Garwolinski, Mitchell W.
Baranowo (Poland), Treblinka
Mitchell Garwolinski, the son of Joseph and Mary Garwolinski of Baranowo, Poland, was born in 1932. His father, as well as he and his older sister Irene, and younger brother Andrew, were citizens of the United States, whereas his mother and a younger sister, Sophie, born after 1941, were Polish citizens. His father was employed by the U.S. government as an OSS agent and his U.S. citizenship was known by the townspeople.
Mr. Garwolinski describes Baranowo as being located about 100 KM southeast of Warsaw and with a population of 6,000, mostly Poles, of which about 10% were Jewish. His family was Roman Catholic and led a comfortable life. Mr. Garwolinski had just entered public kindergarten when Germany invaded Poland .
German forces occupied Baranowo and when it became known to them that Mr. Garwolinski’s father was hiding Jews in his house, his father was sent to the Allenstein labor camp, but later escaped and went into hiding. The Germans tortured Mitchell Garwolinski, then seven years old and his mother, in an attempt to force them to reveal that hiding place. Although Mitchell did not know his father’s hiding place, his thumb was placed in a vise and severely squeezed and his arm was burned by a hot poker. The damaged thumb and scars from the burning are still visible and were displayed during the interview.
When the Germans were confiscating cows to get food, Mitchell Garwolinski took one of their cows into a swamp area and stayed there for an extended period so that his mother could get milk for his younger brother. His mother was subsequently arrested and together with her son, Andrew, was sent to the Torun concentration camp. She was there several months and gave birth to a daughter, Sophie, in the camp.
Mr. Garwolinski was sent to an indoctrination camp with the intent to make him into a Nazi, but he escaped and went to an aunt’s house where he found that his father was also hiding.
While digging trenches for the Germans he stabbed a guard who was abusing him and once again escaped. He was caught in a farm house where he sought refuge, was handcuffed to a bench in a truck and then shipped in an open boxcar together with Jewish prisoners wearing the Star of David to a location which he later determined to be part of the Treblinka camp. There, he and other youngsters were ordered to strip naked, were examined by three persons in white coats and then sent to a facility where medical experiments were being conducted. He recalls receiving various injections while in the camp.
During some explosions in the camp, from causes unknown to him, he escaped through the assistance from a German nurse. The nurse was shot during the escape, but Mr. Garwolinski, although wounded, managed to reach the forest. While asleep in a haystack, he was aroused by some men who were Jewish partisans. They gave him shelter and food, and tended to his wounded leg. After three weeks he was taken to the edge of the forest, given some provisions, and shown the way to his hometown of Baranowo.
Back in Baranowo he again went to his aunt’s house and hid there until SS men shot and killed both his aunt and uncle. He was then taken by some neighbors to the location where his parents and siblings were hiding. They eventually were liberated by the Russian Army.
After the war, Mitchell Garwolinski’s father was solicited to join anti-communist underground activities. His refusal brought on difficulties with the newly formed Polish militia. When the United States embassy was re-established in Warsaw , the required documents were obtained to allow Mr. Garwolinski, his father, and his brother, all United States citizens, to come home.
His mother and sister who were Polish citizens had to stay behind. His older sister Irene, who was in Russia during the war, was reunited with the family and also stayed in Poland until all were allowed to enter the United States about three years later.
In the United States , Mitchell Garwolinski attended a Catholic high school and was then drafted into the military during the Korean War and served as a medic. He received a head wound which subsequently caused epileptic seizures. He studied pre-med under the GI Bill of Rights and became a surgical assistant. He married, but has no children which he believes is due to the medical experiments performed on him as a youngster. He continues to have nightmares and night sweats from his experiences.
Mr. Garwolinski is the author of a book “Silent Screams of a Survivor” about his life. He speaks to high school groups hoping that his message will prevent a recurrence the Holocaust.
Date of Interview: February 22, 2005
Length of Interview: 1 hour 20 minutes
Interview & Synopsis by: Hans R. Weinmann