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November 22, 2012 - Image 60

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2012-11-22

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'When Hope Prevails'


here is a bench outside the
Jewish Community Center in
West Bloomfield dedicated "In
honor of Sam Offen" — a gift from his
children. The quote on it, from German
Holocaust survivor Rabbi Leo Baeck, reads:
"Through faith we experience the world.
Through action, we give it meaning"
Sam Offen truly gave the world mean-
ing through his actions. He traveled the
world speaking about his experiences in
the Holocaust and shared his optimistic
viewpoint with all.
Sam Offen survived four concentra-
tion camps; afterward, he lost his leg to
a drunk driver and endured bone cancer,
skin cancer and other hardships. Yet Sam
not only survived all this, he thrived. He
had a delightful sense of humor and never
felt sorry for himself.
Mr. Offen, 91, of West Bloomfield, died
Nov. 11, 2012.
He was born in Krakow, Poland, in
1921. He had a happy childhood, which
contrasted with the horrors of the Nazi
occupation that followed. He was incar-
cerated in the Krakow Ghetto; then in
Plaszow, the camp portrayed in the film
Schindler's List, where he was nearly
killed by the sadistic commandant Amon
Goeth's vicious dogs; Gusen, where he ran
up and down 186 steps all day, carrying
heavy boulders; and, finally, Mathausen
where, as a living skeleton weighing less
than 80 pounds, he was liberated by the
11th Armored Division of the United
States Army.
Sam was fortunate enough to survive
all this with his brother Nathan. However,
more than 50 members of the Offen fam-
ily, including their father, Jacob, mother,
Rochme, and sister Miriam, were mur-
dered by the Nazis.
After the war, Sam and Nathan were
the only survivors to join the Polish army
in exile in Italy. It was there that they had
a miraculous reunion with their younger
brother Bernard, who searched for them for
months. They had no idea he was still alive.
After briefly living in London, Sam and
his brothers were brought to Detroit in
1951 by their mother's cousins. Sam soon

82, of Birmingham,
died Nov. 17, 2012.
He was an attor-
ney, labor arbitra-
tor and active in the
Democratic Party and
many Jewish organiza-
Mr. Beitner is
survived by his daughters and son-
in-law, Marie "Mimi" Cooke of Royal
Oak, Katherine Beitner of New York,


November 22 • 2012


married the love of his life, Hyla Lesser
(they were married for 56 years), had
two children and became a respected fur-
rier. He was proud of Ceresnie and Offen
Furs, first on the "Avenue of Fashion"
in Detroit, aka Livernois, and now in
"My father always loved to greet his
customers throughout the community:'
said his daughter, Gail Offen.
"As a furrier for more than 50
years, he made some wonder-
ful friendships"
In 1959, Sam was cross-
ing a street and was hit by
a drunk driver. He was in
the hospital for months, and
his leg was amputated at the
hip. He received hundreds of
get-well cards, including his
Sam Offen
favorite: "Mr. Offen, please
get well, my fur coat needs
you." Sam's humanity shone through even
then; he asked the judge not to sentence
the driver to jail, as the man had a family,
and Sam worried they would go hungry.
Sam returned to Poland with his family
in the mid-1980s and was finally able to
say Kaddish at the camps where his par-
ents, sister and others perished. Although
sad, this trip also had highlights: He ate at
the fanciest restaurant in Krakow, a place
he once walked by as a poor boy. What a
triumph this was, and what a message it
sent to his Nazi captors.
Also in the '80s, Sam was asked by
founder Rabbi Charles Rosenzweig to
speak at the Holocaust Memorial Center,
then in West Bloomfield. Although
Sam had not spoken about his experi-
ences before — even at home — soon he
became a regular speaker at the HMC.
He spoke to thousands of groups over the
years and especially enjoyed talking to
In fact, he started traveling to high
schools in Michigan with Hyla, shar-
ing his experiences with students, many
of whom had never met a Jew. "He had
scrapbooks filled with wonderful thank-
you notes from students:' said daughter
Gail. "They said things like, "You changed

my life:' "You are my new hero" and "You
have given me courage to overcome bad

Elizabeth Blair and Michael Kelter
of Birmingham, and Selma Blair of
California; grandchildren, James Cooke,
Nicholas Blair and Frances Blair, and
Arthur Bleick; sister and brother-in-
law, Cecile Naomi and Julius Harwood
of West Bloomfield. He is also survived
by companion, Susan McParland; the
mother of his children, Molly Cooke; his
niece and nephew, Rochelle and Nathan
Upfal; cousins and friends.
Mr. Beitner was the devoted son of the
late Abraham and the late Esther Beitner.

