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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:           SAM WISE

INTERVIEWER:      SANDRA BERMAN

LOCATION:             ATLANTA, GEORGIA

DATE:                      UNKNOWN

Transcript (PDF)

BIOGRAPHY

Sam Wise was born Smerel Visgardiski in the small village of Vendziogola, Lithuania on December 15, 1915. He had six siblings. He completed his schooling in the nearby city of Kovno and was active in sports and Zionist organizations. Sam served two years of mandatory service in the Lithuanian army. When the Soviet Union occupied Lithuania in 1939, he returned to Kovno.

When the Germans invaded Lithuania in the summer of 1941, Sam’s family was confined to the Kovno ghetto. When he went into the city on labor brigades, Sam traded clothing for food he then smuggled into the ghetto. In the ghetto, Sam met a young woman from Kovno, Ida Baron. The two claimed to be married so that they would temporarily be protected from deportations and selections. Sam and Ida hid in an attic during a large action where Sam’s parents, sister and younger brother were killed. Sam witnessed multiple family members deported or killed. In all, 134 family members died during the Holocaust.

When the Kovno ghetto was converted into the Kauen concentration camp in the fall and winter of 1943, Sam and Ida were sent to one of the sub-camps. As the Russian army advanced in the summer of 1944, the prisoners were evacuated to the Stutthof concentration camp near present-day Gdansk, Poland. From there, Sam was sent to Dachau near Munich, Germany and Ida was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.

Sam met up with his older brother, Isaac, in Dachau. When Dachau was evacuated, Isaac was sent on a death march south, while Sam had become so ill, he was left behind in a pile of corpses. When the American army liberated Dachau, Sam was discovered still alive and sent to a hospital to recover. There, Sam was reunited with Isaac. Both brothers soon discovered their wives had survived as well.

Isaac and Ida were reunited and married in the Feldafing DP camp near Munich in 1946. They welcomed their first daughter in 1948. In 1949, Sam, Ida, and their daughter joined Isaac and his wife in Atlanta, Georgia. Isaac and Sam opened Wise Brothers Grocery. A few years later, Isaac opened his own grocery, Windsor Red Dot. Sam and Ida had two more children in the United States and later had seven grandchildren. After Ida died in 1995, Sam became an active volunteer in Atlanta’s Jewish community and began sharing his story. Sam died in 2003.

Scope of Interview:

Sam recalls going to cheder as a child and the Zionist and sports organizations he was active in as a young man. He talks about going into the army and fighting in Poland until the Soviets occupied Lithuania. Sam remembers the German occupation of Lithuania and being sent into the Kovno ghetto. He explains how he smuggled food into the ghetto. Sam recounts losing his parents and two siblings during an action. He mentions meeting a girl he pretended to be married to. Sam outlines his transfer to the Kauen concentration camp before being evacuated to Stutthof and Dachau. He recounts an emotional reunion with with his older brother in Dachau. Sam talks about a nephew and uncle he lost. He shares how he celebrated Yom Kippur in the camp and in the ghetto. Sam recalls being liberated by the Americans and recovering from starvation and illness. He recites a poem he wrote in camp for Yom Kippur. Sam talks about reuniting with his wife, whom he then officially married and had a daughter with. He shares why they came to America. He narrates how difficult the language barrier made it to travel and settle into a new life in the United States. He expresses his regrets and reasons for keeping his experiences from his children.

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