Lodz (Poland), Skarzysko, Czestochowa, Buchenwald, Dora, Bergen-Belsen
Praw describes life in Lodz, Poland, the city of his birth. Born in 1922, he lived with his parents, five sisters, three brothers, and a grandfather in a modest apartment. In September 1939, when the Germans came, Praw was working in a textile mill. The Germans forced the Jews to wear the yellow star and live with a 5:00 p.m. curfew. Praw remembers seeing Jews hanging on gallows in the market place.
In December the Germans sealed off one square mile in which the Jews were to live. One night shortly thereafter, Germans who were nationalized Poles came to the Praw apartment to “resettle” them to find other work. He recalls how the Germans humiliated his mother and sisters. The family was taken to a factory for a week before being herding into overcrowded rail cars. They licked snow off the roof for water. They stopped in a small town in Galicia, where they worked in a labor camp and were fed decently.
The family was resettled again, and this time Praw and his family were separated from the sisters. Praw and the remaining members of his family were brought to another small town, where they worked until sometime in 1942. No outside contact was maintained. During the summer of 1942, the Gestapo came into the town and shot four Jews on the Sabbath. In June all the teenagers were assembled in the town square and the Germans promised them food and work in another location. This resettlement separated Praw from his brothers and parents and he has no idea what became of them.
The next labor camp was located a few miles from Krakow. A Jewish police was organized to supervise the prisoners who built bridges and railroad tracks. The Gestapo Ukrainians were guards. The camp conditions became more strict and food was scarce.
Praw was taken to yet another labor camp, Skarzysko, where he spent 1943 and 1944. He worked in an ammunition factory deep in the woods. The powerful powder used in the grenades turned the prisoners’ skin yellow. Praw describes the Jewish police as worse than the Gestapo. He also mentions that when the Germans were drunk, the Germans would randomly and casually killed Jews in the camp.
In 1944 Praw was sent to the labor camp at Czestochowa, where a small steel mill was located. In January 1945 the camp was liquidated due to heavy bombing. The Jews were marched to the concentration camp Buchenwald. It was there that Praw first smelled the ovens and learned of the mass murder of the Jews. For two weeks the prisoners slept six to a bunk, and then were taken to the Dora concentration camp. At Dora, the prisoners were awakened at 4 a.m. to work in rocket factories. Praw quickly had to learn the trade of mechanic or his spot would be taken by someone else who was also afraid of further selections. He recalls daily routines of assembling to see Jews hanged and roll calls in the middle of the night.
In March 1945 heavy bombing forced the camp to evacuate. The prisoners were put in cattle cars to Bergen-Belsen. On the journey the bodies of prisoners who had died were thrown out of the window and prisoners ate snow off the cars. Upon their arrival at Bergen-Belsen, Praw saw the mass graves. Two weeks later, in April 1945, the English liberated the camp and Praw headed for the American sector.
He made his way to Frankfurt, where he married. He never returned to Lodz because of the stories he had heard from travelers who had been there. Praw lived in Frankfurt until 1948 when the Americans issued the order to evacuate. He and his new wife arrived in New Orleans in 1949 with the help of HAIS. Two days after he got off the boat, he began working in a clothing factory for 50 cents an hour.
Nightmares still plague Praw. He wonders why some survived and others did not.
Date: June 30, 1982
Interviewer: Sandra Crain
Format: Audio recording
Date: March 6, 1985
Format: Video recording