Judah Samet: A double hero, a double survivor

"I was four minutes late arriving at the Tree of Life Congregation; if I’d been on time, I wouldn’t be here today."

June 18, 2019 22:29
2 minute read.
Holocaust survivor Judah Samet addresses Jerusalem Post Conference

Holocaust survivor Judah Samet addresses Jerusalem Post Conference. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)


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Judah Samet is a double survivor.

Over 70 years ago he lived through the horrors of the Holocaust, surviving Bergen-Belsen. Last October his life was spared once again, when a gunman entered his place of prayer – the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh – and massacred 11 people who were in the middle of a Shabbat service.

“I was four minutes late,” Samet recalled while speaking at the Jerusalem Post Conference in New York. “My housekeeper kept me, and I told her that I had to go. Had I gone [on time], I wouldn’t be here today.”

He said that had he arrived on time and “gotten out of my car and walked to the synagogue, I would have been right in his [shooter Robert Gregory Bowers] line of fire.”

Samet said there were three cars between him and the shooter. “The shooter saw me, he could see me. But he was so focused on the detective and figured that the danger comes from the detective, not from me.”

Samet said he believed that “someone is guiding me – I’m here,” alluding to the fact that it was miraculous that he is still alive following both deadly incidents.

During his time in Bergen-Belsen, Samet recalled how he was beaten, and had to have “brain surgery in the camp – and I survived that [too].”

“It wasn’t easy seeing those pictures up there,” he said pointing at the screen of victims from the Pittsburgh massacre. “Of the 11 people who were killed, seven belonged to the Tree of Life [Congregation]” where he prayed. “They were all my close friends. We would all be there early. We knew each other well, we were very close.”

Asked about his visit to the White House to attend the State of the Union address on his 81st birthday as US President Donald Trump’s guest, Samet said that he was initially told to take off his kippah as people don’t wear hats in Congress. “I put it in my pocket but I left it [sticking] out.”

However, when he saw that another Jewish man was wearing a hat in Congress, he took it out.

“I was sitting in front of Ivanka [Trump] and she said, ‘Judah, I see you put your kippah back on,’ and I told her ‘I didn’t want to take it off.’”

Speaking about his conversation with Trump, Samet said that he told the US president the same last words that Moses told Joshua: “Be strong and be courageous.”

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