Sam Weinreb lost his family when he was just 13 years old and eventually found a family halfway across the globe
“You’ve gained a family with us,” Carlow University President Dr. Mary Hines said when presenting Weinreb with a lifetime achievement award after he told his story to a group of students.
When Weinreb’s family was taken by Nazis, he fled to Hungary where he had a few relatives and eventually arrived at his uncle’s house.
“I don’t think I’ll ever forget the look on my uncle’s face when he saw me,” says Weinreb. “He knew there was something wrong.”
Eventually, Weinreb’s uncle couldn’t house him anymore, and Sam was forced to live on the streets where he lived behind a factory and ate out of dumpsters.
After six months living like that, he couldn’t do it anymore and decided to turn himself in to the police.
“I thought ‘What could they possibly do to a 13-year-old kid?’” he says. “My only crime was that I was born Jewish. The officer slapped me across the face and said, ‘You’re going straight to prison.’”
In that prison, Weinreb found men who didn’t care that he was Jewish—the prisoners watched after him and stole food for him.
“I don’t know what crimes those men committed, but they were so helpful to me,” says Weinreb.
He was eventually released and spent a few months with his grandparents before the Germans invaded.
When the German army invaded Hungary, it sent Weinreb and thousands of other Jews to concentration camps.
Weinreb ended up at Auschwitz and was welcomed with a Nazi officer who he’ll remember his whole life.
“The officer said, ‘This is Auschwitz. Auschwitz is a concentration camp,’” says Weinreb. “’You will work or you will be sent to the gas chambers.’”
The Auschwitz guard then shot and killed two men he deemed not fit to work.
“That place—the place that was called the Kingdom of Death—was the most inhumane place anyone can imagine,” says Weinreb.
As the war was winding down, the Germans sent 5,000-6,000 on a death march out of Auschwitz. After only a few days, 400 remained—Weinreb was one.
After accepting that he will die, Weinreb decided to run out of the line despite the fact that there were more guards than prisoners.
“To this day, I don’t remember how far and how long I ran,” says Weinreb. “All I remember is waking up in a Soviet military camp. I was 80 pounds.” Weinreb went to his hometown and discovered his family was gone. So, with a little persuasion from the future Mrs. Weinreb, he went to the United States.
While staying in a New York City orphanage, Weinreb located a cousin in Pittsburgh. After leaving the orphanage for his cousin’s home in McKeesport, he hasn’t called anywhere but Pittsburgh home.
The Carlow community has embraced the adopted Pittsburgher and welcomed him as a part of Carlow’s family.
“Sam’s a skilled and precious individual,” said Bill Stewart, chair of Carlow’s Philosophy Department. “He’s brought more to us at Carlow than we can ever give him credit for.”