A Holocaust survivor, Murray Jaros has seen the worst of humanity. He’s also seen the best. Jaros will speak Thursday, May 16, at 6:30 p.m. in the Schroon Lake Central School auditorium at the invitation of the student National Honor Society. The program is free and open to the community.
A Holocaust survivor, Murray Jaros has seen the worst of humanity. He’s also seen the best.
“My story is not really about the suffering, but of the people who helped us,” Jaros said. “It’s a story of hope. What’s remarkable is not my story of survival, but what’s remarkable is what others did so I could survive.”
Jaros will speak Thursday, May 16, at 6:30 p.m. in the Schroon Lake Central School auditorium at the invitation of the student National Honor Society. The program is free and open to the community.
“The Schroon Lake National Honor Society lecture series is intended to provide meaningful education on a topic for the benefit of students and the community alike,” said Caleb Maisonville, NHS secretary. “We’re pleased to welcome Mr, Jaros to talk about his experiences as a Holocaust survivor.”
Two years ago Jaros told his story to students at Ticonderoga High School.
A summer day in 1941 the 8-year-old Jaros was outside when he heard a noise in the sky. It was a plane, the first he had ever seen in rural Poland. Moments later, bombs began to fall.
“We lived in a very rural, small town,” he said. “We didn’t have electricity or communication with other towns. I didn’t even know there was a war.”
Soon the German army arrived, setting up camp near his home. The Nazi war machine was little more than a curiosity for Jaros.
“They had tanks, trucks, machine guns,” he recalled. “I’d never seen any of those things. They never threatened us.”
That changed that fall when German SS officers arrived. The SS, the Schutzstaffel, were a special unit assigned the task of identifying and eliminating threats to the Third Reich. It became infamous for its war crimes and for advocating the Final Solution — the execution of 6 million Jews.
One night a few SS officers and a group of collaborators identified the Jaros family as Jewish and broke into their home. As Jaros and a young cousin watched, his grandmother was beaten. She eventually died of her injuries. His mother and father were stripped naked, beaten and tortured as the Nazis demanded gold and money — which the Jaros family didn’t have. When the pain became too much and the parents passed out, the intruders threw water on them and repeated the process.
“I wanted to do something; I wanted to help my parents,” Jaros said. “But I couldn’t move. My feet were stuck to the floor. I’ll never forget the cries, the painful screams. They tore out my father’s toe nails.”
When the SS gave up their pursuit of gold, the Jaros family was placed in a truck and taken to the local school. There they found the town’s Jews, all locked in the building. They were held several days without food or water.
During that time a local priest was allowed to visit. A friend of Jaros family, he smuggled in bread and water. He became a central figure in the family’s survival.
The Jews were then taken to a ghetto built by the Nazis to contain them. Enclosed by barbed wire and guarded by Nazi soldiers, the ghetto became home to hundreds of people who struggled to find medicine, food and water.
Before the war Jaros’ mother, Belka, operated a general store. She was known for her compassion and kindness, allowing people to buy on credit and giving a little extra when people made purchases.
Realizing the plight of the Jaros family and others in the ghetto, the friendly priest visited area farmers asking them to provide food for the Jews. “Belka was good to you,” the priest would tell farmers. “Now, you must be good to Belka.” The plea worked and the priest was able to smuggle food and water into the ghetto for a year.
One night in 1942 a few men snuck into the ghetto with alarming news. All the Jews in a nearby ghetto — hundreds — had been executed. The Germans were systematically working their way toward the Jaros family.
“A plan was made to escape,” Jaros recalled.
The priest who had smuggled in food, helped arrange an attack by partisans away from the ghetto as a diversion. When the German guards responded to the attack, about half the Jews escaped into the nearby woods.
“There were people who decided to stay behind,” Jaros said. “Some had sick or elderly relatives and they stayed to care for them. If my grandmother had not died we would have stayed. Others were afraid and others didn’t believe the stories of the executions. All of those who stayed behind were executed.”
Jaros’ parents decided to join with the partisans and fight the Nazis. To ensure the safety of their son and niece they asked a local farmer to take in the children and pretend they were their own. Jaros was forced to pose as a girl, wearing dresses. He tied a kerchief around his head to hide his short hair until it grew long.
The Jews, at the urging of their friend the priest, learned to pretend they were Catholic. Jaros carried a Rosary and learned the prayers. The Rosary came in handy.
One day, a German soldier came around looking for “Jews, food, eggs and partisans.”
“I whipped a Rosary out of my pocket and started saying the Rosary in Polish,” Jaros said. “That was one of the scariest moments.”
In 1943 Jaros’ parents returned and took the children into the woods to live with the partisans. They stayed there two years until the war ended, foraging for food and medicine while surviving harsh Polish winters.
After the war Jaros and his family returned to their hometown.
There they found a mass grave containing the bodies of those who had stayed behind in the ghetto. Jaros and others exhumed the bodies, giving each a proper burial.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “We would put a corpse on a blanket, and say, ‘Oh, that’s so and so.’”
With their home destroyed the family worked their way to the United States-sector of Berlin. They lived in a camp for displaced people awaiting visas to come to North America.
In 1948 Jaros received a visa to move to Canada. He was 15 and went alone to Toronto since his parents had not yet been approved for visas. In 1951 the rest of his family was allowed to move to the United States, settling in Schenectady. He soon joined them.
Jaros eventually became a lawyer.
“After the war, while I was back in our town, a number of Nazi collaborators and Nazi soldiers were on trial for war crimes,” he said. “I and a few other kids were able to sneak into the court and watch the proceedings. Watching the attorneys make their case was like watching magic. I decided I wanted to be a lawyer.”
Today he is a special counsel to the New York State Association of Towns.
Jaros has been a member of the Holocaust Survivors Friends and Educational Center in Albany for years. The group provides speakers so people can learn the lessons of the Holocaust. Jaros is the last survivor giving the talks.
“It’s good that students learn about the Holocaust in school,” he said. “I think it helps, though, when they can put a face on it. I lived it. I can tell them what it was really like. It’s important for people to remember this happened so that it’ll never happen again.
“I’ve seen the horrendous and terrible ways human beings treated and mistreated each other,” he said. “I’ve also seen amazing kindness in the face of extreme danger. I know the goodness in people. These are important lessons.”