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Jacob David Niskier

Source: Star of David at Southern Cross, Blajberg Israel, 2015


Jacob David Niskier was born  in Ostroweic on June 8, 1901, son of Dov and Rivka Niskier.

The Niskier family was large and well-situated in Ostrowiec. Many were saved from the Holocaust, emigrating to different parts of the world, where they could get a rescue visa, such as Toronto, Canada, the United States, Israel and Brazil.

Jacob, like many first-generation native Brazilians at the time, had a poor childhood and youth. He overcame his difficult childhood to eventually become a commander of the Brazilian Merchant Navy. His tasks would take him back to Poland, this time to bring new ships that Brazil had ordered from Poland , exchanging them for good Brazilian coffee. On this occasion, Jacob had the opportunity to visit Ostrowiec. The homes and properties of his parents and family, from where they were taken by the Nazis to the Treblinka Concentration Camp in 1942/43, were still there. Very few family members were saved, and when they tried to return, they were denied access to the old properties, already occupied by invaders.

On May 14, 1948, a few hours after the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel, Jacob had a remarkable experience.  On the high seas, he spotted a ship already bearing the insignia of the nascent State of Israel, which prompted the opportunity to send a naval salute, the first officially received by an Israeli ship. It was the first demonstration in international waters linked to the Independence of the State of Israel.

Jacob served on several ships that sailed in coastal and international waters subject to attack by Nazi submarines. Brazil was the 15th country in the world in terms of tonnage of ships sunk by the Nazi-Fascist Axis. Hundreds of innocent Brazilians were victimized. Even as a neutral country, Brazilian ships were sunk, which led President Getúlio Vargas to declare war on the Axis in August 1942.  Therefore, having sailed extensively in the War Zone, Jacob was exposed to the same dangers, and the law recognized him as a former combatant for having been a crew member of a merchant ship that participated in a transport convoy.

Jacob was awarded the 3 Star War Service Medal by the President of the Republic. As stated in the diploma, signed on June 25, 1948 by the Minister of the Navy, Admiral Sylvio de Noronha, “For the services rendered during World War II alongside the United Nations against the Axis countries, on board national or foreign merchant ships, employed in ensuring the supply and transport of strategic necessary materials winning the Victory.”

Like every old seaman, Jacob had many stories to tell, such as rescuing Hindu castaways off the northeastern coast, rescuing supporters from European ports, even running the risk of arrest by the Gestapo.  Jacob was a Freemason at the North Lion Lodge, to which many officers of the Brazilian and Merchant navies were affiliated. Fortunately, he was warned in time by members of the local Freemasonry not to disembark, otherwise he would have been sent to a concentration camp.

Jacob, dedicated Brazilian Sailor of Jewish faith, left us in 1973 at the age of 72.