For many years in Los Angeles survivor Sol Bendik was my husband’s tailor. I learned of Sol’s amazing survivor story and wanted him to preserve it as part of Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation first-hand survivor accounts project. Yet Sol would always refuse, becoming emotional whenever I spoke about this.
Finally Sol agreed to be interviewed, but it was too late. The Shoah Foundation had closed the video interview portion of the project. Yet Sol’s story was in part amazing because he had chosen to fight back, and I wrote the Shoah Foundation a “pitch” as to why Sol’s account needed to be preserved.
My pitch worked, and I was even allowed to be present at the video recording, which was not standard procedure, in order to give Sol the courage to get past the part that always caused him to break down – where the German stuka planes strafed fleeing civilians.
Later I tried to get Hollywood interest in Sol’s story for a feature film using this pitch:
This is an unusual saga of the incredible courage and daring of an ordinary schoolboy who becomes a man and refuses to give up his fight for justice – and then when he is successfully set for life at the age of 24 gives up everything to live in freedom. The story offers strong identification for people of all ages with an involving historical perspective of World War II not frequently portrayed.
The following is a revision of the treatment of Sol’s story that I wrote for a film version (in addition to writing a film scene outline):
PRAGUE 1938 – Sol Bendik, a 14-year-old Jewish schoolboy in a middle-class family, is oblivious to the infamous Munich Agreement turning over the Sudentenland to Germany. Sol is not pleased when his father insists that the family – his parents, himself and two sisters – leave immediately for Romania even though the family does not live in the Sudentenland. The Germans will not be happy with eating only a little his father says. [Nazi Germany occupied the Sudentenland part of Czechoslovakia in October 1938, and Sol’s father rightly predicted that more of Czechoslovakia would soon be gobbled up by the Nazis. In March of 1939 the Nazis invaded Prague.]
ROMANIA 1941 – A loudspeaker warns that the Germans are advancing and people should head east, farther into Russian-controlled territory. Sol and his family set off with other refugees. In the forest Sol searches for food, returning to the encampment to find everyone gone – fleeing down the road as German stuka planes appear in the sky. The planes dive and machine gun the refugees. Blood and body parts are everywhere. Sol hides behind a tree – and when the strafing is over believes that his whole family is dead.
Sol is spotted by two German soldiers. They interrogate him whether he is Jewish but he speaks in German and says he is a Volksdeutsch. They inter him at the Nikolav work camp for railroad construction. When he and another Jewish boy, Izzy, go to the fields with their German guards to get water, Sol convinces Izzy to escape through the high corn stalks.
For the next two years, constantly hungry and susceptible to capture, Sol leads himself and Izzy through German lines to the Russians. When they finally reach a Russian army camp, the officer looks at Sol and asks in Yiddish, “Are you a Jew?” The officer offers Sol and Izzy transport to safety in Moscow. Izzy accepts but Sol wants to fight. The officer sends Sol to an army training school for the Czech Brigade. After basic training Sol volunteers for parachute training school. On graduation day – Rosh Hashanah – Sol parachutes behind enemy lines into Slovakia.
At the airfield as they board the planes, Sol asks to get on the same plane as his buddy. The flight instructor refuses – there is not enough room and Sol has to take the next plane. As the planes fly towards Slovakia, the plane that Sol wanted to board explodes into a fiery ball from German antiaircraft gun fire. Once again Sol has miraculously survived.
Fueled by his need for revenge, Sol fights the Germans, stealthily attacking them wherever he finds them. When his exhausted unit is offered a return to Russia, he and others choose to remain and continue fighting. And then one day Sol is leading 12 men on skis when a wrong turn results in his capture by two Germans. Talking in German, he convinces the soldiers to take him to headquarters. On the way, he jumps over a steep cliff and falls down a mountain – but he is alive.
He evades recapture and for the third time he refuses to return to safety. Instead he joins a tank unit heading west – and he is on the first tank to enter liberated Prague. Sol is awarded the medal of honor for his valiant service in the Czech Brigade and given a pension and his own house at the age of 21. He is reunited with his father and both sisters – the fate of his mother is unknown.
PRAGUE 1948 — Sol is summoned to Communist Party headquarters and told he must become a Communist Party member. He has seen communism in Russia and is not interested in joining the party. Warned he is to be picked up, he smuggles himself without papers over the border of Czechoslovakia and eventually into France. It is 10 years since he first started running for his life.
When he reaches Paris, he calls his sister. The Communists had come for him.
P.S. In Paris Sol learned to be a tailor, immigrated to Australia, then to Canada and eventually to the U.S., where his tailor shop in Beverly Hills enabled him to be a tailor to the stars. He and his wife, also a Holocaust survivor, had two sons, one of whom is a dentist in Beverly Hills.
Click here to read the formal proposal for the Holocaust memoir SAVIORS AND SAVIORS, in which the above firsthand account is included.
© 2017 Miller Mosaic LLC
Phyllis Zimbler Miller (@ZimblerMiller) has an M.B.A. from The Wharton School and is the author of fiction and nonfiction books/ebooks. Phyllis is available by skype for book group discussions and may be reached at email@example.com
Her Kindle fiction ebooks may be read for free with a Kindle Unlimited monthly subscription — see www.amazon.com/author/phylliszimblermiller — and her Kindle nonfiction ebooks may also be read for free with a Kindle Unlimited monthly subscription — see www.amazon.com/author/phylliszmiller