We bring you the story of a man who's survival relied on his skill. He's a Tulsa tailor and learned the trade from his father in Poland. His story is about surviving the odds, escaping death and making the most out of life.
There's a low hum coming from a vintage fan propped up high and across the room sits a radio, tuned in to NPR. In between the stories, if you lean in and listen, you can hear a faint sound. A 91 year old man stands under a glowing fluorescent light glued to his work, but don't let his subdued nature fool you. This is Sherman Ray, man of many stories and life lessons.
"I tear a coat apart, the sleeve is here, the collar is here," Ray says laughing. "How do you put them together?"
He's one of those men that you just want to pull up a chair and let him talk. Mr. Ray is a tailor by trade and a storyteller by nature.
"Gold, diamonds they will steal it from you, if you got a trade nobody will take it away," says Ray recalling a lesson from his father. "This is one tip he gave me, I still remember."
His shop is not fancy, there are no bells and whistles. Just white walls, piles of organized chaos and newspaper clippings that showcase his talent.
"One, two, three, not enough hours for me," says Ray.
Mr. Ray is a tailoring icon going back all the way to the 1950's. While he may be 91 years old he hasn't slowed down a bit. Everyday after sometimes 8 or 9 hours of work, he goes to the gym.
"The rowing machine is harder, the sewing machine I can close my eyes and do it," he says.
Everyday he goes from sewing to rowing, he's known here and respected.
"I always tell doc, how about a little arm wrestle?" he says laughing. "'Oh, not with you.'"
He says he never gets tired and never complains. Living 91 years is nothing compared to what he survived as kid.
There on his left forearm sits a bird printed in ink, covering up a life he would like to forget.
"B2526, first transport to Auschwitz," he says. "That's where I went, I never dream I will come out."
He is a survivor and that's his number, B2526. Born Jewish he was the enemy of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party.
"I said to my dad, I said to my mother, and I told my sister, oh we are going to separate," he says. "We are told we are going to a resort and I told them, I said they are going to kill you."
He was only a teenager then but remembers everything. The boxcar heading to a concentration camp, he and his family surrounded by another 100 people. This would be his first escape.
"I didn't want to die, I would rather die from a bullet than in a gas chamber," he says. "I didn't want to die like a dog."
He never saw his family again. Mr. Ray went through three camps during World War II. The first would have been his last, had it not been for his skill.
"They came out with a loudspeaker, we need shoemakers, we need tailors, we need bricklayers, we need carpenters and everybody was running," he says.
So as a teenager he made suits and uniforms from scratch for the enemy, but didn't care, he was alive. This would be just his first battle.
Soon after he was corralled to Auschwitz, not to work, but to slowly die.
"All we did in Auschwitz was take stones from one side of the fence, walk pick them up and carry them back and forth," he explains.
Again he was lucky, being a young man and still somewhat healthy they didn't kill him. Instead he witnessed thousands of people being murdered.
"The screaming was so loud the orchestra was playing so people would not know and you saw the tall chimneys, not smoke but flames from human flesh," he says. "I felt a lot of times I killed myself and then I say what am I going to accomplish? In my mind I always wanted to see the end of World War II."
Then while at this third and last camp, it finally happened.
"We saw from the village the white flags and everybody we are free we are free!" he yells. "A lot of them excitement killed them, dropped dead."
May 2, 1945 he will never forget.
Four years later Mr. Ray came to Oklahoma, became a citizen, started a career and a family.
"Everyday I get up in the morning, I make a prayer before I go to bed but you still can't get over, still can't get over," he says.
Mr. Ray says he's no inspiration. He was just born at the wrong time, wrong place and seemed to get lucky. A man who's been to hell and back and lived to tell about it.
"I know I will not be here forever, as long I can function and do it you've got to do it, never say I cannot do, always say I will try, that's my philosophy," he says.
We would like to thank Mr. Ray for sharing his story with us.
We would also like to thank the people at The Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art for your help with this story.