Survivor STORY

Sam Wise, originally Shmerale Visgardiski, was born in Vendzigola, Lithuania, and grew up in Kovno. Sam and his family were forced to move into the Kovno ghetto, known as one of the most brutal ghettos, after the Nazi forces occupied Lithuania. Sam and his brother, Isaac were deported to Dachau, where at the end of the war, Sam was found barely alive by American troops in a pile of dead bodies.

Sam and his wife, Ida, lived in Munich, Germany, for several years with Isaac and his wife, Rachel, waiting for their quota numbers to come up, which would allow them to emigrate to America. In 1949, Isaac and Rachel were able to leave for Atlanta, and eight months later, Sam and Ida joined them. Sam and Isaac opened Wise Brothers Grocery in northwest Atlanta, and several years later, Sam opened his own grocery. Sam and Ida raised two daughters in Atlanta.


I don't remember my liberated. When I am liberated I didn't know I am liberated. A American major told me the whole story how I got liberated, in hospital. Because the American Army came and they make movies from the all thousands and thousands dead bodies. And they see some of them moving a little bit, fingers. And they say, "Look, maybe we can bring some out alive. Somebody moving a little bit." And they picked up three: me and two more like this. There was a third one, was Kummer. He's in Atlanta too. Anyway, I see I open up my eyes. I see I'm in a white bed, and white nurses and soldiers staying with ammunition around my bed, and I thought this is the end of me ... what they come, they found out I'm alive, they going ... I didn't know, I didn't see ever in my life the American military uniform and I thought this is Germans, they found out I'm alive, they come to kill me. And I raise a little my head and I hollered to them, "Don't kill, don't kill, don't kill." And I see each soldier coming to my bed and putting up something on the floor, putting up something on the floor, putting up something on the floor. And I thought this is dynamite or something. They going to blow me up or something. But, I took a look, and I hollered to them, "Don't kill."

And I took a look, what kind, what are they putting there? There was cookies and crackers and chocolate. Every soldier what he got in his pocket, he put down. And I thought this is a trick from the Germans before they going to kill me. And I hollered to them, "Don't kill, don't kill, don't kill." And I see some soldier stay with tears in his eyes. And I still think this is a trick from the Germans. And all of a sudden came the American major, a elderly man, 'bout the sixties, something like this. And I see the soldiers stand for him like this. And he came to my bed and he pet me like a little dog, like this. And I grab him like that, "Don't kill me, don't kill me, don't kill me." And he started talk me to me in broken Yiddish. "Ir a Yid." [I'm a Jew.] And I hold him like this, "Don't kill me." "I am American Jew, American major, American military. You liberated, we liberate you." And he talked to me, and I hollered to him, "Don't..." I didn't believe I am liberated. And all of a sudden he opened up his blouse and he took out a mezuzah. When I see the mezuzah and I think this is the end of me. I grabbed him and he grabbed me, for a half hour maybe, and I feel his tears coming on my cheek. And nobody can take us apart. Crying and laughing.

Making a Living

First I have to learn about the groceries. I took a piece of paper and I go in there. I never seen so many cans, so many canned goods in my life. And I got to write down. I write down in Yiddish: pork in beans [Yiddish phrase], chicken noodle soup [Yiddish phrase], black-eyed peas [Yiddish phrase]. I write down everything. Sweet potatoes [Yiddish phrase]. Everything. Or somebody come to ask me pork and beans. I make a list, maybe for a mile. It took me a hour to find out where the pork and beans is. And my customer left already; he couldn't have any patience!

Explore themes found in this biography:

Sam Wise