Rabbi Samuel Cywiak (March 25, 1920 – April 25, 2013)

A photo of Rabbi Cywiak wearing the Francisco de Miranda order.

A photo of Rabbi Cywiak wearing the Francisco de Miranda order.

Three months ago on Thursday, April 25, 2013, Rabbi Samuel Cywiak passed away exactly one month after his 93rd birthday. Despite his age, Rabbi Cywiak’s death was no less shocking. Those who knew him personally could tell you that there was a lot of life and exuberance left in him. He still had plenty left to offer this world, so it’s with an extremely heavy heart that I write these words. The passage of time has not yet eased the pain, because I lost a very dear friend on April 25th. And I believe the rest of world did as well.

His brief biography can be read here.

Shortly after Rabbi Cywiak and his family moved from Venezuela to St. Augustine, FL in 1992, he became a well-recognized figure. He was short and stocky in stature, but it was his strong voice, good sense of humor, and compassionate heart that were noticed the most. Besides being Principal Rabbi of the Sons of Israel Synagogue, located in the historic downtown St. Augustine, Rabbi Cywiak was a dedicated chaplain at Flagler Hospital and gave regular Holocaust lectures to the students of Flagler College. He also performed circumcisions, weddings, conversions, blessings, etc. He dedicated his life to serving G-d and sharing his experiences and lessons learned from the Holocaust.

During the summer of 2008, at the ripe age of 88, Rabbi Cywiak decided he was ready to share his Holocaust experiences with the world, to leave his legacy. I met with him in his office at Sons of Israel Synagogue, and after a spirited and engrossing conversation, I agreed to be his ghostwriter. The process in getting his story from the interviews to a printed form was a very difficult process, and we had more than our share of obstacles in the way. But three years after our initial meeting, we had his Holocaust memoir, Flight From Fear, published in its 2nd edition, which went on to become an Amazon bestseller in multiple categories.

I knew from the beginning that being Rabbi’s ghostwriter was going to be a wonderful, albeit challenging, process that could only improve my writing abilities and assist in my writing career. But I didn’t expect to come away with a very dear friend and confidant in Rabbi Cywiak. That was the ultimate gift in taking on his project and I’ll cherish it forever.

Rabbi Cywiak retired from Sons of Israel in 2011, just before Flight From Fear was published in its 2nd edition. His plan was to move to the Miami area on his own to be with his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren and where he could also promote his book to the large Jewish communities in that area. Unfortunately, he suffered a stroke in October 2011, which delayed his move, led to his deteriorating health, and ultimately his death on April 25 of 2013.

Rabbi Samual Cywiak is survived by his four children, Hyman Cywiak (and his wife Nelly), Rebecca Schloser, Bernice Aizic, and Herschel Cywiak (and his wife Lya.) As well as nine grandchildren and seven (and counting) great grandchildren. Ultimately Cywiak’s true legacy is the creation a beautiful and loving family, who only exist because of his will and determination to survive one of the most tragic and brutal horrors known throughout the history of mankind.

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Rest in peace, Rabbi Samuel Cywiak. You’ll be greatly missed.

In honor of Rabbi Cywiak, the Kindle version of his Holocaust memoir, Flight From Fear, will be offered for free on Amazon during this weekend, from Friday, July 26th through Sunday, July 28th.

 

The High Holidays 2012

Rabbi Samuel Cywiak told me stories of how before the Holocaust, he and his father would travel to Gera, a small town outside of Warsaw, Poland. They made this journey every year to see their Rebbe, the Gerer Rebbe, for the High Holidays. I could tell by the smile on his face and sparkle in his eyes as he told these stories, that these trips to Gera were very special for Rabbi Cywiak. Something he’ll never forgot or want to forget. They were joyous, spiritual, humble, and loving experiences for him, and all involved.

To help celebrate the 2012 Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah (Sept 16-18) & Yom Kippur (Sept 25-26), the Kindle version of Flight From Fear will be reduced to $1.99 during these dates. And on one of these days, it will be offered for free.

 

Flight From Fear Reaches Amazon Best Seller Status!

Following last weekend’s promotion, Flight From Fear: A Rabbi’s Holocaust Memoir became an Amazon Best Seller in multiple categories!

It ranked as high as #15 in two Kindle eBook categories: Historical Biographies & Memoirs and Religious (Leaders & Notable People) Biographies & Memoirs. For the general Books category, Flight From Fear ranked as high as #25 for Religious (Leaders & Notable People) Biographies & Memoirs.

Thanks to everyone who has helped to make this proud achievement possible!

Good Morning, Herr Mueller

Early on, when I was meeting with then 88-year-old Rabbi Samuel Cywiak to ghostwrite his Holocaust memoir, he kept insisting that I include a Holocaust story, which he called the “Herr Mueller” story. It was about a good-natured rabbi who always greeted every man, woman and child he had encountered during his morning walks, and how a person’s spirit and treatment of others will be rewarded. Rabbi Cywiak liked to tell this story to the Flagler College students every time they came to the synagogue to hear about his own experiences.

The only problem was that Rabbi Cywiak couldn’t remember where he had heard the story from; if it was only a verbal tale that had been passed along over the years or if it had actually been published somewhere. I tried to do some research on it, but wasn’t having much luck for some reason. Besides, “Herr Mueller”, although a great story in itself, really did not fit in with the Rabbi’s personal journey or the tone I was working to create.

Recently, something made me think of the Herr Mueller story though, and I did a little more searching on the internet. This time I found it. It was a published story, part of a collection by Yaffa Eliach called Hasidic Tales of the Holocaust.

You can read the entire “Herr Mueller” story here: Good Morning, Herr Mueller. The story is quite short, but contains a powerful message.

~Jeff Swesky, ghostwriter of Flight From Fear