Sam Bloch, who was a teenaged resistance fighter in the forests of Eastern Europe during World War II and who devoted his career to preserving the memory of Jewish Holocaust survivors, including the establishment of museums around the world, died Feb. 4 at his home in Queens, New York. He was 93.
The cause was congestive heart failure, said a son-in-law, Menachem Rosensaft.
Bloch grew up in what was then Poland, the son of a prominent Hebrew-language teacher. After his father was killed in a mass execution by Nazi forces in 1941, Bloch, then 16, was forced to survive on his wits and guile.
With his mother and younger brother, he escaped a Jewish ghetto. They later fled into the countryside, hiding in the woods as Bloch made connections with a underground Jewish resistance movement.
He eventually joined the Bielski Partisans, an armed Jewish unit of resistance fighters. The Bielski group, depicted in 2008 film “Defiance” with Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber, included hundreds of people in makeshift camps hidden deep in the forests of modern-day Belarus.
Bloch engaged in sabotage, fought against Nazi forces and collaborators and helped rescue other Jews.
“I tasted the bitter taste of everything,” Bloch told USA Today in 1990. “I went through all the dimensions — the ghetto, the camp, underground, running, hiding.”
In 1945, the Bloch family ended up at a displaced persons camp near the site of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. About 50,000 Holocaust survivors underwent rehabilitation and treatment at the camp, where Bloch became the youngest member of the camp’s governing committee.
While there, he met Lilly Czaban, who survived the war by hiding with her family in the grain cellar of a Polish farmer. She and Bloch were married at the camp in 1949.
They moved to New York, where Bloch took an entry-level job with the World Zionist Organization. He worked there for more than 50 years, eventually becoming director of publications and editing or publishing many volumes of Holocaust history, memoirs and poetry.
In 1965, on the 20th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, Bloch organized one of the first major reunions of Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. He edited a book, “Holocaust and Rebirth: Bergen-Belsen 1945-1965,” that became a key early resource about survivors and their later lives.
Along with other victims of Nazi persecution, including Josef Rosensaft and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel, Bloch took a leading role in planning Holocaust memorials and museums. He was a founding member of the International Society for Yad Vashem, the leading Holocaust remembrance organization in Israel.
Among other responsibilities, Bloch served on a commission to create New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. He was on key committees that oversaw the early development of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
Shmayahu Eliahu Bloch was born Sept. 23, 1924, in Iwie, Poland (now in Belarus). In the United States, he became known as Sam E. Bloch.
In addition to his wife of 68 years, survivors include two daughters, Jean Rosensaft and Gloria Golan, both of New York; a brother; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Bloch spoke at the 65th anniversary observation of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen camp in 2010.
“Memory preserves the threads of sorrow and joys of people, and carries them forth,” he said then. “Forgetfulness betrays not only the past but also the present and the future.”