Bill - Poland
Bill was born and raised in Miechow, Poland. He comes from a Jewish family.
In 1936, Jews made up about 15 percent of the city's population. The Jewish
population was located in a specific part of town, not far from the temple. Bill
started to go to a public school at the age of seven. There were six Jewish
students in his class and they all sat at the back of the classroom. At age 13
he underwent his Bar Mitzvah, for which he had to become quite versed in the
Torah. Bill was part of the Zionist organization. They went to various youth
camps and for a few months he went to work on a farm in preparation for living
in Palestine. Bill was also deeply involved with becoming a rabbi.
Bill's family consisted of his parents and his four brothers and sister.
During the year of 1936, Bill learned the trade of tailoring from his brothers.
His father would leave early in the morning and go to local villages to buy
goods from the farmers, to bring them back into the city to sell them. His
father dressed in a black coat and had a beard, which was considered the typical
Jewish look, and he would sometimes get assaulted on account of this. Jews were
looked upon as second class citizens, and labeled as "Christ killers."
On September 1st 1939, Hitler invaded Poland.
The Polish army was routed and Bill's brother Lemuel was killed in the retreat.
The people braced for the worst, but hoped against hope that things would get
better. The Jewish population was particularly vulnerable. There was an
unwritten law that Jews couldn't own land. They had no police protection, and
the police themselves were ordered not to prevent crimes committed against them.
The Germans set up labor and concentration camps where they sent Jews and other
so-called non-Aryan types. Many of these camps were in Poland. At these camps,
the prisoners were forced into labor, starved, mistreated and killed.
In 1940, Bill's family was sent to the Miechow
ghetto. There were no schools, but secret classes were held. Life was continued
to be lived by the residents as best they could. There were even weddings. Bill
often had to sneak out of the ghetto to get more food for his family. One of his
other brothers died in a labor camp, Julag I.
One Saturday in 1942, the ghetto was emptied by the Nazis. The Jews were
given 10 minutes to pack. Bill's family were prepared, they had packed the day
before. Sugar was the most important thing to have, it was a source of
nourishment. Cattle cars were waiting to transport them to an unknown
destination. Bill was asked by his seven year old niece, "Uncle, where are we
going?" He remembers those words clearly today. The train traveled 40 kilometers
over three days and two nights. People were packed in like sardines, so crowded
they had to sleep and relieve themselves in a standing position. They came to
arrive at a labor camp. Here they had water, air to breathe, and bunks to sleep
in. They worked on the railroad. Bill was selected out to work in a tailor shop
in the S.S. headquarters, making uniforms. This camp was run by Ukrainians, who
were worse than the Germans. These guards would take bribes and then go back on
them, and were so cruel as to make the prisoners drink their own urine.
Bill caught typhus and had a high fever, but
he had to keep working; they killed those who could not work. In 1943 the camp
was evacuated. Once again Bill was forced to move, but this time to Skarzysko, a
munitions factory. There he worked 10-12 hours a day carrying artillery shells.
He had a Polish foreman who enjoyed killing.
Next, Bill was sent to Czestochowa. This time he worked in a steel factory.
It wasn't a bad place to be, the guards were relatively humane. He was also
asked to make trousers.
In 1945 he was shipped to Buchenwald, his fourth trip by cattle car. This was
a liquidation camp; it had a crematorium. By the time they were unloaded, quite
a few were already dead. A selection was made right away. It was a very cold
morning, and they had to take off all their clothes, so that every part of their
bodies could be examined. All of their body hair was shaven off, and they were
dunked in large vats of disinfectant, which was very painful. Then they were
driven into another area, still naked. In a shower room they were given bars of
soap, which was engraved RIF, pure Jewish fat. At Buchenwald they melted bodies
to make soap. He was driven, again, to another area where he was given some
clothes - a shirt, jacket, pants, and leather shoes. These leather shoes would
turn out to be a big plus later on.
After two weeks in Buchenwald, Bill was sent
by train to Stratsfurth. Here he worked underground manufacturing airplane
parts. They had to work underground because of all the bombing on the surface.
Below ground there was a shortage of oxygen, and if you fell asleep you were
beaten or shot. On April 1st 1945, the camp was abandoned. They marched out from
Stratsfurth for 30 days. The first day alone they covered 25 kilometers, with
little food to eat. People dropped like flies. At one point the prisoners were
camped in a barn for over a week. There were some French prisoners who taught
them which grasses they could eat to stay alive. Soon there was no more grass.
During the march, they passed through a city where the citizens attacked and
beat them. The guards had to protect the prisoners.
In Annanburg, Germany on May 8th 1945, Bill
and his fellow survivors were liberated by the Russians. Out of 900 who marched
out from Stratsfurth, only 180 had survived. It had been a terrible ordeal. Bill
weighed only 75 pounds.
He and some others were taken by the Russians
to stay in a German house. They received good treatment, but only because the
German woman who cared from them was under threat by the Russians. Sick, Bill
was taken to the hospital, where he regained some strength. He returned to his
hometown of Miechow, hoping to find some surviving family. There was no one
there to find. Later through the Landsberg Displaced Persons Camp he found a
sister who had survived.
Bill's uncle had been in the United States since 1915. It was because of him
that Bill came to the U.S., and moved to Buffalo with his wife and child. Today
Bill is retired, after a very successful career as a tailor. He has two sons,
and five grandchildren. He made for himself a new life, but the horrible
memories of what he was forced to endure will always be with him.
Related Resources for this Speaker:
The Death Train
Gurdus, Luba K. Holocaust Publications, 1987.
The author's personal story of time she and her family spent both on board a
camp transport, and in hiding near the train tracks in a desperate effort to
escape. Includes the personal drawings and illustrations of the author.
Deportations (Witness to the Holocaust)
The removal of the Jewish population, and their collection and deportation
from ghettos to the camps, is examined in this film, which illustrates the Nazi
plan for genocide.
Image Before My Eyes
A recreation of Jewish life in Poland from the previous century up through
the 1930s, using rare films, photographs, memorabilia, and period music as a
backdrop for interviews with Survivors.