Klaiman, Joseph

Klaiman, Joseph

Lodz ghetto, Auschwitz, Gleiwitz I, Buchenwald, Holzen

Klaiman was born in Lodz, Poland, and remembers anti-Semitism from a very early age. He recalls being hit with stones thrown by people in the street at the age of five. After Poland fell to the Germans, Klaiman and his father fled to Russia. They soon returned, not wanting to live away from the rest of the family.

Klaiman spent the majority of his time during the war in the Lodz ghetto. He vividly remembers swollen faces, starving people, dead bodies lying in the streets, and an overpowering fear of the Germans. He once saw a German stab a child two or three years old with a knife on the fourth floor of a hospital and then toss the body out of the window. Both his parents died in the ghetto, his father from starvation. After their deaths Klaiman and his siblings moved in with an aunt. The two families, nine people, lived in one and a half rooms.

Klaiman and the remainder of his family were among the last people to be deported before the ghetto was liquidated. They were shipped to Auschwitz, where only Klaiman, his uncle, and his cousin survived the selection process. Everyone else in Klaiman’s family went to the crematoriums. After six weeks in Auschwitz, Klaiman was sent to Gleiwitz I, where he worked three to four months. As the Russians approached, the Germans marched the prisoners to Buchenwald, back to Gleiwitz, and then to Buchenwald again. At Buchenwald an American airplane began shooting and bombing. Klaiman’s friend, who was standing next to him, was killed.

At one point in the death march, the prisoners were put on a cattle car for eight days, traveling back and forth from camp to camp. Klaiman and a friend jumped off to escape. The Germans saw them and fired at them, hitting Klaiman’s friend. Klaiman kept running until he could hide in a forest. For days he wandered until he ran into the British. He weighed 80 pounds at liberation.

When he was sufficiently well, Klaiman traveled to Bergen-Belsen in search of relatives and friends. His entire extended family, with the exception of one cousin, perished in the Holocaust. He met his future wife, also a survivor, in Bergen-Belsen. They married in 1948 and immigrated to the United States in 1949. Their first child was born three weeks later.

Interview Information:
Date: October 24, 1982
Interviewer: Renee Wohl
Length: 55 minutes
Format: Audio recording