Josef Mincberg was the youngest of six children, the only boy, born to Mayer Dawid and Perla Mincberg in Szydlowiec, Poland. Mayer owned an electrical supply company and Josef joined him in the business when he completed school.
After Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, the Jews lived in a perpetual state of uncertainty and fear. They never knew when they might be arrested on the street and inducted into forced labor, beaten or shot. On Yom Kippur of 1942, Josef was awakened in the middle of the night, placed on a truck and sent to a labor camp. He never saw his family again.
Several months later, he was forced into a crowded and foul-smelling box car en route to the extermination camp of Treblinka. Desperate, he jumped from the moving train: “I decided that if I die, let me die my way. Either I get killed jumping from the train or some Pole will catch me and kill me or some German will kill me.” But Josef was not captured or killed; he was taken in by a sympathetic Pole who gave him some food, allowed him to rest and pointed the way back to Szydłowiec. There, Józef Nowakowski, a Polish Christian whom Josef had known before the war, risked his own and his family’s lives to help him.
Although Josef was safe for the time being, he was torn. He resolved that if he were to die, he would die among the Jewish people. So, at Josef’s request, Nowakowski smuggled him into a Jewish labor camp. Josef remained there for several months, but he escaped and found his way to the Jewish ghetto in Radom. When the Radom ghetto was liquidated, Josef was sent again to a labor camp. He again fled and spent the remainder of the war in hiding in various places. For months, he was hunted, hungry and constantly terrified.
Russian troops liberated Josef in March 1945 and he made his way to the American sector of Germany. In 1949, he married fellow survivor Edith (b. Edyta “Dita”) Sternlicht. That same year the couple came to the United States under the Displaced Persons quota and settled in Houston. Determined to be independent, Josef and Edith soon found jobs. Their son David was born in 1950 and daughter Pearl was born four years later. The same year Josef became a U.S. citizen.
Josef built a successful construction business, which he started with his wife at the kitchen table. The business allowed him to support numerous organizations. A generous member of Congregation Beth Yeshurun, he nevertheless answered the call when Lubavitch Chabad House was looking for sponsors to establish a center in Houston. Remembering his Orthodox roots in pre-Holocaust Szydłowiec, Josef decided, without hesitation, to assume leadership in constructing the headquarters for the Chabad Worship and Study Center.
His other charitable activities included the Seven Acres Geriatric Center, of which he served on the Board of Trustees and the Construction Committee; the Hebrew Free Loan Association and numerous civic, religious, educational and Holocaust-related institutions in the United States and Israel. Josef was instrumental in the development and construction of Holocaust Museum Houston, to which he and Edith dedicated the Josef and Edith Mincberg Exhibition Gallery. He died on January 10, 2003.
Mayer Dawid Mincberg, d. Treblinka
Perla Mincberg, d. Treblinka
Sara, d. Treblinka
Fayga, d. Treblinka
Sheva, d. Treblinka
Gucia, d. Treblinka
Hana, d. Treblinka