One day in 1937, 15 year old Zoly Zamir came home from his school in Bucharest, Romania, and announced to his astonished family that he had been told not to return because he was a Jew. Romania formally allied with Nazi Germany in November 1940, but well before then the government was already harshly persecuting the country’s Jews, restricting their business, civic, and educational opportunities. His education abruptly cut short, Zoly found a job in Bucharest’s Grand Hotel Lafayette, an elegant establishment that catered to an international clientele. The friendships and contacts he made there were to prove fortunate. For the next several years, as the fascist Iron Guard consolidated power in Romania and launched a campaign or terror against the Jews, Zoly remained relatively safe. His adventures at the hotel bear all the trappings of a spy novel: clandestine meetings, false identities, intrigue, and bribery. When Zoly learned that a group of young Romanian Jews was headed for Palestine under the auspices of the Youth Aliyah, a movement founded to rescue the Jewish children from Europe, he used his hotel contacts to secure the necessary paperwork and join them.
Arriving in Palestine in the spring of 1941, he apprenticed himself as a diamond polisher, eventually establishing a small business of his own. Zoly married Shoshana (Berti) Kempinski in 1944 and their daughter, Yelena was born two years later. On May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was established. In the War of Independence that followed, thousands of Holocaust survivors, including Zoly and his brother David, distinguished themselves in combat. Soon after arriving in Palestine in 1941, Zoly had joined the Haganah (the underground military organization of the Jewish Settlers in Palestine) so he was well-prepared for the battle. “I started the war in Tel Aviv and I finished it in Eilat. I went through Rehovot, to Gedera, to Be’er Sheva, all the way down to Eilat,” proudly recalls Zoly, who served as a staff sergeant with the military police.
Discharged in 1949, Zoly rejoined his family, which soon grew to include daughter Varda. He became the concierge of prestigious King David Hotel and later joined his stepfather in the restaurant business. In 1962 Zoly and his family moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where he worked as a salesman for a synthetic rubber company. After nearly two decades on the road, he was ready for a change. He and Shoshana moved to Houston in 1982, opening a series of delicatessens. They retired in 1990 but Zoly remains active as member of Congregation Beth Yeshurun and a volunteer at Seven Acres Geriatric Center and Holocaust Museum Houston. He is very proud of his two daughters, five grandchildren, and two great granddaughters. “I’m just a very lucky old man,” he reflects with a smile.