Allen Kupfer is one of the lucky ones.
The Sun City resident and Holocaust survivor has experienced more loss, pain and cruelty in his 92 years than most, yet the experiences have left him with an open heart and an abiding faith in humanity.
When the Nazis invaded Poland during World War II, Kupfer’s family was forced into the Warsaw ghetto. “I had to wear a Star of David on my arm,” he says. “People died of hunger because the rations were barely enough.” In the ghetto, he saw Orthodox men being forced to walk on burning coals and his parents were sent to Belzec, an extermination camp on the Russian border.
“I lost all my family in one day,” he says. “Only my sister and I survived.”
At the age of 16, Kupfer and his younger sister Rita were sent to work in the Hasag munitions factory. “As a youngster, I would go under the fence and forage whatever I could carry with me. I’d come back under the fence into the camp and we would split the food; a potato, a piece of bread,” he says. After escaping, Kupfer took shelter in haystacks and barns, living on crops that he helped farm: “When harvest time came, I helped myself from the fields. I ate a lot of corn and roasted potatoes in the ground,” he says. “You don’t know how much a human being can endure. A person will do anything to survive.”
Kupfer was rescued by the Macugowski family. “I had nowhere to go. It was December, and I slept in a hole in the ground, half-frozen to death,” he says. “They are the two biggest heroes in my life, because they risked their lives hiding Jews. Some of us were lucky, some of us were not so lucky.”
After the war, he returned to the Warsaw ghetto to try and locate any surviving relatives. “142 members of my family — that I knew of — perished during the Holocaust,” he says.
In 1949, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration provided him with passage to America. “I brought $3 to the United States,” he says. “When I saw the Statue of Liberty, I went down on my knees and cried.” He settled in Chicago and worked in the garment import business. He and his then-wife, Lillian, an Auschwitz survivor, became U.S. citizens in 1954. While living in Chicago, Kupfer was instrumental in the development of an educational statute requiring the Holocaust be taught in Illinois schools.
“Anti-Semitism, it’s here and it’s alive,” he says. “Hat is the disease of humanity.”
Kupfer met his partner, Blanche Frank, 25 years ago while on a Sierra Club campout in Kentucky. They have lived in Sun City for 18 years.
His deep-seated appreciation of life has inspired him to live every day to the fullest. “Life itself depends on attitude,” he says. “I don’t hate. Hate brings you to terrible things.” Despite everything that he has experienced, Kupfer says, “I never lost faith in people.”