Sam Heider was born in 1924 in the small village of Biejkow, one of six children of Yankel and Chaja Hajder. Unlike most Polish Jews, the Hajders had been farmers for generations and owned their own land. In 1941 the farm was confiscated by the German occupation forces, and the family moved to the ghetto in nearby Bialobrzegi. In 1942 the ghetto was liquidated, and Sam’s parents went to their deaths at Treblinka. Sam survived because he was in a work camp at Radom. All he had left of his family was a photograph of his sister, which — remarkably — he was able to keep with him by hiding it under his arm, even in the showers. He still has the photograph. Sam and his wife, Phyllis, also a survivor, have three children and five grandchildren.
Before World War II, the largest single population of Jews resided in Poland. During the war years 2.9 million Jews died in camps or ghettos – 88% of all Polish Jews. Most families had been there for centuries, driven out of western European nations or Russia during the Middle Ages. It is believed that they numbered three million in the 1930s. Today there are virtually none. Most were rounded up and sent to camps when Germany occupied Poland in late 1939, and systematic extermination began early in 1941. Three million Polish Catholics also died in the Holocaust.