Sole Survivor: Sam Klenicki, My Beloved Father by Silvia
To say he survived
the war because of soccer seems simplistic. Yet all these years,
the story told and retold is that my father, Sam Klenicki, was
the only member of his family who was outside his village when
the Nazis murdered the Jews of Lida, Poland. Somehow, by some
grace, soccer saved him.
was 1941. Schlemka was eighteen, the youngest of four children,
parents, two sisters, a brother, cousins, neighbors,
uncles, grandmothers and nearly everyone he knew. He had been
an active, happy boy who worked after school in a salami factory
and took pride in bringing something sweet to his mother’s
had thick, chestnut hair with striking eyebrows. Like his petite
mother, he had hazel eyes and full lips that
were more naturally parted than closed. He was small, quick,
athletic, and spirited. Later in life, it would goad him that
he never knew his mother’s maiden name; he had very little-to-no
memory of his early home life. He was grateful, though, that
two family photographs survived the war with him, along with
the brown leather belt he wore out of his house one fateful day
no photos exist of his pre-war soccer days, several were taken
at the Displaced Persons Camp he came to by late 1945.
He was back on a makeshift soccer field in photographs showing
him among thin teammates, none of them appearing young, regardless
of age. They pose with easy affections; embrace and stare ahead
at the camera before a landscape of destroyed buildings. The
frozen emotions stayed buried within him and it was not until
his sixties that the big thaw occurs and he is finally able to
cry. In fact, the very first time I saw him shed a tear was at
his beloved first grandson’s bris, where he was named in
memory of Schlemka’s own older brother Joshua.
Klenicki always said, “meant to be” as if
the words themselves were so powerful they defied the need for
a complete sentence. He never claimed responsibility for his
survival. It was not his careful judgment or maneuverings within
the Partisans or running away form the Russian army or heading
east in ’43 or further west in ’44. He says he usually
just followed his instincts and got lucky, very lucky in more
than a few close circumstances. His survival, his coming to America
when he planned to go to Israel, his settling in a small town
in Southeastern Connecticut to be near his close friends, Melvin
and Ida Zablotsky, it was all simply meant to be.
So it was meant to be that he marry my mother, Ita Cheres Klenicki,
whom he met in that DP camp and that he have a son and two daughters.
He found his way first as a butcher and then as a grocery store
owner. Sammy accepted the demands of his modest business, adored
most of his customers, and was grateful to rest only on Sunday
He’d take tea or coffee; which ever you’re
making. He desperately loved his wife and their warm, safe
life in Florida.
He knew he had diabetes and followed the dietary rules, no complaining
was always more philosophic than religious, yet at choice moments,
feeling deeply grateful, he readily would say… “ Thanks
G-d.” And even though he spoke five languages, his six
grandchildren heartily giggled when he offered more “vater…malone.”
Live was good.