Murray Safirstein Profile Photo

Murray Safirstein

June 10, 1927 — November 4, 2023


Murray Safirstein


Murray Safirstein

I was born on June 10 1927 in Sosnowiec Poland. The town is in southwest corner of Poland in an area called Silesia. The Jewish population in 1931 was 20,800 and in 1939 increased to 28,000 about 22% of the population.

My parents were in the delicatessen business. My father took care of the manufacturing and wholesale part of the business while my mother was in retail end. I was a middle child my brother was 4 years older and my sister 4 years younger than I. We lived comfortably, going to private school, vacations during summer and winter holidays in- the Polish Mountains. I had a traditional Jewish upbringing. The school was not a traditional chador but a Gymnasium where we learned regular subjects and Jewish history Hebrew, etc. We were being prepared for higher education. Children sports consisted of soccer, volleyball, ice skating, skiing, etc.

I lived in an apartment house with a courtyard. I shared my room with my brother Monieck. We had one bathroom in our apartment. My sister had her own room. We also had a housekeeper.

All these luxuries ended abruptly in Sept. 1939 when the German Army entered Sosnowiec. There are many experiences that were frightening to me once in my youth. One occurred on the first day of the war. My parents sent me to the store to purchase gas masks for the family in fear of chemical warfare. The store was a Red Cross shelter where protective items were sold. The store was closed when I arrived and while I waited for it to open German Fighter Planes flew over the town. I was only 12 years old and was scared that we would be killed. We were not very far from the German border. I never bought the masks, running home and praying that I would get home and be protected by my parents. A few days later the Germans occupied the city with little resistance from the Polish Army. As soon as they entered they attacked the Jewish population they killed 13 Jews and set the Great Synagogue on fire.

During the German occupation they closed all the schools for Jewish children. My parents provided a private tutor so that our education would continue. The Jewish Community organized trade schools. My parents felt that I should learn a trade that might be helpful, no one knew what the future held for all of us. This was at the beginning of the occupation.
Why did my parents choose to send me to learn watch repair? My father's brother was a watchmaker in Warsaw and they thought it would be a good trade to learn. After 6 months of learning the fundamentals of watch repair my parents paid the teacher, who had a shop, to make me his apprentice.

Since there was a shortage of tradesman in Germany, work was sent to different shops in my town such as jewelry, watch repair and other shops requiring skilled trades. This continued until 1942. Late in 1942 a ghetto was formed. All the Jews were forced into one area of the town. At night the Germans came into the ghetto and removed young men and sent them to forced labor camps. My brother was taken first. Just before the Germans took me, they came to the watch repair shop looking for the workers. I was not at the shop that day since my family was moving to a new location in the ghetto. Several days later the Germans came to my apartment building and forced all of the young men to leave. We were all sent to the camps, I was only 15.

Once at the Seibersdorf Labor Camp we were asked what trade we had. Since a friend of mine said he was an electrician I said I was one too. My first job was laying railroad tracks. After a few months they rounded up specific trades people and sent us to Blechammer Labor Camp. This was a large plant that was under construction. They were going to extract gas and oil products from coal and shale. I was put with the electricians in a specific building. This was indoors and we were protected from the elements. We were installing conduit and electric wiring for the plant. After a while, the German man in charge found out that I could repair watches (I still had my tools that I smuggled into the camp). He placed me in a different room and supplied watches that I could repair for him. I was fortunate that I still had my tools since the watch repair work entitled me to extra food Every extra calorie helped one survive another day. As soon as the factory was completed, the Allies made sure that no production could take place. They bombed the factory destroying most of the buildings. I was lucky to survive these attacks.

As the Russians advanced in January 1945, the Germans decided to evacuate our camp. It was a severe winter. They rounded us all up and started a march with about 6,000 men. After about one week, more than half did not survive. The only food we received were meager amounts of bread and soup if you were lucky. We arrived at Gross Rosen camp. There we were loaded up on freight trains and sent to Buchenwald. We stayed there about one week before being sent to Langenstein. There the prisoners built tunnels in the mountains for the V-2 rockets. These rockets were being manufactured here. As the Allies continued there advance, the Germans tried to force us to march again. This was April, 1945. I decided with other friends of mine to hide. I knew that I could not survive another march. Fortunately, the Americans liberated the camp on April 12, 1945. We summoned the energy to walk out of the camp free men. 

