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Samuel, the son of Cesia and David Hiller, was born just before the Germans forced the Jews of Cracow into a closed-off ghetto.
Before the war, Samuel's mother was a saleslady, and his father was a merchant. They lived in Cracow, a large industrial city where Jewish cultural and social life had flourished between the two world wars. By 1939, Cracow, the third largest city in Poland, had 60,000 Jewish citizens.
Cracow was occupied by the Germans on September 6, 1939. The Germans immediately began persecuting the Jews. Jewish property was confiscated and several synagogues were burned down. By March 1941, approximately 40,000 Jews had been expelled to neighboring towns and their remaining property was seized. At the same time, a closed-off ghetto was established. The worst problems included overcrowding, hunger, and poor sanitary conditions. The population was impoverished, and the Germans set up several factories in the ghetto to exploit the cheap manpower in the ghetto. Many Jews died in the streets from starvation, disease, and exposure.
At the end of May 1942, the Germans began deporting Jews from the ghetto to the death camps. At the end of March 1943, Samuel's mother received word that the ghetto was to be emptied and all its inhabitants murdered. Samuel's mother escaped from the ghetto, and arranged for a Christian woman to care for her two year-old son. Unable to bear not seeing her child, Samuel's mother left her hiding place to visit him. On one visit, she was recognized as a Jewess and was shot on the spot by the Gestapo. Samuel's father died in Auschwitz death camp in 1944.