Paul Saionz had two birthdays.
Each year, he celebrated the date of his birth and the day Allied forces liberated his concentration camp.
The longtime Overbrook Park and, later, Bryn Mawr resident and Holocaust survivor died June 3 of complications from bladder cancer. He was 89.
For almost 70 years, Paul Saionz refused to speak about his Holocaust experience.
“He would say, ‘I look forward, not backward,’ ” Jennifer Saionz, his daughter-in-law, remembered.
Finally, Jennifer Saionz told the former wicker company foreman, “you can’t let this story die with you.” That, along with urging from his grandchildren, prompted Paul Saionz to offer snippets of his past over meals at Hymie’s Merion Delicatessen and Mrs. Marty’s Deli Restaurant.
His daughter-in-law, along with family friend Howard Cylinder, compiled the vignettes into a coherent story, which Paul Saionz agreed to share publicly in 2012 at Temple Sholom in Broomall’s Holocaust Remembrance Week.
The talk, attended by more than 200 congregants, inspired him to continue to verbalize his story. As he said in a subsequent address at St. David’s Church in Wayne, “I decided to share my experiences for the sake of my children, my grandchildren and for history.”
“There was so much love, so much understanding, after he gave the talks,” Jennifer Saionz said. “It really helped him heal.”
Born in Sosnowiec, Poland in 1928, Paul Saionz was just 11 when the German army invaded the country. By 1943, the Nazis had split up all of his family, deporting his five siblings and parents to separate concentration camps across Europe.
The kindness of certain appointees allowed him to survive multiple camps. At the Graditz labor camp, he developed typhus and feared death was imminent, but fortuitously, a student of his father oversaw camp rations and provided Saionz with supplemental food.
In 1944, his captors transferred him to the Faulbruck camp, where he was tasked with building the Sportschule complex. The physical work caused his health to deteriorate, forcing him to appeal to the taskmaster for help. The taskmaster happened to live in the same Polish apartment building as the Saionz family, and intervened by assigning him to wiring electricity.
While Paul Saionz survived the war, his parents and two youngest siblings died at Auschwitz. Post-liberation, he reunited with his other siblings and planned a return to Poland, but they encountered hostility because so much of their family had survived the war.
Forced to move elsewhere, the siblings lived briefly in Germany before settling in Philadelphia. It was in Philadelphia that Paul Saionz met his wife, Linda, in 1959. The couple was married for 51 years, until Linda’s death in 2011.