Salomon Pila, who stepped away from the protection of Schindler’s List, dies at 92

Published June 3 2018
Updated June 4 2018

Amid the horrors of the Holocaust, Salomon "Sam" Pila found humanity.

He was among the Jews provided safety at the Polish factory owned by Oskar Schindler, whose story was memorialized in Steven Spielbergís 1993 Academy Award-winning Schindlerís List.

Mr. Pila would give up security for family.

When he learned his brother, a fellow Schindler factory worker, was to be sent to the MauthausenĖGusen concentration camp complex, Mr. Pila asked to be sent there, too.

"Family came first," said Mr. Pilaís grandson Ben Pila, 33. "That was always who he was."

A Tampa man who once owned the 440-acre Milk A Way Farm in Brooksville, Mr. Pila died May 24. He was 92.

"He was a cattle buyer," said son Moritz Pila, 61. "But people probably remember his Holocaust story."

Late in life, itís a tale he openly shared so the atrocities he witnessed would not be forgotten. "If we donít start talking now, then nobody will believe," he once told the Tampa Bay Times.

But for decades after World War II, Mr. Pila would only nod when asked whether he was a Holocaust survivor.

It wasnít until publication of the book Schindlerís Ark in 1982 that he even told his Schindler story to his wife and fellow Holocaust survivor, Herta Pila.

"He was very closed," Moritz Pila said. "And then one day he was travelling and in the Toronto Airport he saw the book in the bookstore. He just stopped, pointed at it and told my mother, ĎThat was a good man.í?"

Born in 1925, Mr. Pila was living on a cattle farm in the small Polish village of Charcznitza along with his parents and four older brothers when the Nazis invaded in 1939. Three years later, the village was targeted for roundups.

Mr. Pila and his brother, Isak Pila, were sent to Polandís Krakůw-Plaszůw concentration camp. They would never see the rest of their family again.

With his experience as a cattleman, Mr. Pilaís brother was asked to help Nazis retrieve horses from a captured farm.

Mr. Pila told the Times he believed this work helped land them at the metal item factory owned by Schindler.

To keep his Jewish workers safe from death camps, Schindler was known to bribe Nazi leaders. He also provided them with food and medicine.

"He was a Nazi, but he was a good one," Mr. Pila told the Times.

Still, 16 months later, Nazi leaders on a surprise inspection caught Mr. Pilaís brother sleeping during the night shift and even Schindler couldnít stop them from sending him to Mauthausen.

"There is a stairwell in the factory that is shown in the movie," grandson Ben Pila said. "My grandfather recognized it when he watched the movie as where he asked Schindler to send him with his brother."

He had to ask twice before Schindler believed he meant it. Mr. Pila told the Times he figured, "If itís going to happen with him, itís going to happen with me."

They were together only a month at the camp in Austria before they were sent to different sub-camps.

The brother would witness mass executions and bury the bodies.

But both men survived, to be reunited just weeks after their 1945 liberation.

In the 1950s, they moved to Minnesota and established Pila Livestock Co. They purchased the Brooksville land in the 1960s and Mr. Pila moved to Tampa in 1975 to manage the Milk A Way farm until he sold it in 2006, his son said.

When Schindlerís List was released in 1993, Mr. Pila told the Times that the Holocaust was "100 percent worse in real life. They didnít show all the bodies; the smell, the steam rising from them."

Still, said grandson Matthew Pila, he never let those dark memories consume him, often using a saying that was the title of a 1997 Italian film about the Holocaust.

"He had a great spirit. He always said, ĎLife is beautiful.í?"

That attitude, said grandson Ben Pila, was Pilaís greatest accomplishment.

"It meant Hitler didnít win. My grandfather went on to live a happy life, had a family and was successful despite what he endured."

Added son Moritz Pila, "He experienced the worst of mankind, but it did not break his spirit. Thatís how he should be remembered."

Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] Follow @PGuzzoTimes.