Norman Salsitz (born Naftali Saleschütz) is the son of Isak and Esther (Berl) Saleschütz. He was born in 1920 in Zabrze, Poland, but grew up in Kolbuszowa, where his father owned a wholesale grocery business. His father was a devout hasid. Naftali was the youngest of nine children: Avrum (b. 1901), who immigrated to the United States in 1919; Bluma Gela b. 1903); Leibush (b. 1904); Malcia (b. 1907); Liba (b. 1908); Matla (b. 1911); David (b. 1913), who immigrated to Palestine in 1933; and Rachel (b. 1917). Though he was given a traditional Jewish upbringing that included cheder, afternoon Talmud Torah and yeshiva study, Naftali sought to break out of the confines of his orthodox milieu. After spending two terms at a yeshiva in Tarnow, he returned home to work in his father's business. At this time he started to wear more modern clothing and trim his sidelocks. As a young teenager Naftali fell in love with a local girl named Rozia Susskind. Together they became involved in the Hanoar Hatzioni Zionist youth movement. By the age of nineteen Naftali had firm plans to marry Rozia and immigrate to Palestine. The war brought an abrupt end to these plans.
During the first weeks of the German occupation, Naftali was pressed into forced labor for the German army, burying horses, clearing debris and collecting unexploded shells. Soon he was forced to flee to the Russian zone, when a Jewish collaborator, whom he had angered, denounced him to the police as a dangerous communist. Naftali lived in relative tranquility in Lvov for three months until receiving a message from his girlfriend Rozia telling him that she would not be able to leave her ailing mother in Kolbuszowa. Though he knew it was unwise, he returned home to Kolbuszowa in December to be with her. In the fall of that year Naftali was sent to the Pustkow labor camp, where he worked felling trees. The sadistic behavior of the commandant gave him no choice but to risk escape after the first few weeks. After returning to Kolbuszowa Naftali volunteered to work in the free medical clinic set up by Judenrat chairman, Dr. Leon Anderman. Early in 1941 the Saleschütz' were among the several hundred Jews who were forcibly relocated to the nearby Rzeszow ghetto. Naftali escaped during the action and hid out at Rozia's house. He subsequently sneaked back into his family's home and removed all their valuables. In the newly evacuated section of Kolbuszowa near the market square, the Germans now established a formal ghetto and forced all other Jews to relocate there within 48 hours. After paying a substantial bribe, Naftali's family was allowed to return to Kolbuszowa. The entire extended family squeezed into two small apartments down the street from one another. The day after the ghetto was established the Judenrat chairman was arrested (and later deported to Auschwitz). Naftali inherited his medical supplies and became an official member of the ghetto's Gesundheitsdienst [health service]. He was also put in charge of purchasing supplies for the ghetto. During his many excursions to locate needed supplies, he would often remove his armband for periods of time. Because of his Slavic appearance and fluent Polish, Naftali could pass as a non-Jew. He took care to cultivate relationships with peasants throughout the region and to deposit portions of his family's money and valuables with many of them against a time when he might need their assistance. Early in 1942 Naftali developed a life-threatening middle ear infection. His family managed to secure a travel permit for him to go to the Jewish hospital in Krakow. On the way he and his sister were kicked off the train in Tarnow by zealous Poles, who refused to ride with Jews. Fortunately, Naftali was able to receive immediate medical treatment at the Jewish hospital in Tarnow. Soon after his return to Kolbuszowa in April 1942 Naftali's father was murdered during an action in the ghetto. From his hiding place Naftali witnessed his father's capture and heard the shots that killed him. On June 25, 1942 the ghetto was liquidated and its residents transferred to Rzeszow. The following day, Naftali and his brother Leibush were selected as part of a group of 100 Jews who were to return to Kolbuszowa to dismantle the ghetto. This group was housed in the synagogue compound, which became known as the Kolbuszowa labor camp. While they cleared out the homes and took down the buildings, their families in Rzeszow were subjected to a series of five actions beginning on July 7 and ending August 12, 1942. Several thousand Jews were taken to a forest near the village of Ruda and shot, while the rest were shipped to the Belzec death camp. Naftali's three married sisters and their families, as well as his girlfriend, Rozia Susskind, were taken in the first transport; his mother, remaining sisters and Leibush's family were taken in the fourth transport. None of them survived. On November 18, 1942 Naftali and Leibush escaped from the Kolbuszowa labor camp. After hiding out in the homes of sympathetic Poles for a short time, they joined a group of country Jews that were living in the nearby forest. For the next year and a half, they lived a very tenuous existence under constant threat from Germans and Poles alike. For a time in the spring of 1944, Naftali assumed the identity of a Polish Catholic and joined a unit of the AK [Polish underground army]. In this capacity he was able to participate in a number of raids on German positions. When an old acquaintance seemed to recognize him Naftali fled back to his group in the forest. After their area was liberated by the Soviet army in the summer of 1944, Naftali and Leibush returned to Rzeszow. There they learned about the murder of returning Jewish survivors by Poles in Kolbuszowa and other communities. Knowing he could pass as a non-Jew, Naftali decided to join the new Polish army, where he would have the opportunity to fight the Germans and, at the same time, escape Polish hostility toward the Jews. Adopting the name Tadeusz Zaleski, he threw himself into his work for the army and quickly rose through the ranks. In December 1944 he was selected for a special mission to Krakow, then still under German occupation, where the Poles hoped to establish an official presence in advance of its liberation by the Soviet army. In the final weeks of the fighting the Poles received information from Russian intelligence that the Germans had planted explosives in a series of hollow columns erected around the city and were planning to detonate them upon their final withdrawal. Naftali's group was instructed to neutralize these columns. As it turned out, the person who held the blueprints for these columns was Amalie Petranker, a Jewish woman who was living as a Volksdeutsche [ethnic German] in Krakow under the name of Felicja Milaszenski, and working for the Austrian M & K construction firm. When her bosses evacuated the city they left her in charge of the company and in possession of the blueprints for the columns. Naftali was led to Amalie by a group of Polish women who had worked as maids in nearby German administrative offices. When Amalie learned who Naftali was, she handed over the blueprints. The two then began a courtship that resulted in their marriage at the end of 1945. Naftali continued to live under his assumed Polish identity. He used his considerable authority in the new Polish army to bring relief to Jewish survivors and to smuggle them out of Poland. He also assisted the work of the international commission headed by Hewlett Johnson, Dean of Canterbury, that was engaged in investigating German war crimes. In this capacity, Naftali visited most of the concentration camps in Poland. In 1946 Naftali and Amalie fled to Germany, where they remained until receiving visas to immigrate to the United States in 1947.
Naftali owned a camera and photographed extensively both before and during the war. He hid his photographs in numerous barns and recovered them after the liberation.
[Source: Hearth, Amy Hill and Norman & Amalie Petranker Salsitz. In a World Gone Mad: A Heroic Story of Love, Faith and Survival, Abingdon Press, Nashville, TN, 2001]