Josh Geller: Keeping the Faith

Interview with Josh Geller. Pittsburgh, PA. July 2012. (left to right) Sarah Kamaras, Josh Geller and his wife, Rose)

Last month I traveled to Pittsburgh, PA to interview my cousin Josh Geller, my grandfather Israel’s nephew and Fay Brandwein’s older brother.

Josh was at a critical age during the crux of the war – at just 10 years old, Josh was too young to be alone yet old enough to remember his crucial experiences during the Holocaust. But in fact, at one point Josh was alone, separated from his mother and sister on a journey back  to town. Josh was caught and held by policemen but managed to escape, fending off any opposition along the way and miraculously making it back to town.

At such a young age and during such unfathomable situations, I wondered how Josh found the courage to fight through and continue on.

Josh credited his persistence to his faith and attributed his ability to maintain his faith to a young teacher who escaped from the German-occupied part of Poland when the war broke out and came to live in Podkamien, which was occupied by the Russians at the time.

The teacher established a small school of about seven or eight children and Josh’s parents sent him there to learn for a few days. Josh associates his strong grounding in Judaism with this teacher, a gentle man who was passionate about his teaching.

Moreover, Josh credited his teacher with passing on certain phrases that he would later find solace in during harsh times. The teacher, who was also a victim of the Holocaust, believed that reciting certain verses from prayers had the potential power to save.

70 years later, Josh still remembered one particular phrase and how he would recite it when he was stuck in the most treacherous situations during the Holocaust: “Shomer petaim Hashem,” literally “God protects the foolish,” a verse from Psalms that allows one to take a risk to one’s life when absolutely necessary, as one will be under God’s guardianship.

“The only dilemma which bothers me is that he (the teacher) probably said it too and he was also taken to that labor camp called Sassov and unfortunately he never survived,” Josh admitted, “But I do feel that it gave me sustenance to withstand the terrible events in escaping from death.”

Josh was not the only one who found a way to keep hope during dark times. Watch the clip below, as Josh discusses the incredible faith that he witnessed among the Jews that he was in hiding with.