When Mordechai Becker was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, he made it his last mission to write his life story. He wrote about the last time he saw his father, conscripted into the Red Army, about his mother’s fatal sickness. He wrote about scavenging for food in cornfields and watching friends perish in front of him. He wrote about an underground network that housed him during his escape from Europe, and the orphanages that took him in. And he wrote about his turbulent travels to Palestine and fight for the State of Israel; his army service, and his vocational training. For two years, he wrote, and on his deathbed, his loving wife promised that she would publish his manuscript so the world could hear his story of tribulation and triumph.
Today, Sophia Becker is 86 years old and her late husband’s memoir is available for purchase on Amazon.
I sat down with Sophia in her home in Minnetonka to talk about her important mission, and to learn more about her own story of survival.
TLY: Like your husband, you are a Holocaust survivor. What happened when the Nazis invaded your hometown in Romania? How did you survive?
SB: At first they came only for the men. Zeide (grandfather) and Tata (father) were taken on the train to work camps. But then they came back for the women. Mama, Bubbe (grandmother), Aunt Tzilah, and I were all on the same train car. The car was broken, though, and the train had to stop. They couldn’t fix it, so instead they disconnected our car from the rest of the train and left without us. We were able to open the door and escape into an open field. It was a true miracle.
TLY: Where did you go from there?
SB: Because the front was so close, many of the non-Jews had abandoned their homes escape the war. We spent the next four years hiding in deserted cellars, summer kitchens, barns. Even empty servants’ quarters.
TLY: When the Russians liberated Romania, where did you go?
SB: Home. It was in ruins. We slept on mattresses made of hay and rebuilt the house. Zeide and Tata returned from the camp. Zeide died not long after.
TLY: Did you consider leaving? Going to Palestine or America?
SB: We couldn’t. We had nothing. We knew no one. We put our names on a list to go to Palestine, but the communists wouldn’t let people leave. So we stayed. I was very smart. I did very well in school. I started college when I was 16. I earned my accounting degree. When I was 23, we were finally able to go to Israel – it was 1962.
TLY: And that’s where you met Mordechai?
SB: Yes. We were 25 when we met and we married on June 30, 1964. A lot of boys were interested in me then. I was very pretty. But I fell in love with Mordechai. He used to tell me I was his everything.
TLY: You spent a lot of time and money on his book, having it edited and published in Israel, having it translated to English and then edited again and published here in America. Why was it so important to you?
SB: On his death bed, this is what he asked for. His wish was that I would be taken care of, and that his book would be published.
TLY: Why do you think it was so important to Mordechai that people read his story?
SB: There is a whole generation of people who don’t know about the Holocaust, who don’t understand the consequences the Holocaust has on the world still today. We must educate people, and people must read real, true accounts. But Mordechai’s story is not only one of hardship. His Mama and Tata both perished during the war, and he was an only child, alone, an orphan. But he fought for his people in Palestine, and he got his education and training, and he made a new life for himself from the ashes. And with his book, he wanted to give people hope.
TLY: How does it feel to be holding the book in your hands today? To know that you have succeeded in fulfilling Mordechai’s wishes.
SB: I am filled with gratitude. But it is not enough to publish it. You must read it. You must tell everyone to read it. Especially the young people.
TLY: Have you ever considered writing your own memoir?
SB: I think it’s too late for me. I want to focus now on being happy today, not on the past….But sometimes, yes, I think about it.
Click here to purchase Martin’s Story: An Orphan’s Triumphant Journey, by Menachem Becker. This interview has been edited for clarity.
Talia Liben Yarmush is a writer, editor, and social media strategist. You can find more of her work at www.taliayarmush.com.