A Holocaust Survivor recalls his life

    June 2009            
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"I'm Not the Original Adam"

By Harvey Gotliffe © 2009

On the second Sunday morning of every month, a group of elderly men and women whose numbers are slowly diminishing join with some of their family members and friends at the Chai House in San Jose, California. Although they have lived diverse lives since coming to America, they once shared a common and devastating experience that ended more than sixty years ago. The monthly gathering of the Silicon Valley Holocaust Survivors Association now brings them together for brunch and pleasant conversation.

At 10:30 AM, within minutes of entering the huge dining room, the survivors gather at the rear—on their own, or with the help of a cane or walker. They know the routine well, and first pick up paper plates, plastic knives and forks and napkins at one end of a thirty-foot-long table laden with food. They amble along the line, selecting from the basket of bagels, lox, a variety of cream cheeses, slices of almost-ripe tomatoes, tuna salad, homemade hummus with store-bought pita bread, and finally fruits and glazed pastries for dessert. Balancing their overflowing plates carefully, they meander to one of the many colorful cloth-covered tables, where they have either tilted a chair forward, or placed a scarf or a purse or a coat on a seat to reserve it for themselves and others.

Around 11:15 AM, the group leader, a child of survivors, steps to the small podium, taps the microphone to make sure it's on, then introduces and welcomes any newcomers, before telling the group about those survivors who have been honored for their contributions, are ill, or have passed on in the last month. When he finishes reading the announcements of future activities, he asks if anyone has something else to add.

A small, stately man gently rises from his chair, and slowly and purposefully walks to the podium, deftly using a stylish cane that seems to be designed just for him. He is dressed as sportingly as a Polish Beau Brummell, in rust-colored pants and burnt orange sweater over a pale blue shirt, and seems impeccably color-coordinated, with brown socks and brogans.

Although most of his fellow survivors and their families already recognize him, he grasps the microphone firmly, raises his white-haired head, and says in a strong voice, "I am Adam Cintz. I am ninety-eight years old." Everyone in the audience applauds and laughs when he adds "And I'm not the original Adam."

He points to a poster he made, standing on the table near the door, that most of the group missed when they entered the room in search of food and friends. It describes his latest invention, and Adam announces that this contrivance could help anyone with arthritis with the simple yet onerous task of buttoning a shirt with crippled fingers. He looks down at his own wrinkled and gnarled hands and says, "I am not yet bothered by the problem." He then demonstrates his "paper-clip button closer", which is on sale for a contribution of five dollars or more, with all of the proceeds going to benefit Holocaust survivors.

Before he leaves the podium, he reminds everyone that PBS will be broadcasting "God on Trial" that night, a drama about a group of prisoners facing extermination at Auschwitz who were questioning God's actions, or lack of action. Over the years, Adam has also questioned the very existence of God, for when he was at Auschwitz, he not only faced extermination, but also lost his eight-year-old son Shlomo.

At certain moments he sadly remembers the past all too clearly, but tries not to let it impinge upon the present. He doesn't have time to waste, and on September 30, 2009, three months after his ninety-eighth birthday, Adam was issued US Patent 7430080 for his "inclined reading magnification stand," designed to help older people with failing eyesight to read books, newspapers and magazines with greater ease.

"I am going to celebrate my ninety-ninth birthday on July 1," he says, "and I want to finish my book."

Adam's life's story is certainly one for the books, but it wasn't until he was in his mid-nineties that he began telling his personal Holocaust story to the outside world, going into classrooms and speaking to students about what he had endured from the time of the death of his father, when he was six, through the end of World War II and beyond.

In 1916, when his father Shlomo died of typhus in Warsaw, his mother Perla was left caring for Adam, who was the second youngest, and his four sisters and a brother. She was a religious woman, who tried to instill and maintain a Jewish tradition in their home, and always lit candles on Shabbos. Whenever possible she would cook fish or meat for the Friday night meal, and after her husband died, "She would cook potatoes," Adam said, and sighed. "She was a very good person."

There was no source of income then, and Adam's oldest sister, who was fourteen, went to work. The family was destitute, so they moved to Lodz to join his mother's two brothers, one of which made socks by hand, and the children learned the trade. Eight-year-old Adam was then Aron Czynsz, and he and his family spoke only Yiddish in their kosher home. It was a one-room apartment in a building with 150 tenants—all Jewish—and living conditions were spartan.

"There wasn't any running water. Toilets were outside in the yard," Adam remembers. The water was also in the yard, and from their single-room, second-floor apartment, the family had to bring it up in a bucket. Like most young Jewish males, Adam attended cheder, a religious school, for two years, where he learned to read the Hebrew prayers and the Torah.

