Rabbi Samuel Blinder was born in Poland on December 14, 1912 to parents Alice and Jacob. In 1921 they made the journey to the United States settling in Brooklyn, NY. Blinder attended the City College of New York, where he received his Bachelors in Social Science, and Yeshiva Isaac Elchanan, where he became a Rabbi. Before the onset of the war he spent time with congregations in Georgia, New Jersey, and Philadelphia before enlisting as an army chaplain in 1943. Speaking English, Yiddish, and Hebrew, and having attended Harvard Divinity School as part of his training, he was sent to Camp Pickett, VA, as Assistant to the Post Chaplain. After being promoted to Captain, he entered foreign service, first being posted to France, then Holland and finally Germany.
One of Chaplain Blinder’s most well-known accomplishments during the war was the rededication of the Bad Nauheim Synagogue in Germany. Originally designed by the modernist architect Richard Kaufman, it was heavily damaged during Kristallnacht, and almost the entire Jewish population of the town were sent to extermination camps. The city of Bad Nauheim was captured by the US Army on 29th March 1945. On inspecting the Synagogue, it was found as “...a storage pit of iron, hemp rope, steel rope, and other heavy material. The walls were covered with fecal matter, the windows were broken, the floors damaged and torn up. There were no pews left at all, the Almemor [bima] and pulpit were destroyed.” Under the instruction of Chaplain Blinder, the building was cleaned out by former Nazi party members, and by 27th April it was ready to hold its first divine service in years. Within two months close to one thousand Jews were living in Bad Nauheim, a mixture of American soldier and concentration camp survivors.
One of the most famous photos from the war is of Chaplain Blinder. He is shown perching in a small indoor space, intently looking at a Sifrah Torah. What is not shown is the large pile of torahs and other Herbaica all around him. The building where this was found was Dr Rosenberg’s Race Institute in Berlin. He also discovered another large collection of stolen Jewish material – in the medieval castle of Schloss Friedrichstein near Kassel. He found one incomplete set of the Jewish Encyclopedia, one concordance and 2 volumes of a photostatic copy of Talmud Babylonicum by Herman L. Strack, and many other Hebrew and German books, records and Sifra Torahs. It was with one of these Torahs that he rededicated the Synagogue of Bad Nauheim on 24th June 1945. He wrote, “Not only have the Jewish people been devastated, but their institutions as well. Schools, hospitals, libraries, synagogues. Of the latter, very few remain in Germany. Most of them have been burned, razed to the ground, and the few that remained were used by the Nazis for warehouses, shops, or as a dumping place for all kinds of junk. Because of this fact we are particularly happy, to celebrate today the dedication of the restored synagogue in Bad Nauheim. Though none of the Jewish community remain, it will serve as a house of worship for American soldiers of Jewish faith. And if ever a Jewish community returns to life here, then they will have this synagogue for their use.”
Synagogues in Angnrod, Korschenbroich, Bad Wildungen, and Mannheim were all rebuilt and rededicated by Chaplain Blinder. There and on the road he held services for the survivors of Langenstein, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz, Dachau, Theresienstadt, and others – “The work we Chaplains did in helping the liberated Jews in Concentration Camps. Our physical and spiritual aid boosted their morale and helped them get on their feet to await the arrival of the Jewish Agencies.”
Chaplain Blinder ended his foreign service in April 1946 and left the army as a Major. He received a Bronze Star for his service in Germany, most likely from the Corps of Chaplains, as well as three battle stars and a commendation ribbon. He also promptly joined the Officer Reserve Corps. By 1949 he was married with children and had moved to Albany, New York, where he would remain a Rabbi until his death in 1973. While at the Beth Abraham-Jacob Synangogue, for the rest of his life he continued to help reunite families of concentration camp survivors.