Henry W. Billys, 100, Holocaust survivor, owner of House of Lights
The Polish Jew survived the Holocaust by pretending to be a Ukrainian Christian
Henry W. Billys and his family survived the Holocaust in Europe by pretending to be Ukrainian Christians during World War II.
The Beachwood resident, who died Dec. 27 at age 100, was living in his native Poland, where he was known by his birth name, Henryk Bialystok, when the Germans invaded his country in September 1939.
According to a diary of their wartime experiences, written by his wife, Sophie – then known as Zosia – Billys managed to flee to Lithuania a few weeks later. Sophie's diary was published in the Plain Dealer on Aug. 28, 1994.
Sophie and their baby daughter, Emilia, now known as Millie, remained in Poland, where Sophie orchestrated the means of their survival.
Wealth and connections enabled them to acquire fake birth certificates identifying them as Ukrainians whose surname was Bilystok.
In 1942, Billys* returned to Poland, where he and his kin adopted the façade of being Christians for the duration of the war.
Billys and his little family made their way to a displaced persons camp in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1947. In 1948, they immigrated to the United States, where their surname was changed to Billys, and they joined relatives in Cleveland.
In Cleveland, Billys owned a lighting fixtures company called House of Lights. He sold the store in 1973 and bought two apartment buildings in Beachwood.
His wife died in 2006.
Billys is survived by his daughter, Millie Selinger of Florida; three grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
Services were held at Berkowitz-Kumin-Bookatz Memorial Chapel in Cleveland Heights.
Memorial donations may be made to the Sophie and Henry Billys Foundation, c/o The Cleveland Jewish Federation, or NCJW/Montefiore Hospice.
Editor's Note: In the original version of this article a reference to Billys' surname was incorrect.