Severin Drix did not know the dozen or so men from Teaneck, N.J., who came to his father’s funeral in Paramus on Friday. Nor did they know Drix or his father, Samuel.

What they did know was that Severin Drix needed a minyan to give his father a proper Jewish funeral. After a call from Drix last Thursday, Rabbi Ephraim Simon, director of Friends of Chabad-Lubavitch of Bergen County, e-mailed his congregation that a Jewish man had died, but did not have the required quorum of 10 Jews to bury him. When the funeral began at Beth El Cemetery in the early afternoon, Severin Drix had a minyan and more.

“When a Jew passes away, the mitzvah is to bury him as soon as possible,” Simon said after the funeral. “In such a case where there are no family members, then it’s incumbent on the Jewish people as a whole.”


Severin Drix, who lives in Ithaca, N.Y., has two sons, but his wife Pamela is not Jewish. Samuel Drix, 96, had no other Jewish family.

“It was so important that my father be honored that way,” Severin Drix said. “He was always a very deep believer. I know it would have made his heart glad to know the Jewish community was there for him.”

Simon said he was awed by the quick response.

“What else is there for us to do?” asked Danny Berlin of Teaneck, who said he thought nothing of taking off during the middle of the workday for the funeral. “What an avodas Hashem [service to God].”

“I was incredibly honored to be able to help escort Mr. Drix from this world to the next,” said Simon. “Here was a real [holy person] who’s been through the Holocaust. … It was a tremendous honor to be able to take care of him and bring comfort to his son.”

Samuel Drix was born in 1912 in the city of Lvov, Poland. After World War I, his father died of pneumonia in a military hospital in what is now the Czech Republic. Drix’s mother took him to visit the gravesite one day, and on the way back they stopped in Ashgenzen, which would become the site of Auschwitz, so Samuel could receive a blessing from a Chasidic teacher there.

“My father often thought being blessed at the site of what was to be the center of the horrors of the Holocaust may have given him a guardian force that protected him,” Drix said.

By the time Word War II began, Samuel Drix was married with a young daughter. As a medical researcher living in the eastern part of Poland, Drix had the opportunity to escape the camps when the Russians took all of the area’s doctors, but his wife and family, including his mother, stepfather, and siblings, were to be left behind.

“He jumped from the truck to escape and go back to his family, knowing that the Germans were much worse [than the Russians],” Severin Drix said. “He found out that he could do nothing, but if he hadn’t been there, he would have always blamed himself. It always kept him sane to know he did everything that he could and it really was out of his hands.”

Drix and his family were sent to the Janowska camp, which became infamous when the camp closed in 1943 because the German commander declared the area Judenrein. Drix and two other prisoners escaped by hiding beneath a train heading away from the camp. They spent a year in hiding with a family named Zawer, who are recognized as Righteous Among the Nations in Yad Vashem, until the Soviet army arrived.

Samuel Drix twice was a witness in Nazi war crimes trials and was always open with his family about his experiences, Severin Drix said. In 1994 Potomac Books published his Witness to Annihilation, which he wrote with the help of his son and daughter-in-law. Severin Drix remembered his father saying that he had lived as a Jew, suffered as a Jew, and would die as a Jew.

“So he died as a Jew, and it was very important to him,” Drix said. “I was very moved by Rabbi Simon. I could see he took the time to really talk to me about my father, and I could see how open his heart was to my father. It meant very much to me.”

Josh Lipowsky writes for the New Jersey Jewish Standard, where this article first appeared.