Holocaust survivor, dedicated tailor Harry Drucker dies at 100
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Holocaust survivor, dedicated tailor Harry Drucker dies at 100

"You never forget what happened. And you never forget your family. But you don’t dwell on it.’”

Harry Drucker and his great-grandchildren  (Photo courtesy of the Drucker family)
Harry Drucker and his great-grandchildren (Photo courtesy of the Drucker family)

The life of Harry Drucker — which started in a tiny Polish village in 1923 and ended more than 100 years later in the center of Jewish life in Pittsburgh — unfolded in two distinct chapters: the life before the Shoah and the life after.

A few years ago, Drucker spoke with students in a class his granddaughter, Sara Berliner, taught at Community Day School.

“When it was his time to tell his story, he broke down crying,” said Berliner, a CDS alumna, who said what she knew of Drucker’s life story inspired her to teach social studies. “I heard a lot about before the war. And I heard a lot about after the war but not so much about the war.”

Drucker, a Holocaust survivor and lifelong tailor who operated a Murray Avenue business for nearly 25 years, died May 27. His family said he proudly identified as being “100-and-a-half” years old.

Drucker was 16 when the Third Reich forced his family to flee their home in Iwonicz, Poland, a village today about 60 miles west of the Ukrainian border. Months later, Nazis crowded people onto trucks, whipping them. It was the last time Drucker saw his mother, father and three sisters.

Separated later from his brother, who also perished in the Holocaust, Drucker began sewing uniforms for high-ranking Nazi officers and later escaped into the Carpathian Mountains. Upon being ambushed there by Germans, the group survived for 10 days off melting snow and berries.

He returned to Poland, then fled again — this time to the American sector of Germany. His hitchhiking fee was a bottle of whiskey. He remained in Germany for four years, living off the black market until he got papers to immigrate to Pittsburgh, where he had extended family.

“I always wondered ‘How do you not go insane thinking about what was happening to your family?’” said Jeff Drucker, Harry’s son, who lives in the suburbs outside New York City. “He once said, ‘You never forget what happened. And you never forget your family. But you don’t dwell on it.’”

A Chronicle reporter writing last year about Drucker’s 100th birthday asked him if it was difficult to tell and re-tell stories from the war.

“During the day, when you’re busy, you’re OK,” he said, beginning to choke up. “But at night, when you can’t sleep, it’s always there.”

After moving to Pittsburgh after World War II, Drucker started doing tailoring work at the Kaufmann’s store downtown.

He met the woman who became his wife, Esther, in May of 1955. They married in October of the same year. His first child, Jean Reznick, was born two years later.

What Drucker’s children remember most vividly is his passion for his customers and his work at the tailoring shop, H. Drucker, which opened in 1963 on Murray Avenue, across the street from Pinsker’s Judaica.

Drucker worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week at his shop. His specialty was custom suits; his customers included everyone from doctors, lawyers and judges to several Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers.

Drucker often took work calls at home; Reznick remembered answering the phone and talking with customers. Fred Rogers stood out; she loved that he sounded just like he did on TV.

“My dad took work home with him,” added Reznick, a retired accountant. “He was definitely a workaholic, but it wasn’t so much a work ethic as a necessity to get stuff done. He was very popular with his customers, but he was very modest about what he did.”

Drucker closed the shop in 1987 after suffering a heart attack. Berliner, his granddaughter, was born the same year.

“I was very lucky — I grew up with my grandparents. They were here all the time,” said Berliner, whose daughter, Lily, started attending CDS in 2023. “The biggest message from my grandfather, which he’d always say, was, ‘You don’t judge a person by the society they come from.’”

“He would say, ‘You need to meet each person. Each person is a person.’”

Drucker’s family became deeply involved with CDS. His daughter, Reznick, served on several of the school’s boards and committees. Lily Berliner, Drucker’s great-granddaughter, is a second-generation CDS student.

“Harry was one of our community’s precious and dwindling community of Holocaust survivors,” said Avi Baran Munro, the retiring head of school at CDS. “Harry first tried to open up about his experiences many years ago with CDS students but found it too difficult to do. After that experience, he began to share. It was always difficult but his efforts were so meaningful and left an enduring impact on all those that heard him over the years.”

Reznick remembers that her father didn’t like seeing any of his grandchildren’s peers celebrating Grandparents and Special Friends Day at the school without family.

“Sometimes, for my kids’ friends, my parents would act as a surrogate grandparent, spending the day with them,” Reznick said.

Drucker came to Pittsburgh after the war because a paternal uncle lived here. During Reznick’s childhood, she recalled regular picnics with extended family at White Swan Park, a small amusement park that operated from 1955 to 1989 near the border of Moon and Findlay townships.

The family attended Congregation Poale Zedeck for several years and later became members at Congregation Beth Shalom.

After Harry and Esther Drucker downsized and moved into the Beacon Place apartment building, he started to speak a little bit about the war. He recorded one video testimony about 20 years ago. Another, which a National World War II Museum staffer came from New Orleans to shoot, was recorded 10 days before Drucker died.

Esther Drucker died about four years ago, during the pandemic. She was 92.

“My mom was always talking, and I’m sure he missed that,” Jeff Drucker said. “He really missed her. As time went on, it got better, but it’s been really tough.”

In recent years, Drucker bonded with his great-granddaughter, now 4, family members said.

Jeff Drucker loved his father’s pre-war stories, which he said, “were so different from what most people hear from their parents and grandparents.” One story he recalled was how Drucker, whose father was a butcher, would carry a slaughtered calf on his back and walk into a nearby town to sell it.

In a sense, he later was “still that same kid from a small village,” Jeff Drucker said. “Even before he opened that tailor shop, though, everyone just loved him — everyone just loved being around him, talking with him.”

Ralph Schugar Chapel held services on May 29 for Drucker. He was buried at Beth Shalom Cemetery.
Jeff Drucker recalled some of his father’s philosophies — including “don’t judge a person by their society” — but hasn’t formed concrete opinions yet on what, precisely, defined his father.

“I haven’t dwelled on it much myself,” he said. “The last four weeks, it’s been tough to think about it.”

Harry Drucker reflected on just that when talking to the Chronicle last summer.

“We lived in the darkest days in human history, and I made it,” he said. “You survive. You work and build, get married and be with family. I was lucky to do everything, and life goes on.”

“I am 100 almost,” he added. “I never believed I’d make it the next hour. But I’m here.” PJC

Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.

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