When Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, Marcus Leuchter, who was living in Krakow, fled eastward with his fiancée Theresa Tisch and her mother Cecylia. Theresa and Cecylia soon turned back, but Marcus made it as far as Lublin. There he learned that the Soviet Union had invaded Poland from the east, closing the vise around the refugees. He returned to Kraków. In March 1941, Marcus was forced into the crowded ghetto there. Six months later, as life for the Jews living outside the ghetto grew more treacherous, he brought Theresa to live with him and they were married.
As the pace of deportations from the ghetto picked up, Marcus began to formulate a plan. A quick and agile thinker, he hoped to use his fluent German to bluff his way out of threatening situations. In October 1942, he and Theresa escaped from the ghetto, rendezvoused with Cecylia and boarded a train for Warsaw. Marcus met his first test the next morning when a Polish policeman recognized the group as Jews and tried to arrest them. With some fast talking and a hefty bribe, Marcus was able to buy their freedom. Posing as Catholics, the group found a sympathetic Polish woman who agreed to rent them a small room. Although they grew very close to her and her family, Marcus was constantly fearful of discovery and arrest.
In August 1944, the residents of Warsaw rose up and tried to liberate the city. German troops crushed the rebellion and, in retaliation, sent thousands of Poles to concentration camps in Germany. Marcus—still posing as a Catholic—was caught in the net, together with Theresa, Cecylia and the teenage son of his landlady. He stayed in the concentration camp of Sachsenhausen, near Berlin, for the next six months. “The only weapon I had was my language. I could talk,” he said, explaining how he bluffed his way into an influential position in the camp administration. In February 1945, Marcus was transported to a labor camp near Berlin. Posing as an officer in the Polish Army, he asked the camp commandant what had happened to his wife and the wives of his fellow prisoners. The commandant granted Marcus permission to write to the concentration camp of Ravensbrück and he was rewarded with a return letter from Theresa. She told him that she and the other men’s wives were safe. After liberation, Marcus learned that Cecylia had also survived. His parents, however, had perished.
The Leuchters came to the United States in September 1946 with $8 to their names. Within a year, Marcus began a career in fundraising working first for the United Jewish Appeal and later for Israel Bonds. In 1959, Marcus asked to be transferred to Houston where he proved himself an able, innovative and successful fundraiser. He and Theresa had two children—Linda, a successful attorney, and Andrew, a well-known psychiatrist. Theresa died on November 2, 1992.
Marcus, a HAM radio enthusiast, remained active in retirement, volunteering for the Air Force and working with Holocaust Museum Houston. In January 2004, he received the Amicus Poloniae Award from the Polish Ambassador to the United States in recognition of his role in saving the lives of several hundred Polish prisoners in Sachsenhausen, and for his continuing efforts to promote Polish-Jewish dialogue.
Mortek Aschheim, d. Tuchów ghetto or Bełżec, 1942
Feiga Leuchter, d. Bełżec, 1942
Sophie Theresa Tisch, survived