William Schiff, a Holocaust survivor and a frequent and popular speaker at the Dallas Holocaust Museum, has died. He was 91.
Mr. Schiff, active to the end, danced and celebrated Hanukkah at a recent museum-sponsored event for Survivors. He would have turned 92 later this month. He died on December 10, following complications from a stroke earlier in the week.
The family has asked that donations be made in his honor to the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance or the Levine Academy.
The story of Mr. Schiff and his wife, the former Rosalie Baum, was told in Craig Hanley’s award-winning book William & Rosalie: A Holocaust Testimony.
They met at a dance and married in the Jewish ghetto in Nazi-occupied Krakow, Poland, when Mr. Schiff was 23 and Mrs. Schiff was 18.
He risked his life to smuggle food to Mrs. Schiff and their families.
“My mother said he saved her life,” said Rachel Schiff, their daughter.
Mr. and Mrs. Schiff were sent from Krakow to a forced-labor camp, where they were separated. Mrs. Schiff was taken away in a railroad boxcar. Mr. Schiff sneaked aboard a prison train he hoped would take him to her; instead, it delivered him to the Auschwitz death camp.
Neither knew if the other was alive. They were starved, brutalized and threatened with death every day.
As the Russian army approached in 1945, camp guards moved the prisoners several times on what amounted to death marches.
Mr. and Mrs. Schiff sometimes passed near each other without knowing it.
At the end, Mr. Schiff was so weak that he could not work. When he heard guards going through the prisoners’ barracks, shooting men they called “stragglers,” he crawled underneath the barracks and hid until American soldiers found him. He weighed 69 pounds.
Mr. and Mrs. Schiff made their separate ways back to Krakow and found each other. But there was nothing for them there. Everything their families owned had been taken away.
After three years in a displaced persons camp, where oldest son Michael was born, they were finally able to secure sponsors to come to the U.S. They arrived in Dallas in 1949.
In time they prospered, but neither forgot what they had been through or the lesson they had learned. In the 20 years since Mr. Schiff’s retirement from his real estate business, they shared that lesson with thousands of schoolchildren at the museum and elsewhere.
That lesson was “how important it is never to stand by when you see abuse, prejudice or hate,” Michael Schiff said.
His father taught that it is equally important not to hate an entire category of people for the sins of individuals.
Shortly after he was liberated, William Schiff intervened when Russian soldiers threatened to throw a young German woman and her child off a train.
“They weren’t Germans to him,” his son said. “They were just a woman and her child.”
Mr. Schiff is survived by Mrs. Schiff; sons, Michael and Bob Schiff; daughter, Rachel Schiff; grandchildren Michael Schiff III, Rebecca and Nichole Schiff and Jennifer Schiff Mayes; and great-grandchildren Ava and Asher Mayes, all of Dallas.
Services were Monday, December 13, at Sparkman/Hillcrest Funeral Home, 7405 Northwest Highway, followed by interment at Hillcrest Memorial Park.
Donations may be made to the Dallas Holocaust Museum and Center for Education and Tolerance, 214-741-7500, or the Levine Academy, 972-248-3032.
December 13, 2011. Reprinted with permission by The Dallas Morning News