"My mother put me in cheder, and the rabbi would say the lessons first in Hebrew, then explain them in Yiddish." He learned Hebrew by davening—praying—and had no real formal education. Adam was able to remain in cheder for only about two years. "My mother was a very good person, but she had learned no trade. We had to make a living," he said. "We worked and gave the money to her, and she took care of the family."

Adam and his brother Moishe would buy a hundred cigarette papers and some cheap tobacco, roll small cigarettes by hand, cut them with scissors, and sell them. "Sometimes we cheated a little and used cigarette butts. But when we tested them, we would take a white handkerchief and blow through it and you'd see a black mark. This was not healthy," Adam said with an impish laugh. "We also sold seltzer vasser."

There were many shuls in Lodz, but money was too scarce for them to go regularly. "To belong to a shul takes money, and we didn't even have enough money for bread." When it came to the high holidays, "We weren't so happy," but his mother would try to buy a ticket to the synagogue. "Then she would have a place to sit," Adam remembers.

When Adam was twelve he got a job as a photographer's assistant to help the family out, but only worked there for a week, for his mother was adamant about their religion, and wouldn't let him work on Shabbos. "So I quit the job." Although his mother was a pious woman, Adam didn't have a Bar Mitzvah. "At that time it was not so big a deal, and I didn't have a father," he lamented.

At sixteen, Adam started working as an apprentice for a tailor, but was disappointed. "You go for three or four years, and the tailor doesn't teach you too much," said Adam. "First he had a few kids, and I took care of them. I did housework." He worked without any regular pay, and his only pay would be in the form of a tip. "I made a suit for the postmaster; the tailor's son made the delivery, and he got paid. I didn't, and that's when I stopped being a tailor."

When Adam was seventeen or so, he met his future wife where he worked; Genia was about his age. In 1933, when they were both twenty-three, they got married in Lodz. It was the same year Hitler took power in Germany. They couldn't afford a synagogue wedding, so Adam rented a taxi to get to the rabbi's house, where there was a brief ceremony, and afterwards, "We went home and had a little party."

Their son was born three years later on March 6, and he was named Shlomo after Adam's father. Adam was always industrious then, and is to this day, and to support his family he bought sewing machines from Singer on payments, and made jerseys and children's underwear. As with many Jewish concerns, his clients were all Jewish; "I had no close connections with non-Jews," Adam said.

While the Nazis were putting forth a propaganda spectacle in Berlin with their 1936 Olympics, anti-Semitism was rampant in Poland, with Jews on the receiving end of both verbal and physical abuse. It was a precursor of what was to happen to Adam and his family. In 1938, his mother Perla died of cancer at the age of fifty-eight.

In March 1939, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, and entered Poland on the first of September. Adam remembers listening to BBC Radio and hearing, "Don't worry. Help is coming." Instead of help and hope, German forces occupied Lodz on September 8 and renamed it Litzmannstadt. Adam had his shop on the fourth floor, and knew something had to be done. "My brother-in-law had a grocery store in the basement. I had expensive machines I protected with grease, then hid beneath the floorboards of his store." Adam was close to his brother and all his sisters, and when one sister, her husband and family were taken away from Lodz, Adam said, "Leave your son. I will take care of him."

Between November 15 and 17, the Nazis burned down all of the city's synagogues, and forced Adam, his family and the entire Jewish population of more than 230,000 into the most rundown and neglected slum-like part of town, which was to become the Lodz ghetto.

"You could only take into the ghetto what you could carry," Adam recollects. He also remembers everyone being forced to wear the Star of David, and that on the slightest whim, Nazis not only humiliated Jews, they killed them, just for being Jewish.

In the spring of 1940, the ghetto was sealed off with wooden fences and barbed wire, and divided into two parts, with a bridge connecting the two sides. German soldiers patrolled the perimeters to be sure no one escaped their still unknown, final fate. Adam recalls that during the direst times, some people were dying of hunger and others were committing suicide. "I remember flatbed horse-drawn wagons going from house to house picking up the dead bodies."

The available food was meted out, and people were given ration coupons for their portions. "It was not enough," Adam said. "Not enough to live, not enough to die. When someone died, the family kept the dead body for a week to get the dead person's portions."

When the head of the ghetto's Jewish Council tried to save lives by turning Lodz into a slave labor workshop for the Germans, Adam remembers that people made shoes, toys, furniture, uniforms and underwear. He and some of his family members became part of the fatiguing factory system. "I had my machines and I tried to employ anyone I knew. My brother. My sister. My wife. Working at pedal-operated sewing machines. Making underwear. We got some food in exchange."

Adam had other relatives in the ghetto, but during those tumultuous times, their fate was unknown. "I had two uncles in the ghetto," he recalls, "but I don't know what happened to them." Although he knew two sisters in the Russian zone of a divided Poland had been sent to Siberia, he only received one letter from them, and he never heard again from his brother-in -law, lamenting, "I don't know if he survived."

