Bernard “Bernie” Sayone, a Holocaust survivor who spoke of his experiences to countless Jewish and non-Jewish students, passed away Jan. 31, 2017, in Garden Grove, Calif. He did not want a service.
Mr. Sayone was born Sept. 6, 1922, in Hmilnik, Poland. He attended school through the eighth grade.
In 1939, the Nazis burned the synagogue in Hmilnik while services were in session. The congregation was incinerated. Bernie was 17.
Mr. Sayone’s family did not attend services that evening and watched as their friends and synagogue went up in flames.
The next day, the occupying German forces imposed new rules for the Jews of Hmilnik. Curfews were imposed. Their businesses were confiscated and their bank accounts were frozen. All Jews had to wear the Jewish Star.
Then the Nazis forced Mr. Sayone, his family and the Jewish community to pack only the belongings they could carry and report to the ghetto in the center of town, he wrote in In the Streets Lying, Crying, and Dying: The Bernie Sayone Story (with Beverly A. Evans).
After a year in the ghetto, he was transported to Auschwitz.
“It was dark,” he wrote, “like G-d had forsaken this place.”
Mr. Sayone survived the selection process, was tattooed with the number 24014 and assigned to the sanitary control.
He had been at Auschwitz a year-and-a-half when he heard soldiers saying that his unit would be executed because they had access to many concealed areas in the camp.
Following his father’s advice “to do whatever you have to do to survive,” he volunteered as a machinist and was sent to a camp 200 miles away — but ended up back at Auschwitz.
Dr. Josef Mengele, the “Angel of Death,” selected Mr. Sayone to join 48 other prisoners injected with typhoid in an “experiment.”
Bernie was the only one who didn’t die.
As the Americans approached near the end of the war, Mr. Sayone was crammed into boxcars with fellow inmates from Auschwitz. There was no food or water. “It was a death train,” he wrote.
The train stopped in a wooded area. The Nazis marched the prisoners to the trenches and were about to shoot their captives in the back when the Americans intervened. At the time of his liberation, Bernie was 21 and weighed 67 lbs.
With the exception of a brother, every member of his family perished in the Holocaust.
Mr. Sayone met Ruth Guenther, a Czechoslovakian Jewish girl, at a nightclub in Germany. They were married on Nov. 2, 1945, immigrated to the US and settled in Denver.
A butcher, Mr. Sayone worked at Swift & Co., Sigman Meat Co., Averch Packing and Steinberg Packing.
A member of the New Americans Club and Holocaust survivors organizations, he was honored by the governors of Colorado and California, synagogues in both states, and the JCC in Long Beach, Calif.
He retired from business in 1985.
Mrs. Sayone passed away on Jan. 29, 2008.
Bernard Sayone is survived by his brother Adam (Zelda) Harris of Toronto, Canada; son John (Judy) Sayone of Garden Grove, Calif., and daughter Barbara (Skip) Murray of North Bend, Wash.
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