'I was four minutes late - and it saved my life'

81-year-old Holocaust survivor who narrowly missed Pittsburgh synagogue massacre recalls the four minute delay that saved his life.

Yehonatan Gottlieb ,

Tree of Life synagogue
Tree of Life synagogue
Alexei Rosenfeld

Judah Samet, an 81-year-old Holocaust survivor now living in Pennsylvania, recalled the four-minute delay that saved his life at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Usually early to Shabbat services at the Tree of Life Synagogue, Samet was delayed one Shabbat last October, on account of his housekeeper.

That brief delay may have saved Samet’s life, however, as it took place October 27th 2018 – the same day a gunman burst into the synagogue and gunned down 11 worshippers, wounding several more.

“I got there four minutes late,” Samet told Galei Tzahal. “I usually get [to synagogue] about ten minutes early, and I got there at about 9:50 a.m. When I got to the synagogue, I parked in the handicap space, when suddenly some nice young man approached me, and I opened my window. He told me to leave, since there was a shooting in the synagogue.”

Samet said that during the shooting he recalled his days as an IDF soldier.

“Because I was once a soldier, they taught us that when you hear shooting, don’t shoot – first see where it is coming from. So I turned my head towards the passengers’ side [of the car], and I saw him face-to-face. But he was so busy shooting at police - I imagine that he saw me, and I decided to go home; I left the parking lot and went back home.”

Even before his return, Samet’s acquaintances had heard of the shooting, realizing that he had just headed out to the scene of the mass shooting only minutes before.

“When I got home, my agent cried and hugged me. She said ‘I was sure that you were killed’. Why? ‘Because you didn’t answer your phone’.”

“I called my daughter in Philadelphia to tell her that I was alive. My daughter told me to go to the Jewish Community center, and I was for some 10 hours. There was no news from the synagogue, no news at all. We didn’t know the severity of the incident until the next day. We were all wrapped up in it, everyone could feel that something bad had happened.”

Born in Hungary in 1938, Samet and his family were sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. After ten-and-a-half months at the camp, Samet and his family were shipped out, and later were picked up by an American army unit.

After his father died, Samet and his family moved to Israel in 1946.

Samet later served in the IDF’s paratrooper brigade, before moving to the US in 1961.



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