Abraham Zuckerman was born in Kraków, Poland on December 10th, 1924. He lived with his father, Wolf, mother, Anna, and two sisters, Hella and Dora, in the Jewish section of the city known as Kazimierz. His father worked as a hat maker in their home and the family enjoyed a traditional Jewish life until the Nazis occupied Kraków in September 1939 and began implementing increasingly harsh restrictions and anti-Jewish measures.
After the establishment of the Kraków Ghetto in March 1941, Abraham’s family fled for the nearby town of Wieliczka. They stayed there for a short while, until the Nazis rounded up the Jews and transported them by trucks to Biala Podlaska, where they were put to work helping the Germans prepare for Hitler’s planned invasion of the Soviet Union. A few months later, they managed to slip out and travel by train to Dukla, where Abraham’s paternal grandparents lived, and life was relatively normal for several months. Abraham, then just 14 years old, was forced to perform hard manual labor in the local quarry but his father somehow arranged for him to be reassigned as an electrician and he subsequently maintained the quarry’s lights and generators.
On August 10th, 1942, the Nazis ordered all of the town’s Jews to assemble in the town square and separated the able-bodied men from the rest. They shot the elderly and sick in a nearby forest and deported the women and children to the Belzec extermination camp. Abraham wanted to go with his parents and sisters but his mother instructed him to stay back. It was the last time he saw them.
Abraham continued working in the quarry until December 1942, when the Jewish remnants of the town were liquidated. He was moved to the Rzeszów Ghetto, then to Plaszów, where he was placed in the Julag concentration camp. There, Abraham developed typhus, and he credited his survival to German industrialist Oskar Schindler, as he was among those selected to work at Emalia, the enamelware and munitions factory Schindler operated at a plant that had been appropriated from a Jewish owner by the Nazis. In the summer of 1944, the Nazis forced Schindler to cut his workforce in half and loaded hundreds of the Jews he had been protecting, among them Zuckerman, into railroad cars. They were taken to Mauthausen and then to Gussen II, where Zuckerman worked on an assembly line manufacturing V-2 rockets and fighter planes. He was liberated on May 5, 1945.
Zuckerman documented his experiences during the Holocaust in his memoir, A Voice in the Chorus: Memories of a Teenager Saved by Schindler, published by Ktav in 1991. In Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg’s 1993 adaptation of a book by Thomas Keneally, Zuckerman was among the survivors depicted at the end of the movie. Speaking with the New Jersey Jewish News after Zuckerman’s death in December 2013 at the age of 89, his son-in-law, Steven Katz, recounted how he would often say, “Everything in the movie was 100 percent accurate. Everything was real, not Hollywood. Except in the movie, you couldn’t smell the crematorium, the smell of death, and you couldn’t feel the anguish they felt every day.”
After the war, he spent four years in a displaced persons camp in Bindermichl, Austria, where he met and married a fellow survivor, Mina Mark, who was known as Millie. The Zuckermans emigrated to the United States in 1949 and moved to Passaic, New Jersey, where Zuckerman had relatives, before settling in the Hillside/Elizabeth area and joining the Jewish Educational Center (JEC) there.
After several months, Zuckerman and his boyhood friend, Murray Pantirer, with whom he had been reunited in Schindler’s factory, decided to start a homebuilding business together. Pantirer’s uncle, Isak Levenstein, a fellow “Schindlerjuden,” became a third partner in the firm, which was named LPZ Associates.
According to Katz, the partners built their first home in the early 1950s by themselves, except for the plumbing and electricity, working out of the trunk of a used car. “One house became three, and that became six, and they built a business. It was the quintessential American dream,” Katz said. To pay tribute to Oskar Schindler, they named streets in his honor in many of their developments in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York.
A major donor to Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest New Jersey, Zuckerman and his wife were members of both the JEC, where he was a former president, and Congregation Etz Chaim in Livingston, New Jersey. He was a member of the board of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, a founding member of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies in Los Angeles, a trustee of the Museum of Jewish Heritage-A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York City, a fellow of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, and a founding member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. Zuckerman was a also a founding member of the Holocaust Resource Center at Kean University in New Jersey and a supporter of the Jerusalem Foundation, the New Cracow Friendship Society, and the Rabbinical College of America.
He is survived by Millie, his wife of 66 years; his daughter Ann and son-in-law Bernard Sklar; his daughter Ruth and son-in-law Steven Katz; his son Wayne and daughter-in-law Deborah; 12 grandchildren, including Heschel parent and Holocaust Commemoration Committee member Hillary Katz; and five great-grandchildren, including Heschel students Alexandra Walters Reed and Harrison Davis Reed.