Jacob Suss lived with his family in Dombrova-Tarnowska, a small town in southern Poland located between Cracow and Tarnow. When the Nazi occupation began in September 1939, the Nazis took immediate control of the synagogue, using it as a warehouse and stable. They gathered the town intelligensia and killed them in the town square while residents were forced to watch. The Nazi reign of terror had begun.
Although Jews were no longer allowed to pray in their synagogue or practice their religion, the men would pray anyhow, gathering in groups of ten men for a prayer group (minyon) in private homes. One day the Germans discovered Jacob’s father's group and killed them all while they were praying. Jacob ran quickly to the house and saw his father wrapped in his prayer shawl still holding a prayerbook in his hand. At first Jacob thought his father was sleeping, as he sometimes did when he prayed. But when Jacob moved closer, he saw that a bullet had to gone right through his father's glasses, killing him instantly.
A Judenrat (Jewish Council) was formed to represent Jews and help them find work. In July 1942 a ghetto was formed but not before many Jews were murdered in mass executions at the cemetery. Other Jews were sent to the Tarnow Ghetto and still others were deported to Belzec Concentration Camp where they were killed.
A Polish Catholic friend hid Jacob's brother, his wife and two children by making a false wall between two rooms in his house. When the German searched the house looking for Jews, they could not find anyone, But their German shepherd sniffed them out and all four were shot. Luckily, the Polish rescuers were not at home or they would have been shot as well.
Jacob hid his mother and his other brothers’ two children in his basement. The brother had escaped to Palestine before the war, leaving their mother to care for the children. Polish neighbors became suspicious and notified the Germans who came to the house, searched the basement and discovered Jacob’s family members. The Germans shot all three in front of the house. Jacob had to stand and watch, but he was spared because, as the Germans told him, they liked him a lot. He was a good carpenter, he would be the last Jew in Dumbrova to be killed.
By October 1942, the Germans liquidated the ghetto. They lined the Jews up in the town square and herded them onto waiting trucks taking most to Belzec Death Camp. By this time, Jacob was married and had a 22 month old son. Suddenly, a German official called out, “Jacob Suss, step out. We need you to work for us.” They told him to choose ten assistants. He picked his wife and nine other people. When his wife refused to give up their 22 month old baby son, the German officials shoved them both onto the truck. That was the last time Jacob saw or either one. Jacob did not have the heart to fill his wife's place, so he had only nine assistants. All nine survived the war.
After liberation Jacob traveled to Germany and assisted in the Landsberg DP camp where he met Angie. Very resourceful, he was able to trade what goods he had for some white satin to sew a wedding gown as well as some food and a band to play at their wedding reception. When they emigrated to New York, sponsored by Angie’s Szpilman Uncle Sam, Jacob was able to find work through Mr. Goldstein, a contractor who had emigrated from Dumbrova and who had once worked for Jacob’s father.
In 1949 Jacob’s brother Joseph, his wife Sally and son Irving joined them in New York and eventually, in 1951, they established their own carpentry business. Although successful, Jacob did not feel that Angie should be separated from her sister Barbara who had since moved to Rochester. So in 1954 Jacob, Angie, David, and now Ted, born in 1953, moved to Rochester where Jacob established a cabinet and furniture manufacturing business, Jacob Suss, Inc. He and Angie became active volunteers in their synagogue and in the Jewish community. In February, 1969, Jacob was diagnosed with cancer. He passed away on June 27, 1969.
Adapted from Angie’s Story as told to Barbara Appelbaum and Peter Marchant