Phillip Goldfarb, 89, grew up in a poor family in Sedzisziw, Poland. He was born in 1921 as the youngest of nine children. His father got sick and died when he was a child, and his older brother raised the family.
In September 1939, the Germans invaded and the family went into hiding, then ran. Ninety people left in the dark with three wagons and horses. They had numbers to keep track of each other. They got to Shomsk, a small town on the Russian border, where a rabbi came out to greet them. He had families bring food to the synagogue to feed them.
"It was such a lovely town with such nice people," he said. But they had to keep moving. "If you stopped, and the Germans found you, you were shot," he said.
In the next town, Brod, Ukraine, people were not so nice. Goldfarb went to the market to find some food, but when he returned the group had left him behind because Russians had invaded.
"I was scared to death," he said. "I didn't know how to live by myself. Even Jews told me to get out. It was drizzling, and there was a mountain of straw. I dug a hole and crawled in and cried all night."
In the town was a sign that workers were being hired to help build an airstrip.
"I was the first one there," he said. "I worked every day and slept at night in the straw."
He stayed for a couple of weeks, then went to Dubno, waiting for a train to Lvov. The trip took weeks. The last three days he had no food. In Lvov, he found a cousin who gave him enough money to buy some soup at a refugee camp. But he couldn't find any other family, and the Russians shipped him to Siberia, where he spent 16 months working as a lumberjack. He got sick with a blood infection that left him with five huge sores that got irritated by his military rucksack. He paid a barber a ruble to lance a huge one under his arm.
He survived and was shipped to an area near the Mongolian border, where he guarded an apple orchard.
"They weren't ripe, but I was starving. I boiled them and lived on green apples for six or eight weeks," he said. He found some carrots, and ate so many "I got yellow in the face, I swear," he says, laughing at the memory.
Later he got pneumonia, then dysentery, which he called "the worst thing that can exist. It sucks the life out of you. I almost died."
He also got malaria, but was lucky to find a couple who took care of him until the war ended.
"I became less religious during the war," he said. "I would say to God: Why did you make us the chosen people, because all there has been is just suffering. I told him to choose someone else. "
He returned home in 1946, but found no family there. He knew his mother and three brothers had been killed. A sister Anna and brother Julius survived and came to America. He traveled through displaced persons camps, met and married his wife, Celia, and made it to Germany. Celia made it to Canada, and for three years Phillip waited to come to America. Finally approved in 1949, the boat was supposed to leave on a Jewish holiday, and some Orthodox Jews would not go.
"But I said I waited three years, I am going," he said.
He had a huge coat and hid a deer leg in it and filled the pockets with oranges. He landed in Brooklyn, got a job cleaning in a bakery, then discovered a knack for decorating cakes. His wife joined him, working in a store. They saved $6,000, his sister loaned him $1,000 and in 1953 he bought a chicken farm in Mullica Township that they worked until he had a heart attack in 1972.
Today he lives in Egg Harbor Township with his son, Arthur, and vows not to worry so much.
"Worry will kill you faster than illness," he said. "I worried during the war that I would die and my family would never know what happened to me. But God has taken care of me."
Contact Diane D’Amico: