Krakow (Poland), Plaszow, Mauthausen, Gusen
Sam Offen lived in Krakow, the ancient capital of Poland. His father was a shoemaker and he had three brothers and one sister. They lived in a two room apartment with his parents and his grandmother.
In six days, the Germans entered Krakow. School, playing games and life as they knew it, stopped. The soldiers began killing and beating and often, tried to cut off Jews’ peyos, or sidelocks.
His family had to clean the streets that were ice and snow covered. Food became scarce. The family lived this way for two years. His family lived in the center of the ghetto and they had to take in five other families.
Sam had a job just outside the ghetto. He worked with a Polish mechanic who gave him bread which he took home to his family. On October 20, 1942, he saw soldiers, trucks and guns and the streets became strewn with bodies. His mother and his thirteen year old sister were sent to a death camp and gassed.
The population in the ghetto was shrinking and the Nazis told them to build a new one on top of the Jewish cemetery. In March of 1943, the Nazis said to move to the new camp which was about seven miles away.
Sam was then sent to Plaszow where Amon Goeth was the commander. This was the camp featured in the film Schindler's List. Goeth was a cruel Nazi who personally killed hundreds of prisoners. First his dogs pulled the prisoners down and then he shot them.
At one point, the dogs pulled Sam down, bit him, but Goeth called them off and spared him. He still has the bite marks.
He had many narrow escapes and said “Perhaps God helped me.”
In Plaszow Camp, all the escapees were executed. This became the killing camp. They built towers and barbed wire fences. As the Russians came closer, the Nazis killed more and faster. They piled everyone into cattlecars and packed them in like sardines. The train stopped long enough to throw out the dead bodies.
In 1944, the Nazis ordered all into cattle cars where they stood shoulder to shoulder. Sam got to Mauthausen on his birthday, August 7, 1944. His father was killed there and his brother was the youngest survivor.
From Mauthausen he was sent to the sub-camp Gusen. Three hundred boys were sent and only three survived. His work consisted of running up and down one hundred seventy steps carrying large boulders with no gloves. The Nazis enjoyed pushing the prisoners down the steps to their death.
They were given coffee for breakfast, thin soup for lunch and one slice of bread for dinner.
On the morning of May 5, 1945, there was total silence: no dogs barking, no screaming. They all sat in the barracks and were frightened. In the afternoon, they saw the U.S. tanks. There was instant euphoria. The army had no idea what they’d find and never heard a word about the atrocities. They left chocolate and cigarettes for the prisoners when they left to continue the war. Some died from eating the food.
Sam and his brother left for Italy. His youngest brother found the two of them and followed them to Italy.
His mother and sister had perished in Majdanek.
He came to Detroit in 1951. His children were born here. In 1959, Sam was hit by a drunk driver and lost both legs. In 1985, he took his family to Poland to visit.
Sam ended by saying “Get involved and fight for democracy.”