Meacham 'Manny' Taiblum, a former member of Southwest Portland's Congregation Neveh Shalom is the associate cantor at Congregation Shaarie Torah. He has spent his life in the service of others.
Taiblum and his wife Sara Rosencranz settled in West Linn several years ago in hopes that the gentle climate would help her as she was in ill health.
Unfortunately, Rosencranz suffered a stroke and has been in a coma since 2004. Still Taiblum, who has since moved back to Portland, visits her at least three times a week at the Robison Jewish Home in Raleigh Hills.
Taiblum, who loves to sing at the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur High Holy Day services, plays music to his beloved Sara in hopes that it will pull her out of a coma, continuing his lifelong practice of not giving up.
Born in Poland on July 22, 1928, Meacham Taiblum was only 11 years old when the Germans invaded the country in 1939. The oldest of three children, he was forced to move with his family to the Warsaw Ghetto where his family had to live in filthy, unsanitary, inhuman conditions. Food was incredibly scarce and what little the ghetto families had was often confiscated by German soldiers.
Disgusted with the conditions and determined to help his family, at age 14, Taiblum decided to sneak out of the ghetto at night, which was no easy task, to see if he could get more provisions to his younger siblings and his parents. Leaving at 11 p.m. nightly, he had to sneak through barriers while avoiding the patrolling German soldiers so as not to be arrested - or worse - for curfew violations.
An unimportant life
He made a 25-mile roundtrip to a friendly farmer's home, who fed Taiblum and gave him food to bring to his family and neighbors.
'My life was not important to me,' said Taiblum. 'If I succeeded, I could bring some help to my parents and siblings.'
When returning just before dawn, he was again faced with the challenge of avoiding the patrols and negotiating the barricades so that he could give the food to those who needed it most.
One night in the summer of 1942 brought the horror that would never be forgotten as the Germans rounded up 300,000 Jews, including Taiblum's entire family.
'Everything they could get they took away, nobody knows where,' he said.
Devastated, Taiblum gave away the food he had been given that night, snuck out of the ghetto again and returned to the farmer.
'I cannot describe the fear that filled my heart, but I succeeded because the will and the fate and the hope was so great,' he said, adding that he vowed then 'to take vengeance for my family' and that to accomplish that, 'I will survive anything.'
Through an underground network, Taiblum acquired a birth certificate identifying him as an Arian non-Jew and then worked at several small farms in order to survive. But even the falsified birth certificate couldn't help him when the Germans rounded up Polish citizens to work as laborers, putting them in a detention camp, ensuring they stayed there with a security system complete with guards, dogs and barbed wire.
Helped by a nun
The Germans had detained the Polish laborers in order to rebuild a bridge that Jewish partisans, a German resistance group, had blown up.
Taiblum was terrified that his birth certificate would be recognized as a forgery and he would be identified as a Jew. A kindly Polish nun helped him and another Jewish boy escape the camp by cutting an electric wire.
'I kept running and running, in no particular direction, just running,' described Taiblum. They never saw each other again.
Taiblum credits his faith and hope, and, most importantly, God's will, for saving him from death so many times during those frightful years.
He also used that faith to motivate him to spend the next 60 years trying to locate any of the survivors or families of survivors of those who suffered at the hands of the Germans during that fateful summer.
'I've been searching for 60 years,' he said. 'I never found my family.'
But his faith continues.
Appalled by the continued harsh treatment of his countrymen, Taiblum returned to the Warsaw Ghetto a year later and joined the Jewish partisans, living with different groups within the resistance movement, fighting with them in various campaigns until they were ultimately defeated.
A singer and a journalist
Still incredibly vital and strong, he continued to serve others when he immigrated to Israel in 1948 to serve in the army. He fought in the 1948-49 Arab Israeli War of Independence.
While fighting the war, he met renowned cantors Moshe Koshovitz and David Kosovitisk and rediscovered the passion for singing he had had as a child. Coming from an Orthodox Jewish family, he knew many of the traditional cantorial pieces for the Jewish holidays. Koshovitz and Kosovitisk trained him as a cantor.
In addition to his cantorial training, Taiblum became a journalist, immigrating from Israel to Brazil in 1956. There he met another holocaust survivor, Sara Rosencranz, who he married. She had family in America, so they moved to this country in 1987.
They lived many places in the U.S., including Miami, where Taiblum built on his skill as a cantor to become a nightclub entertainer. He even performed at the 'Jewish Las Vegas' in the Catskill Mountains in New York in the 1980s. He recalls bringing down the house several times with his Yiddish songs and jokes.
In spite of his wife's illness, or perhaps because of it, Manny Taiblum is determined to survive. He is making plans to celebrate his 79th birthday this summer.
'I was meant to survive to tell the story,' he said, 'so that history will not repeat itself.'
Mara Woloshin is a freelance writer in the Portland area. She says Taiblum enjoys speaking about his experiences in the Warsaw Ghetto, particularly with high school students. Anyone interested in scheduling Taiblum as a speaker can reach him through Woloshin by calling 503-310-4504.