The Best Present

The Fellowship  |  June 20, 2018

Black and white image of three people sitting together.
The Best Present

Martin Uher

A famous Czech soccer player, Martin Uher was well-known because of his athletic career and as a partner in a Bratislava textile shop. Uher had many Jewish friends, including a young woman named Elizabet Fleischer, who lived with her parents Karol and Regina and brother Palo. When the Nazis began to deport Czech girls and young women in 1942, Martin offered Elizabet a hiding place at his relatives’ home in a village outside of the city. Elizabet hid there until the deportations were over before returning to her family’s home. Because of this, the Uher and Fleischer families became even closer friends.

The next year, Elizabet’s father Karol was unable to renew his work permit. The entire family was in danger of being deported to a Nazi camp, so Martin smuggled them all into Hungary.

But in 1944, the Nazis’ murderous rampage extended to Hungarian Jews, once again endangering the Fleischers. Palo was captured and sent to a concentration camp. But Martin was able to smuggle Elizabet and her parents out of Hungary and back to Slovakia. But again, the Nazis returned and renewed their persecution of Slovakian Jewry. Martin once again sheltered Elizabet at his relatives’ house, while hiding her parents in his shop’s storage room.

The Fleischers weren’t the only Jews Martin was helping. He hid many other Jewish friends along with the Fleischer family, and took care of all of their needs. One of them, Imrich Rosenberg-Hajny, worked in Martin’s shop and slept in his apartment. But in the final months of the war, the Gestapo caught Imrich and sent him to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where he would ultimately survive.

The Gestapo began to suspect that Martin was helping Jews, so he found a new hiding place for them. But as happened all too often, the hidden Jews were betrayed and captured, all of them being taken to Theresienstadt.

All four members of the Fleischer family survived the Holocaust, however, and were reunited at the end of the war. Martin and Elizabet also married after the war, having a son together.

In 1990, Martin Uher turned 85 years old. That same year, he was honored for the lives he had saved by Yad Vashem, which named him Righteous Among the Nations. Unable to make it to the ceremony – he would die the following year – Martin wrote a letter of gratitude to Yad Vashem, telling them that being named a Righteous Gentile was the best present he could ever receive.