President Donald Trump Tuesday night mentioned one of the White House’s special State of the Union guests, an 81-year-old Holocaust survivor who escaped death again last fall — narrowly — at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Judah Samet, whose birthday was Tuesday, was four minutes late for worship one Saturday last October, missing one of the deadliest attacks ever on American Jews.
“Of course, I am very honored,” Samet told the Tribune-Review of the congressional appearance. “[Trump] invited me, I was told, because I represented two of the biggest tragedies for the Jewish people in the last hundred years.”
Samet escaped death more than 70 years ago in Germany’s Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. As estimated 50,000 people, including the child diarist Anne Frank, died in the camp, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Before the camp was liberated by the British forces in April 1945, Samet’s family boarded a train, along with about 2,500 others, intended for Theresienstadt concentration camp but liberated by American troops before it reached its destination. His family was from Hungary.
“I’m basically a very strong person, and I went through a lot, but nothing, nothing ever defeated me,” Samet said, the Post’s Isaac Stanley-Becker reported in October. “In the camp, I was out all the time. I found a friend. My brothers were in the bunk. My mother couldn’t hold me in.”
Samet has been a member of the conservative congregation for 54 years, he said. For four decades, he was a part-time cantor, chanting prayers and helping to lead worship.
On Saturday morning, he did what he always does on the Sabbath – he went to the synagogue. Services start at 9:45 a.m. Yet that morning, Samet was delayed.
“I was talking to my housekeeper here; she comes once a week,” he said in a phone conversation from his condominium, where he lives alone. He needs only a few minutes to drive the leafy streets to his synagogue in Squirrel Hill, the nucleus of Jewish Pittsburgh. “I was four minutes late. Instead of 9:45, I got there about 9:49, maybe 9:50.”
Those four minutes may have saved his life, Stanley-Becker reported.
He entered the parking lot and was pulling into a handicapped spot when someone knocked on his window. A man dressed in black advised him to back out carefully.
“He said there was an active shooting going on inside the synagogue,” Samet recalled then.
Having lived through the Holocaust, he said, “It’s almost like, ‘Here we go again.’ We’re now more than 70 years away from it, and here it happens all over again.”
Trump also honored the visit Tuesday of Pittsburgh Police Officer Timothy Matson.
Some of the president’s supporters see him as a champion for Jewish safety by his policies supporting the Israeli government, and his forceful critique of certain governments, including Iran.
“We will not avert our eyes from a regime that chants Death to America and threatens genocide against the Jewish People,” Trump said Tuesday night. He also drew some applause when he said he had “recognized the true capital [of Israel] and proudly recognized the embassy in Jerusalem.”
The president’s Jewish critics, however, believe his hesitance to speak out on white nationalism has led to a surge in hate crimes against religious minorities.