First Holocaust Survivor Climbs Mount Kilimanjaro at Age 83
Holocaust survivor Nat Shaffir Kilimanjaro

Nat Shaffir, a Holocaust survivor and the first to successfully climb Mount Kilimanjaro was physically exhausted but overjoyed after reaching the summit. His father’s words, “Never give up,” have been a constant source of motivation for him throughout his life. Shaffir’s family’s dairy farm in Romania was confiscated by the military when he was just five years old, and they were forced to relocate to the Jewish ghetto in Iasi. There, Shaffir lived in poverty with his two sisters and parents, who were given manual labour jobs and forbidden from attending school.

Shaffir’s father’s words, “Never give up,” have kept him going for his entire life. Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, standing 19,340 feet above sea level, requires physical fitness and determination due to its extreme altitude. He kept a slow but steady pace on the mountain, encountering adversity on some parts of the terrain and struggled to eat due to altitude sickness.

Shaffir climbed Kilimanjaro to inspire others to challenge themselves and conquer their own metaphorical mountains. He has a message for those experiencing hardship, difficulties, atrocities, and hate: “To people who are experiencing hardship, difficulties, atrocities, and hate – never give up.”

Shaffir moved to the United States in 1961 and has five children and 12 grandchildren, all named after family members lost during the Holocaust.

His Early Years

In 1942, at the tender age of five, a priest arrived at Shaffir’s family-owned dairy farm in Romania. Shaffir was acquainted with the priest, as he would pay regular visits to solicit donations. However, this particular visit was different. The priest was accompanied by a police officer and two soldiers, which seemed rather unusual. The priest, familiar with Shaffir’s family, directed the officer’s attention towards them, remarking, “These are Jews.” Without warning, the military seized control of the farm, confiscating both the land and the cattle that the family relied on for their livelihood. Consequently, the family was forced to uproot their lives and relocate to the Jewish ghetto in Iasi. Faced with dire circumstances, Shaffir and his family were compelled to endure a life plagued by poverty. They were crammed into a cramped room, where Shaffir, his two sisters, and their parents struggled to make ends meet. Sadly, attending school became an impossibility for Shaffir and his sisters, as they were prohibited from receiving an education. As if their hardships were not enough, Shaffir’s father was abruptly taken away, dispatched to a remote labor camp. Left behind, the responsibility of caring for the rest of the family now fell solely on young Shaffir’s shoulders. Before his departure, his father offered him words of encouragement and strength, recognizing the tumultuous path their lives were set to take. Bravely, his father urged him, “Never give up.” Those profound three words resonated deeply within Shaffir’s heart, becoming a steadfast guiding principle throughout his entire existence.

Climbing Kilimanjaro

Mount Kilimanjaro, towering at an impressive elevation of 19,340 feet above sea level, presents a challenging feat to conquer. Despite not necessitating any specialized skills or equipment, the staggering altitude of the peak makes it an arduous endeavor. Conquering the summit requires both physical fitness and unwavering determination. While ascending the mountain, Shaffir maintained a deliberate and unwavering pace. He encountered obstacles along certain parts of the terrain, coupled with a loss of appetite that persisted throughout the entire hike, a common symptom of altitude sickness. Reflecting upon his age, Shaffir acknowledged the toughness of climbing Kilimanjaro, but he remained motivated by his father’s words of never giving up. With unwavering resilience, Shaffir held onto the belief that he would reach the pinnacle of the mountain. Climbing Kilimanjaro is no small feat for anyone, and for an 83-year-old individual, it is truly remarkable.

Inspiring Others

Shaffir undertook the challenging ascent of Kilimanjaro with the intention of motivating others to conquer their own personal obstacles. His aim was to inspire those facing difficult times, including hardship, adversity, and acts of hatred, to never lose hope. A photograph of Nat Shaffir standing on the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro accompanies this message. Shaffir’s family suffered greatly during World War II, with 32 relatives losing their lives in Nazi concentration camps. In 1961, Shaffir immigrated to the United States, where he and his wife raised their five children and now have 12 grandchildren. Each of their descendants bears the name of a family member lost during the Holocaust, serving as a solemn tribute to their memory.

About Nat Shaffir

Anton and Fany Spitzer had a son named Nathan Spitzer, who is now known as Nat Shaffir. He was born on December 26, 1936, in Iasi, Romania. At the end of 1931, Anton, his new wife, and his two brothers all moved from Transylvania to Bucium, a village close to Iasi. The family had a big dairy farm that gave the Romanian army milk and cheese. The Spitzers’ farm did well and had a lot of horses. Nat and his two sisters, Sara and Lili, were raised by Fany, who ran the home.

One day in November 1942, Romanian officials went to the farm with a priest, who told them that the family was Jewish. The Spitzers’ farm and all of their horses were taken away. There were only four hours for the family to pack up, and they could only bring one horse and one wagon. They moved into an area of Iasi called Socola. The government told Nat and his sisters they could no longer go to public school.

In June 1943, Nat’s father and other healthy men from Iasi were taken by the Romanian military and put to work laying new railroad tracks. In August 1944, the Soviet Army took over Iasi. However, Anton would not be freed and able to return until the spring of 1945. Most of Spitzer’s extended family had been killed by that point. They had stayed in Transylvania when Hungary took it over. Fany’s father and ten of her brothers were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau and Buchenwald concentration camps by Hungarian police who worked with the Germans. (Her mother had died giving birth years before.) Later, her dad died of hunger in a work camp where he was being made to work. Moshe and Lazar Wax were the only two of Fany’s brothers who made it to their freedom. Soon after, Moshe died while on a ship going to a hospital in Sweden. Lazar later moved to the United States.

Following the Communist takeover, the Spitzer children were made fun of by their non-Jewish friends and were not allowed to join Communist student groups. Anton could see that his family would have a dangerous future under Soviet rule if racism and discrimination kept up. Anton and Fany chose to leave Romania for Palestine in 1947, but each time they tried to get an exit permit, it was turned down. In the end, Anton paid off local officials to get into Israel. It was March 1950 when the Spitzer family left Romania on a cargo ship called the Transylvania. They got to Haifa just before Passover.

Nat was in the Israeli army for three years while he was there. He went to the United States in 1961 and opened his own business in 1969. It was in 1970 that he married Merryl Rich of Atlanta, Georgia. There are five children and twelve grandkids living with them in Maryland. Nat works as a volunteer at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.


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