, and is Chaplain of the Connecticut State Senate, and of the Institute of Living at Hartford Hospital. For more than 55 years he has been the Chaplain of the Hartford Police. He has written over a dozen books, including his story of surviving the Holocaust, Faith & Destiny.
Senior Michael Hernandez of Bridgeport (pictured above with Rabbi Lazowaki) shared his thoughts on the visit:
"I got goosebumps as soon as I listened to Rabbi speak about his experience," shared Hernandez. "This was my second time hearing him, and my 8th holocaust survivor I have been blessed to meet. I am truly blessed and honored to be able to meet Rabbi two times in my lifetime. The first time I heard him speak upon his experience was in 8th grade at Park City Prep charter school after we had just finished reading “Night” by Ellie Wiesel. I cried my first time listening to him as a 12-year-old, I immediately felt an impact from Rabbi. His speech on faith has motivated me on and off the baseball field, school, and in life through tough times that we all face. Faith is what we must hold within us even at our highest points in life because we never know when we will need it. God chose Rabbi to live through those times and make it to today so that we can all receive the message to not repeat history and to realize that we are all one and shall not harm each other over the smallest conflicts. Rabbi also spoke upon being educated, we shall educate ourselves as much possible because with education no evil shall ignite against humanity. This education starts at Avon through our brotherhood that we will hold for life."