This Holocaust survivor built a life in Pittsburgh. Now he’s turning 100.
A CENTURY OF MEMORIESA life well lived

This Holocaust survivor built a life in Pittsburgh. Now he’s turning 100.

Harry Drucker recalls life in Europe and the atrocities he endured

Jean Reznick and her father, Harry Drucker (Photo by Abigail Hakas)
Jean Reznick and her father, Harry Drucker (Photo by Abigail Hakas)

Harry Drucker had just turned 16 when the Nazis invaded his small town of Iwonicz in Poland. When the soldiers came to his house, they gave him and his family a half-hour to leave. Drucker remembers taking whatever he could carry. “Not much,” he said.

At first glance, Drucker seems to live an unburdened life at Beacon Place in Squirrel Hill. He offered candy, posed for pictures and endured slight teasing for his tendency to not smile in photos.

His daughter, Jean Reznick, encouraged him to think of his great-granddaughter Lily, someone who always makes him smile. He apologized for his shaking hands, which worsened as he described some of the most horrific parts of his life in Europe.

After the soldiers forced him and his family out of their home, the Druckers walked an hour and a half to Rymanów, a nearby town. After a couple of months, the Nazis rounded them up in the center of town and loaded people onto trucks, whipping them. It was the last time he saw his mother, father and three sisters.

He and his brother were taken to work on a highway. One day, a truck came and the soldiers on board asked if there were any tailors. Drucker was taught to sew in Krosno after the Nazi invasion forced him to stop his schooling. When he raised his hand, he was taken from his brother.

“You could not say you don’t want to go, or something like that, because ‘I want to be with my brother,’” he said. “If you would have said that, [they] probably would have said, ‘Go over to your brother, you’ll be together forever.’”

He and a few dozen other tailors were forced to work on uniforms for high-ranking Nazis in Moderowka. Their numbers dwindled — only the best tailors being kept alive — and the rest were sent to a labor camp elsewhere.

Two women tried to escape and were caught. The Nazis made an example of them and shot them. Afterward, all of the tailors were beaten by a 6-foot-8-inch man.

“He looked like a murderer, and he was. He was shooting all the Jews he wanted to shoot,” Drucker said.

While Drucker chatted with the Chronicle, he remained composed and matter-of-fact about the horrific events of the Holocaust. When asked if it is difficult for him to relive some of the worst moments of his life, he offered a glimpse into how he coped through the years he spent struggling to survive.

“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.”

His daughter offered him a tissue to wipe his tears. He insisted he did not need it but took it anyway. He gripped it in his fist and continued telling his story without stopping to dry his face.

When the Russian troops were coming, the Nazis took Drucker and the other tailors to Slovakia where they worked out of a truck with four sewing machines, constantly on the run from the Russian soldiers.

One night, they planned an escape and found the door to their room unlocked. The group escaped into the Carpathian Mountains and met with partisans. One night, the Germans ambushed them and bombarded them with artillery.

“When we got to the other side, and then down, I could feel blood in my throat,” Drucker said, reaching for his neck and pausing to keep from sobbing. “But I endured that.”

For about 10 days, they survived off of melting snow and berries. A farmer helped them cross the frontlines to where the Russian soldiers were, and, after recovering in a hospital, Drucker was faced with the war’s unimaginable damage.

“We started to try to go home, but there was no home anymore for Jewish people,” he said.

His journey took him back to Krosno where he was hired by a Jewish tailor who made leather coats for the Russians.

Later, in Poland, he stayed with his cousin, her son Leon and the son’s father. When the father left to get food, someone turned him in to the Germans. They killed him just four weeks before the war ended.

Drucker met with another cousin and traveled with him into the American sector of Germany, trading a bottle of whiskey for a ride hiding behind barrels on a Russian soldier’s truck. He stayed in Germany for almost four years, making money by selling anything and everything he could on the black market, before his aunt and uncle helped him get papers to come to America and to Pittsburgh.

But Drucker’s story does not begin and end in a labor camp, it does not end with him escaping into the mountains, nor does it end with his arrival in Pittsburgh. He built a life for himself here.

He got a job only a few days after arriving. He spent his working years as a tailor, putting in a decade at Kaufmann’s downtown before opening his own store, H. Drucker, on Murray Avenue in Squirrel Hill.

And he met his late wife, Esther. He knew a shochet who would go to Washington County, where Esther’s stepmother had a small grocery store, to kill chickens. The shochet gave Drucker’s phone number to his future wife, and she gave him her number. He kept it in his pocket for a year — until someone else also gave him her number — because he “did not really like to call.”

When he finally called, the two clicked and got married just a few months later. They were together until Esther passed away during the pandemic. They had two children, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He glowed describing his family, remarking on how much he missed his great-granddaughter Lily, his only great-grandchild who lives in Pittsburgh, because she was away at the beach.

He was humble about his plans for his 100th birthday on Aug. 31, saying that “whatever comes, comes,” before his daughter piped in to say that there will be a party in his building with the residents and then a party with the family.

“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. I never believed I’d make it the next hour, but I’m here.” PJC

Abigail Hakas can be reached at

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