Israel Landa

"It’s important to stand up to people and not let anyone control you.  You must always live honestly, be true to yourself and always help others when you can. "

Date of birth
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up?
Uzhgorod, Czechoslovakia.
Name of father, occupation
David Shlomo, Merchant. He emigrated to the US in 1913 and returned to Hungary after WWI.
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Feiga Fichsler, Homemaker.
Immediate family (names, birth order)
Parents and eight children: Sara, Joseph, Rifka, Herman, Jacob, Moses, Efraim, and I.
How many in entire extended family?
Over 25.
Who survived the Holocaust?
Me as well as Sara and Rifka who came to USA prior to the Holocaust. My brother Jacob went to Belgium to be a diamond cutter and escaped to England. Efraim went to Russia.
After the Russians left Czechoslovakia and the Hungarians took over, the situation became very bad for the Jews.  I fled Uzhgorod alone for Prague, Czechoslovakia where I had many friends.  I heard the Germans were coming and wanted to flee to England to my brother Jacob.  My friends and I were stopped at the Czech border and told to go to Holland which wanted Czech workers.  There were not enough visas for all of my friends and I to leave.  I gave my friend my visa and stayed in Holland.

When the Germans came, I was sent to Westerbork which had a tailor and shoemaking shop.  An assistant commandant needed his uniform pants which had leather strips down each leg to be repaired, a very difficult job.  I was told the life of the all of the tailors was in my hands to repair them properly. I had never made a uniform before but knew I could do so.  I secured a machine from the defunct shoemaker shop and was able to do it. The SS officer, highly impressed with my work, referred me to the head commandant.  My success led to me making suits and hats for the commandant, the SS, and the Dutch public.  I was given special status as a “half Jew”; I no longer had to wear a yellow star and was freed one year before the war ended. I also showed extraordinary chutzpah (Yiddish for gall).  One day I said to an SS man, “Come and fight on my side.”  Amazed, the officer offered me a cigarette.  

My work, repairing and making clothes for the Commandant and the SS, earned me much respect, early freedom, and probably saved the lives of other tailors in the camp. During that time, I also worked for the Underground as a messenger. I was thought to have a good cover because no one would suspect me.

After the war, I opened up a tailor shop in Amsterdam.  I met my wife in Holland and married in 1944.  I made a good living, eventually having twelve employees.  My ailing sister Rivka in Detroit asked me to come to America and so I did.  I worked for Robert Hall Clothing store until retiring at 62.  
Name of Concentration / Labor Camp(s)
Occupation after the war
Tailor in Amsterdam and then Detroit.
When and where were you married?
1944 in Holland.
What do you think helped you to survive?
Tailoring skills were very important. I was never afraid to die; from childhood on, I was a fighter who never backed down.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
It’s important to stand up to people and not let anyone control you.  You must always live honestly, be true to yourself and always help others when you can.

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