While on a forced march under Nazi troops during the waning months of World War II, Murray Brandys was caught trying to grab what looked like food on the ground.
SS officers took Brandys to the "Death Commando." Facing likely execution, he began to sing. It saved his life.
"I sang for maybe two minutes," he wrote in his memoirs. "I don't know what song I sang, something in Yiddish, maybe a folk song. But it was the solo of my life."
The power of song turned out to be a resonating influence in Brandys' life. After the war, the Polish-born Holocaust survivor settled in the Twin Cities, raised a family and lived to the age of 86. He died of pneumonia and other illnesses Sept. 22.
The youngest of seven children, Brandys grew up in the industrial town of Sosnowiec, Poland.
He had dreams of one day becoming a cantor or conductor, but in September 1939, before he began high school, the Germans invaded Poland. He would eventually be shipped off to a forced-labor camp with other Jewish men.
In his 2002 autobiography, "My Name Was No. 133909 ... and I Sang," Brandys described the gruesome details of life during his years in forced-labor and concentration camps.
In May 1945, he was liberated by American troops, but he had lost his parents and four siblings. After spending time at camps for displaced persons, he was sent to New York along with other orphans of the war, and eventually was placed in a foster home in Minneapolis.
Brandys got his high school diploma and attended the University of Minnesota. Then he took a job as an assistant buyer at a children's clothing manufacturer. Brandys would later work in production for several companies, including Fairyland Toy Co. and Twin City Sign.
In 1954, Brandys married a woman he met at the synagogue where he sang. Murray and Marlene Brandys moved to St. Louis Park, where they raised two children. A few years ago, they moved to Minnetonka.
His daughter, Cheryl Hirsch, said that during her childhood, her father never mentioned his experiences in the Holocaust.
"It really wasn't until he published this book that we learned anything," she said. "If his story was not to be forgotten, he knew he had to tell it. That's how the book came to be."
Through the book, Brandys became involved with the University of Minnesota's Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. He visited schools and churches around the Twin Cities sharing his experiences, Hirsch said.
"Probably the last 10 years or so he's had a really active retirement because of telling his story and having his book published," his daughter said.
Singing was the most important activity to him outside of his family, she said. Brandys sang in his synagogue's choir for more than 60 years.
Two days before Brandys died, the choir came to his hospital and performed for him, Hirsch said. Although speaking was difficult at that point, he mustered the strength to sing his solo.
"It was incredible," Hirsch said.
Brandys' wife of 57 years, Marlene, said that he will be remembered as a kind man with a sense of humor.
"I'd always be happy when he came home," she said.
In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by a son, Howard Brandys, and four grandsons. Services have been held.
Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495