In each of the past three years, Sam Devinki has brought a group of ninth graders from his hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In March, as he addressed this group of what Sam described as future leaders in government, business, and education, Sam shared his family’s personal story and challenged the students to stand up whenever they witness antisemitism, hatred, or bigotry. Although Sam lost more than 100 members of his family during the Holocaust, he is alive today because a brave individual stood up in the face of Nazi terror.
Sam’s family lived in Wodzislaw, Poland, 30 miles north of Krakow. His paternal grandmother and maternal grandfather were both murdered by the Nazis. His grandfather’s business partner, Jozef Gondrowicz, who was a member of the Polish nationalist resistance movement Armia Krajowa (A.K. or Home Army), alerted Sam’s family that the Nazis were coming to liquidate the Wodzislaw ghetto.
Gondrowicz arranged to hide Sam’s parents and other family members in a 10’ x 15’ dirt hole underneath a barn, with no electricity or bathroom facilities, where they remained for 26 months. When the farmer who hid them withheld food, Gondrowicz threatened to kill him if he did not care for the Jews he was hiding.
In 1945, the Russians liberated the remaining family members, yet the family remained in peril, as Jews were still under threat of violence and death. Gondrowicz again warned them and ultimately, with his wife, saved at least 50 Jews. In 2007, while on a Museum-led trip, Sam had the privilege of meeting Gondrowicz’s sons in Lodz, Poland.
After the war, Sam’s parents went to Regensburg, the German displaced persons camp where he was born, and eventually reached Kansas City. Starting with nothing, his parents built the successful real estate development firm that Sam runs to this day.
In speaking to the school groups he brings, Sam implores them to study and preserve this history, not just by visiting the Museum and reading, but by traveling to concentration camps.
Leading by example, Sam has visited numerous camps and other Holocaust sites as part of the Museum’s International Travel Program.
Sam and his family have been dedicated supporters of the Museum for the last 18 years, including his serving as a Council member from 2003 to 2008. To ensure that his lifetime of commitment and dedication to the Museum endures, he has made a significant bequest for the Museum’s endowment.
In Sam’s view, the Museum and its educational outreach is the best insurance that the lessons of this tragic history will be transmitted from generation to generation.