Norman Salsitz, 86, Chronicled Holocaust

By Beth Schwartzapfel

Published October 27, 2006, issue of October 27, 2006.
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Norman Salsitz, Holocaust survivor and co-author, with his wife, of “Against All Odds: A Tale of Two Survivors,” died of pneumonia October 11 in Springfield, N.J. He was 86.

Born Naftali Saleschutz in Kolbuszowa, Poland, Salsitz defied death many times — first as a Jewish partisan fighting the Nazis in the Polish forest and then as a member of the Polish underground (the “Home Army”), where he posed as a Christian because of virulent antisemitism in the ranks. Over the course of World War II, he assumed numerous identities and once talked his way out of his own grave — which a Nazi was forcing him to dig — by trading his life for 25 kilos of coffee (a 2005 documentary chronicling his return to Poland was called “Coffee Beans for a Life”).

In 1944, the Home Army sent him to kill the secretary of a construction company, whom the Nazis had instructed to blow up several of Krakow’s historic buildings. Salsitz arrived to find a Jewish woman who had maintained her position at the construction company by masquerading as a Christian. The woman had no intention of carrying out her orders. They wed in 1947 and immigrated to America in 1956; Amalie Petranker Salsitz died in 2003.

Salsitz was also known for Holocaust-era photographs he collected, which survived the war because he hid them in the thatched roofs of Polish peasants’ huts while the peasants slept. He went back after the war to collect them, and ultimately he donated more than 1,000 photographs to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Many appear in Salsitz’s books; in addition to “Against All Odds,” he wrote, “A Jewish Boyhood in Poland: Remembering Kolbuszowa (with Richard Skolnik), “In a World Gone Mad: A Heroic Story of Love, Faith, and Survival” (with Amy Hill Hearth and Petranker Salsitz) and with Walter Reich and Stanley Kaish, “Three Homelands: Memories of a Jewish Life in Poland, Israel, and America.”

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