Krakow (Poland), Plaszow, Oranienburg-Sachsenhausen
Born in 1926 in Krakow, Poland, Ohrenstein and his two siblings and two cousins were the only survivors of a large, extended family. His father, a merchant, died of a stroke while the family was living in the ghetto. Ohrenstein notes that his father was the last to be buried in the ground.
Ohrenstein had a public school education and was thirteen years old when Poland was invaded by the Nazis. His sister was about ten years older than he and was already married with a child. She received assistance from non-Jews and had Aryan papers, but eventually she was caught. Her daughter, however, survived the Holocaust hiding the entire time. Ohrenstein tells of other instances in which assistance by non-Jews aided in his and his family’s survival. At on point, a German officer ripped off Ohrenstein’s star and allowed him to escape.
Ohrenstein was in the Krakow ghetto until 1942, when he was sent to Plaszow. There, he dug ditches and carried bricks until he became very ill. His older brother, who was at the same camp, arranged to release him from hard manual labor by getting him an apprenticeship in watchmaking. Indeed, Ohrenstein learned his profession as a watchmaker while sitting around a large table of thirty or forty watch repairmen in Plaszow. He recalls the camp was built on the grounds of a cemetery, where the stones were pushed down. There was starvation, deprivation, and indiscriminate punishments. He witnessed people herded to mass graves, where they were shot, and the blood flowed on the sidewalks.
In 1944 Ohrenstein and approximately fifty other prisoners were taken by train to Oranienburg-Sachsenhausen in Germany. Treatment was better there, where there was a small number of trades people kept from every country. He remained there until April 20, when the Russians were approaching Berlin. The prisoners were evacuated and Ohrenstein was marched two weeks, sleeping in fields, and eating white beets from farm fields. Eventually, the guards walked away and he was liberated by the Americans.
Ohrenstein spent some time in a displaced persons’ camp. He was reunited with his siblings, and through his sister’s connections, he was allowed to come to the United States in 1946.
Date: April 29, 1987
Interviewer: Esther Weine
Format: Video recording