Holocaust survivor wants to testify against Pittsburgh synagogue shooter


Judah Samet has been in historical past’s crosshairs a couple of occasions in his lengthy life.

More than seven many years after he survived the Bergen-Belsen focus camp as a younger boy, Samet additionally lived by the October 2018 mass taking pictures at Tree of Life, the Pittsburgh synagogue he thought-about his “home.”

Now, the retired jeweler — who has addressed college students, civic organizations and regulation enforcement about his experiences within the Holocaust — needs to as soon as once more bear witness: Samet wants to take the stand and determine the alleged perpetrator of the deadliest anti-Semitic assault in US historical past, with whom he says he locked eyes.

But at 84, Samet fears that if the method of bringing alleged killer Robert Bowers to justice continues to be delayed, he might miss his probability to testify.

“I want to testify because he has to pay for what he did,” mentioned Samet on a current afternoon in his Pittsburgh condominium. “If I don’t testify, and nobody else testifies, he may walk. Justice delayed is justice denied. The man did a crime and he should pay. Three years and four months is plenty of delay. Maybe they should give him Bergen-Belsen rations: one slice of hard bread a day and one cup of soup, which was barely soup.”

Samet, holding a photo of his parents and siblings, survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp during the Holocaust.
Samet, holding a photograph of his dad and mom and siblings, survived the Bergen-Belsen focus camp through the Holocaust.
Chandler Crowell

Bowers is charged with 63 federal crimes and 36 separate crimes in Pennsylvania, together with homicide and hate crimes. His motives had been reportedly white supremacy and anti-Semitism.

Eleven congregants had been killed that day, all of whom had been recognized to Samet, together with Cecil and David Rosenthal, developmentally disabled brothers who had been beloved locally.

“Cecil and David were mentally challenged,” mentioned Samet. “Cecil was open, not shy, he was the welcoming member of the synagogue. I took them home many times after services. Everybody liked them.”

Two civilians and 5 cops had been additionally wounded earlier than Bowers, armed with an assault-style rifle and three handguns, was shot and subdued by police. He surrendered and has been in jail since.

No trial date has been set.

Bowers is charged with 63 counts, including hate crimes resulting in death, in the 2018 shooting.
Bowers is charged with 63 counts, together with hate crimes leading to demise, within the 2018 taking pictures.
Matt Rourke

Samet doesn’t personally favor the demise penalty, “If he is dead he suffers no more,” he mentioned of Bowers. “Put him in a little room with a little window at the top, with no one to talk to.” But he’s involved that the trial’s delay — reportedly due to a number of components, together with the protection group’s opposition to US prosecutors’ efforts to search the demise penalty — gained’t serve justice.

“He’s in jail. He’s no danger to anybody else anymore,” mentioned Samet. “But it’s still dangerous to the psyche of the Jewish community for him not to be tried. Three years … it’s getting to be ridiculous.”

Samet’s resonant voice rises as he describes what occurred that fateful October day.

It was a “regular Saturday,” which meant he was going to synagogue. Typically, he arrived on time (“I’d rather be an hour early than one minute late”), however had stopped to converse along with his housekeeper.

Samet (second from right) and his family survived the horrors of the Holocaust, although his father died of typhus three days after liberation.
Samet (second from proper) and his household survived the horrors of the Holocaust, though his father died of typhus three days after liberation.
Chandler Crowell

Samet, who has problem strolling lengthy distances, pulled into his normal handicapped spot within the synagogue’s parking zone. “It was eerie, quiet,” he recalled. A person came to visit to his automobile’s passenger facet window, made a movement for him to roll it down, and mentioned, “’You better go home, there’s a shooting inside the synagogue.’” (The man, Hank Feinberg, a member of New Light synagogue, additionally survived that day).

Samet then noticed a person — a detective, it turned out — with a pistol, alternately ducking behind a wall, then firing towards the constructing entrance, the place one other man stood with an assault rifle and “returned three salvos.”  

The second man, Samet mentioned, regarded instantly at him.

“I’m not sure why he didn’t shoot me,” he recalled. “Maybe he figured he needed to shoot at the detective, not at me, because the detective could kill him and I couldn’t. Maybe he couldn’t see me [clearly] through the glare of my windshield. But I saw him. And I remember.”

In the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Samet’s mother encouraged him to eat lice so he wouldn’t starve.
In the Bergen-Belsen focus camp, Samet’s mom inspired him to eat lice so he wouldn’t starve.

Samet watched because the taking pictures “went on between the two of them for a minute, maybe two minutes.”

Before driving away, Samet rigorously famous the looks of the person with the assault rifle.

“The soldier in me came out,” he recalled. “In the [Israel Defense Forces,] they teach you to see who is shooting. I took a mental note to be able to describe him.”

After talking with the FBI 4 occasions, the bureau credited him for his accuracy and consistency, down to particular particulars of the shooter’s bodily look and clothes.

