Jack Sutin, hero of Jewish resistance, dies

Jack Sutin, a hero of the Jewish resistance in Poland and one-half of a tremendous love story, has died. His obituary appears today in the Star Tribune.

sutinSutin, Jack Jack Sutin, a hero of the Jewish resistance in Poland against the Nazis during World War Two, died January 24, 2017. He was the author, along with his late wife Rochelle, of the memoir `Jack and Rochelle: A Holocaust Story of Love and Resistance,’ which was praised in the New York Times, won the Minnesota Book Award, and is quoted in teaching materials on Jewish armed resistance published by the United States Holocaust Museum.

Sutin was born in Stolpce, Poland on December 4, 1913. His father and mother were both dentists. When World War Two began in 1939, Stolpce was occupied by the Red Army. But with the breach of the Hitler-Stalin pact in June 1941, Sutin and his parents were confined in a Nazi ghetto. His mother was killed soon afterwards.

Sutin and his father, Julius, managed to escape from the ghetto to the forest region of eastern Poland, where Sutin became the leader of a small group of Jewish partisans who managed to accumulate arms and become a fighting force against the Nazis and the collaborating Polish police.

It was in the woods that Sutin met his wife Rochelle, who had also managed to escape from a neighboring ghetto after both her parents and her two sisters had been killed by the Nazis. Jack and Rochelle were married in a Jewish partisan bunker on December 31, 1942 and remained a deeply loving and devoted couple for sixty-eight years until her death in 2010. They understood each other as no one else could and their love was a source of strength that sustained them both.

As Jack observed in a 2015 public talk on his Holocaust experiences: “What are the odds that, with our separate escapes and with so much misery all arounds us, we should meet in a dugout bunker in the woods? Rochelle came to join us after going through so much suffering. Here is what is most remarkable: I had a dream before Rochelle arrived at our bunker. In the dream, my dead mother was talking to me very clearly. She told me that Rochelle would come to the bunker and that we would be together for the rest of our lives. And all of that came true.”

Jack and Rochelle, along with Jack’s father Julius, soon joined a larger Jewish partisan group. For the remainder of the war, Sutin fought against the Nazis, blowing up railway tracks, disrupting German supply and troop movements, and assisting the Allied efforts against Germany.

After the war’s end, the three settled in the Nei Freimann displaced persons camp in what was then West Germany. It was there that their daughter Cecilia was born in 1947. In 1949, they emigrated to the United States, making their home in St. Paul, MN, where Rochelle had family. Their son Larry was born there in 1951. Sutin soon began work as a clerk at The Golden Rule, a then prominent department store in St. Paul, where he rose to a management position within a few years.

In 1957 he started his own importing company, Rochelle’s Gifts, Inc., named after his beloved wife. Over the next thirty years, Rochelle’s Gifts became highly successful, supplying Fortune 500 customers such as Walmart and Target, as well as smaller businesses throughout the United States. Sutin was always a devoted father and grandfather and ultimately great-grandfather. He encouraged and funded the education of his children and grandchildren and delighted in their achievements.

Zadie Jack always had a big hug and kiss for everyone and took great pleasure in sharing trips, restaurants, and milestones with his entire family. A great photographer, he made sure to always take plenty of pictures and movies. He never forgot a birthday or anniversary and enjoyed life to the fullest with his soulmate Rochelle. Based on his wartime experiences, Sutin also believed in charitable giving to those in need and in supporting Jewish causes.

Everyone he came into contact with loved his warm, generous and loving nature. He formed deep personal bonds with his late-in-life caregivers and regarded Ora Masheah, his primary caretaker for many years, as family. We are also very grateful for the loving care the entire staff at Knollwood Place gave to Jack, especially Daiva Jankausjiene, Yelena Polyakova and wonderful nurse Heidi Vorlicek-Jolley.

The publication of `Jack and Rochelle: A Holocaust Story of Love Resistance’ by Graywolf Press in 1995 was a milestone event for the couple.

Sutin emphasized this in his 2015 talk: “I am always happy to share my Holocaust experiences, not because the memories are happy ones, but because I think it is very important for the survivors to tell our stories while we are still able to do so. Hearing from someone who lived through that time means that you understand not only what happened but what our feelings were as we lived through that hell. Those of us who survived paid a price we have lived with our memories and we cannot forget them. It is important to remember what happens when human life is no longer deemed to matter.”

Sutin is survived by daughter, Cecilia Dobrin (Steve); son, Larry Sutin (Mab Nulty); grandchildren, David Dobrin (Erin), Danny Dobrin (Andrea), and Sarah Santosa (Ansel); and his great-grand-children, Hailey, Nyla, and Marlo Dobrin. Funeral service 11:00 am THURSDAY at ADATH JESHURUN CONGREGATION, 10500 Hillside Lane W., Minnetonka, MN. In lieu of flowers, donations are welcome to the Jack and Rochelle Sutin Fund at Sholom Foundation or donor’s favorite charity. SHIVA, Thursday, 7:00pm, at Knollwood Place, 3630 Phillips Pkwy, St Louis Pk MN 55426. Hodroff-Epstein 612-871-1234 hodroffepstein.com

Related: Life as Jewish partisan (MPR News)

Jack and Rochelle Sutin collection (Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies)