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September 28th, 2021

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Finding, and Thanking, the Family of the Man Who Saved My Grandfather's Life, 76 Years Ago

Martin Bodek

By Martin Bodek JewishWorldReview.com

Published Jan. 6, 2021

Finding, and Thanking, the Family of the Man Who Saved My Grandfather's Life, 76 Years Ago
The author, a grandchild of R. Benzion Malik (above), was determined to thank the family of the man who saved his life. Credit: Kruter Photography
I found him. I found the man who saved my grandfather's life during World War II. I went looking for him, to thank him, and I found him.

Unfortunately, I also found that he passed away 5 years ago, at the age of 100.

But I was never under the illusion that I would find him alive. In that event, I had to find one of his children, and thank that person.

I found him too, and I thanked him, on behalf of my family, for our blessings, and for our very existence.

Let's back up a little.

Two separate story streams converge to set in motion this thanks-giving project, and you need to hear them both to understand how this happened in the first place.

In the first stream, we have my project to write the story of my grandfather's life, called Zaidy's War. He is now deceased for seven years, and I have been piecing together his story for quite some time — well before his passing — and the project finally gained serious traction this year, following a lot of fact-finding.

Part of my grandfather's wild World War II story is that he found himself conscripted into four different national armies. The stories at each stop are mind-blowing.

At one of these stops, serving as a wood-chopper and water-bearer for the Russian Army in a camp near The Arctic Circle, supplies ran low, and the camp personnel — soldiers and workers alike — were forced to sustain themselves via cannibalism. This situation held until they were resupplied.

My grandfather, affectionately known as Zaidy, refused to partake, and, as a result, began starving.

Miraculously, at this military camp, Zaidy met an old friend named Yerucham Bloch, and it turned out that he was the camp's chef.

How does a 26-year-old Jewish Romanian become the chef in a Russian military camp? Easy. The head chef died, and the camp administration asked for volunteers to take over the position. Yerucham, exhausted from his backbreaking wood-chopping workout in the frozen tundra, raised his hand. He didn't know the first thing about cooking, or the difference between salt and pepper, but he quickly figured it out.

Yerucham took it upon himself to procure meager scraps and rations for Zaidy until normal fare was found. He did so for the entire 3.5 years they were at the camp. Mr. Bloch not only saved my grandfather's physical life, by sustaining him in general, but also looked after his spiritual life. Because, to the best of his ability, he managed to obtain kosher-appropriate foods, and prepare them in a kosher way, for Zaidy, for whom this was very important.

Those are facts from the first stream.

And now, the second stream.

My favorite writer, A.J. Jacobs, is the author of Thanks a Thousand. In this book, he endeavors to thank every person responsible for his morning cup of coffee. He begins with the barista who directly serves him the coffee, ends with the coffee bean farmers in Colombia, and finds the 998 (actually, 1,029) other people in between.

As a side gratitude project, A.J. posted on Facebook that he nearly died as a youngster. When vacationing with his family in Alaska in 1983, he went kayaking with his sister. When they were ready to return, they noticed that the tide had dropped, and they had no way to get back to the rest of the group. Lost, they paddled aimlessly in the cold for hours, and began drifting into the open ocean. Six campers on shore intervened, brought A.J. and his sister to safety, then nurtured them and cared for them until they could be reunited with their frightened parents. A.J. is now looking for this camping group, to thank them.

When I saw the post, I was immediately inspired. I thought, wouldn't it be a good and uplifting side-project to find the man who saved my grandfather's life, and thank him, if I could, if he was still alive? If he was not alive, perhaps I could track down any of his children, and give my thanks to them.

The hunt was on.

I started by googling Yeruchum Bloch, then Yerucham Bloch, then Yeroham Bluch, then Jeroam Block, then Jeroham Block, then Yeroam Bloch, and so on.

Nothing.

I then typed the Hebrew name in.

Bam.

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Unfortunately, what I found was a death notice, and a small biography of his life that included enough detail about his past to absolutely confirm that this was the individual I was looking for. The facts placed him in Zaidy's hometown in Romania, then in the military camp in Russia where he spent years with Zaidy, then his life in Israel. This was the guy. He was a grocer. He authored a book of his Torah thoughts called "The Golden Paradise.” He lived to 100, in Kiryat Sanz in Netanya, when he passed away in 2016.

I then poured all the Hebrew family names into Google and found myself on myheritage.com, which revealed birth dates, his marriage, his parent's names, and that he and his wife had four sons. Two were named Dov and Yosef Yom Tov, and two were unnamed.

When I googled Dov and Yosef Yom Tov, I found that they were both deceased as well. Both gentlemen had passed within a few months of their father's death. My gosh!

I was hoping to give my thanks to Yerucham's children, and would also have liked to thank his grandchildren, if it came to that, but his children were preferred.

