93-year-old Holocaust survivor gets long-delayed bar mitzvah in Dayton

The Holocaust robbed Sam Heider of a bar mitzvah — until Saturday.

The Dayton man’s family surprised him with the traditional Jewish rite of passage at Beth Jacob Synagogue, giving him the bar mitzvah he never had in Poland.

A bar mitzvah is the Jewish rite of passage that marks a boy’s 13th birthday. Judaism regards the age of 13 as the benchmark of religious maturity. Bar mitzvah translates as “one who is responsible for the Commandments.”

MORE: Holocaust survivor Sam Heider shares story of horror of war

The uniqueness of Heider's bar mitzvah — received more than 80 years after those of most Jewish men — attracted national attention and was featured Sunday during a segment on ABC News' "World News Tonight."

“My parents didn’t live to be in my bar mitzvah,” Heider told ABC News’ Erielle Reshef. “This day is, for me, a very happy day and a very emotional day, too.”

The Dayton Daily News has followed Heider's journey since coming to Dayton after the war. Most recently, the Daily News' reported Heider spoke emotionally of his life in captivity during a "Voices of the Holocaust" forum at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

The Heiders were forced to leave their Bielkow village farm in Poland and moved to a nearby town with 8,000 other Jews, gathered by Germany on the way to exterminating 6 million Jews during World War II.

The rest of his family was gassed in Treblinka. Of the nine, he is the only survivor, and he went through five camps, including Auchwitz and Dacau. At one time he stood in front of infamous Josef Mengele, an SS officer responsible for selection of gas chamber victims, who waved him to the right.

TRENDING: Ohio lawmaker seeks change: In some cases ‘it’s legal to rape your spouse’

“If he had told me to go left, I wouldn’t be here,” Heider told the Dayton Daily News in 2010.

Heider weighed just 75 pounds when he was liberated from Dachau. He said that the most beautiful sound he has ever heard were the words: “Americans! Americans! Americans!”

After the war, he spent five years in a displaced person’s camp, then migrated to Dayton with his wife, eventually ending up in the scrap business.

Read more from the Dayton Daily News:

» Stormy Daniels performing at Centerville’s Diamonds Cabaret this summer

» Ohio lawmaker stands by gun-carrying students comment despite critics

» Brock Turner’s appeal arguments ‘all lack merit,’ prosecutor says

» FBI offers $15K reward for missing teen boy who saw father killed

The Associated Press and Staff Writers Meredith Moss and Mark Katz contributed reporting.

About the Author