Sylvia and Max Prypstein—Holocaust Survivors– passed away last year, within four months of one another. They would have celebrated the 60th anniversary of their liberation and their marriage. Sylvia was 78 years old when she died February 25, 2005; and Max was 84 years of age when he died June 27, 2005.
Sylvia was eleven years old when the Germans invaded Poland and destroyed her home town, Janow. For the next three years, she ran and hid with her parents and three younger sisters. The family survived on the meager earnings of odd jobs which barely paid for the morsels of food they needed to get through each day. Sylvia, blond hair and blue eyed, often removed her arm band and mingled among the Poles in search of work to provide for her family.
In 1942, as the Germans forces were aggressively gathering Jews for deportation, it became increasingly more difficult for the family to stay together. Sylvia’s mother was frantic and urged all her children to run, “go where your eyes take you.” Those were the last words Sylvia heard spoken by her mother. While running blindly through a field of tall grass, the girls lost sight of each other. Suddenly, worn out and frightened, Sylvia found herself alone in the darkness as she cradled herself to sleep. By morning, she awoke to the familiar sounds of sheep grazing in the field. The horror of the previous day seemed to disappear in the cool morning air. However, reality struck, when the young sheep herder said, “Did you see what they did to all the Jews yesterday? They killed them.” Sylvia became despondent and hopeless. She was ready to turn herself over to the Germans and suffer the same fate as her family. And then, in the distance, she saw a little girl in a red sweater. As she slowly approached her, Sylvia realized that it was her younger sister, Libby. From that moment, with staunch determination, Sylvia resolved to do everything in her power to assure their survival.
Sylvia, with her Aryan features and fluent German, registered herself and her sister for work detail in Germany. She knew that their only hope for staying alive was to leave Poland, so as to better conceal their Jewish identity. For almost one year Sylvia worked as a translator in an aluminum factory. However, in 1943, Sylvia and her younger sister were denounced as Jews by a fellow worker—for reasons unknown. After 3 days of brutal interrogation in a German prison the girls were sent to Auschwitz; where they remained for nearly two years. In January 1945, Auschwitz was being evacuated, and the infamous death march, from Poland to Germany, began. Sylvia, with her younger sister by her side, both starved and frail, marched, through the snow and ice of winter to the rain and mud of spring, until liberation: May 8,1945. Sylvia, age17, and her sister, age15, were now free but alone. Their parents, five siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins all perished.
Max was born in Baranovichi, Poland. In 1939, at age eighteen, he was drafted into the Polish army. Poland fell to the Germans in just three weeks and Max was taken prisoner, along with thousands of others. The Jewish soldiers were soon separated and Max spent the next 5 years imprisoned in several concentration camps—Majdenak, Buchenvald, Budsen, and Auschwitz. He attributed his survival to his skill as a tailor—“The needle saved my life,” he frequently said and would follow that comment with a short anecdote:
“I was sent to Majdenak Concentration Camp after three weeks of hard labor—out of 350 men only 18 survived. While being examined—to see if we were still fit to work—they asked us what skills we have. Knowing I could never survive another work detail outdoors, I immediately stepped forward and said I am a tailor. Now I had to prove myself. The commanding officer placed me in a room with needles, thread, material and a sewing machine. After I took all the necessary measurements he said ‘I will return in the morning and decide whether you will be my tailor or—and he gestured death.’ Now my only thought was to put all my energy into making this suit. I worked through the night—no food, water or sleep. Totally exhausted I stood nervously at attention as the commandant tried on his suit and gazed at his reflection. It was hard for me to know what he was thinking. After what seemed like hours, he said, ‘you are now my tailor.’ So you see, the needle saved my life.”

This story was just one of many where Max’s life literally hung by a thread. He accredited having survived his traumatic ordeal to luck, faith in God, a strong will to live and, having had the good fortune, to have a skill deemed useful by the Germans.
In March, 1945 Max’s harrowing, six year journey through hell ended when he was liberated by the Russians. He emerged as the sole survivor of his entire family–8 siblings, parents, grandparents, and dozens of aunts, uncles and cousins—all victims of the Shoah.
Sylvia and Max met in Poland shortly after the war and married October 12,1945. They had two daughters: Ella and Halina. Max supported his family as a self-employed tailor and Sylvia, right there by his side, spent time working in their shop, as well as, maintaining the household. Upon retirement, Max devoted his time to conducting daily religious services at the neighborhood temple. As the son and grandson of a Rabbi, Max fulfilled his family legacy. Sylvia devoted her time participating in Holocaust Survivor groups; and sharing her Holocaust story with children in a school setting, as a means to educate the young and honor those who were lost. In 1994, Sylvia was interviewed and taped by the Steven Spielberg Shoah Foundation. She was a gifted story teller and made a strong impression on all those who heard her speak.
Sylvia and Max leave behind their two daughters, and three grandchildren. They will always be remembered as the couple who loved to dance, appreciated life and emanated warmth and courage.
Written by their daughter, Halina Rosenkranz