Local Holocaust Survivor Turns 100
Father’s Day came early this year for Morris Sorid. On February 27, nearly 40 family members and friends gathered to celebrate the 100th birthday of a Holocaust survivor whose story has a way of inspiring a belief in miracles.
The man who hid in bunkers and barns with his wife, and later fought with resistance fighters in the forest – a movement made famous in the 2008 movie “Defiance – was now clad in black suit trousers and spiffy suspenders in a sunlit rooftop room on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, ready to talk about his life.
“Do you want the two-minute version or the two-hour version?” he quips. If you have the time to listen, he can still chronicle the harrowing account of his fight against the Nazis, day by day, in minute detail. He survived, but his story was far from a fairy tale.
As his daughter-in-law, I’ve heard his tale a million times. I also read his memoirs, One More Miracle, which he wrote at age 95. But by his improbable success and ultimate survival, we can all be reminded of the definition of sacrifice and fatherhood.
His odyssey began at the outbreak of World War II in 1939 in the town of Pruzany, Poland, now in Belarus. At that time, Morris was a respected educator married to his childhood sweetheart, Regina, and father to their baby daughter, Tsveeyah.
By 1940, the Nazis invaded Pruzany, creating a Jewish ghetto, and on January 27, 1943, began a systematic cleansing of Pruzany’s 10,000 Jews. As word spread that the Jews would be rounded up and herded onto trains over a period of four days, it was decided that Morris and Regina could possibly survive if they hid in a bunker built under their house – but without Tsveeyah, then 5. Her cries underground would be a sure death knell if heard by the Germans.
So on January 30, Morris and Regina sat by their daughter’s bed, crying, and the next day, after giving Tsveeyah one last kiss, they lowered themselves into what could have been their graves.
After 18 days in the bunker, Morris and Regina emerged, the moon lighting their way, and sought refuge at the home of a Catholic farmer who hid them in his barn, at great personal peril, for weeks. Eventually they hooked up with partisans, the resistance army in the forest, and conceived their first son – my husband. They named him Victor, for the liberation that came a few months before his birth in September 1944. Another son, Harvey, was born a year later. But Tsveeyah and the rest of the family perished in Auschwitz.
They remained in an American Displaced Persons Camp in Neu Freimann, Germany, until 1948, when the family emigrated to Brooklyn. There Morris created the family sur- name, Sorid – a variant of the Hebrew word for survivor. Though penniless and without roots, Morris’ focus in life changed from survival to providing.
His life was work now, six days a week, 13 hours a day, in jobs that were a far cry from the respected teaching positions he held in Europe. He delivered backbreaking boxes of beer and soda from a truck he drove, often toting them up flights of tenement stairs; later he owned a small grocery store. And his last gig was driving a cab in New York City. He never took a vacation, ate in restaurants, or treated himself to anything beyond bare necessities so he could give his children an education and whatever else they needed to assimilate.
My husband still treasures the George Kell baseball glove (a big-ticket item at the time) that Morris bought him when he was 9 years old and anxious to play baseball in the sandlots like the “regular” neighborhood kids.
Through all of the years I have known him, Morris has been as focused as a guided missile in his mission to provide for his family. His overwhelming satisfaction that he is alive to see his grandchildren graduate from Ivy League schools and go on to successful careers is palpable. It reaffirms that his name and his history will live on for future generations. And on that day in February, surrounded by his two sons and daughters-in-law, four grandchildren, and four great-granddaughters (the fifth great-granddaughter arrived four weeks later), he knew he had witnessed yet one more miracle.
Of course, we all gather strength from Morris. Through him, the problems, fears, and dramas that invade our lives are put into proper perspective. “Just think of what Grandpa Morris went through,” we like to say, and we know we are able to move on.
Morris now lives in Rockaway Park, N.Y., in a high-rise apartment that faces the ocean on one side and an elevated railway on another, with his second wife, Henia. (Regina died of cancer in 1974.)
He shuffles with his walker every morning to the senior center in his building, where he meets with friends, reads the Jewish papers, takes part in tai chi, and eats lunch. He still carries a dime-store black comb in his pocket and is fussy about his haircuts – even though he balks at the cost. His body is frail and he sometimes forgets a name.
Morris jokes playfully these days about the secret to his longevity – a daily shot of whiskey before his afternoon nap, a love of people, a good song from the old country, and perhaps a hot corned-beef sandwich. Whatever the salve, it is working.
Reaching 100 pushes mortality in your face. But it doesn’t faze Morris, whose life force to survive trumps anything, even after a century on this Earth. So when Father’s Day comes Sunday, Morris will open his cards, receive many phone calls, and go out for breakfast with local relatives. Knowing my father-in law, he will already be thinking about the next celebration.
“I can envision a moment that I will part with my family,” he said, “but I am not finished yet.”