Holocaust survivor recounts being caught in crossfire during Pittsburgh synagogue shootout

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A Holocaust survivor who was running late to the Saturday morning service at his synagogue recounted how he watched police exchange gunfire with the man suspected of killing 11 people inside. 

Judah Samet had pulled into the handicapped lane outside of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, The Associated Press reported Tuesday. 

{mosads}The 80-year-old Hungarian native prides himself on being punctual when he attends daily services but was running late after his housekeeper kept him behind for several minutes.

Someone knocked on his window as he was pulling into the parking lot and said he couldn’t go inside the synagogue.

“There’s a shooting going on,” the man told him, according to the AP.

Samet recalled how he tried to back his car out and drive away, but there was too many people also trying to flee the scene. 

Next to his passenger window, he saw a man return fire on the suspect as he emerged from the synagogue.

“He was shooting at the fellow,” he said of the man he later learned was a plainclothes detective, according to the AP. “And the fellow was shooting back with a rapid fire. Da-da-da-da. Da-da-da-da.”

Samet was so close to the shooting that he was able to later identify the suspect, Robert Gregory Bowers, to the FBI, the AP reported.

Bowers was wounded at the scene during the exchange. Several police officers were also injured. 

Samet had been a member of the Tree of Life Synagogue for 54 years, ever since he relocated to Pittsburgh following his time spent in Israel after the Holocaust.

He was 6 years old when the Nazis came to his home in the spring of 1944 and instructed the family to pack their valuable and “one change of underwear.”

He recalled to the AP what it was like walking the streets with other Jews being led to the Nazi trains.

“What bothered me most is that there were Hungarians walking both sides, to and fro on the sidewalks,” he said.  “Nobody paid attention. Nobody cared. They were as bad as the Nazis.”

A Gestapo sergeant put a pistol to his mother’s head at one point when she asked for better treatment. She was not killed because she spoke fluent German and the Nazis wanted to use her as an interpreter, Samet said.

Their original destination was the Auschwitz death camp in present-day Poland, but the railroads had been destroyed during the war. The family ended up being transported to the Bergen-Belsen camp in northern Germany.

“First thing we saw at the gate, there were about almost two stories of corpses, lying on top of each other,” he said. “They’d clear them away. Next day, again, they have the same.”

His father died of typhus days after the camp was liberated but the rest of Samet’s family survived, AP reported.

“I didn’t lose the faith in humanity,” he said after the shooting. “I know not to depend on humanity.”

Eleven of Samet’s fellow congregants were killed on Saturday when the gunman opened fire inside the synagogue.

Federal prosecutors filed 29 charges against Bowers late Saturday, including 11 counts of use of a firearm to commit murder and 11 counts of obstruction of the exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death.

Bowers posted on Gab, a social network popular with the far right, that “jews are the children of satan” and reportedly shouted “all Jews must die” before he began his attack.

Tags Holocaust survivor Pittsburgh Pittsburgh synagogue shooting Squirrel Hill Tree of Life synagogue

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