In his factory, Adam was a mechanic, a skill that was useful throughout his entire life. He had the keys to the factory, and became wary when the Jewish police first issued an order that nobody could leave their houses on the following day. When they went on their house-to-house search to pick up the children, Adam was able to use his role and his guile to help save his immediate family—for the moment.

Like all factories, Adam's had a huge steel water tank on the roof, but this one was empty. So he left the house with his wife, son and nephew, and went to the factory; they stayed overnight in the tank that once held water pipes. "We looked out and saw them going house to house and taking out the children. We were hidden," Adam said. "Later all the children were taken away."

Adam knows the exact day when he, too, was deported: August 24, 1944. The German officer in charge spoke to Adam and the few hundred prisoners who were left: "You work in the ghetto. You do a good job. Now we are going to close the ghetto, and you will work in another city." He went on, "If I want to shoot you. I can shoot you here. But I don't want to do that, so you will go and work in another place." The officer intimated that all would be well, and Adam remembers him saying, "Take your dishes, your pictures, anything you want to take out with you," all in an effort to dissuade anyone from rebelling against a seemingly benign order.

Like most other Jews, Adam didn't know what to expect at his new "assignment", and he and Genia discussed the situation, pondering whether or not to hide somewhere and not go. The ever-optimistic Adam concluded, "We worked here for four years and eight months and made it this far. Maybe we will work in the other place for a little while, and then the war would end." So they reported to the transport.

Adam is still held captive by his memories of leaving the ghetto and what followed. "They put us in a cattle car, as many people as they could pack in. Maybe eighty or ninety of us. There was no toilet, only a bucket in the corner. We were in there for a day or two. When they opened the doors to the car and I saw all of the electric wires and the fences, I knew we were in big trouble. It was Auschwitz."

He pauses for a moment and takes a breath, not wanting to relive the horrors that immediately befell him and his family. "They separated us. My wife was holding the two children by the hand. An SS man separated the children and the elderly to one side. My wife didn't want to give up the children. He hit her. He hit her over the head."

What happened next was a blur. "We went inside a building; undressed. In one room were women's underclothes up to the ceiling, in another were pieces of bread. Moldy green bread. Then we got clothes." Adam was confused by his own situation, and even more by not knowing what had happened to his wife, son and nephew. Sadly, he found out all too soon.

"My wife survived, but my nephew and my son—they got killed," Adam said, struggling to go on. He learned of his son's death and that of his nephew when he spoke Yiddish with a Kapo, a Jewish guard, and asked, "Where are the children?" The Kapo took him outside, raised his hand, and pointed to a bonfire lighting up the evening sky, "You see the bonfire over there? The children are burning in the bonfire."

The thoughts of the anguish he experienced then are never far from his mind. He and the others also had to live through physical pain on a daily basis at Auschwitz. He still has a vivid memory of how they slept on thin blankets scattered about the concrete floor, and that their meager clothing consisted of only a pair of striped pants and a shirt. On cold mornings, when they were forced to stand outside in the freezing rain, some of them lined their clothing with paper to help ward off the weather.

"Some were smarter," Adam said. "They tore off a piece of their blanket and wrapped it around their body. So I was smart and did the same thing." But Adam was not as smart as he was lucky. One morning when an SS man learned about what was going on, he decided to check every person and have them open their shirt.

"You couldn't take off the blanket and throw it down, and I was next in line, when somebody called him [the SS man] away. When he came back, he started with the one after me, and I had one piece of blanket on my body." They found one man with a blanket underneath. "They beat him pretty good. You could hear him yelling."

After about ten days, Adam was moved from Auschwitz to Braunschweig, a major destination for forced labor from eastern Europe during the war. "The factory there made differentials for trucks," Adam recalls. "I worked on a big machine." Adam worked under a German supervisor, who said he had a machine that had been bombed and would not function. Adam was working on the night shift, and told the German to bring it to him and he would fix it. When he did, Adam received loaves of bread, and when the supervisor said he had a five-year-old son who wanted a sleigh, Adam told him to bring him the steel and he would build it. "This is the way I survived, and I got bread for that. A piece of bread was very important for me."

Adam believes the reason he survived physically was "just luck. I said I was a mechanic, so they sent me out to work." When he thinks about how he survived mentally, he recalls being in a paradoxical dilemma. "I had the hope that one day the war would end; this kept me going. You live from day to day. We didn't believe we would get out." With that dismal reality, Adam never thought about what he would do afterwards. "Who was thinking about the future? Everybody was hoping the war would end and you would be alive."

