Elbaum, Barry

Elbaum, Barry

Survivor, Soldier of the Polish army
Lublin (Poland)

Elbaum was born in 1917 in Lublin, Poland, one of three sons and two daughters of an Orthodox Jewish couple. Lublin had a Jewish population of some 50,000 out of a total of 120,000. His father died when Elbaum was a little boy; his mother remarried five years after her husband’s death. Elbaum says that life for Jews in Lublin was horrible since many of them lived in poverty without jobs and not enough to eat. During the interview Elbaum describes in detail the activities of the Jewish community in his hometown.

In 1937 Elbaum moved to Warsaw to work as an ice cream vendor inasmuch as his mother and his stepfather were barely able to support the family. He was in Warsaw when Germany attacked Poland on September 1, 1939. In order to be with his family, he left for Lublin the very next day. A few days later his hometown was occupied by the German army. The Nazis immediately gave orders that every Jew in Lublin who did not show up the next day at a certain place in the city would be killed. German soldiers started to humiliate Orthodox Jewish men by cutting off their beards and beating them up in the streets. Elbaum and his younger brother decided to leave Lublin at once and escaped toward the Soviet border. The rest of his family stayed behind. Arriving in the Soviet Union, Elbaum and his younger brother had to accept the Soviet citizenship and were sent with other escapees by train to Kiev. There was not enough food and few if any jobs were available in Kiev. Many of the escapees went back to German-occupied territory hoping to have a better chance of survival there.

When Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, Elbaum was separated from his brother and sent to a town called Tashkent in what is now Uzbekistan, whereas his younger brother stayed in Kiev. Shortly after Kiev was occupied by the German Army, Elbaum’s brother was killed by the Nazis because of being Jewish. In Tashkent Elbaum worked as a painter before he was drafted and sent to Siberia to work as a lumberjack for the Soviet army. In 1943 he escaped from this work camp and joined the Polish army, which had been formed in the Soviet Union to fight Nazi Germany. As a military telegrapher he was among the troops which fought battles in Stalingrad and Berlin. During his service he met his older brother who had stayed behind in Lublin and had also become a soldier of the Polish army.

Elbaum states that even after the war, many Jews were killed by Poles and by the former members of the “Armia Krajowa”, an underground military organization in occupied Poland. Elbaum and his brother returned after the war to Lublin only to learn that their parents, along with all the other Jews who stayed in Lublin, had been taken to concentration camps where they were killed. He believes that only about 2,000 Jews from Lublin out of 50,000 survived the Holocaust. Neighbors told Elbaum that his two sisters were executed by the Nazis when they got caught smashing a window in the streets in Lublin. Of the approximately 200 members of his extended family, only Elbaum, his brother, and two cousins survived. Elbaum moved to Czechoslovakia, then Vienna and finally, in 1950, he emigrated to the United States where he worked as a painter in Detroit. He mentions that he still cannot forget about what happened during the Holocaust.

Interview Information:
Interviewer: Rabbi Charles H. Rosenzveig
Date: February 6, 2001
Format: Video recording
Length: 1 hour 1 minute