Kolbuszowa-Przytyk (Poland), Biesiatka
Mechlowitz was born in 1928 in Kolbuszowa-Przytyk, a small village in southeastern Poland. He was the second youngest of five children and his parents were poor farmers. They lived in a undeveloped part of Poland without electricity or indoor plumbing and among Catholic Polish farmers. Mechlowitz attended only Jewish schools until his last year in school, which he spent in a Polish public school.
Due to their remote location, the family was not immediately affected by the German occupation. This changed quickly, however, when the Germans confiscated land which included the Mechlowitz’s home and farm to create a military zone. In January 1942, Mechlowitz and other members of his family were rounded-up by the Germans and confined in one ghetto and then transported to another. They were also placed in a labor camp near their home for a period of time. Unlike in other areas occupied by Germany, the ghettos and the labor camp in which Mechlowitz was confined were only lightly guarded and not restrictively enclosed. Mechlowitz believes this was probably due to the fact that they were located in a sparsely populated, remote area. This allowed the inmates some opportunity for movement.
Mechlowitz managed to escape a number of times just prior to round-ups and shipment for “resettlement.” Some of these escapes were made at the last possible moment, the guards shooting at Mechlowitz as he fled. After escaping Mechlowitz went into hiding, sometimes in the forest, sometimes staying with former non-Jewish neighbors, or by pretending to be a Catholic Pole. A solid knowledge of the Polish language and his non-Jewish appearance assisted him in passing for a Catholic Pole. The fact that he had been circumcised was always a concern, he notes, and actually resulted in him being taken captive at one point. Mechlowitz cites a number of incidents in which he was aided by non-Jewish Poles, some of whom directly saved his life.
Soviet troops arrived in early 1944 and allowed the then sixteen-year-old Mechlowitz to come out of hiding. He was reunited with his mother and two brothers but his father, older brother, and sister perished. After he returned home and while living with an uncle, he became aware of numerous postwar abuses and murders of Jews by Poles. As a result the remaining members of the Mechlowitz family decided to leave Poland. Mechlowitz went to Palestine and in 1960 immigrated to the United States.
Mechlowitz witnessed a number of atrocities during the Holocaust. He saw the slaughter of Jewish female inmates in a labor camp. They were shot after being forced to dig their own graves. He suffers mental anguish over this and other atrocities and blames himself for his sister’s death because he was unable to convince her to escape from the labor camp.
Date: July 15, 1996
Interviewer: Hans R. Weinmann
Length: 4 hours, 54 minutes
Format: Video recording