In his 90s, Holocaust survivor Max Temkin would climb the stairs at the historic Mills Pond House in Smithtown to sit beside his daughter in the room where she took weekly pastel classes.
"He was always attending classes with me and coaching me," said his daughter, Marilyn Temkin. "He always thought I never got the light reflection on my vases accurately enough."
He was a visual person with a background in darkroom photography, she said.
Max Temkin had moved from Douglaston, Queens, to live with his daughter in Setauket in March 2018 and shared habits punctuated their weeks: Monday pizza lunches, Wednesday two-for-one sundaes at Carvel.
Together, the pair visited his wife, Sara Temkin, Marilyn's mother, at the nursing home where she lived. On March 26, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Max and Marilyn pulled two chairs up to Sara’s window to sit across from her for a few hours. The following day, while headed into Manhattan to celebrate his birthday with family, Max Temkin suffered a stroke. He died nearly two months later, on May 22. He was 99.
Born in Lodz, Poland, in 1922, Max Temkin grew up with his mother, Paula; father, Jacob; brothers Chaim and Ephraim; and sister, Lisa. But the family was separated in September 1939, when the Nazis invaded Poland.
At age 17, Max Temkin had seen his family for the last time. They were killed in the concentration camps. Temkin survived and, for the rest of his life, had the numbers "142538" on his left arm. He never had the numbers removed, his daughter said, because he believed they made a statement.
"He persevered, and he survived," she said.
In 1940, Temkin was transported by cattle car to Auschwitz. In January 1945, when the Nazis forced those in Auschwitz to march to other concentration camps, he was sent to Buchenwald.
There, he cleaned bunkers where there were bodies of German soldiers from previous bombardments by English forces, according to his daughter.
Buchenwald was liberated in April 1945. Hours after liberation, Marilyn Temkin said, Life magazine photographer Margaret Bourke-White captured a shot of Max Temkin among a group of prisoners behind barbed wire.
At a displaced persons’ camp near Frankfurt, Germany, Temkin met Sara Braun who also had lost her family in the Holocaust. They were married in the Bronx in 1948, joined by their foster families and American soldiers who had liberated Max Temkin from Buchenwald, their daughter said.
Max Temkin would go on to become a photoengraver at Intaglio Corporation of New York and eventually prepare advertisements that appeared in Parade magazine. He also was an EMT and dispatcher serving the Little Neck and Douglaston neighborhoods in Queens. After retirement, he and Sara Temkin would spend much of their time speaking to middle and high school students on Long Island about the Holocaust.
"He really experienced a lot of hardship in his life, and I know that it was his mission in life to keep the story alive," Marilyn Temkin said.
In 1992, Max Temkin took part in an effort to bring soil from Nazi concentration camps back to the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. He was one of two people asked to retrieve soil from Buchenwald.
Throughout the 2000s, Max and Sara Temkin shared their stories with students at such schools as Ward Melville High School and Paul J. Gelinas Junior High School, where their granddaughters studied, and Islip Middle School. When he spoke, Temkin would tell students to "live in the present, but never forget the past," his daughter said. He warned students against harboring hate and told them he held no grudges.
Temkin was upbeat and positive, despite all he had been through, said his granddaughters, Stephanie and Ilana Pollack, now in their 30s.
"He by every definition was a survivor," Stephanie Pollack said. "He wanted nothing more than to live life and to live it to the fullest, and I think he felt like he took advantage of that here, coming to this country."
In addition to his wife, daughter and two granddaughters, Temkin is survived by his son, Jay Temkin; and cousins Yoram Tiomkin, Adina Tiomkin and Chaim Tiomkin and their families in Israel and California.