A 100-year-old Holocaust survivor died Saturday morning when the 144 Division Ave. apartment he shared with his family became engulfed in flames.
David Weiss, a Satmar Hasidic Jew, was found dead with no burn marks under the dining room table by relatives, who believe he died from smoke inhalation. Around 14 people were in the apartment observing the Sabbath, published reports said. All of them escaped unharmed except for Weiss, who had returned home from synagogue for a prayer shawl he had forgotten.
Weiss grew up in Romania, but went to Auschwitz as a young man. There, he endured beatings that gave him permanent hearing damage and lost his wife and three children to the Nazis.
After he was mourned on Saturday by approximately 250 people, Weiss’s body was flown to Israel, where he was buried on Monday.
Weiss was the only fatality, but two of the 106 firefighters who responded to the two-alarm blaze sustained minor injuries, a Fire Department spokesman said.
The cause and origin of the fire remain under investigation as of press time, according to the spokesman, who said the Fire Marshall’s report detailing the fire’s specifics is not expected until next week.
But Isaac Abraham, a community activist and a family friend of Weiss’, said the fire began in the second-story apartment building, which housed Weiss and much of his extended family.
“We kibitzed a lot — he was a very friendly, bubbly guy,” Abraham said of Weiss, who earned a living as a presser at a sweater factory.
Neighbors and friends said Weiss went to synagogue every day, including the morning he died.
While at Auschwitz, Weiss was in line to be put into the gas chamber, but was pulled out of the line by Nazi soldiers. After World War II, Weiss moved to Israel and remarried, according to published reports.
After his second wife died, Weiss moved to Brooklyn, and married twice more. In all, he survived four wives.
“Mr. Weiss and people like him not only survived [the Holocaust], they paved a road for us,” said Abraham.
“These are the ones who could have given up on life but didn’t. They lost families, but rebuilt them, and really taught us how to go on, have faith, and survive.”
Abraham said the blaze caused the top story of the building to collapse onto the bottom floor, which housed Quality Health Center, a health clinic that serves a large portion of the community.
“The clinic is wiped out,” said Abraham. “Water and fire damage — and debris — destroyed all the computers.”
Abraham said the clinic’s owner is looking for an emergency location to serve the many who depend on the clinic.
The call for the fire came in at 9:04 a.m. on Saturday, but the blaze wasn’t contained until 12:23 that afternoon. The FDNY spokesman had no explanation for why it took so long to contain. But according to published reports, the fire was deemed too dangerous for firefighters to enter the building.
Abraham said he saw a firefighter try unsuccessfully to hook up a hose to a nearby fire hydrant while the blaze was raging.
“He yelled, ‘This one doesn’t work. Let’s hook it up to the other one,’” Abraham recalled.
©2009 Community News Group
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