Adam worked about nine months in the factory, and one day everything changed. A German woman came in and had all of the Jews get into a line; she then typed everyone's name on a list, and gave each person a foot-square package. It seemed to have come from the Red Cross. The war was ending, and the Germans were trying to put on a good face to the rest of the world. "Inside was all kinds of food, cookies, crackers, chocolate, cigarettes, everything." Adam and about a hundred others were marched to a camp near the city of Ludwigslust and put into a still-unfinished barrack. "There were no windows; the floor was made of sand, where we sat."

The Germans ordered them out for counting, and Adam said, "Let's open the box and hide everything under the blanket." It was a wise move on Adam's part. When he and the others went outside, a slew of non-Jewish prisoners in the camp who had heard about the packages stormed in and ransacked the barrack. They took everything with them except for Adam's cache and those of the others who had listened to him. "We ate all night under the blanket," Adam said, chuckling.

On May 2, 1945, Adam looked out and noticed both gates were open, and there weren't any guards. "So I went out and started to walk to this little town. There was chaos. German citizens had broken into the warehouses and robbed everything." Then Adam saw a group of German POWs being marched, hands over heads, followed by American GIs in their tanks. "Tanks painted with a big tiger," Adam remembered. "One of the American soldiers offered to give me a .45 pistol to shoot the Germans."

But Adam was not after revenge. "I didn't know how to use it, and my mind was on how to get home. I wanted to get away from there. I wondered which way home was."

He also wondered if his wife was still alive, and if she had made it back to Lodz. When he saw a field of hundreds of people "walking nowhere," he knew where he had to go. "I was walking. Stayed in farms. Slept in attics," and when the area was turned over to the Russians, he went into the forest. Ever the innovator, Adam looked over the many broken and abandoned bicycles and took two of them and made them into one usable vehicle. "I said, 'I will travel to Lodz on this bicycle.'"

In one town when he had to cross a main street, a female Russian soldier who was directing traffic pointed a machine gun at him and said, "Give me the bicycle."

"I have to go home," he said, and she lowered her gun. "So I gave her the bicycle and kept walking." Adam soon met others walking, all non-Jewish, who told him they, too, were trying to reach Lodz, so he joined them. When a Russian soldier came by, the man with Adam offered him a bottle of brandy; the soldier then went into a farm and brought them a horse and a buggy.

As they wended their way toward Lodz, they were stopped by a group of Russian soldiers. Their leader, who was looking to forcibly enlist any man capable of standing into his depleted army unit, told Adam to get down from the buggy. The woman sitting next to Adam crossed herself and began to cry. She pointed to Adam and said that he was her husband and that he was very sick and could not walk. The Russian in charge told them to go. Adam believes her act of crossing herself might have saved him.

After that Adam learned to stay away from the main roads, and traveled only through the forests. They came to a river where their side was in Germany; when they crossed a wooden bridge, they were in Poland. A Polish soldier immediately confiscated their horse and buggy and said, "Now you are in Poland. You can walk." When Adam recollects his journey he says, "I don't know how I did it. How much I walked, I don't know. I know one thing; I came to Lodz."

When he arrived in Lodz, he didn't know where to look for his wife, and wondered if he would even find out if she had survived. He found an apartment house that refugees were using to sleep in, which also served as a center where people would go to try to find out what had happened to their separated family members. As fate would have it, or perhaps luck had prevailed, one day he met a woman who knew Adam from before the war, and she told him, "Aron, I know where your wife is; she is in the Theresienstadt camp."

Adam was determined to get to the camp, located in Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia, and find his Genia by whatever way possible. Although he didn't have money for the fare, Adam took a train, and hid in the bathroom every time a railway official passed through Adam's car. "I didn't eat the whole train trip. I was traveling a long time."

Theresienstadt had been a German concentration camp during the war, and was now a Displaced Person camp for refugees. Because of dysentery problems, a cyclone fence had been built that encircled the entire camp. "There was a fence," Adam remembered, "So one night I dug a hole under the fence. I don't know how I did it. I went inside and found my wife."

His wife, being healthy, had survived, so the Germans sent her from Auschwitz to work in a factory where they made automobile bodies. Genia was lucky, too, for she had a friend who worked in the kitchen, and once in a while brought her a whole raw potato. "She stole it," Adam says with a smile. "She smuggled it out and gave it to my wife."

Although they were finally together again after a painfully long separation, Adam confessed, "We both didn't feel so good, you know. We hoped we would find the children." In the recesses of his mind, Adam had somehow wanted to bury what the Kapo at Auschwitz had said: his son and nephew had not escaped, but were burned in the bonfire.

Later, Adam and Genia were given the choice of going to either Germany or Poland, but Adam had been to Lodz, and was dismayed with what he had found at his old house. "The windows were broken. There were papers scattered on the floor." However, there were more ominous portents of what could happen to any Jew who decided to return to Poland. "There were big pogroms," Adam said, where Jewish refugees from the concentration camps were deliberately persecuted and even murdered, again, just because they were Jews.

