Haberkorn, Joseph

Haberkorn, Joseph

Lvov, Janowska, Cieszanow, Kurowice

Haberkorn was born in 1914 in Lvov, Poland (then the capital of Poland, now part of the Ukraine). He was the oldest of three children and raised in a conservative Jewish home. His father was a baker and his mother was a homemaker. Haberkorn attended public school and his classes were taught in Polish. In school he encountered anti-Semitism, but did not consider it be unusual or excessive. He did not receive any instruction at a Hebrew school. After finishing school, he was apprenticed and eventually became a sheet metal worker. Haberkorn and his family lived in a rented house in a mixed Jewish/Gentile neighborhood, where they also encountered anti-Semitism. Neither Haberkorn nor any member of his family was involved in any of the political groups that were very active at that time in Lvov.

In 1939, when the rest of Poland was invaded by the German army, the area around Lvov was spared. It had been given to the Soviets by the Nazis under terms of a secret treaty. Haberkorn recalled that his family was aware of what was happening via newspaper and radio and was very worried for their future, but felt there was nowhere for them to go. During this time Haberkorn went to work for the railroad in Lvov. On June 22, 1941, the Soviet army and approximately 10,000 Jewish soldiers retreated when the German army invaded the USSR, violating their treaty. On June 30, 1941, the Germans occupied Lvov and began killing the Jewish population with the help of the local Ukrainian population.

Haberkorn did not wait to be picked up for forced labor, but instead went in October 1941 to where the Janowska Road Prison was being built and volunteered to work. At first, he was permitted to return home every evening after work, but soon more restrictions were imposed and he was not allowed to leave. The camp was operated completely by the SS. Haberkorn’s job was to help build the camp. He remembers that the conditions at the camp were very poor. There was not enough food, no sanitary facilities, and punishments were frequent and cruel.

In December 1941 Haberkorn and other prisoners were moved via open trucks to a labor camp at Kurowice (a small town east of Lvov). This camp was also administered by the SS. Upon his arrival at the camp, Haberkorn and others were locked in barracks without explanation for two days. During this time they were not provided with food, water, or sanitary facilities. Their job was to work on the road that ran next to the camp for the transportation of German troops and armaments. To do this, they had to use a machine to break up boulders and then spread the smaller rocks on the road. When he first arrived, Haberkorn remembers thinking that the conditions here would be better than at Janowska because it was a smaller camp. But the conditions were actually worse. There was no doctor or infirmary. If one could not work, one was shot. If anyone escaped from the camp, a number of prisoners would be executed in reprisal and the other prisoners would be forced to watch. If the escapee was captured, he was publicly executed.

Haberkorn was at Kurowice until June 1943, when he and ten to twelve other prisoners decided to escape. He had noticed that older prisoners were being gradually began to disappear (loaded onto trucks and not returning) and believed that the same fate also awaited him. They escaped to Cieszanow (about sixty to seventy kilometers from Lvov) and lived in the woods in an underground bunker they had dug. During this time of hiding, they did not receive any specific assistance from non-Jews in the area. They did, however, leave the bunker and attempt to buy food. Sometimes they were successful. Haberkorn recalls hearing bombing and artillery fire in the area, but was unaware of what exactly was happening. While in hiding, Haberkorn contracted typhoid fever. He was still suffering from it in April 1944, when he and the rest of the group surrendered to the Soviet army by waving a white flag. Haberkorn followed the Soviet army to Lvov, where he was hospitalized for three months.

When Haberkorn was released from the hospital, he obtained employment again with the railroad. He was unable to find any members of his family or anyone who could tell him of their fate. He believes that his parents, brother, sister, uncle, aunt and four cousins perished in the Lvov ghetto. Haberkorn was able to find living quarters and met his wife one evening at one of the remaining synagogues, where both had gone to search for relatives on the “missing persons” lists. Haberkorn recognized her from before the war. They married soon afterward. In May 1945 the Haberkorns left Lvov for Warsaw and eventually went to a displaced persons camp outside of Eierbach, Germany. They left Poland because there was still too much anti-Semitism. In March 1951 they arrived in the United States and lived with Mrs. Haberkorn’s uncle. As far as Haberkorn knows, he is the only member of his family to survive.

Interview Information:
Date: February 18, 1996
Interviewer: Dr. Linda M. Marlow
Length: 1 hour
Format: Video recording