This oral history video interview is available at the USC Shoah Foundation website through the
generosity of the Eugene and Marcia Applebaum Family Foundation
Baranowicze (Poland), Koldyczewo, Maly Trostenets
Mr. Sam Kudewitz was born in Baranowicze, Poland in 1910. His name was Schmuel Kudewitzky. His mother and father died when he was seven and he had three brothers, Binyamin and David. One brother died before the war.
Mr. Kudewitz was married to Shana and had two children, Seymour, age four and Eleanor, seven months old, when the war began. He worked as a tailor. His home was lovely as was his shop that specialized in making custom suits.
In 1939, before the Russians came, the President of Poland loved the Jews because one of them saved his life. Afterwards, anti-Semitism was prevalent.
Mr. Kudewitz heard about Hitler and the Nazis and wanted to leave Europe, but his wife, Shana, didn’t want to leave her family. Shana came from a very large family and they went to the synagogue on holidays. He was told to work for the Fire Department by the Russians before the Germans arrived. His shift was a twenty-four hour one: work twenty-four hours, home forty-eight hours.
In Baranowicze, the Russian rule lasted a year and a half; stores began to close and Capitalism ended. The rich were taken to Russia, going to the synagogue was limited and there was less freedom for the Jews. In 1941, people tried to cross the border, but could not. They already knew about the Warsaw Ghetto and feared the Germans.
The family became separated for five years when Mr. Kudewitz took his son and walked to Minsk leaving his wife, Shana with their baby daughter. When he returned, he and his son moved in with his wife’s family. Every single day, another person was missing. His in-laws lived in the Ghetto, in one room with about twenty people.
Mr. Kudewitz worked for the Nazis, making clothes to get food for his family. Now there were transports taking Jews to the camps, but not from Baranowicze. He was in the selection line four times, but was never chosen. His mother-in-law and his son, Simon were both killed in the Ghetto. His wife and daughter had left for Russia.
In 1943, the Ghetto was closed. There were only two hundred people left out of twenty thousand, who were killed. They were taken to the forced labor camp, Koldyczewo. All were put in a large garage and given watery soup once a day. Those who tried to escape were killed by the Polacks. Their next stop was another camp, Maly Trostenets.
The Germans needed tailors and shoemakers and they were taken to Minsk on trucks in 1943. Their clothing and food came from Vienna. Five thousand German Jews were taken there in 1942, but by the time Mr. Kudewitz arrived, there were only maybe three hundred left. In a nearby forest, one quarter mile from the barracks, he saw a mass grave.
By the end of 1943, there were no Jews left and only Gypsies in the forest. A fortune teller took his hand and said, “You’ll escape, you have a woman and with baby in Russia, you must go to them, go NOW”. Mr. Kudewitz waited until the weather got warmer and hid in the forest for two weeks by himself, eating berries while the German soldiers camped nearby. He existed by eating their leftovers. When the partisans arrived, Mr. Kudewitz came out of hiding and told them he was a Jew. He stayed with them for one month, laying bombs to dismantle trains and German cars.
After this partisan group dispersed, Mr. Kudewitz was arrested and detained as a spy. While detained, a man from his hometown found him and helped him escape through a hole in the barbed wire fence and said “Run”. He later picked Mr. Kudewitz up on the road and took him to the Fire Department. The next morning, they told him that he had to serve in the Russian Army. He served for two months on the front lines where he was wounded in his legs. By train he was taken to the hospital and put into a cast for six months. Leaving the hospital, he went home walking on crutches back to Baranowicze. Along the way, he met a woman who had been with his wife, Shana, and was told that she was in Tashkent.
The next day, he went to the Fire Department and left for Tashkent by train. At the Tashkent railway station, a young boy told him the whereabouts of his wife and daughter. When he saw them, he began to cry. In Tashkent, Mr. Kudewitz bought a sewing machine and began to work to provide food and necessities for his family.
In May of 1945 the war ended. Mr. Kudewitz, his wife and daughter went back to Baranowicze and moved in with another family. The anti-semitism was much worse after the war. They stayed for two months, leaving for Gdansk, Warsaw and then Lodz. The Jewish Agency helped them. Mr. Kudewitz had three operations on his legs in Austria at an American hospital. While at the hospital, President Eisenhower made a visit.
Mr. Kudewitz remains frightened and scared, thinking of his past, especially after his retirement. He never discussed anything about his war years with his wife. He says that he’s moody because of his depression. Everyone in his wife’s family is gone and he asks, “Why am I here?”. In his heart, he’s afraid for his family and used to scream at night when he heard the streetcars on Linwood close to where they lived in Detroit.
Mr. Kudewitz hopes for health for his family. He has a nice family, beautiful wife, daughter and grandchildren. Mr. Kudewitz is glad to be here.
Date: July 11, 1991
Interviewer: Donna Sklar
Length: 1 hour and 26 minutes
Format: Video Recording
To view this oral history video interview, please click here.