Judah's older brother Yaakov Samet, who was killed in action in Israel's Sinai conflict in 1956.
Judah’s older brother Yaakov Samet, who was killed in motion in Israel’s Sinai battle in 1956.
Chandler Crowell

In January, Bowers and his authorized group filed a movement in federal court docket seeking a change of venue, arguing that information protection has “shifted the burden of proof to the defendant.”

Nonsense, mentioned Samet.

“He could get a fair trial here. Of course, he will never believe it’s a fair trial because he believes that ‘All Jews must die,’” Samet added, quoting the phrases Bowers allegedly shouted as police subdued him.

Facing anti-Semitism is painfully acquainted to Samet.

“For my family, it’s never over,” he mentioned. “It reminded me of the concentration camps. It reminded me of the fact that one of my brothers was killed defending Israel.” (Samet’s older brother Yaakov Samet, a 20-year-old IDF gunner, died in fight throughout Israel’s 1956 Sinai battle.)

Samet credits his mother, Rachel Marmorstein Samet, with saving his life in the camp.
Samet credit his mom, Rachel Marmorstein Samet, with saving his life within the camp.
Chandler Crowell

Born in Debrecen, Hungary, Samet and his household spent a number of months in a slave labor camp in Austria earlier than being despatched to Bergen-Belsen for 10 months.

He credit his “fearless” mom, Rachel, with serving to him and his three siblings, in addition to herself, survive there. His father, Yekutiel, survived the camps however died of typhus three days after liberation.

Of Bergen-Belsen, Samet mentioned, “One thing a survivor can’t relay to anyone is being always hungry.”

He remembers his mom educating him and his siblings it was okay to eat lice to survive. “She said, ‘They live off your blood, so if you eat them you just take back what they took from you, and blood is protein so it will help you survive.’”

Bowers' motives were reportedly white supremacy and anti-Semitism.
Bowers’ motives had been reportedly white supremacy and anti-Semitism.

Along with a pal, he would sneak out of the barracks and get as shut as he dared to the Nazi officers’ mess corridor. He recalled a time when “The Germans came out chewing on something — a [chicken] wing or a pork chop. They finished and threw it on the ground.”

Samet recalled diving for the scrap. “One said, ‘Look at the little Jew pig dog,’” he mentioned. “But I thought, ‘As long as there is something on the ground, who cares what they say?’”

He “never complained” about discomfort, however as soon as developed such a “terrible headache” that he informed his mom. She discovered an enormous abscess on the again of his head, and introduced him to a Jewish physician within the camp.

The physician informed Samet’s mother, “‘I can’t believe he’s still alive.” He mentioned she would have to maintain her son completely nonetheless, “because ‘If he moves, the scalpel will go into his brain and kill him.’” Miraculously, the surgical procedure was successful. As his mom carried him to the bunk to relaxation, six-year-old Samet thought, “‘If I’m starving, what does a headache matter?’”

“I’m not sure why he didn’t shoot me,” Samet recalled of the Pittsburgh massacre.
“I’m not sure why he didn’t shoot me,” Samet recalled of the Pittsburgh bloodbath.
Chandler Crowell

After the conflict, with assist from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Samet’s household went to France, then immigrated to Israel, the place he grew up to serve within the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as a paratrooper and radio man within the Nineteen Fifties.

During a stint working in a furnishings retailer and residing with household in New York City in 1963, Samet met his future spouse, Barbara, at a bar mitzvah. Three months later, the couple married and moved to Barbara’s hometown of Pittsburgh, the place Samet joined her household’s synagogue, Tree of Life.

They raised their solely baby, a daughter, Elizabeth, within the synagogue, with Samet, who was working at Schiffman’s, the household jewellery enterprise he would finally co-own, additionally employed part-time as a tutor serving to put together boys for his or her bar mitzvahs.

Barbara handed away in 2013. Elizabeth has two sons whom Samet is wanting ahead to visiting this spring in Philadelphia.

After authorities secured the scene at the Tree of Life synagogue, Samet gave eye-witness testimony to police.
After authorities secured the scene on the Tree of Life synagogue, Samet gave eye-witness testimony to police.
Alexandra Wimley

Despite his losses, Samet approaches every day with religion and pleasure: swimming, studying, and listening to Torah students on podcasts.

President Donald Trump shared the highlights of Samet’s story at his second State of the Union speech in February 2019, prompting each homes of Congress to sing Samet “Happy Birthday” in a uncommon second of nationwide unity. 

He believes he’ll reside to bear witness, and would really like to accomplish that to obtain some measure of justice for the victims of the Tree of Life bloodbath — and in honor of his late mom.

“My mother was a fighter,” mentioned Samet. “I don’t want encouragement to testify, not even from my mom, however would she assist me in that? Absolutely.

“I would like to do it for the sake of justice.”

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