HAYWARD — The night after her father was killed by Nazis in the fall of 1943, a wolf visited Maria Weinstein.
Death squads had massacred nearly her entire village a year earlier, sending what was left of her family into hiding in the woods. There were too many close calls to count: Every day, they faced the threat of capture and execution.
Then it happened. Someone must have seen them, and someone must have talked. The Nazis found their campsite. Poppa was shot dead, but Maria and her little sister got away.
Sitting in her living room at a Hayward retirement community this week, Weinstein mimicked the wild canine sniffing about her face.
"It was gray, with pointy ears and a long tail," said the 79-year-old, her Russian translated by grandson David Taube.
"If I was an artist, I could draw you a picture. "... I was not afraid; I felt as if I was with God. And the wolf left. But I took that as a sign that I should leave the area, that it was not safe there."
Weinstein lived through the Holocaust and the Soviet persecution of Jews, keeping her faith and inspiring family members with her courage and capacity for forgiveness.
"With God in my heart, I can forgive," she said. "It's not difficult. I know at the end there will be the judgment — God's judgment. It's not my role to judge."
Until she was 10, Weinstein lived in a small village on the border of Poland and Russia — so close that school
When the Nazis came in 1941, Jews were removed from their villages and crammed into ghettos in the Polish city of Luboml, four or five families per home. Barbed wire fences rose, and riflemen and dogs kept watch to make sure nobody left. Circular yellow patches adorned their clothing, matching the markings painted on their doors.
Then came the genocide.
There was Babi Yar, a ravine near the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. More than 33,700 men, women and children were machine-gunned and dumped in the canyon on Sept. 29 and 30, 1941.
"We had heard about the killings in Kiev, but were told that they were not going to do the same thing to our village," Weinstein said. "People believed. "... They wanted to believe."
About a year later, the killers came to Luboml.
She lost her mother and older brother, who stayed behind after disguising Weinstein and her sister in Ukrainian dress and sending them out of the city. Her father escaped the initial massacre and provided for his daughters until he was shot in the woods.
All seemed lost. How could an 11-year-old girl and her 8-year-old sister survive with no one to help?
A Christian family took them in, at no small risk — there was a mandatory death sentence for those offering aid to fugitive Jews.
Weinstein, accustomed to nothing but fear and hostility from villagers, was incredulous that this family of another religion would help the two little Jewish girls when so much was at stake.
She said her adoptive family never proselytized, but she eventually became a Messianic Jew.
"My faith did not change," stressed Weinstein. "It has been the same since childhood. I'm very happy I made the decision on my own, to accept Jesus, but it was never forced. That's very important."
After the war, the horrors gave way to hardships.
Weinstein's husband died young, leaving her to raise four children on her own at age 27.
"Although she spent every minute of her life working, cooking, sewing clothes for her children, she always hummed a sweet tune, telling her children that with God, all things are possible," said her granddaughter, Elena Taube.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the family moved to the United States. Weinstein has lived in a tidy apartment at the Wittenberg Manor community near Hesperian Boulevard for 15 years.
She's a gracious and friendly host. Enough about her, she says. What about you? What's your story? Would you like to sit down for some tea and something to eat? Come back anytime!
"She's an inspiration," said grandson Taube, 22. "If someone can live through losing her family, and not just go on but still smile and have such faith, that's something I want to have as part of my life."
On Saturdays, Senior Journal spotlights remarkable local seniors, issues that are important to them, organizations that are there to help or activities they enjoy. If you know of an interesting local senior, important issue or effective organization, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; call 510-293-2482; write us at 22533 Foothill Blvd., Hayward, CA 94541; or send a fax to 510-293-2490.