They chose to go to a refugee camp in Landsberg am Lech, and in May 1946 their son Simon was born. "I used to walk the streets in Landsberg," Adam recalled. "One day I saw a sign that you could register to go to America, so I registered. When the girl asked me for my first name, I said 'Aron', but she misunderstood and marked down 'Adam.' It was no big deal, and no honor to have a Jewish name then." The three of them were given medical tests before they could leave, and an X-ray revealed that Genia had a spot on her lung. America was wary of letting people enter who may have had tuberculosis, and although a visa was available for both Adam and Simon, Adam refused to leave his wife behind. "I would not leave her by herself," he said adamantly, not after their previous forced separation.

The family had considered going to what would become the State of Israel when they weren't allowed to immigrate together to America, but it would have been too much of a struggle, and Adam admitted, "I was too exhausted to do that."

So every year Genia went to be X-rayed, and every year there was that spot on her lung. In 1949 the doctors finally decided the spot might have been from when she was a child, and the family was free to emigrate. "That is how we came to America."

At the age of thirty-nine, Adam Czynsz left Germany and sailed to America with his wife and son. The Jewish Joint Committee that sponsored Adam had selected San Jose as the family's ultimate destination. "They already had enough Jews in New York," he joked, "and they sent some people to the South," which was where the family first landed, in New Orleans.

After their exhausting voyage, they spent three days and nights on a train to San Jose. The local Jewish community helped Adam and his family find a place to stay, found employment for him, and made the entire family feel welcome in their new land.

The San Jose Jewish community was just learning about the unimaginable horrors Holocaust survivors had endured, and they loaned Adam money to get started in his new life. He proudly related, "Later I paid them back." It was his manner to help and give to others throughout his life, and now he was on the receiving end; he always appreciated what America offered him.

He worked for Levi Strauss as a mechanic repairing sewing machines in their factory above the Greyhound bus station in downtown San Jose, where they made jeans. A German man in charge told Adam he was a good mechanic, but worked too slowly, and all too soon, Adam was fired. It was fortuitous that one of the first members of the Jewish community to help Adam's family was Seaman Kay, who was a partner in an automobile seat cover business. Kay got involved in a different enterprise, so he turned over the seat cover business to another man, George Hoehn, who met Adam and asked if he could make seat covers. Without a moment's hesitation, Adam eagerly said, "Yes."

"I had never made seat covers before," but he figured that if he could make a sled for a German officer's son with no previous knowledge or experience, he could make seat covers to provide for his family. With George's help, Adam opened his own seat cover business in a small area of the Star and Bar gas station, in downtown Palo Alto. As a first step, Adam contacted a Jewish man who had been the main mechanic for Levi Strauss in San Francisco, and convinced him to sell Adam a used sewing machine for $150. Initially, he lacked the money to buy the needed seat cover material, but when he told Kay about his problem, Kay said that when the seat cover salesman comes from Los Angeles, he should give Adam any material he wants. Adam fondly remembers his generosity: "He said if I wasn't able to pay, he would. I ordered $600 worth of material. I started my shop and did very well; people liked my work."

He stayed there for a year and a half, until his landlord wanted to raise his rent from $100 to $150 a month. The ever- gregarious Adam had become friendly with Meyer Sher, a law student at Stanford, who suggested that Adam find a place of his own. Sher became an attorney, and he and Adam remained close, lifelong friends.

He was now ready to take a second and much greater step. He found an old house for sale for $17,200 on Alma Street, in the commercial district of Palo Alto, and it was just right for his new business. Adam had been frugal and saved five thousand dollars, enough to make a down payment, and he bought the house.

"I lived in that place. I made my shop there, too." He named his business "Seat Covers By Adam", and ran his operation out of a small room in the front of the house. As the business grew, he enlarged the front room by taking out the children's bedroom; the two sons then slept in the living room. With his strong work ethic and an insatiable desire to learn, Adam admitted, "I became a good seat cover man." So much so that when his business grew even larger, he built a shop at the back of the house that eventually took over the entire living quarters. He then moved the family into a small home on Kipling Street near midtown Palo Alto. The family still owns the building on Alma Street.

Along the way, Adam learned English, referring to a dictionary whenever he was stumped. In 1949, he took citizenship classes at night, after working a long, hard day. While he was becoming a naturalized citizen, a friend suggested he change his surname from Czynsz to Cintz. "It was pronounced 'Chinch' then," Adam said. "It became easier to pronounce and more American spelled the new way." Adam recalled that his grandfather's name had been pronounced Cintz in Yiddish many years before. So he became Adam Cintz; he and his wife were determined to become more American, so they spoke primarily English at home. Genia would still call him by his Yiddish name, Aron, and Adam, in turn, would affectionately call her Gitle or Gitele. His two sons respectfully referred to their parents as "The Mom" and "The Dad."