Two children to go, but they were unnamed, and I couldn't find them.

So I called my mom, who is my research assistant for Zaidy's War. I asked her if she was familiar with any of Yerucham Bloch's children.

She said yes, she thinks Baruch Bloch is one of his children, and lives here in the States. As a matter of fact, he bought a house from my uncle and aunt a few years back! Well how about that!

Baruch Bloch was likely one of the unnamed children, so the hunt was on to find him.

Fortunately, his English name was more easily googleable. He seemed to be running a car leasing agency in Brooklyn.

My mother called the number. Nobody picked up.

I then found the same name associated with an auto body shop in Brooklyn.

My mother called that number. Nobody picked up.

My dad then remembered that he had run into Baruch just a few years ago, and that Baruch had told him that he had gone back to being a bus driver.

My mother then asked my dad to call around to all his bus-driver friends (these folks all seem to know each other) to see if they knew Baruch Bloch.

Bus Driver Friend #1 knew exactly who Baruch was, but unfortunately, he passed away just 3 months ago.

Of Coronavirus.

My mother and I took a beat to reflect. We weren't the only researchers in the world to hit a dead-end because a contact had passed away from this scourge.

I now had one unnamed son to find.

My mom and dad began another round of calls, to determine who this final fourth son was, but to no avail.

Meanwhile, I googled Baruch's Hebrew name.

The first thing that popped up, with his death notice, was "Baruch Yaakov son of Chaim Pinchas."

Chaim Pinchas is not Yerucham.

Who was Chaim Pinchas? Where did I go wrong with my research? Like in Back to the Future, when everything is wrong in the new timeline of the McFly family, I had to go back to the point where I went astray, to find the correct path.

Back to Google I went, and I poured in all the new names I had uncovered.

Myheritage.com had a lot of good new information. Turns out, Chaim Pinchas was the brother of Yerucham's wife, Gita, which means Baruch was a nephew of Yerucham. Aha.

Now armed with a pile of new names and an expanded genealogy chart, I poured the Hebrew names into Google, and found the shiva (seven days of mourning) notice information for Yerucham's surviving children.

Leib was currently living in Netanya. Ephraim Zeev, married to Fraidy, was living in Ashdod.

I dead-ended when looking for Leib. His name was too generic, and probably attached to Yehuda or Aryeh, but I didn't know which. My searches also became clouded with finds for Yosef Yehuda Leib Bloch, the famed Rosh Yeshiva (headmaster) of the Telshe Yeshiva in Lithuania.

With two children deceased, and one unfindable, I had one child left. Thankfully, he had a unique name combination.

I found Ephraim Zeev Bloch's phone number in Ashdod.

Now, I speak English and Yiddish fluently, and have a respectable neophyte command of Hebrew, so, in the off chance that Ephraim only spoke Hebrew, I asked my mom if she wouldn't mind placing the call.

She called.

He answered.

He was engaging, and wonderful, and was a fount of information, and he couldn't wait to hear from me.

He spoke no English, but he did speak Yiddish.

It was on.

I placed the call. I got through to him and had the most wonderful hour-long conversation, and he revealed astonishing war details that will be included in Zaidy's War. Before hanging up, I told him that I have to conclude with the actual purpose of my call. I explained that my mission was to thank the child of the man who saved my grandfather's life. I told him that my grandfather always said that his refusal to resort to cannibalism, and his avoidance of anything unkosher, is what guaranteed him a long life (he lived 95 years). I also told Ephraim that I think that his father's mesiras nefesh (self-sacrifice) is the reason his father also merited a long life. I wished Ephraim a long life as well, and gave him thanks and appreciation from the bottom of my heart.

He thanked me profusely for my appreciation and blessings, and said there are two things I needed to know:

First, his father Yerucham did this for others in the camp as well. He looked out for all of his brothers. Yerucham had also vocalized that he believed he merited a long life because of his endeavor.

Second, he wanted to give me a blessing as well. Of course, in return for my gratitude, I should also merit a long life. Ephraim then reflected on how many of The Jewish Nation had been forced to have Seder meals by themselves this past Passover, and how so many had to ask themselves the four questions.

Ephraim said that his friends and his grandchildren complained about this to him, but he put it in perspective:

When the survivors rose from the ashes of World War II, to return home, many of them had Seders by themselves, and they had many more than four questions to ask. They had hundreds of questions to ask.

Ephraim suggested that the answer was for the survivors to emerge from the Holocaust, to find meaning, to build up a life, and to set aside the questions while living purposefully.

Ephraim concluded our conversation saying that, we will emerge from this virus, and this lockdown, and we'll find meaning, and we should all try to build a life of purpose.

Amen!

(COMMENT, BELOW)

Martin Bodek's 10th book will be Zaidy's War, to be released in 2021.

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