Cooper (Kuper), Jerry
Survivor/Camps, Escapee, False Personation
Skaryszew (Poland), Kielce
Cooper was born in 1920 and grew up in a town called Skarishov in Poland. The population of Skarishov consisted of Jews, Germans, and Poles. Cooper lived together with his parents, four brothers, and one sister. Cooper’s two elder brothers had moved to another town and together they had eleven children. His father was a leading member of the Jewish community in Skarishov and worked as a lawyer for the poor. About 900 Jews lived in Skarishov before the war.
In the fall of 1939, the Wehrmacht occupied Skarishov and anti-Jewish laws and anti-Semitic propaganda started to affect everyday life: insults, punches, discrimination, shortage of food, hunger, fear. The German inhabitants, the so-called “Volksdeutsche,” took over all Jewish businesses. The Poles participated in the violence and also received premises once owned by Jews. The synagogue was burned down. German soldiers posted their propaganda slogan:”Poland has to be cleared of Jews and lice” all over the town. Cooper remembers an incident where a German came into the shop of a Jewish shoemaker and was astonished at the poverty. The German’s friend stated that the “little Jews” have to be destroyed in order to hinder them from becoming rich.
In 1940 German soldiers entered the house of Cooper’s parents and sent him and his three brothers on a truck to a labor camp in Kielce. After they had got out of the truck they were beaten by German soldiers of the Wehrmacht for over fifty minutes. They had to give up all their valuables and remain in a squat position for over two hours. Otherwise they would have been killed at once. Cooper states that torture and beating was the order of the day. Cooper remembers that inmates, like his cousin, were burned or beaten to death without any reason. All prisoners were forced to take part in sadistic games, implemented by German soldiers. Everyone who failed to handle certain tasks during these games was executed.
In 1943 Cooper escaped from the camp. Since he was able to speak German and pretended to be a “Volksdeutscher,” he received a lift on a truck. Cooper came to a small Jewish village, where all of the inhabitants had been exterminated. With the help of some Polish farmers he was able to survive. An old Polish woman hid him for more than six months on her farm. In the winter of 1944, he reached the eastern part of Poland, which had been liberated by the Russian army. Even under the supervision of the Russian army, Jewish survivors lived in fear of Polish insults. Forty-two Jews were killed by Poles at Kielce after the liberation.
After the war, Cooper heard that his family and the members of the Jewish community in Skarishov had been shipped to the extermination camp Treblinka. His family was executed in the gas chambers. Only six out of 900 Jews, who had lived in Skarishov, survived.
Date: June 16, 1986
Interviewer: Rabbi C. Rosenzveig
Length: 1 hour 25 minutes
Format: video recording