Sandra Samuel (born c. 1964) is an Indian nanny who saved the life of two-year-old Moshe Holtzberg during the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. Samuel saved Holtzberg when Nariman House was attacked by the terrorists. Both of Holtzberg's parents were killed in the attack. Samuel now lives in Israel after being granted honorary citizenship in 2010. She works for ALEH in Jerusalem and still has a relationship with Moshe.
Samuel had been living in the Mumbai Chabad House and working for Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, since 2003. The Holtzbergs were the Israel-born directors of the house run by the global Orthodox Jewish Chabad movement. Samuel had been the nanny caring for the Holtzbergs' son Moshe since his birth. Samuel stated that she called them "my rabbi" and "my Rivki." When she started working there in 2003, it was expected to be a temporary job but she stated that she was "so captivated by their generous, courageous spirits" that she stayed on. When Moshe was born, she took the role of nanny.
In June 2008, her husband, John, a Keralite who worked as a mechanic, died suddenly in his sleep of an undiagnosed illness. She has two sons, Martin and Jackson, who were aged 18 and 25 at the time of the attack. She is a Christian. Samuel's family was originally from Goa but she lived most of her life in Mumbai.
Attack on the Nariman House
On 26 November 2008, as the Mumbai attacks began, a group of attackers entered the Chabad house and began shooting at everyone inside. Samuel heard gunshots and locked herself in a laundry room as she heard Rivka screaming. Later, she heard Moshe calling out her name and crying. After emerging from the room and running upstairs, she found Gavriel and Rivka motionless and covered in blood with Moshe crying beside them, his pants drenched in blood. With the attackers still inside, Samuel said she grabbed Moshe and ran from the building. Later, when Indian commando teams stormed the house, it was confirmed that Gavriel and Rivka were among the 173 people killed in the attacks, and that Moshe was now an orphan.
After the attack
The Chabad movement's leaders decided Moshe should not stay in India and that he would be relocated to Israel where he has family. However, the movement insisted that Samuel be allowed to come with him, because, as a Chabad spokesperson stated: "At this point she's the only one the boy is responding to." Although Samuel had no passport, Moshe's grand uncle, Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman, helped arrange for her to get a visa to come to Israel with Holtzberg to help him start his new life. The Israeli government under Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni granted Samuel a special visa offering immigration status. They left India for Israel shortly after attending Moshe's parents' funeral.
On 4 December 2008, Samuel gave an interview with CNN in which she said she sees no heroism in her actions and that she wishes she could have been able to help more people, especially Moshe's parents. She also stated that she still has nightmares about the attacks. Currently, Samuel is living in Israel where she remains the caregiver for Moshe, who she says is learning to play again although he likes to have her close by. Samuel told an interviewer, "They said it is important I am here [in Israel]. Me, I just take care of the baby." When asked about her plans for the future, Samuel said she would stay in Israel for as long as Moshe needs her. She stated that "No one knows how much Moshe saw, or how much he knows. His back is bruised where terrorists hit him. Now I want to see that this baby who has been given in my care, he grows big, brave like his [dad]." Samuel says she wants to be with Moshe until he "grows big" and that "By God's grace I hope I am there to see it. That's it. All my blessings to my Moshe baby."
Samuel later revealed that she was not supposed to be at the Chabad house that evening because she usually visited one of her sons on Wednesday evenings. She stated that "God kept me there because God already knew what would happen."
In a subsequent interview, Samuel stated that Moshe Holtzberg is happy again, and that he "is like a normal kid, just enjoying himself. He has gotten used to other people surrounding him. He loves it here. He is in very good condition, just like normal. He is having his breakfast, lunch and snacks and he sleeps very well now." She added that he no longer cries out for his parents: "He is not even asking for them now because he is too happy. He loves it here. He has swings, a garden, a see-saw."
In early December 2008, fifth-graders at Solomon Schecter Day School in Jericho, New York wrote individual letters to Samuel to thank her for saving Holtzberg's life. The students cited Samuel's heroism based on the Jewish tradition that "one who saves one person saves an entire nation."
Esfira Maiman Women Rescuers Medal
On 30 November 2008, the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, at a special session, unanimously voted to grant Sandra Samuel the Esfira Maiman Women Rescuers Medal in recognition of her bravery. The foundation stated that "Sandra has taught us two lessons of cardinal importance. The first one is that human solidarity is agnostic to race and religion. The second lesson, not less important, is that rescuers are still very much relevant nowadays, as they were more than six decades ago."
Samuel was awarded permanent resident status and honorary Israeli citizenship on 13 September 2010.
Righteous among the Nations
- Inside hero nanny's dash to save young boy during Mumbai massacre by Aimee Ginsburg, New York Daily News, 5 December 2008.
- Nanny moves to Israel with boy orphaned in Mumbai by Amy Teibel, Associated Press (reprinted by the Fox News), 8 December 2008.
- "Israel welcomes selfless Mumbai nanny Sandra Samuel". The Australian. 10 December 2008.
- Nanny recalls rescue of Jewish toddler by Amy Teibel, Associated Press (reprinted by the Toronto Star), 9 December 2008.
- Sandra Samuel one year after 26/11: 'I could have saved the mother' by Vaihayasi P Daniel, Rediff.com, 23 November 2009.
- Young orphan of slain rabbi, wife arrives in Israel after Mumbai nightmare by Mark Lavie, Associated Press (reprinted by CanadaEast), 1 December 2008.
- Israeli immigration permit to Indian nanny, Indiainfo.com, 1 December 2008.
- Chabad: Allow Indian nanny to immigrate to Israel, Ynet News, 30 November 2008.
- In her own words, nanny's brave escape in Mumbai, CNN, 4 December 2008.
- 'I Just Took Kid and Ran' - Hero Nanny Relives Mumbai Escape by Cathy Burke, New York Post, 5 December 2008.
- Nanny Saves Jewish Toddler From Mumbai Attacks by Kristine Johnson, Wcbstv.com, 6 December 2008.
- Nanny of Israeli boy recalls horror of Mumbai terror attack, Newkerala.com, 6 December 2008.
- Lynfield, Ben (12 December 2008). "Orphan safe in arms of nanny rescuer after Mumbai attacks". The New Zealand Herald. The Independent. Retrieved 7 November 2011.
- New York students thank Indian nanny for saving Chabad orphan, Ynet News, 12 December 2008.
- 5th Graders thank Sandra Samuel, Mumbai Heroine, Youtube.com.
- Fifth graders thank Moshe's nanny Sandra, Indianexpress.com, 12 December 2008.
- The International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation to honor Mumbai rescuer, International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, 2 December 2008.
- Associated Press (14 September 2010). "Boy's Rescuer Is Granted Honorary Citizenship". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 December 2012.
- "Israel awaits Mumbai attack dead". BBC. 1 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-06.
- "Chabad toddler's caretaker to arrive in Israel". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 30 November 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-05.