A friend of mine, Victor Bluinenstyk, took a few of us under his wing. They included Phil Zgnilek, Myer Bluinenstyk and myself. We confiscated a house from the Germans. We stayed there to regain our strength. As things began to normalize I began to wonder if any of my immediate family was alive. I thought about returning to Poland. A few of us organized the return to Poland, but the going was not as smooth as we thought it was going to be. When we reached the border of the Russian occupied zone we could not cross. We were smuggled across the river at night by the German Communists. We were met by Russian Soldiers who took our valuables away. 

Traveling in the Russian zone was very difficult There was no transportation. We could only hop a freight train going east, but did not know how far it would go or where its final destination would be. A few of us gave up and others continued onto Poland. Phil and I decided to go back to the American zone while Victor and Myer continued onto Sosnoweic. Getting back to the American zone was as difficult as getting to where we were. Since we were Polish Citizens the Russians would not permit us to go to the American Zone. We had to claim we were Dutch Jewish Survivors. Through much persuasion we were issued papers that we were indeed Dutch survivors trying to get back home. Finally, we got back to the American Zone. That was when I found a distant cousin, Joe Fishel who had settled in Feilbach Germany.  By the end of 1945, I settled in to Feilbach, a suburb of Stuttgard, where a camp was set up for survivors. I attended Bet-Bialik school.

The only family I had left were my mother's two brothers. One was in the United States, the other was in Israel. Along with other survivors, 1 signed up with the Hagenah to be smuggled into Palestine. Unfortunately, these ships were caught by the British and sent to Cypress.  In 1946, my uncle in the United States found out about my survival. Coincidentally, it was through a former classmate of mine. He filled out papers which ultimately brought me to the United States in June, 1947.

I lived with my uncle who was a diamond cutter and knew many people in the jewelry business. He got me my first job in a watch repair shop, and I went to night school to continue learning English. After working various jobs, in January, 1949 I went to work for Movado Watch.

Just before the Korean War, I joined the National Guard. 1 was assigned to Ordinance Company. My unit was not activated but I served with the Guard for seven years.  I was married in 1951. My first son Jeff was born in 1955, my daughter Lori in 1958. I bought my first home in Oceanside, Long Island, New York in 1959. In 1967, my youngest son Russell was born. My wife Charlotte and I traveled a lot and enjoyed life. 

I worked for Movado and various other accounts for luxuries.  In 1982, the president of Movado, U.S.A. decided to give up the service department. I was able to obtain the department with a partner. I owned the service department for over a year and then sold my share to my partner, and went into my own business doing repair for Movado, Audemars Piquet, Tourneau. etc.

I bought a condo in Florida in 1986. We were snowbirds. Charlotte stayed here, and I commuted. When my youngest son decided to get married, I decided to retire. We sold our house in Oceanside, and I bought a villa in the same Delray Beach community. We traveled, visited our children, and became active in Delray, especially Company A. My membership has enabled me to meet some extremely interesting people, and I always look forward to the weekly gatherings.

Thank God I am still an active member and so enjoying the old & new members of Co A

When my oldest and dearest friend Paul Bornstein came to Florida to live. I brought him to CO.A in 1996. We had twenty years until his passing in January of this year.

My wife Charlotte became ill and I lost her in 1999 after 48 wonderful years of marriage. In 2001 once again our dear friends Paul & Dotty made a shitach and introduced me to a terrific woman. We courted and married a year later. Florence loved traveling and we travelled a lot .., China—Australia, Russia, Scotland, Ireland etc. until her passing.

Murray passes on November 4, 2023, surrounded by his family. He is survived by his loving children, Jeffrey Safirstein (Audrey), Lori Gorman (Bruce) and Russell Safirstein (Loretta). Adoring grandchildren Lindsay, Steven, Rachel (Dan), Julie (Mickey), Erica (fiancé Jeffrey), David. Peter and Jenna and great grandson Joey.

Relatives and friends are invited to his Funeral Service November 9, 2023, 1:00pm, at Sharon Gardens, Valhalla, New York 10595.

Contributions in Murray's memory may be made to Jewish National Fund-support Israel, National Holocaust Museum or HiAS.

To order memorial trees in memory of Murray Safirstein, please visit our tree store.

Past Services

Graveside Service

Thursday, November 9, 2023

1:00 - 2:00 pm (Eastern time)

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