By Marcy Bobbitt, Scottsdale, AZ
On July 23, 2003, I was visiting with my daughter, Lori, who was living in Houston at the time. On this particular day, I decided to venture out and do some sightseeing while Lori was at work. I decided that I wouldn’t let a little rain keep me from visiting the Holocaust Museum Houston – which is the fourth largest Holocaust Museum in the United States. I picked the Museum because over the years the Lord has brought a number of precious Jewish people into my life. So, I just felt drawn to visit the Museum.
The Museum is located on a street that doesn’t have a traffic signal, which I assumed would be there to make the Museum readily accessible. Since it was raining and the street sign wasn’t prominently visible, I passed right by the Museum without seeing it. I started to go back home. Thankfully, I changed my mind and turned around and went back. This time I found it!
When I finally arrived at the Museum, I wanted to get a picture of me standing in front of it. I walked over to a car that was getting ready to leave. I asked the young woman behind the wheel if she would mind taking my picture. About that time, the older man in the passenger seat rolled down his window. The thought crossed my mind that he might scold me for delaying their departure. Instead he introduced himself to me as Dr. Marcus Leuchter, Houston’s oldest living Holocaust survivor – he was 94 years old. Then, to my surprise, he asked if I wanted my picture taken with him. Of course I immediately said, “Yes!” How thankful I am that I turned around in the rain and went back to the Museum. The timing was perfect. If I had found the Museum in the first place, he wouldn’t have been leaving and I might have missed meeting him.
After returning to Phoenix, Dr. Leuchter and I kept in touch. I learned so much about him. I will share some of his history with you at this time:
In the summer of 1942, he and his wife were living in the ghetto of Krakow. But those days were filled with a feeling of doom. They already knew that the first deportation trains went to Belze, near Lublin, and that all Jews who arrived on these trains went directly to the gas chamber. Since the ghetto was completely cut off from the outside world, they had no postal service and they had lost contact with their families living in small ghettos in the provinces.
Dr. Leuchter was fortunate to get mail through the Austrian factory which employed him for a while. He was able to maintain correspondence with his family living in a small ghetto in Tuchow. His mother sent him postcards with brief information about family members.
Nothing unusual was mentioned in the correspondence from his mother until late August, 1942. Then he received the disturbing news that a German official came to the ghetto and delivered a message in a “very friendly way.” The message was that, because of a serious shortage of labor in the occupied Soviet territories, Jews would be transferred there to help out. Decent housing, plenty of food, as well as pay would be given to each person.
Dr. Leuchter’s mother was one of the wisest women he ever knew. She wrote about that message in very glowing terms and this scared Dr. Leuchter because he had heard the very same promises before the first deportation from Krakow. He couldn’t believe his very wise mother had fallen for these German lies.
At this point in time, Dr. Leuchter and his wife were already making plans to escape from their ghetto. How can he tell his family to run? Run where? His cousin, Emil Leuchter, had a perfect Aryan appearance. Dr. Leuchter helped him get through the Polish underground with Polish ID papers. Emil Leuchter traveled to Tuchow with Polish ID documents for his parents. The unbelievable happened – they refused his help and the documents because they, too, believed that the German promises were true.
The awakening came a few days later. Dr. Leuchter received the very last postcard he would ever receive from his mother. She wrote: “If the Germans were telling the truth, why did they prepare cattle cars instead of passenger cars? What is the meaning of the chlorinated lime piled up on the platform ostensibly to be used in the cattle cars?” His mother went on to write in desperation. “O God, please have mercy.” But God was present only on the buckles of the SS guards who used bullwhips to rush innocent old people into the cattle cars. The inscription on the buckles read “Gott mit uns” (God is with us).
Dr. Leuchter never saw his mother die, so, therefore, to him she was still very much alive and would stay alive in his memory for the remaining days of his life.
Dr. Leuchter would later be captured and imprisoned at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. While there, he was able to save several hundred of his fellow Polish prisoners.
On January 8, 2004, Dr. Leuchter was honored with the Amicus Poloniae Award from the Republic of Poland. The prestigious award recognized his meritorious action for his role in helping his fellow Polish prisoners at the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp and for his efforts after World War II to promote Polish-Jewish dialogue.
Many dignitaries were in attendance. Not only were officials of the Polish government on hand, but diplomats from Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Israel, and Turkey were present.
The chairman of Holocaust Museum Houston summoned it all up when he described Dr. Leuchter as, “The very epitome of love, understanding and respect.” This so aptly described the very gentle soul I was so honored to have met. In all my conversations and interactions with Dr. Leuchter, I was so amazed that he held no bitterness or anger from all that he had suffered at the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, and for the loss of beloved family members and friends during the Holocaust.
Dr. Leuchter personally invited me to the ceremony honoring him. Also, he was instrumental in my receiving a formal invitation from the Ambassador of the Republic of Poland, the Consul General of the Republic of Poland, and the Honorary Consul of the Republic of Poland in cooperation with Holocaust Museum Houston and Houston’s Polish Community. I deeply regret that I didn’t go to this very prestigious ceremony honoring this brave, remarkable man.
Dr. Leuchter was a wonderful man, and I was so honored and Blessed to have met him and learn some of his history. He passed away in 2008 at the age of 98. I hope, by reading this, that you can readily see why Dr. Leuchter is my Most Unforgettable Character.