A man who escaped the horrors of the Holocaust celebrated a century of survival this week at the Aviv Centers for Living in Peabody.
Shlomo Masis, a former Lynn resident and native of Moldova turned 100 on Wednesday. The family plans to celebrate his birthday with a party this weekend, said granddaughter Julie Masis, of Newburyport.
“He survived World War II in the Obodovka ghetto in Ukraine, where his father and his two brothers died. After he was liberated from the ghetto, Shlomo got drafted into the Red Army and fought his way to Prague, before walking home to his village in Moldova,” wrote Julie Masis via email.
A freelance journalist, she has put together a collection of her grandfather’s tales of survival, culled from his stories, stories from her relatives, research in archives, and travel to Ukraine.
Last fall, she traveled to Obodovka, where she found a monument at a mass grave to innocent men, women and children who were killed simply because they were Jewish.
Her book, How My Grandfather Stole a Shoe, recounts “how he stole a shoe, how a Ukrainian family waited for him with breakfast every morning, and his secret about living to be 100.”
In the book’s introduction, Julie says 9,000 to 10,000 Jews, many of them deported from Moldova, were imprisoned in Obodovka from the fall of 1941 to the spring of 1944. Romania, an ally of Nazi Germany, controlled the land where the ghetto was located.
In the first year, approximately 5,000 Jews died, Julie writes, citing a book by Alexander Kruglov, The Catastrophe of Ukrainian Jews 1941-1944. The next year, nearly 2,000 were sent to work elsewhere. By September 1943, only 1,373 Jews were left.
Shlomo, who speaks Russian, Yiddish, Ukrainian and Romanian, but little English, was born in the village of Zguritsa, Moldova. He was one of six siblings, three of whom survived the war.
In June 1941, Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union. Julie said her grandfather recalls how that summer, Romanian troops entered the village, rounded up all the horses, then forced the Jews out of their homes at gunpoint. The Jews were forced to walk with no food or shelter. Along the way, Shlomo’s youngest brother, Isaac, was taken away. He later learned he was executed by the Nazis.
Shlomo survived in Obodovka along with his sister, in part because he befriended an elderly Ukrainian couple and did chores for them.
The couple fed him breakfast every morning. Shlomo did this by sneaking out of the ghetto. Outside the ghetto, he would ask people for stale bread, which he would bring back to feed others.
In another tale of survival, Shlomo somehow managed to pay a Ukrainian to have one of his brothers smuggled from another ghetto to Obodovka.
Why did her grandfather survive the war?
“He said he wanted to keep living to see who won the war,” Julie said.
In 1944, the Red Army liberated the ghetto, and the Jews walked back to their old village in Moldova. Toward the end of the war, Shlomo met his future wife and they were soon married. He then went on to fight for the Red Army all the way to Czechoslovakia. A telephone operator, he would go behind enemy lines to fix breaks in the line.
In the 1990s, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Julie’s father, Alexander Masis, relocated his family to the United States. Shlomo came in 1992 and lived in Lynn.
A positive attitude has kept the father of two, grandfather of four, and great-grandfather of six, going, according to Julie.
“He thinks G-d is keeping him here because he has done a lot of good things in his life,” she said.