Interment was at Adat Shalom
Memorial Park Cemetery. Contributions
may be made to a charity of one's choice.
Arrangements by Ira Kaufman Chapel.


Wrote Memoir
In 2005, Sam decided to write a mem-
oir. Even the title is about his relentless
optimism: When Hope Prevails. All of the
profits from Sams' book were donated
to charity. Seven years later,
Sam had sold more than
5,000 copies and made
many trips to the United
States Holocaust Memorial
Museum in Washington D.C.,
where he spoke to groups
and signed books. In fact,
this past May, Sam and his
brothers appeared together
for the first time at the
Washington museum, signing
books together. Visitors were
amazed to see three brothers that had all
survived the Holocaust.
In 1993, Sam was going through a
book about the 11th Armored Division.
He discovered that one of his libera-
tors lived nearby. His name was Donald
Montgomery. Sam called him, and Don's
reaction was, "Well, I'll be darned. I never
expected any of you to make it"
The two men met and became close
friends. Every year, Don would send Sam
a birthday card on the day of his libera-
tion: May 5, 1945, claiming it was his new
birthday — the day he was reborn.
Besides his personal and professional
accomplishments, Sam was a loving
husband, father and uncle. He never let
his handicap define him. He traveled the
world with Hyla and his kids, visiting
every state in America and more than 50
countries. He swam for an hour at the JCC
every day. He loved to spend summers at
the family cottage near Ann Arbor, teach-
ing his nieces and nephews how to fish.
All of them continue to tell wonderful
"Uncle Sam" stories.

Always An Optimist
Sam always said he was born on Earth,
lived in Hell and was now in Paradise.


84, of West Bloomfield,
died Nov. 11, 2012.
He is survived by
his beloved wife,
Marilyn Finkel Brown;
brother, David Brown
of New York; son and

And in When Hope Prevails, he said, "We
have to be our brothers' keepers. I always
was an optimist, and I still believe in the
basic goodness of humanity:'
In that spirit, Gail Offen said, "If you're
at the JCC, please feel free to sit on my
father's bench. Rest, and think good
Sam Offen was the beloved husband of
the late Hyla Selma Lesser. He is survived
by his grateful and adoring children, son
Jerry (Karen) Offen and daughter Gail
Offen (Dr. Randle Samuels); and brothers,
Nathan and Bernard.
He was the beloved brother of the late
Miriam Offen, and brother-in-law of
Robert Lesser (the late Elaine and the
late Lois Zamler Lesser), Sybil Offen, the
late Morton (the late Elaine Lesser) the
late Helen Offen. Also by Gloria Lack and
Krysia Lapczynska-Ryba.
Sam is also survived by his dear friend,
Ellen Gitlin. He is survived by his won-
derful nieces and nephews, whom he
loved like his own children: Dr. James
and Joani Lesser, Dr. Lanny and Debby
Lesser, Jeffrey and Sheryl Lesser, Ellen
and Dr. Les Siegel, Carolyn Lesser, Jay and
Leslie Offen, Michael Offen, Ruth Offen,
Gail and Jeffrey Klepfisz, Dr. Suzanne and
Russell Wolfe. He was the uncle of the late
Nancy Lesser.
He is also survived by Michael and
Glenn Ceresnie, who will forever be his
"boys." And he was forever grateful for his
loyal customers and loving friends.
Interment was at Beth Abraham
Cemetery. The funeral service may be
viewed at irakaufman.com .
Contributions may be made to
the Dorothy and Peter Brown Jewish
Community Adult Day Care Program,
6720 W Maple, West Bloomfield, MI
48322, (248) 661-6390, www.jslmi.org ;
Odyssey Hospice, 25925 Telegraph, Suite
102, Southfield, MI 48033, (248) 356-
5070, www.odsyhealth.com; or Holocaust
Memorial Center, 28123 Orchard Lake
Road, Farmington Hills, MI 48334, (248)
553-2400, www.holocaustcenter.org.
Arrangements were by Ira Kaufman

daughter-in-law, Matthew and Marian
Nemerson of New Haven, Conn.; daugh-
ter, Hannah Brown of Jerusalem, Israel;
grandchildren, Elana and Joy Nemerson,
Danny and Rafi Yovell; many loving
nieces, nephews, cousins, other family
members and friends.
Contributions may be made to the
Scholarship Fund at the Cranbrook
Academy of Fine Arts or to a charity of
one's choice. Arrangements by Dorfman

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