Felix Urman was born in 1917 in the small shtetl of Krzeszów in the Southeast region of Poland known as Kolbuszowa. Originally named Ephraim, and called Froyim by family and friends, he was the fourth of the eight children of Meyer and Sheva Urman. His parents and siblings--Chaim, Ethel, Hannah, Getzel, Abraham, Gitele and Aaron Israel--all perished in the Holocaust.
When Froyim turned 10 years old, his father sat him down at his sewing machine to teach him the family trade, like his older brother, uncles and grandfather before him. When he finished 8th grade (cheder), he began working as a tailor full time alongside his father and brother.
In his early twenties, Froyim followed his older brother and one older sister to Warsaw, where they worked in an uncle's suit factory, but they returned home to be with their family as the Germans began invading Poland. The Nazis had already confined Jews in the area to ghettos and enlisted them into hard labor when, in early November 1942, they murdered the sick, elderly and young Jewish population of Krzeszów's roughly 600-member community before deporting the rest to the Belzec extermination camp.
Felix was spared because he had been encouraged by his mother to volunteer as one of two tailors to sew uniforms in the local Nazi headquarters. Upon hearing the nearby gunfire, he hurried home but he ran away when his mother cried out to him to flee so that perhaps a remnant of their family would endure. A bullet grazed his ear, giving him a distinctive scar for the rest of his life, but he got away. For the first few months, he lived in the forest, hiding and foraging. In later years, he would recall that he was "motivated only by fear and hunger" and that whichever was stronger at a given moment would determine his actions.
As winter deepened, he turned to Andrzej and Józefa Siek, Christian customers of his father who lived in the village of Lipiny Dolne with their six children: Katarzyna, Kazimierz, Karol, Bolesława, Zofia and Anna. The Sieks had a large farm and apiary where Meyer Urman and his elder sons stayed whenever they came to town to do tailoring for the family. For 23 months, the Sieks safeguarded Felix at risk to their own lives, sharing their food, clothing, books and companionship. During the day, Felix stayed in the loft of their barn but at night he sometimes joined the family in the house.
After liberation, Felix returned home to find no traces of the town's Jewish community so he went to Lodz, where he was reunited with two other survivors from Krzeszów before making his way to a displaced persons camp in northern Italy near Lake Como. There he met his wife, Musha Golubczyk, a survivor from the town of Smorgon, outside of Lithuania.
Felix's father Meyer had two brothers and three sisters, all of whom had moved to Paris and Warsaw after World War I. The only one to survive was Charles, who traced his nephew and encouraged Felix and his wife to join him in Paris. While waiting for visas, Felix earned money by making garments from rags and Musha taught Hebrew to the children in the camp. Ultimately, when it became clear that visas were not forthcoming, they made it to France without papers by crossing the Alps illegally with the help of trained mountain climbers. There Felix was reunited with the other tailor from his town who had volunteered to work for the Nazis, Jacob Bokser.
The Urmans lived in Paris for five years, Froyim taking on the name Felix, and Musha, Michelle, before emigrating to the United States in 1950 after the birth of their daughter Dorothy. The couple lived in the Bronx, had a son Mark in 1952 and moved to Brooklyn in 1958. Felix was the first member of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) to have two children win the union's scholarship for college. His wife Michelle passed away in 1971, at the age of 45, before she could know her five grandchildren. Felix remarried another widowed survivor, Doris Weissleder, in 1972. They were together for almost 30 years until Felix's death at age 84 in 2002. In March 2013, Andrzej and Józefa Siek were posthumously recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations at a ceremony in Warsaw organized by the Israeli Ambassador. Boleslawa Seik accepted the medal and certificate on behalf of her parents and Felix's daughter Dorothy was in attendance with her family.