Published: October 14, 2006
Norman Salsitz, whose harrowing tale of surviving the Holocaust by posing as a Christian took a particularly bizarre turn when he killed Polish partisans who were about to murder a group of Jews, died Wednesday in Boston. He was 86 and lived in Springfield, N.J.
The cause was pneumonia, said his daughter, Esther Dezub of Newton, Mass. He had been brought from New Jersey to a hospital closer to her home.
With his wife, Amalie Petranker Salsitz, who died in 2003, Mr. Salsitz wrote “Against All Oddsâ€? (Holocaust Library, 1990), an account of how, following different paths, they pretended to be Christians to stay out of the death camps.

With a certificate of baptism given to him by a priest in his small hometown in southeast Poland, Mr. Salsitz joined the Polish underground to fight the Nazis, though well aware of the virulent anti-Semitism among the partisan ranks. In March 1944, when a group from his unit was organized to go to a nearby farm where a Jewish family was hiding, Mr. Salsitz volunteered for the mission. At the farm, Mr. Salsitz turned his rifle on his squad.

He then fled to the east and joined Russian forces as they fought to oust the Nazis from Krakow. There, in another strange twist, he met his future wife.

Mrs. Salsitz, although Jewish, had managed to be hired as the assistant to the head of a German construction company operating in Krakow. As the Nazis prepared to flee, they ordered the company to blow up the city’s most important buildings.

“The Germans mined all the beautiful, historic buildings of Krakow,â€? said Amy Hill Hearth, the author of another book about Mr. and Mrs. Salsitz, “In a World Gone Mad,â€? (Abingdon Press, 2001). “Here was this beautiful Jewish girl who spoke fluent German and was masquerading as a Christian and had earned the trust of the company that was ready to blow up the city.â€?

When the company officers fled, Mrs. Salsitz volunteered to stay and relay the telephone order to set off the bombs — with no intention of doing so.

Mr. Salsitz, meanwhile, had received a tip from the underground about the plan and went to find the German girl at the construction office.

“So he gets there, and he’s ready to kill her, and she speaks to him in Hebrew,â€? Ms. Hearth said.

The Salsitzes married in 1947, then emigrated to the United States.

While in the Polish underground, Mr. Salsitz saved many Jews, Ms. Hearth said.

“He was living not just a double life, but a triple life,â€? she said, “masquerading as a Christian, but also working for the underground while protecting Jewish families any way he could from not just the Germans, but people in the underground who were anti-Jewish.â€?

Mr. Salsitz also saved hundreds of pictures of Jews.

“Any time he found a Jewish home that had been ransacked,â€? Ms. Hearth said, “he collected the photographs and hid them in barns and attics.â€?

Mr. Salsitz donated more than 1,000 photographs to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. He wrote two other books, both published by Syracuse University Press: “A Jewish Boyhood in Polandâ€? (1992), and “Three Homelands,â€? (2002).

In 1956, the Salsitz family moved from Brooklyn to New Jersey, where Mr. Salsitz became a home builder.

Mr. Salsitz, who had changed his name after coming to the United States, was born Naftali Saleschutz on May 6, 1920, in Kolbuszowa, Poland, the youngest of nine children of Isak and Esther Saleschutz. Except for one brother, his entire family was killed in the Holocaust. He is survived by his daughter and three grandchildren.

In June 1941, after the Nazis occupied his town, Mr. Salsitz was forced into a slave labor battalion, but not before watching his father being shot to death.

“He heard his father scream, ‘Revenge, revenge!’ â€? his daughter said. “And that was my father’s mission.â€?

In August 1942, Mr. Salsitz and 55 other slave laborers escaped into the woods, where they lived in underground bunkers. Later, he joined the Polish underground.

In 2003, Mr. Salsitz returned to Poland for the first time, accompanied by his daughter and a Polish-German film crew making a documentary about him. Upon entering his small house in Kolbuszowa, he said later, “I looked for my sisters in every room.â€?