Holocaust survivor describes Hurricane Harvey as worst experience since 'the camp'
HOUSTON (FOX 26) - Six months after Hurricane Harvey, the countless people still recovering from the storm include a 96-year-old man who also lived through the Holocaust.
Sigmund Jucker describes Hurricane Harvey as the worst experience of his life since surviving the holocaust.
His story began in Poland where he was born on a cold February day in 1922. Sigmund grew up as the son of a baker. He was 17 years old when the Nazis captured him and placed him in a concentration camp in 1939.
“If you call that life — ha! — that was no life," said Sigmund. "That was only survival. How can you survive on a piece of bread?”
Sigmund lost his parents in the holocaust. He almost lost his younger brother.
“The youngest one, Max, he was almost 90 percent dead when he came to the camp where I was, and I gave him my bread and everything," described Sigmund. "I got to put him back to life,”
Gross-Rosen was the final of several concentration camps where he was ordered to work with extremely small rations of food for more than four years.
“He was in survival mode," said Sigmund's son Robert Jucker. "They were literally trying to kill you.”
Sigmund survived, got out, and several years later, came to the U.S.
“We went to other cities," said Sigmund. "We liked Houston the best, so we come to Houston.”
Sigmund and his brothers opened Three Brothers Bakery in Houston, and they built their American dream over the decades.
Sigmund retired and passed the business on to his son Robert. He'd moved into The Medallion Assisted Living Community on Brays Bayou when Hurricane Harvey hit Houston.
“Sunday morning came around and the waters in the bayou rose," said Jane Shapiro, spokeswoman for The Medallion. "We watched them come up and early that morning, the waters came into the front door of our building.”
The staff spent the next few hours moving 22 elderly residents from their first-floor homes up to the second floor as the waters rose.
“They’re here," said Robert. "The water’s rising. They’re getting these residents up to the second floor. The power’s gone out — just total chaos.”
Medallion staff members say the first floor flooded about a foot. With no additional room upstairs, Sigmund an other residents were placed on mattresses in the hallways.
“We were very creative," said Shapiro. "We used all of the space that we had.”
Around 50 people were squeezed into temporary living arrangements on the second floor.
“It was a terrible life," said Sigmund. "I never see something like that to get out of, lying on the floor...you either sleep on the floor or you don’t sleep."
“It was impactful for him, I think, very impactful, and probably a very good reminder of what he experienced in the holocaust,” said Robert.
Sigmund, who is legally blind, spent around five days with only a mattress in the hallway upstairs as the downstairs was flooded with murky water from Brays Bayou.
“It was dark and I made a wrong step and my foot was like that,” said Sigmund, twisting his hand.
“He broke his foot in all this chaos of what was going on here," said Robert.
“The worst thing, sleep on the floor," said Sigmund, describing his flimsy mattress. "I fell down a few times. The mattress you know, the little mattress, goes like this (gesturing with hand). I didn’t sleep there for the whole week.”
When Robert's wife saw the conditions, she took her father-in-law to San Antonio to stay with his daughter.
“Luckily I got out of there," said Sigmund. "The water was still high.”
“I think it brings back a lot of memories for him of chaos, and 'Where are you?,' and being taken out of your home," said Robert. "Those memories are ingrained in his mind.”
Sigmund lived with family members over the following months while The Medallion was gutted out and repaired.
The life upheaval took a toll.
“We’ve seen him kind of go down a little bit,” said Robert.
In mid-January, Sigmund was able to move back in at The Medallion, but the memories are still fresh.
“That was the worst experience I ever had after the camp, lying on the floor, drinking bitter coffee in the morning,” said Sigmund.
“This was very much the closest thing that has happened to him since that time period,” said Robert.
Through it all, Sigmund is far from giving up his independence. He celebrated his 96th birthday on Friday. His broken foot is healing and he's walking again. He's happy to say he's staying put at The Medallion, hurricane or not.
“He really didn’t want to go anywhere else," said Robert. "We tried to move him to go to some other places and he just wanted to be here.”