Edmund Mayer, an opera-loving, storytelling physics professor who rescued his mother and sister from the Nazis, died Thursday at a hospice near his Melville home. He was 82.
Born in Przemysl, Poland, Mayer and his family fled to Hungary in 1939 after the Nazis invaded, according to his son, Larry Mayer of Cambridge, Mass.
In 1944, as the Nazis intensified their efforts to exterminate Jews in Hungary, the Jewish family thought they were safe in a camp filled with Polish refugees. But fellow Poles betrayed them, the son said.
Mayer's father, Jacob, a Polish army veteran, was sent to a prisoner of war camp, but Edmund, his mother Minna and sister Cecile were taken to the Lichtenworth concentration camp in Austria.
While there, Mayer's mother persuaded a female guard to select Edmund, who was suffering from an ear infection, as the one patient that week permitted to visit the village hospital.
The young teenager extended his stay by pretending he had a fever -- until the Red Army bombed the hospital. Instead of walking to freedom, he asked an SS guard how to get to the camp. He returned to find his mother and sister desperately ill, Larry Mayer said.
The war ended a short time later and, faced with a camp quarantine, Mayer stole a horse and buggy to get his mother and sister out. Reunited with Jacob, the family came to the United States in 1949.
Edmund Mayer supported his family while earning engineering degrees from CUNY and Columbia University and a doctorate in education from New York University, his son said.
As an industrial engineer, Mayer helped design ground-support equipment for Apollo's Lunar Excursion Module, his family said. He then joined the faculty at Farmingdale State College, where he taught physics for more than 30 years. He retired in 1999.
Mayer often jested that he loved any opera by a composer whose last name ended in "i." He was a devoted grandfather, never missing his grandsons' soccer and hockey games.
His wife of 58 years, Lidia, was a fellow Polish Holocaust survivor, his son said.
Despite growing up a victim of the Nazis, Mayer never descended into bitterness. "Education, especially among young people, is far more important than punishment," he once told the Farmingdale college paper.
Besides his wife and son, survivors include a daughter, Michelle of Melville; a sister, Cecile Gertel of Manhattan; and four grandchildren. A funeral service will be held Sunday at noon at Gutterman's Funeral Home in Woodbury. Burial will be at Mount Moriah Cemetery in Fairview, N.J.