After escaping Nazis, Bayside man delivers on a promise

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For more than 60 years, Bayside’s David Yager has striven to uphold a vow he made after being freed, at age 17, from a place of unimaginable horror.

Yager, born in 1924 in Romania, was thrown by the Nazis into a labor camp at age 13. His eldest brother, Samuel, died in Serbia and his middle brother, Allen, was killed in Ukraine by a dynamite explosion during World War II, while his parents, two sisters and several nephews were taken to the Auschwitz concentration camp and never seen again.

After being liberated from the Buchenwald camp and sent to recover at a Paris hospital, where he weighed in at a meager 62 pounds, Yager swore to help others during the course of his lifetime.

“I promised myself after the war that I’d help anyone I could if they deserved it,” he said. “I want to see everyone saying ‘hello’ to one another and not fighting. God created us all in the same image.”

For the past 45 years, Yager has been a mainstay at the Bayside Jewish Center, at 203-05 32nd Ave., and become president of the synagogue’s Men’s Club. In late June, the center honored Yager for his years of work at the house of worship.

Yager moved to the United States in 1947 and began working in men’s clothing production while attending high school classes in the evening. Five years later, he met his wife of 54 years, Ruth, and they eventually moved to Bayside from Borough Park, Brooklyn. Their eldest son, Bill, is now a computer teacher in Florida; their middle son, Steven, is a Bayside doctor; and their youngest, Lee, is a teacher in Israel.

At the synagogue, Yager’s duties for years have included cooking a free early morning Sunday breakfast for the center’s attendees. He also sets up annual services for people who have no place to go during the Jewish holidays, putting together a carnival in the synagogue’s parking lot and planning a variety of activities for the center.

In the 1960s, he and other Bayside Jewish Center leaders led a fight against anti-Semitism in the community.

“On Halloween, we came outside and saw a huge swastika on the synagogue,” he said. “It brought back memories.”

A group of neighborhood youths also attempted to trash the center with eggs, but Yager and a group of synagogue members protected the site. In a dedication written for last month’s honoring of Yager, center member Karl Wunder wrote he “is the heart and soul of the center.”

In 2006, one of Yager’s three sons unsuccessfully attempted to convince his father to move into his Florida home.

“After my wife passed away, my sons said for me to come live with them,” Yager said. “But I said, ‘No, I’m staying in Queens. It’s my home.’ I get up every morning, kiss the ground and thank God that I’m here.”

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e-mail at nduke@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

Updated 6:34 pm, October 10, 2011
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