Michael M. Bernath



Day and Time of Service: Thursday, September 28, 2017, 11:00 a.m.

Location of Service: Graveside

Interment: Beth David Cemetery,  300 Elmont Road, Elmont, N.Y. 11003

Shiva: Following the service at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Rosen
21 Berry Lane, Randolph, N.J. 07869
Friends may also call on Sunday, October 1, 2017 starting at 2:00 pm at the home of
Mr. and Mrs. Richard Rosen, 21 Berry Lane, Randolph, N.J. 07869. 
There will be minyan services at 7:00 pm.

Click here to sign the electronic guest book.

Michael M. Bernath, a Holocaust survivor who made it his mission to document and widely share his life experiences, died Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, after a brief illness. Mr. Bernath, was the author of more than 30 books, many now archived at Yad Vashem and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.  He was 94.His story began Feb. 14, 1923, when he was born, the youngest of 12 children, in Sziskzo, Hungary, a small town in the northern part of the country whose Jewish population was decimated in the Holocaust.  A spirited youth, he joined the Partisans to fight the Nazis who had overtaken Hungary, but was captured and placed in a forced labor camp, Shakendorf. He was later transported to Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, one of the first large camps instituted by the Nazis, a place noted for its brutal treatment of prisoners who were forced into hard labor. 

In his first book, Mr. Bernath wrote about how he survived the early years of the war, scavenging for food, trying to avoid disease. But by mid-1945, he could not escape a typhus epidemic that swept the camp. He wrote of being weak and sick, and falling asleep in a barracks where hundreds of men shared rows of wooden bunks. A putrid smell awakened him. Allied troops were liberating his camp, and as they pushed into the facility, their tanks broke open the latrines, sending the stench into the air.  He awoke to find himself among hundreds of dead bodies, the only person in his bunk to survive. 

At 5 foot 8 inches tall, weighing less than 60 pounds, he himself was close to death. But a Jewish Russian soldier took him to a field hospital where he received treatment. Over time, he gained weight and strength, and he decided to travel back to Hungary to see who had survived the war.  Mr. Bernath took a train to Sziskzo, and hung around the station, hoping to recognize someone from his past. And then a near miracle happened. He saw his high school sweetheart, Kate Friedman, who had also returned to Sziskzo, having survived the horrors of Auschwitz.  Reunited, the couple returned to Germany where they married while living in a displaced persons’ camp. It was there that their son Alexander was born. 

Nearly four years later, Mike, Kate and Alex Bernath were able to emigrate to the United States where two of Mr. Bernath’s brothers lived. The young family shared a fifth-floor walk-up with his sister, brother-in-law and young nephew, and Mr. Bernath supported the family working as a dishwasher for 50 cents an hour.  He didn't stay a dishwasher for long, opening his own luncheonette in Mt. Vernon, N.Y..  The family eventually moved to a beautiful home in Mt. Vernon, where they raised Alexander and their daughter Joan.  The couple was active in the community, members of Congregation Brothers of Israel in Mt. Vernon, where Mr. Bernath's strong baritone was often welcome on the bimah for chanting prayers, for more than 50 years.  He was also a member of Liberty Lodge (Formerly Odd Fellows) for more than 60 years.  Mr. and Mrs. Bernath worked at their luncheonette, noted for its egg creams and sandwiches, almost 30 years, before retiring in 1981.  "God bless America, the greatest country on Earth," he often told his children.  It was in retirement that Mr. Bernath launched a second career, that of self-published author.  His writings included poetry, philosophy and memoirs, many on the themes of his Holocaust experience.  And he accepted invitations to speak to students and share his story.

In 2003, the couple sold their Mt. Vernon home and relocated to West Palm Beach, Florida, where Mr. Barnath enjoyed two other hobbies, amateur astronomy and feeding the birds.

But his real passion was his family, his wife of 71 years, and his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  In addition to his wife, Mr. Bernath is survived by a son and daughter-in-law, Dr. Alexander and Marcie Bernath, of Sherman, Texas, daughter and son-in-law Joan and Richard Rosen, of Randolph, NJ, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Donations in his memory can be made to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.