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Family To Reunite With Man Who Saved Them From Nazis

May 28, 1988

IRVINGTON, N.J. (AP) _ More than 40 years ago, a Ukrainian farmer risked his life to hide a Jewish family from Nazi soldiers. Now that family, who lives in New Jersey, plans to thank him in person.

Five members of the Zeiger family, originally of the Ukraine, left Friday for the Soviet Union to visit Antosh Suchinsky, who still lives on the farm where the family hid beneath a barn for two years.

The trip comes during the superpower summit in Moscow, but the reunion is purely a private affair, said Michael Zeiger, who was 8 years old when he went into hiding.

″This is only for us, but there is a bigger message,″ he said. ″If you don’t watch out, what happened then could happen now. I will never forget it and I hope nobody else does.″

For two terrifying years, Zeiger, his mother, father, brother and two children whose parents were captured by the Nazis lived in a 4-foot-deep hole under Suchinsky’s barn, afraid to even light a candle. Zeiger’s father told stories to keep the children occupied. The quarters were so cramped the adults could not stand.

″I can’t tell you how horrible the conditions were. There was no air, no food, no light. We were just like animals,″ said Zeiger, now a 55-year-old Randolph resident and the president of a wine importing business. ″All we had was the will to survive, a positive attitude that eventually we would get out.″

Suchinsky’s farm was near the Zeiger vacation home. Before the war, Zeiger’s mother, Sonya, had befriended the poor farmer, who appeared odd to many local residents. He used to meditate and was known to talk to his animals and plants.

″My mother always liked him,″ Zeiger said. ″She talked to him and treated him with respect. She gave him clothes and food, and he never forgot it.″

At great risk to himself, Suchinsky helped hide the family. He begged and stole to get the family food, which he lowered to them in a bucket.

″You have no idea how he was risking his life,″ Zeiger said. ″If they ever found out he was hiding somebody, or had anything to do with it, they would have shot him right there on the spot.″

Near the end of the war, Suchinsky and other nearby residents were forced out by the Nazis. For two days, German soldiers stayed in the barn just above the family’s hiding place. Soldiers poked bayonets in the straw opening, but never discovered the family.

The family finally left their hiding place in the summer of 1944, when the Russians liberated the Ukraine. Their home destroyed, they immigrated to the United States in 1950.

Over the years, the Zeigers kept in touch with Suchinsky through letters written by friends of the farmer, who couldn’t read or write. They sent him food and clothing, but never returned to see him. In recent years, they lost contact and thought he had died.

But Zeiger’s brother, Shelly, discovered on a recent business trip to Europe that Suchinsky was still alive. Arrangements were quickly made for the reunion with the farmer, now 83.

″I’m very happy and excited, but also a little sad,″ Zeiger said. ″This trip has awakened a lot of dormant feelings that have been forgotten for 40 years. It should be a very emotional experience.″

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