The business began in 1950, the year when his son Ben was born. Adam was a good businessman, and says with pride, "I was always honest. I never bounced a check." He was also a fair and caring employer. When one of his Mexican-born employees had to return to Mexico because his visa had expired, Adam applied for a visa for the man, and helped him stay in the United States so he could keep on working. Many of Adam's employees stayed and worked for him for long periods of time during the twenty-five years he operated his business. He retired at the age of sixty-three; however, Adam has never retired from life. He has traveled to Israel three times, beginning with his first journey ever on an airplane in the late 1970s, and he took his last trip there in 1989.

Adam's marriage to Genia produced three sons: Shlomo, born in March 1936 and died in Auschwitz; Simon, born in May 1946 in the Displaced Person camp in Landsberg am Lech; and Ben, born in January 1950 in California.

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Today, Adam is alert, engaging, and possesses a strong handshake. In his home is a collection of objects that reflect upon his life and that of his first wife Genia, who died in 1994. Before World War II Adam and Genia worked very hard together in their shop twelve hours a day making underwear. During the war, when they were in the Lodz ghetto, Genia worked on a sewing machine side by side with other family members. Her devotion to her children was exemplified at Auschwitz, when she suffered a beating after fighting against giving up her son and nephew to the Nazi guards. Her devotion continued after they came to America, and she would protectively walk first Simon, then Ben, the ten blocks to and from school every day, while Adam diligently worked in his shop.

He was a devoted husband, caring for her whenever she needed help. The year after she died, Adam married Sylvia Seligson, who enjoyed the arts and traveling; he was pleased to have once again found someone to share his life with. Sylvia died in 2003, and Adam has no plans to remarry. "I am too old," he said, "but at ninety-eight, I don't feel so old. I don't complain."

There is a refreshing feeling of warmth at his large residence, and a bit of mystery outside the front door, where a 1999 Buick with only 20,000 miles on the odometer rests hidden under a cloth cover; he drove it until the middle of 2007. It sits next to an exceedingly bright yellow golf cart he uses to meander around The Villages, where he lives—primarily to get to one of the community's swimming pools, when the weather is favorable. He loves to swim, sun and schmooze with the Dippy Dolphins, a group of senior women who hang around the nearby pool. When the warm weather arrives and the sun shines brightly, Adam becomes a bronzed boychik—a well-tanned, young-looking man again.

His home contains an impressive collection of awards and photos, including one of the diminutive Adam standing next to six-foot-two-inch Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger at an award ceremony. He looks at life with an impish smile and a wry sense of humor, and when asked if he was ever taller, he replies, "Everyone shrinks, you know."

Although he stands just a smidgen over five feet, his small stature has never stopped him from doing sizable deeds in a humble manner. In 1987 he spent 150 hours designing and building a menorah, that stands next to the Christmas display in The Villages. A simple frame holds a photograph of the menorah featured in an article about his creation made at age seventy- seven. In the article he is described as a "draftsman, electrician, woodworker, welder," and admits with a smile, "I am a jack of all trades."

His talent and contributions seemingly extend beyond any limitations. More than twenty-five years ago he designed and made a chuppah—a wedding canopy—for Beth David Synagogue to replace their old, wobbly one. Although both Adam's sons, Simon and Ben, were members of other synagogues, they borrowed the chuppah for their own weddings, and others are still using it today. Whatever inanimate project he undertakes, he wants to create something that is not only useful, beautiful, but also long-lasting—just like Adam himself.

Adam was always a Renaissance man looking for a challenge, and still is today. Along with his button fastener and his now patented magnifying reading stand, he is creating a part for his sewing machine that is no longer available. He always seems ready to begin yet another venture.

When he was ninety-six, his neighbor, a librarian and teacher at nearby Evergreen High School, asked him to talk to the students about his experiences. Adam spoke to about five hundred students in four hour-long classes, and the individual, handwritten responses he received afterward were meaningful and invigorating:

We are grateful to you for helping us better understand and remember this genocide.

Thank you for teaching us that prejudice is wrong.

It will make us appreciate so many things.

The responses came from students with an eclectic mix of surnames, including Vietnamese, Hispanic, Jewish and Indian—all of whom seemed to be enriched and inspired by Adam's words.

I think you have a lot of strength and heart since you survived.

I think you reached out to all students, because most of us left teary-eyed.

Adam's words meant a great deal to those students, and there seemed to be unanimity in their wishes for the ninety-six- year-old guest speaker, personified by one young Hispanic student's expression of her feelings:

I hope you live longer so you can tell people about your life—your amazing life.

By the time Adam received a letter from another student, a young Indian woman, she had already shared what Adam had said, which is one of the main purposes of Adam's and other survivors' talks. They want their stories be retold, heard and perpetuated as extensively as possible, so more people can learn and understand and stand up against injustices.

