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He survived the Holocaust, but Covid-19 took Buffalo man's life

He survived the Holocaust, but Covid-19 took Buffalo man's life

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Philip Beckman survived the Holocaust, forced at age 18 from the Krakow ghetto to the Nazi concentration camp featured in the movie "Schindler's List."

He told his daughters that he vividly remembered one of the movie's horrific scenes: After the concentration camp's brutal commandant, Amon Goeth, executed his stable boy, Beckman was ordered to dispose of the teen's body.

Beckman's brother, Samuel, was among the more than 1,000 Jews from the Nazis' Krakow-Plaszow concentration camp in Poland whose lives were saved by industrialist Oskar Schindler, but Beckman wasn't lucky enough to get onto Schindler's list.

The 95-year-old Beckman outlasted the Nazis, but he could not survive Covid-19.

He tested positive for the virus on May 15 at Northgate Health Care Facility, a nursing home in Wheatfield where he had lived for four months, said his daughter, Melissa Beckman. He was quickly transferred to Harris Hill Nursing Facility in Lancaster, a Covid-19 dedicated facility.

Beckman suffered from impaired cognitive abilities, headaches and finally a high fever and cough before he died of Covid-19 at Harris Hill on June 2, his daughter said.

She said she does not know if her father fully understood that he had Covid-19.

"He was getting more confused. When he was at Harris Hill, he really thought he was going to get better and was coming home," said Melissa Beckman.

In death, Philip Beckman was once again part of a historic world event, a pandemic that has killed more than 411,000 people worldwide, including more than 700 in Western New York.

"All these vets who survived the war, and other Holocaust survivors, are passing because of the virus. We're losing a generation," Melissa Beckman said.

She said her father had a full life between the Holocaust – which killed his father and four of his siblings – and Covid-19.

In 1947 he married another Holocaust survivor, Marta Roth, then 18, who had survived the Nazi's Auschwitz extermination camp in Poland, where about one million Jews were killed. They met in a displaced persons camp in Italy.

They emigrated to the U.S. in 1950 and immediately settled in Buffalo, where Marta had an aunt. They raised two daughters, Melissa, who now lives in Queens, and Deborah, who lives in Winter Park, Fla.

Beckman worked for three decades at the Ford Stamping Plant in Woodlawn as a truck driver and in quality assurance before retiring in 1982.

Before his wife died in 2012, she and Beckman frequently met other senior citizens at the Boulevard Mall in the morning to walk and talk, Melissa Beckman said.

Beckman was also an avid organic gardener, who grew tomatoes, cucumbers and pole beans on an 8-foot-tall trellis he built. He would also harvest 30 to 40 pints of raspberries a season from bushes he grew.

"If you talk with people who knew him, they will say he was feisty," his daughter said.

In October, Beckman was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer that had spread to his bones. Beckman was discharged from Buffalo General Medical Center to Northgate nursing home in January.

"He was still climbing ladders until October," Melissa Beckman said, noting that he used a ladder to harvest the beans growing on the trellis.

Unlike his wife, Beckman was not reluctant to talk about his Holocaust experiences with his children or others he met one on one. But he rarely spoke publicly about the concentration camps, his daughter said.

In 1944, he was put in a steaming hot cattle car packed with Jews who were being moved from Krakow-Plaszow concentration camp in Poland. A man whom Beckman believes was Schindler used fire hoses to spray water on the train cars, Melissa Beckman said, perhaps saving her father's life.

The Nazis sent Beckman to Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, where he was beaten and whipped before the U.S. 11th Armored Division liberated him in 1945.

"To his dying day, my father bore physical scars on his head and torso from the beatings," Melissa Beckman said. "Beatings also caused permanent hearing loss that could not be improved by hearing aides or surgery.

The mental and emotional scars were much deeper. He rarely had a night without nightmares," she said.

In 1993, several months after "Schindler's List" was released, Beckman went to the theater alone to watch it, Melissa Beckman said.

"Sitting at the back of the theater, he said it was the first time in decades that he cried," she recalled.

In 1996, he gave a 2 1/2-hour videotaped interview about his experiences, including at Krakow-Plaszow, that is archived at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

He also dictated to his oldest daughter about 15 years ago a three-page written account that includes this passage about seeing Krakow-Plaszow concentration camp's commander murder his valet, a scene that is included in "Schindler's List."

"Later on, I was assigned work in the horse barn. While I was in the barn with a fellow inmate, two German high officials showed up. One of them was camp commandant Amon Goth, the other was Heinrich Himmler. The commandant was well known for his brutality and random killing.

The other inmate was supposed to give a report. He became speechless and froze. The commandant ordered us to report to the police station to get twenty-five lashes. Under the supervision of the Chief of Police Chilowicz, I was whipped by Policeman Kerner. The end of the lash had metal points that cut my skin, including my right hip.

I witnessed Amon Goth execute his valet. The valet, a clean-cut young boy was named Lisek. My group foreman, Edek Feferman, sent me and another inmate to retrieve his body in a wheelbarrow. Together we took him for burial."

Related: Survivors of the Holocaust, a 2017 Buffalo News project 

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