In Pittsburgh, a Holocaust survivor was four minutes late to synagogue, escaping death a second time


Twice now, Judah Samet has almost paid with his life for being Jewish.

More than 70 years ago, he narrowly escaped death in Germany’s Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Again Saturday, he looked death in the face — not in his native Hungary, where nationalism is resurgent, but in the country where he found sanctuary after the Second World War.

Samet, 80, almost died in the parking lot of Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, his place of worship, when a man who “wanted all Jews to die” allegedly killed 11 people during morning services. It was the deadliest attack against Jews in U.S. history.

The octogenarian’s recollections are particularly noteworthy as more information emerges about the victims of Saturday’s massacre. They ranged from 54 to 97, ages that made them more conscious than most of the ghastly outcome in the previous century of anti-Jewish hatred.

“I used to say, ‘I can’t look back,’ ” Samet said. “But then, about seven or eight years ago, I looked around and noticed that most survivors were in their 90s and that pretty soon there wouldn’t be anyone else in Pittsburgh to talk.”

Samet has been a member of the Conservative congregation for 54 years, he said. For four decades, he was a part-time cantor, chanting prayers and helping to lead worship.

On Saturday morning, he did what he always does on the Sabbath — he went to the synagogue. Services start at 9:45 a.m. Yet that morning, Samet was delayed.

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