This oral history video interview is available at the USC Shoah Foundation website through the
generosity of the Eugene and Marcia Applebaum Family Foundation
Czestochowa (Poland), Hasag, Gross-Rosen, Dora, Bergen-Belsen
Harry was born in Czestochowa, Poland in 1932. The city had a population of about 100,000; one third of which were Jews. Harry had five sisters and two brothers (eight children in all). He was the second youngest of them all. Harry’s father owned a soap factory and the family was well off. They were also very religious. In fact, his parents were associated with an Orthodox Chassidic synagogue and were related to the Rabbi who headed the community. Harry attended a private Jewish school and never experienced anti-Semitism because everybody in his school was Jewish.
He was seven years old when the war in Poland started. Shortly after, the Germans established an open Ghetto, using the members of the community for services that were required for the German army. After his soap factory was confiscated, Harry’s father, who was forced to work for the Germans, continued to make soap in secret at home. The family sold the soap to their relatives and used the extra money to buy food.
Things changed dramatically on Yom Kippur, when Harry’s family found out that the Germans were about to start deporting the habitants of the Ghetto to Treblinka. Even though no one in the Ghetto knew that Treblinka was a death camp, the family decided to hide in a storage cellar under their house to avoid the deportation. They had thirteen people the cellar, hiding for over a week. The major problem was that the cellar had no ventilation and people were suffocating. Eventually, Harry’s brother went out to check on the situation and never came back. One of his sisters decided to go out next. She found out that the deportation “Aktion” was over and helped the family move to the factory where she worked.
Once in hiding in the factory, the family decided that it was safer to move to the “small” Ghetto, a section of the Ghetto from which the Germans were not deporting people at that time. So, during the night, one by one, the parents moved all eight children to the small Ghetto. While in the small Ghetto, Harry worked under Nazi director in an ammunition factory in Hasag. The Nazi noticed that he was very young and treated him well.
Harry remembers the liquidation of the Ghetto as a particularly terrible time. He remembers watching a line up. A Jew from the Ghetto, who probably wanted to better his treatment, pointed at 35 people who were in the line-up. They were taken away promptly and were shot. The rest of the people could hear the shooing and the people never returned. Next, the Germans took the younger children. By this time Harry was 11 and knew that he was about to be shot with the other children. However, at this point, the director of the factory that he worked for arrived and after some negotiations with the guards and a call to a higher-up he managed to rescue Harry and another boy, claiming that they were needed for work in the factory.
Harry recalls his work in the ammunition factory in Hasag as initially easy. However, as time went by and more people were selected to be sent to Treblinka from among the factory workers, those who were left behind, including Harry had to work much harder. Still, the conditions for the workers were bearable. People had enough to eat and had straw mattresses in their barrack. While working in the ammunition factory, Harry was with two of his sisters. His mother and youngest brother, who was six years old, have been shot during the liquidation of the Ghetto and his father, who was 44 year old, and, therefore, too old, was shot too.
Harry continued to work in the factory in Hasag up until the time that the Russians arrived. On that morning, the German shipped all the slave laborers in the factory to concentration camps. Harry was sent to Gross Rosen and his sisters were sent to Ravensbruck. Harry, who was twelve years old at the time, was completely alone.
He remembers his time in Gross Rosen as particularly traumatic because it was the very first time that he was in a concentration camp, surrounded with people with shaven heads. People were being starved, and it was impossible to keep clean. He saw people being hit by Jewish Capos and froze for hours on endless “Appels”.
Harry stayed in Gross Rosen for a few weeks and then was moved to Dora, another concentration camp. Here, his Capo was a German political prisoner who recognized that Harry was a child and singled him out for better treatment. He assigned him easy work in cleaning the barracks and gave him extra food. Harry stayed in Dora for two weeks. And as the Russians moved closer, was moved to Bergen Belsen. This was the worst experience of the Holocaust for him. There was no food and people were dying like flies of starvation and disease. Luckily, he was there for just six days before being freed by the British.
Once freed, Harry started looking for his sisters. With his sisters he moved to a DP camp where he was able to attend school. However, his sisters eventually left for Israel while he decided to go to the US. After some trials and tribulations he landed in the US in 1948 and was “adopted” by a family in Detroit. Even though he was only 13, he managed to learn English and finish high school two years later. Eventually, he completed a PhD in history and has worked for many years as an educator. He also managed to attend a Yeshiva and was eventually ordained. He got married in Detroit and has children and grandchildren.
Date: September 4, 2008
Interviewer: Donna R. Sklar
Format: Video recording
To view this oral history video interview, please click here.