TAMPA — Salomon Wainberg was born at the worst possible time, in the shadow of an invasion. A Polish Jew, he spent most of his childhood in hiding, afraid to whisper.
A sister was killed.
Of about 15,000 in his hometown, only 53 survived, including Mr. Wainberg and two siblings.
Mr. Wainberg emigrated to the United States. He married and started a family, eventually becoming a senior partner in a Miami accounting firm. For years, he said virtually nothing about his childhood.
That changed in retirement in Tampa. Mr. Wainberg spoke to dozens of schools at the behest of the Florida Holocaust Museum. Children seemed riveted by the gruff-voiced man who talked about fear and deprivation.
Mr. Wainberg, who was so grateful for his life he tried not to waste a second of it, died Feb. 22, of colon cancer. He was 75.
His earliest memory involved an imminent death and a warning. In 1939, at age 3, the year Germany invaded Poland, Mr. Wainberg listened as a dying grandfather spoke of rising anti-Semitism. "The words were, 'Be careful,' " said Dr. Robyn Jacobson, a Tampa pediatrician and Mr. Wainberg's daughter. "And kind of, 'Don't show yourself.' "
His family hid in a cellar for two and a half years, taken in by a Polish family that hoped to profit financially. They were discovered and a sister died, but the rest of the family escaped.
Mr. Wainberg lived in Costa Rica for a decade, then Miami. He put himself through the University of Miami, where he met Sandra Goldberg. They married in 1965.
All the while, he kept his past locked away — even from his wife — until an overseas flight in the early 1970s, when he told her everything.
That same trip, Mr. Wainberg found the family that had taken him in as a child. In an emotional reunion, he asked what they might need.A new roof, they replied.
Mr. Wainberg underwrote that request and many more. In 1999, he moved to the Tampa area, where he became active in Congregation Rodeph Sholom. He became a docent at the Florida Holocaust Museum.
He also volunteered for SCORE, a counseling service to encourage small business owners. He had few leisure activities, other than tennis, and little time for chit-chat, even with family members.
Those brusque qualities sometimes rubbed people the wrong way.
"He said, 'You don't need to please anybody, you just need to do the right thing,' " said Jacobson, 41, who described her father as "easy to love but hard to like."
Since being diagnosed with cancer a year ago, Mr. Wainberg spoke more to family members about his childhood, and what he had learned from it.
"When you were not allowed to talk for two and a half years of your life, you grow up learning how to appreciate what you have," his daughter said.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2248.