NEW JERSEY (CNN) — A Holocaust survivor from New Jersey completed his bar mitzvah at 78 years old, decades after he was set free.
Alfred Glogower was four years old when he was liberated from the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp. He says that he still remembers the horrors he faced there as a child.
“The whole camp was up on this hillside…they were waiting for orders from Berlin to execute and massacre all of us,” he says.
But that order never came. Glogower’s half-sister’s father was a Nazi, which helped to keep them safe.
“The Russians showed up with tanks, and freed everybody,” he says.
Glogower eventually moved to the United States and became a major in the Army, but he never had his bar mitzvah. According to Jewish tradition, it should have taken place when he was 13. Glogower started his when he was 69-years-old, but was never able to complete it by performing the Jewish ritual known as wrapping tefillin.
“That first time doing it is such an incredible moment because that’s literally the time that binds you with your ancestors before you and God in a very powerful way,” says Rabbi Shmully Levitin of Chabad of Hoboken and Jersey City. “We put on these boxes, black boxes – they’re actually made out of leather – on our arm and on our head and in them, it talks about the unity of God.”
Glogower completed the ritual on Sunday for the first time.
“The feeling…of Judaism over the forces that try to wipe us out, that feeling was palpable yesterday,” says Levitin.
Glogower says that he still feels a strong feeling about Judaism despite all that he has been through.
“The rabbi says it’s b’shert. It’s b’shert. Everything’s b’shert,” Glogower says.
Loosely translated, b’shert is Yiddish for “meant to be.”
Glogower’s family says that his house is filled with books on the Holocaust and that he reads them often. They says that they believe he’s searching for answers and trying to find out why the Holocaust was able to take place.