I retold your story to a lot of my friends and parents. It must have been really hard for you to share your memories.

"Every time, it comes back in your mind," Adam says knowingly. "Many times at night when you go to sleep and then the whole story comes before your eyes. Then you wake up and say to yourself, this was just a dream."

It's difficult for any survivor to retell what he or she lived through, but Adam feels it's a necessity. "People should know what happened; maybe some people will take a lesson from it, and maybe they'd behave better. Jews should be more on guard. I will never forget it."

Adam didn't forget the package he had received from the Red Cross when he was liberated; he decided to send them a check, but didn't know where to send it. When someone at the Red Cross learned he was a Holocaust survivor, they asked him to speak about his experiences at their annual volunteer dinner, at San Jose's Marriott Hotel. "There were maybe three hundred people there, and I was speaking to them," Adam relates proudly.

Adam will not stereotype Germans today, as the Germans bitterly did the Jews nearly seven decades ago. "There's a German woman who visits me with her husband, who is from Poland. They also had trouble with Germans. There are lots of good Germans, too," Adam says.

He is still dismayed about what the Poles did to the returning Jews immediately after the Holocaust, and is not pleased with the way some Poles are now remembering the brutal past. "The things they are doing there now, like selling statues of little Jews with beards, are just to get American dollars. It's just to make money."

After the tragedies that occurred during the Holocaust and World War II, Adam was skeptical about the outcome of the Iraq War, and is still wondering, "Will this war end one day?" He answers his own question with "It will never end;" he believes the United States "can't teach them democracy," not when the factions within the divided land have been fighting for years.

He maintains an insatiable thirst for knowledge, and is a voracious reader. "I never went to elementary school. I'm not so much educated, you know." Yet he has become a knowledgeable individual on his own by observing and learning from each of his experiences, and through his reading.

"I am reading lots of books. Every day after dinner I like to sit and read for two or three hours. Then I go to sleep." He has read Isaac Bashevis Singer, and adds, "Maybe I have read all of the writings of Sholem Aleichem in Yiddish." He reads books on many subjects, and especially savors those covering history and the Holocaust; he seldom watches television.

Nearby in his living room, there's a copy of Lucjan Dobroszycki's The Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto: 1941–1944 close at hand. This 565-page book is filled with photographs and descriptions of the people, places and events that filled years of Adam's life. "At Auschwitz, they took all our photographs away from us," Adam says, so he uses the book to remember what his life used to be like.

His kitchen table is crowded with Smithsonian magazines, the local San Jose Mercury News, and other challenging reading, including National Geographic. His favorite periodical is the Jewish Forverts newspaper, and he reads the Yiddish-language edition every week as a reminder of a long-ago past in Europe. "Yiddish is my best language. I used to speak Polish. I speak a bit of Hebrew. I understand and speak a little bit of German," he says.

Unfortunately, Adam cannot find many others to talk Yiddish with, except for a few of his fellow survivors at their monthly gatherings. "It's nice once in a while to find somebody to speak Yiddish with," he says. "I go there to meet people and they are happy to see me."

Adam's experience during the Holocaust has tempered his views about religion and God. He participates in the monthly Silicon Valley Holocaust Survivor Association meetings, and tries to attend Friday night services once a month in The Villages. "These are short services, maybe fifteen or twenty minutes. If you have a long service, people won't show up." He also recites the Mourner's Kaddish for his relatives on the anniversaries of their deaths. In 2008, at the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies at the Santa Clara County Supervisors' chambers, he and Jonathan, one of his four grandsons, said the Kaddish in front of hundreds of people, with Adam reading it in Hebrew.

He also goes to temple to say the Kaddish; "It just reminds me of my parents, my sisters, my brother," he says. When he goes to the cemetery where Genia is buried, he says the Kaddish for her, his son Shlomo, and his nephew, also named Shlomo. When Genia died, he bought three adjoining cemetery plots—one for Genia, one for himself, and one for the two boys who died in Auschwitz. Their birth and death dates are inscribed on the long headstone that spans the three plots.

The Cintz family name, inscribed high in the middle of the headstone, gently rests over the inscription "Czynsz" as another reminder of the past. The grave plot of the two boys is empty, but memories of them still dwell within Adam's heart. Whenever he visits the graves, he brings a stone to place down for Genia and the boys. "It shows that you remember them." Adam's second wife Silvia is buried nearby; he also says a Kaddish for her, and places a stone there.

While Adam proudly maintains a secular Jewish life, he realizes it is a far cry from the kosher, religious environment he was raised in nearly a century ago. "You know, when I was seven or eight, my mother sent me to cheder. Then I had to make a living as a kid. We were struggling."

