Posted on Wednesday May 28, 2014
A Man on a Mission
Friendly Wheels, Issue 74
With Amigo Owner Jack Ratz
A nine hour, 4,400 mile flight stands between Latvia and the United States, but for Amigo owner Jack Ratz, the journey entailed much more than that.
Jack, an 89 year old Holocaust survivor, experienced the loss of his mother and four brothers at the hands of Nazi soldiers, numerous death marches, years of slave labor, various concentration camps and typhoid – all before he was 21 years old.
Despite these unspeakable experiences, Jack can often be heard explaining how blessed his life has been.
Growing up in the Latvian city of Riga, Jack witnessed the Russian takeover of his home country, which would eventually be invaded by Nazi soldiers. His eldest brother enlisted with the Soviet army to help fight the Nazis, but never returned home.
Under Nazi control, a small ghetto in Riga was isolated for men ages 16 and older who were able to work. A larger ghetto is where the remaining 30,000 Jewish men, women and children, including Jack’s mother and three younger brothers, would spend their final days.
Jack and his father were placed in the small ghetto, where their journey through various labor and concentration camps would begin. Through strong faith and cleverness, Jack was able to survive his days as prisoner number 281. He would hoard leftover grease and fat from the kitchen to spread onto bread, or steal cigarettes to barter in exchange for food.
“We weren’t allowed to show our religious faith, but strong faith helped us persevere,” Jack said. “To them I was just a number, but He had a greater plan that allowed me to be here today.”
Forced on numerous death marches from one concentration camp to another, Jack and his father were finally liberated by the Russian army in March of 1945. Shortly after liberation, father and son were hospitalized side by side with typhoid – fortunately both managed to survive.
Once healthy, Jack escaped to an American safe haven and would eventually make his way to the United States. His father remarried and later joined Jack in the US. Now residing in Brooklyn, Jack travels to schools, synagogues and meetings to share his story, a mission he is truly passionate about. Strong in his Jewish faith, Jack wanted a way to honor the Sabbath while still remaining mobile. The Amigo Shabbat provided him a unique opportunity to do both.
“I have used other scooters, but the Shabbat is the only one I can use on the Sabbath,” Jack said. “It provides me the opportunity to live a normal life, no matter the day, and I am so grateful for that.”
As part of his mission, Jack has published a book detailing his life and the incredible stories that made up his journey from Riga to Brooklyn.
“I want others to know what myself and thousands of others experienced,” Jack said. “There are fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors around, and I am determined to stay active and tell my story to anyone who will listen.”
To purchase Jack’s book, click here.