He survived two ghettos and three concentration camps but many of you probably never knew Wolf Pakula. Sadly, the chance to meet him is gone, but not the opportunity to hear his story. Wolf (Bill) Pakula z"l passed away on February 15, 2018 at 96 years old.
Wolf lived in Portland for the past seven years. Prior to that, he had lived in Hollywood, Florida for thirty-three years and helped found Young Israel Synagogue there, but that is not where Wolf's story begins.
His story begins on March 21, 1921 in the town of Tomaszów, Poland. Wolf was one of six brothers. He had already graduated from high school and was apprenticing as a cabinet maker when the Germans entered Tomaszów on September 5, 1939. In one of the early separations of the Jews of Tomaszów, Wolf was selected to work in a labor camp. The work was only supposed to last four weeks but after fourteen weeks, Wolf escaped and returned home.
For the next three and a half years, the Jewish population of Tomaszów fluctuated as Jews from neighboring towns were forced in and others were forced on trains to labor or concentration camps. Wolf's own parents and two youngest brothers were taken to Treblinka where they died. Of his other two remaining brothers, one disappeared and another one was also taken to a concentration camp. As Wolf tells it, thirteen members of his family -- men, women and children -- were all killed by the Polish underground while hiding in the woods. He believes that the underground group killed his relatives, with the excuse that they would lead the Germans to discover their own hiding place.
Following a number of liquidations, only a few hundred jews were left in the ghetto. Wolf had managed to stay alive and to keep working in the ghetto because of his labor skills. On May 31, 1943, the remaining jews of Tomaszów, including Wolf, were sent to Blizyn concentration camp. Wolf spent a year there before being transferred to Auschwitz.
Because he was designated as a trade worker, Wolf was assigned to kitchen duties at Auschwitz. He even survived a close encounter with the notorious Dr. Mengele. A month later he was sent to Dachau where he suffered terrible conditions. In 1945, the remaining prisoners were sent on a final march that took them to the Swiss border. On May 2, 1945, the marchers awoke to find that the German soldiers had abandoned them. They were liberated.
Wolf met his wife, also a Holocaust survivor, in a displaced persons camp. They were married in 1946. He worked in the displaced persons camp until they was able immigrate to the U.S. where he became an American citizen and successful business owner.
Despite all odds, Wolf was a survivor of so many tragedies.
In 2017, we set out to make a short documentary. The idea was to interview four Holocaust survivors. By responding to questions from students, the interviewees would relay their experiences and teach us to be upstanders today. We feel incredibly humbled that Wolf was one of those survivors whom we had the honor of interviewing.
On April 10, we will premiere our short documentary at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education. We encourage you to come and attend our small film and hear from Wolf himself.
Wolf reflected on his luck in staying alive when everyone else in his family was killed. In an interview in November 2002, he said, "I could have been dead, too. Look what happened. Something happened that I have to be alive to tell the story."
Wolf Pakula may no longer be with us on earth, but his story will never be lost. We will not forget.
Join us April 10, 12-1pm at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, 724 NW Davis St. for the premiere of Stand Up! Lessons from the Holocaust, dedicated to the memory of Wolf Pakula. More info on our event page.
Memorial contributions may be made to Congregation Kesser Israel, 6698 SW Capital HWY, Portland, OR 97280; Congregation B'nai Torah 6510 Hoover Road, Indianapolis, IN 46260 or Young Israel Congregation 315 Madison Street, Hollywood, FL 33019.