Rabbi Moshe Polter

"Keep going, life is beautiful. We all face personal obstacles and yet we are to overcome them. G-d certainly provides us the strength."

Name at birth
Moshe Yerachmiel Polter
Date of birth
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up?
Antwerp, Belgium
Name of father, occupation
Rabbi Yehuda Polter, Teacher and diamond cutter
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Reizel Diamant, Homemaker
Immediate family (names, birth order)
Parents, 3 children: Menachem Mendel, Yisroel & Moshe Yerachmiel (me). 3 children born later. Herschel was born during the war in Switzerland, Rachel Greisman, Malka (Cookie) Dubinsky after the war.
How many in entire extended family?
Who survived the Holocaust?
Parents and the three children. Grandparents Yehuda and Reizel, my grandmother's sister Rachelle and some others
My family left Antwerp in May 1940 getting as far as Lyon, France.  In 1942, we succeeded into smuggling into Switzerland.  The rest of the family from Antwerp hid in Marseilles, France area.  One uncle was deported and perished at Auschwitz.     
We were living in Antwerp, Belgium until 1940.  Our family fled to Lyon, France to get away from the Germans.  With the money we had, we lived in a small one room dwelling in Lyon.  In 1942, as the things were getting worse, as the Germans were getting close, we decided to flee to Switzerland which was close with the hope that they would let us in.   Switzerland did let us in; two of us were under the age of five.  Apparently Switzerland had a policy where they would let in parents with children under the age of five.  Both my brother Yisroel and I were under five.  They were going to send us to a refugee camp however my brother Yisroel contracted typhus. 
My father was sent to a refugee camp near Zurich.  My brother Yisroel was sent to a hospital in Geneva.  My mother, Menachem Mendel and I stayed in Geneva as well to be near my brother.  Six months later, my father was released from the camp and joined the family in Geneva.  An agency supported by the Polish Government in Exile helped us.  We stayed in Geneva until the end of the war.  We later heard that 80 percent of Jews trying to get into Switzerland were not allowed in.  We were very lucky.  They saved our lives.  
 Several weeks before he passed away, a book that he worked on for a number of years was finally published, HaShevatim, The Tribes, a book about the blessings that Jacob gave his children before his passing.

Where were you in hiding?
Lyon, France and Geneva, Switzerland
Where did you go after being liberated?
Returned to Antwerp from Switzerland
Where did you settle?
I arrived in Toronto in 1951 when I was 13 years old. When I was 16, I wasn’t sure which Yeshiva (Jewish religious academy) to attend. A Rabbi Lipsker of Toronto influenced me to pursue my studies with Chabad (Lubavitch Chassidic movement). I studied at Lubavitch Yeshivos in Brooklyn and Montreal. I met the Lubavitcher Rebbe who I feel guided me as a benevolent father figure to become a follower of Chabad.
How is it that you came to Michigan?
As a single man, I was sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to be Shaliach, to be an emissary in spreading Judaism to the Detroit Jewish community. I worked for Chabad and taught at Bais Yaakov and Bais Yehudah, religious Jewish Day schools.
Occupation after the war
Teacher, Rabbi, Fundraiser, and School Principal
Kayla Tennenbaum, Hebrew Teacher
Yosef Yitzchak, Yaffa Finkel Rabin, Dovid Shrage, Menachem Mendel, Yechiel Aharon, Shneur Zalman, Shalom Dov Ber, Rochel Malka Lieberow, and Yochanan Eliezer
60-70 grandchildren and at least five great-grandchildren
What do you think helped you to survive?
G-d, Hashem. I had yet to fulfill missions in life.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
Keep going, life is beautiful. We all face personal obstacles and yet we are to overcome them. G-d certainly provides us the strength.
Biography by his son, Rabbi Dovid Polter, his brother Rabbi Menachem Mendel Polter, and wife, Kayla Polter
Interview date:

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