At times he questions his own belief in God: "When your father dies and you're six years old and there's a war and you're starving," he hesitates for a moment, "when you find out children were burned. And you see dead people in the ghetto being picked up in a wagon. How can you believe there is a Jewish God? A God that will help you." Adam remembers a conversation he had long ago. "You know, the rabbi said one time, when you get sick, don't wait for miracles. Go to the doctor."

Adam says that perhaps his penchant for survival was "maybe a natural gift." He also reiterates his belief that his long life was "just luck," but then pauses for a moment. "Not just luck. You have to take care of your body," he went on. "You don't have to drink and smoke, and you don't overeat. Some people do and get sick. I have a limit." Adam always tried to take care of himself, by swimming or other exercise, and when some body part would go out of kilter he would undertake whatever was necessary to correct it—and do so at any age.

When his right knee bothered him badly and he had difficulty walking, four doctors advised him not to have a knee replacement at age ninety-six, but Adam had the operation anyway, in April 2007, to gain more mobility. Lying on a gurney in the recovery room after the operation, he was doing his leg exercises. The operation resulted in two small heart attacks, that he quickly dismisses; "They were not serious," he says. They were serious enough to have him placed first in a cardiac care unit, then in a private room. When a nurse told Adam he would have to be moved from the room, because they needed to move in two women, he said with an impish grin, "I can stay too, if it's okay with them."

During his recovery at home, Veronica, both a family friend and a nurse, looked in on him daily. His son Simon wondered how long that would last. "As you know, my dad likes to do everything himself."

Just as many of his family and friends are enamored with Adam, he in turn is enchanted with his adopted country of America, and flies a large American flag by his front door. "America is a very good country," Adam says. "I appreciate America, because I have had what I couldn't have in the old country. Here you have opportunity—you can do anything you want."

Adam has had numerous opportunities in his lifetime to succeed, and has created so many things to enrich his community, a great deal of them initiated by him. He has also given pleasure through his kindness and deeds; without fanfare, he regularly contributes what he can financially to support the activities of his Holocaust survivors group. The group, in turn, makes sure he has a ride to all community-related activities, including the monthly meetings, for his presence adds to the glow they each feel for one another. Rebecca DeNardo, daughter of a late Holocaust survivor, enthusiastically hugs Adam whenever she sees him, and asks, "Could I be your granddaughter?" Whether it is his fellow survivors, his neighbors, or members of his synagogue group, Adam has earned their respect and their love. "I must be doing something right," he says, and adds with a shrug, "I don't know."

Adam may live alone, but he isn't lonely. His neighbors drop in to check up on him, or just stop by to talk, and he relishes the fact that there are more than enough reasons for people to get together to celebrate life in his community. "When somebody has a birthday, we have a party. When somebody goes overseas, we have a party. When he comes back, we have a party. Then there's everybody's birthday, and I am always invited," Adam says with a smile. His neighbor and nurse Veronica still visits with him for two hours every weekday morning. She checks his blood pressure and his prescribed medications, although Adam has set a limit on the latter. He would rather maintain a healthy lifestyle, which he does.

He derives immeasurable pleasure from spending time with his family. His sons Simon and Ben live nearby, and each has two sons of his own. Simon received a BA from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1968, and was a Peace Corps Volunteer teaching math and science in Malaysia from 1968 to 1971. He earned a master's degree in mathematics education from Stanford in 1975 before becoming an engineer and manager at Hewlett-Packard, and is now retired. His two sons, Adam's oldest grandsons, are twenty-five-year-old David and twenty-one-year-old Jonathan. Adam's youngest son, Ben, received a JD from Lincoln University in San Francisco in 1977, and was the valedictorian at the commencement. Ben recently retired from working for the State of California, where he was a labor relations attorney, to become involved in caring for his two five-year-old twin sons, Ethan and Daniel, Adam's youngest grandsons. Ben is also assisting in marketing the patent for Adam's reading magnification stand. "When we talk about sons," Adam says, "I'm proud of them."

They are also quite proud of their independent father, who has dedicated himself to their well-being. "I worked and tried to take care of my family. I wanted them to have a better life than I used to have," Adam says. "That's what I tried to do here in the United States," and without vanity he adds, "As a matter of fact, I did it."

Adam has one more project he wants to complete, and says he has enough material to write a book about his life; "I already have everything on tapes." He stresses, " I'm not trying to write a book to make money. I want people to remember what can happen to other people. No people can understand what happened in this war," and he describes the horror he and others endured. "Taking children from their houses and watching," he pauses to catch his breath. "Can you believe that anything like that happened?"

"I want to make the book for my kids, my grandkids. I want them to know who their grandfather was," Adam says softly.

Somehow there always seems to be something new happening to Adam, and new challenges to be met. The complete content of Adam's book may not be ready for a while.


from the July 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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