Allen Kupfer is one of the lucky ones.
The Sun City resident and Holocaust survivor has experienced more loss, pain and cruelty in his 92 years than most, yet it has left him with an open heart and an abiding faith in humanity.
When the Nazis invaded Poland, Kupfer’s family was forced into the Warsaw ghetto. “I had to wear a Star of David on my arm,” he remembers. “People died of hunger because the rations were barely enough.” Kupfer saw Orthodox men being forced to walk on burning coals. “The spirit of the Jewish people is unbelievable,” he said. His parents were sent to Belzec, an extermination camp on the Russian border. “I lost all my family in one day. Only my sister and I survived,” he said.
Sixteen-year-old Allen and his younger sister Rita were sent to work in the Hasag Munitions Factory. “As a youngster, I would go under the fence and forage whatever I could carry with me. I’d come back under the fence into the camp and we would split the food: a potato, a piece of bread.”
After escaping, Kupfer took shelter in haystacks and barns, living on crops that he helped farm. “When harvest time came, I helped myself from the fields. I ate a lot of corn and roasted potatoes in the ground,” he said. “You don’t know how much a human being can endure. A person will do anything to survive.”
The Macugowski family rescued him. “I had nowhere to go. It was December, and I slept in a hole in the ground, half-frozen to death,” he said. “They are the two biggest heroes in my life, because they risked their lives hiding Jews. Some of us were lucky, some of us were not so lucky.”
After the war, Kupfer returned to the ghetto to try to locate any surviving relatives. He said that 142 members of his family that he knows of perished during the Holocaust.
In 1949, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration provided him with passage to America. “I brought $3 to the United States,” Kupfer recalled. “When I saw the Statue of Liberty, I went down on my knees and cried.”
He settled in Chicago and worked in the garment import business. He and his former wife, Lillian, also an Auschwitz survivor, became U.S. citizens in 1954.
Kupfer met his partner, Blanche Frank, 25 years ago while on a Sierra Club campout in Kentucky. They have lived in Sun City for 18 years.
Kupfer was instrumental in the creation of the educational statute requiring that the Holocaust be taught in Illinois schools. “Anti-semitism, it’s here and it’s alive,” he said. “Hate is the disease of humanity.”
Kupfer’s deep-seated appreciation of life has inspired him to live every day to the fullest. “Life itself depends on attitude,” he said. “I don’t hate. Hate brings you to terrible things.” Despite all that he has experienced, “I never lost faith in people,” said Kupfer.
Jessica Goody of Bluffton has written two volumes of poetry and is working on her first novel.